Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Defense of Romanticism - Francis the Fool Speaks

So, here it goes. Some people need to back off, some need a little backup.

I talk about, write about, live about and, for a little while longer, at least, breathe about my (our) beautiful Marcie and the love we had and may still, if part of me is to be believed, retain. I know it is not a surprise to some who have known me for a long time that I tend to some outmoded sentiments on love in this modern age. I have tried to place my finger on the issue of why, and I have decided to not, but to face facts.

My "heart's" workings are, simply, anachronistic. More on that later, but suffice to say that, in terms of how I love and how I show it, I am old fashioned. My emotional intelligence may be flawed in that I choose to enjoy and celebrate romance, to reflect on love as and enduring and healing, sustainable force. But I am content to be such a fool if the measure of emotional intelligence is distance from passion and immunity from being consumed. Those who take some comfort in my assertion of potential foolishness should read on.

"What of it?" some of you might ask. "So what?"

Well, my soft-heartedness has, upon occasion, been mistaken for soft-headedness. Let me disabuse those of you harboring that notion throughout this post. For now, I have a few shots to fire off less directly, a poem or two to call on, and a challenge for the readers who are sitting in sympathy, guarded or not, with my point.

I have observed the state of most who claim to have loved and I can, in cooler moments, see the logic of the assertion that love fades. I have also heard the cynical and clinical evaluations and insecure, snotty, pseudo-intellectual appraisals of romance by those whose fields of endeavor, or perhaps breadth of romantic experience, makes it crucial that they deny and decry anything they have been unable to have or maintain themselves.

It is an enjoyable pity that the host's intellect rarely sustains the capacity for such a rigorous-sounding, hard-nosed thesis... but I digress. Suffice it to say such proponents dismay me, but often it is to my comfort, as they are often of little enough impression otherwise.

Some need romantic love to fail for strictly economic reasons. Anything to sell a viagra, a paxil, or an ill-considered marriage license and, later, divorce services, one supposes. Perhaps their support of the idea that we are unable to form passionate bonds over time is a way to dissolve or weaken those we could.

We are bombarded by the seduction of failure and an inflated likelihood of insecurity or inadequacy by our media machine. This is excusable among my pedestrian and lackluster detractors. They are subjects to, not rulers of, their manipulators. Their filters come right off the shelf and over their eyes and hearts.

But I am saddened at times and in other cases. I am most disappointed when I hear from those who, one-time romantics, found themselves betrayed, subjected in some damaging, lasting way to the ugly side of faded love or dimmed fascination.

If I am sufficiently impressed by some one's quality, I dig and find this almost every time I hear these ideas of romantic love's ephemeral state from otherwise warm-hearted people. But sometimes they are an excuse for poor behavior in love and lust, regardless the cause cited.

When I recognize a truly fallen heart, I am devastated. It is an even more acute sense of that sadness to know someone given to romantic sentiment has been stripped bare and chooses to remain there, or to seek the transient luminance and utilitarian company of unsuitable but available mates. There are plenty, regardless one's circumstances, I have noticed of late.

From now on, I think that instead of continuously rebuffing or tolerating, red-eared, assaults on my perceptions, experiences and the relaying of them, I will dispense with the absolutism for the focused. I simply proffer that, much as Gould's rejection of the dichotomy between science and faith, I perceive matters of the "heart" to be "Nonoverlapping Magisteria" with those of the more concrete, scientific mind.

That goes for a more "realistic, straightforward, utilitarian" outlook, too. Lump that in with the clinical and the cynical. You who hide the hurt under a layer of rational justifications and vile blandishments? Pretend to patronize the romantic and smile in some falsely wise way, if it helps. But read on.

I believe, in fact, that the rational and emotional are separate for a number of reasons. But neither can truly overshadow the other in any case I would entertain.

How many times have our evils been tempered, in wrath or dogma, by mercy? Suffice to say not nearly enough by the looks of the world, but sufficiently to have anecdotes of such a sentiment overruling a better selfish course. Thank goodness the emotional mind helps us hide people in our attics when we could simply spare ourselves and perhaps be rewarded for turning them over to authorities.

