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Some notes on love

This post is dedicated to a woman that I fell in love with and dearly loved for a short, but very intense – at least to me – time as a young man, a woman that, more than 20 years later, wandered back into my life in a slightly unexpected – and until now only virtual – way. Somehow she’s befuddling my mind these days, so I decided to lay down other projects for a while and ‘write her off’ my mind (without losing her renewed presence, of course). I hope to do so in a constructive way, however, coupling my scant reflections to some insights in the experience of art.

The woman I talk about became a professional musician (harp and organ). My note here is far from a comprehensive analysis of ‘falling in love’ (as far as something like that is at all conceivable) but I single out a few aspects that strike me as particularly important.

For one thing, falling in love has a lot to do with suddenly experiencing a significance that eluded you before. It’s comparable to seeing all of a sudden a figure in a mishmash of blots and lines, like in the famous Gestalt psychology tests. Once the figure has been seen, it will never leave you again.

The mind seems to make a quantum leap and the world seems to be divided in ‘before’ and ‘after’. It sounds a bit fatalistic, but there’s really no way back.

Something similar happens in the experience of art. Although it might take some time before you ‘get’ to what makes a piece of art significant, once you have seen, heard, or understood it, there is no way back. Often, you feel that a work is worth your while without really grasping (part of) what makes it so, but once you understand it, it upholds that significance forever.

Now, significance is not really a matter of resisting falsification. Scientific hypotheses, or the pursuit of scientific truth in general, might be eternally prone to falsification. Not so for ‘artistic truth’. Once you have seen the significance of something, no experiment is going to prove you wrong. To be sure, your grasp might be incomplete. But in that case, it can only become part of a more comprehensive account.

Back to romantic love, my starting point for these small reflections. Of course, romantic love might end badly, even tragically in some cases. The initial grasp of someone’s significance might somehow get delved under the complexities of time and daily life. But I don’t think that one ever looses it entirely. And in the end, that’s a consolation.

My second reflection turns out to be related. Some things, for some reason, never really fade away. Certainly, they get underneath thousands of other experiences and activities. And the sheer distance in time bestows on them a dreamlike, otherworldly quality, if remembered at all. But almost always (and maybe invariably) a sudden and unexpected happening might force their reality back upon us. They still seem to be somewhere, in all their – thought long bygone – intensity. The entire sequence of emotions gets repeated over and over, from the sheer euphoria to nagging doubt and unconsolable sorrow.

The phenomenon is well-known by psychologists, my girlfriend told me. A certain Rom Brafman, an Israeli psychologist who currently lives in the United States, seems to have written about it, calling these hidden but undestroyable experiences ‘magical moments’ that by some unexpected incident lie ready to jump back to the fore. Proust’s smells, that brings back the place where you smelled them first. But it shouldn’t be smells.

Although sensual experiences certainly play a role. When I heard her play harp on some audio samples on her website, It felt like feeling her fingers again.

Again, there is a relation to art. Once in a while, one stands before his bookcase browsing some things (mainly poetry in my case) read in the past, to suddenly relive the glorious feeling of a beloved poem, that one hasn’t read for years. The same goes for the other arts, of course.

Another important factor in creating and maintaining personal relations, the same psychologist reminded me, is proximity. Alas …

(2 september, 2013)

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