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July 22nd, 2011 at 9:11 am

The Summons of Love

Mari RutiWe end this week by looking at love. Specifically, Mari Ruti’s new book The Summons of Love.

In the book, Ruti portrays love as a much more complex, multifaceted phenomenon than we tend to appreciate—an experience that helps us encounter the depths of human existence. Love’s ruptures are as important as its triumphs, and sometimes love succeeds because it fails. At the heart of Ruti’s argument is a meditation on interpersonal ethics that acknowledges the inherent opacity of human interiority and the difficulty of taking responsibility for what we cannot fully understand.

Below are some excerpts from the introduction of the book. You can also follow Mari Ruti’s blog on Psychology Today, The Juicy Bits: Love, lust, and the luster of life or follow her on twitter:

Romantic love summons us to become more interesting versions of ourselves. It speaks to those dimensions of our being that reach for enchantment—that chafe against the mundane edges of everyday existence. If much of life entails a gradual process of coming to terms with the limitations imposed on us by our mortality (by the tragically fleeting character of human experience), love boldly pursues the immortal. This does not mean that it grants us everlasting life. It cannot, unfortunately, rescue us from the relentless march of the clock. But to the extent that it rebels against the undertow of everything that is trite or prosaic about the world, it touches the transcendent; it ensures that we do not completely lose contact with the loftier layers of life….

Traditionally, the sublime has been envisioned as what inspires awe while resisting our ability to fully fathom its scope or power. The most common examples of the sublime—stormy oceans, rugged mountains, immeasurable deserts, starry skies, the darkness of night, absolute solitude, or some misfortune of soul-shattering magnitude—possess an enormity, force, or mysterious depth that escapes human control. We can neither tame them nor capture them within the folds of our imagination. Yet the very fact that we feel inadequate in the face of the sublime induces us to stretch our minds so that we can at least draw closer to what eludes us; it invites us to activate a greater range of our conceptual capacities so that we come to fill up more of the space between ourselves and what we cannot attain. This is why the sublime stirs us: it speaks the language of the immortal giant within us.

The same can be said of love. Love ruptures the canvas of our everyday experience so that we feel transported beyond the ordinary parameters of our lives. The French critic Julia Kristeva conveys this perfectly when she states that love gives us the impression “of speaking at last, for the first time, for real.” It allows us to feel fully and exuberantly alive, as if we were finally saying something enormously significant. If the normal organization of our lives tends to be a bit monotonous, love represents a sudden fissure—an unexpected break, swerve, or deviation—in that organization. This is why we often experience it as a stunning revelation that allows us to view the world from an unsullied perspective. It is as if everything that is dazzling, radiant, hopeful, and untarnished about the world slid into view from behind the familiar screen of our everyday reality. We feel oddly rejuvenated, connected to the deepest recesses of our being. Our daily routine becomes animated so that even its most humdrum facets seem heavy with potential. In this way, falling in love accelerates our personal process of evolution.

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