14 May, 2021

An Old-Fashioned Take On Love

Moving on from the world of face-to-face interaction and the letter-writing ritual, relationships leave behind the power and poetics of memory

From the time of Kalidasa’s Shakuntalam
Photograph by Alamy
An Old-Fashioned Take On Love

An invitation to write an essay is often a moment of crisis. One suddenly discovers how dated and old fashioned one is. When I was asked to write about relationships, I felt outdated. Even the radicalism of my time felt a bit stodgy before the language of my students who wanted to know whether I knew what ghosting was. Rather than being irritated, I suddenly felt what one needed was an arc­haeology of the word, a chance to outline the layers of meaning the word and its worlds evoked.

In my time, the word relationship evoked the miracle of the face-to-face encounter. Phil­osophers like Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas have been poetic about differentiating between the miracle, the sense of sacred that an I-thou relationship creates, with the banality of an I-it relationship. One captured the full authenticity of the human, the other, its distortion into objectivity and impersonality.

Yet the idea of relationship always had a sense of the ephemeral and the innovative. Relationships, it seemed, dealt with roles and persons and still managed to elude...

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