Sunday, May 12, 2013

being wrong about love

What does it mean to say someone is wrong about their experience of love? We often make these judgments when we've fallen in love with someone new: "I never knew what love was before!" Of course, we'll make the same judgment the next time. And so forth. We're adorable, ain't we?

Among the many themes in Gabriel Marcel's Metaphysical Journal, he discusses feeling, experience, and the difference between them and thinking.

I am unable to say to a friend, “What you experience for that person is not, as you imagine, respectful friendship or disinterested curiosity; it is love,” unless there is a certain universal idea of love. (307)

Marcel goes on to say that the difference is “disinterestedness.” The paradox is that a feeling (friendship, love) is precisely not disinterested, and the objectivity and detachment of the disinterested perspective will always seem out of place. In fact, even one’s own reflective thought, in distancing itself from and objectifying a feeling, transposes feelings into ideas.

Love, as a feeling (like any feeling), is not itself “transmittable,” that is, not translatable into symbols to be exchanged or mediated. That quality is what gives feelings their being (we can’t say ipseity, because that too transposes them into ideas).

The judgment of another’s feeling, and even the judgment of our own feelings, is guilty of paralogism. This paralogism occurs whenever being and thing are conflated, or thou and him/her, or feeling and idea. Marcel’s position makes it seem that whenever we judge or reflect on our own unreflected experience, we create paradox.

When I experience love, when I fall in love ("it will be in springtime..."), the feeling is unimpeachable, and more to the point, incorrigible. I live in that feeling, and its reality surrounds and fills every moment and space. When someone comes by and says, "well, you know, you did say this just last month, about that other person...," I immediately dismiss it, not because I judge this judgment to be incorrect (which it might be), but because the judgment itself is out of bounds.

Yet, we know, that is, we think in the cool light of the early morning of reason (when it's had a good strong cuppa and is ready to face the day), that indeed we can be wrong about the experience of love. In fact, thinking about it, we can come up with several ludicrous examples to make the point, leading us to exclaim, "oh, man! What was I thinking?!" when, of course, we precisely weren't thinking.

Marcel, to his great credit I think, does not resolve this paradox. He uses it to explore the gap between thought and faith (and the translation I have steadfastly uses thinking, not reason, which is interesting). He also seemed to take clairvoyance completely seriously.