February 11th, 2010

Sorts of Love

One of the (many) awesome things about humans is that everyone knows stuff that is probably at least a little different from what I know, and quite often they will tell me a little bit about what they know. A very knowledgable person can often explain even a complicated concept simply enough for me to understand. Have you ever noticed that–that if you have only a little insight into a thing, it’s harder to explain it to someone else, even if you do in fact understand? This is why I like to hear AMT talk about linguistics–she knows so much that she can distill a very tiny drop of perfectly clear knowledge just for me. Most people can do that on whatever topic happens to be their personal domain.

This summer I met a man who explained CS Lewis’s The Four Loves to me over lunch. It was fascinating and, as a Christian theory, not something I would have been likely to run into on my own. I’m totally not saying I agree with all this, or even am making much study of it (I could’ve run out and bought the book, after all, and I didn’t) but after a little further internet reading, I thought I’d try to do that hard thing and explain something I only semi-understand to you all.

Why? Um, cause this is cool? And because it’s a different way of thinking about things, which is always fun, and because it fits in with the theme of stupid Valentine’s Day, which I’m totally getting sucked into despite my best intentions (tip: don’t go to Zellers this week!), without being too lame. Also, because I’m hoping other people have a bit more/different insight into this stuff than I do, so we talk about it.

Here we go, very carefully:

C.S. Lewis, the Narnia guy but also very-Christian guy, used this book *The Four Loves to examine how “love,” a word we throw around in English about everything from life partners to sandwiches to celebrities (“OMG, I *love* Tina Fey in *Mean Girls*–so earnest and weary!”) has a wealth of meanings. To delineate the different interepretations of the word, he used Ancient Greek, which had more than just the one word–four in fact–for that crazy little thing called love.

Storge–The most basic kind of love, the kind both people and animals feel for the ones they around all the time, and/or for some reason need to feel bonded to. If you were a lion, it’d be your pridemates–as a human, for your family, especially one’s children. I would think this definition applies to friends of proximity, too–the colleagues you love to chat with, the neighbours you bbq with, etc. I would insert people’s cultural identification into this category too, although that’s me extrapolating–the generalized, distant love you feel for fellow Canadians (if you swing that way) or people of the same heritage or ethinicity as your family.

The friend who explained this to me used the metaphor of the gaze for all four, but I can’t find an equivalent explanation online. To the best of my memory, the storgic gaze is all over the place; it loves what it lights on, when it happens to do so.

Phila is the easiest one to remember. It’s friendship, but of a very specific kind, that with a shared interest at the centre of it, something that the friendship is “about.” Thus, to continue the metaphor, here both gazes rest upon the same thing. So, people who bond over shared political or charity work, people who always (only) watch the game together, scrapbooking clubs, etc. I think in some ways bloggers engage in phila–we put our interests out into the world in search of others who share them, to begin a conversation about things that matter to us.

Eros–der, that’s romantic love. *Not* sexuality, although natch that’s part of it, or an accompaniment anyway. This is the love where the gaze of the lovers is focussed on each other, but interestingly (confusingly!), this is also blind love–you love a person *not* for their qualities, intelligence, appearance, ability to listen without judgment, culinary abilities, or kindness to small animals. You just love them, and I guess then you are happy to gaze at them because you do (not, after protracted gazing and examination, you fall in love because of what you see). This conception of love is problematic when combined with, say, eHarmony and similar services that claim that the secret to a great love is agreeing about religion, politics, household chores, sexual taboos, and everything else.

(Rebecca becomes distressed at how little she understands here, takes a break to eat a rice krispie square.)

Agape is where things get pretty Christian. Agape is charitable love, and I’m not sure but I think that maybe with this one your eyes are trained on God. I think it’s also God’s love for his creation. This is the stuff we do generously, for no reason other than a desire to share, to help, to improve things for someone else.

When my friend was done explaining, I said that this all seemed really hierarchical and too discrete–like, who is to say that a love for a bowling buddy couldn’t be agape as well as phila? And he said that it’s just a way of explaining–of course all the forms of love are recombinent. Later, I found out that agape love is a big Christian concept as applied in marriage (sometimes I read Christian advice columns–what?)–despite your devotion to your partner (or because of it) you should also do things for them in more general, and holy, the spirit of giving. *And* you should do things together as projects with focus (phila) *and* be comfortable and affectionate with the same house in a creaturely way (storge–I’m sorry, that’s a really terrible word). And then beyond marriage, there as many different combinations of love as there are people to have love with…I suppose.

I’m thinking I’m missing a lot–as uncomfortable as I am with the idea of reading Christian philosophy, I think I’m going to end up reading this book. Cause, really, this is so cool, even half-understood. Please chime, if anyone knows something more/different than what I’ve said here.

Love,
RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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