There are other acts, more attributed to love by even those who decry romance. How many mothers or fathers give their lives to save a child's? Or disacknowledge their own peril to save a stranger's? Altruism is often vilified as a soft-headed nonentity. The savior of a drowning man is working on his own desire to be rescued, the child is saved to continue the genetic legacy of the parent...

Cynics and hard hearted, maladaptive and potentially abusive people dream of ways to depose romantic love just as they do altruism. But this is no cutting-edge notion, the disutility of that sentiment of love. It's at least a couple of decades old. And old Hecht, so angry and vile in his attack on love, went back over a century to mock at least one confederate of mine, poet Matthew Arnold, and his work:

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

This was a call to a woman, but in metaphor to all of us, to love romantically in place of faith in gods and certainty, to find certainty in the sentiments we experience as they happen. But in getting there, he deposes religion, the power of the individual to shift the tides and not be washed in them against black shores of a random and chaotic world, and acknowledges drudgery as the existence of most (my own interpretation).

But even this call, to simply enjoy and be caught up in a more romantic place, to shelter and wrap each other in our love for one another, especially romantically, was not to be unmet by cynics and would-be advancers of the theme of futility. Sneering and sad, Hecht arrives with his retort to a long-dead better, incognizant and arrogant, broken and small, but splashy.

The Dover Bitch

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.

So here is the undoing of romance, the assertion of the truly vain and vapid in supremacy over the substantial emotion? Yes. Here is the debasement of sentiment and the analog to so much of the anti-romantic vogue of 40 years. Pathetic and pedantic, but celebrated as genius by a generation of people we all know as traitors to every value they once claimed ruled their ways. Hecht wrote this in 1967 to great celebration, I am sure. In response to a poem from the 1850s. Bravo.

I see the extension of the theme of the removal of certainty and the casting down of the quaint. But here, Hecht fails. I have known that great comfort and that certainty in more than one relationship, and I have known women who also held it dear and knew it from me. I have known others who knew it, too. It can fade, but it can be maintained as easily.

Aside from my assertion, that Hecht's passage was against romantic love and degrading to women and to men, that it plied mocking allusions to thematic sexual liberation and limited depth of emotion, and beyond the idea that he seemed to ignore that Arnold visited Dover Beach with his wife, not a random London lover, is that Hecht missed the point.

I pity Hecht. He was too weak, or too consumed by his life of apparent pain and his honorable but amazingly painful experiences during the liberation of Buchenwald, to protect his emotional mind from shriveling and his sarcasm from overtaking him. When the emotional mind is not strengthened, however, it is easy to subscribe to a notion that romanticism is weak itself.

We could be called in Dover Beach to not cling to our positions and risk harming each other when we are actually of like hearts. Arnold's last line, it is often said, alludes to Thucydides' account of the Battle of Epipolae (413 B.C.), a walled fortress near the city of Syracuse on Sicily. The combatants, Athenians and Syracusans, savaged each other in pitch black, unable to clearly distinguish friend from foe.

So I will cease here. Some of you who have been railed against, I do love. But I will also issue a challenge. See if there is any romantic thought, if you are so skeptical of it all, that you can hold to and nurture into something beautiful. And if you can plant that seed in yourself, or remember that notion or feeling at all, then you should try to find it everywhere that matters.

If you cannot, then I concede that, for you, it is better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all, and a pity you will possibly never know it again. If you have never known it, then I am very much interested in how you came to be loved at all, even for a moment.

And if you have cheered me on, or been wrenched into a heartrending review of your own ideas by me, then I am honored and ask that you simply surrender a little to sentiment or romance. It does not require that you are altruistic, you do not have to be an anachronistic thinker, and you are certainly not a fool in my eyes. But then, I am an admitted fool and accused of sappiness, though I am happier in it than to be ruled by my traumas. My opinion may not count for much.

But then, if you who doubt are so smart and rational, and it is so easy to glide over the dissolution of love when you believe that it is inevitable that the comfort of romantic fire would wink out, then you had little need to have read all of this, and I am sorry for wasting your time.

Much love either way, anachronistic sentiments and all.



Richard said...

Francis the Fool,

"For God's sake give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself." - Robert Louis Stevenson

A thank you is weak in comparison to the gift, Moments of Marcie, is bringing to the world.

Thank you.

Rick Eaton