Wednesday, May 11, 2005

As Simple Plan says,

Is love really nothing more than an addiction, a rarefied habit?

Here's Veblen (read it a few times, or just skip it and read what I have to say about it):
And the prevalent type of transmitted aptitudes, or in other words the type of temperament belonging to the dominant ethnic element in any community, will go far to decide what will be the scope and form of expression of the community's habitual life process. How greatly the transmitted idiosyncrasies of aptitude may count in the way of a rapid and definitive formation of habit in individuals is illustrated by the extreme facility with which an all-dominating habit of alcoholism is sometimes formed;... Much the same meaning attaches to that peculiar facility of habituation to a specific human environment that is called romantic love.
- p.96, The Theory of the Leisure Class
It's odd that this passage from a book (purportedly) about economics should be echoed, a century later, by David Foster Wallace.
    'What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?'
    Marathe's snfif held disdain. 'Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self's sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself.'
- p.106, Infinite Jest
In this passage, Veblen is discussing the ways that habit informs the things we consume. He defines habit as a "heightened facility of expression in a given direction;" i.e. habits come when a person finds that it is agreeable to do something over again in the same manner. As a result of habit, even when they come upon economic hard times and ought to logically scrimp and save, people find it difficult to lower the standard of living that they've grown accustomed to. He goes on to compare this to alcoholism, and alcoholism to "romantic love."

Here, it seems like habit is synonymous with addiction. When he first begins using the term, a habit seems to be merely a mild predilection for something (the way an addiction seems harmless at first), but by the time he starts describing people that refuse to cut down on superfluous expenditures even as they descend deeper and deeper into penury, and cites alcoholism as an example, it's clear that what we have here is something much more pernicious.

Yet the sudden reference to love is rather off-putting. It's casually tossed-in at the end of the paragraph and never expanded upon; Veblen seems to see love as a natural extension of all other habits and addictions. For me, the connection isn't so obvious.

The Wallace passage continues where Veblen left off and plays with this idea, of love being nothing more than a helpless addiction and, as such, simply an exercise in solips-/egotism. Being swept away by a tempestuous love isn't romantic; it's contemptible - to fall in love with someone at first sight is to fall in love with your own made-up construct of what that person is like. It's to become enamored with an extension of yourself, and not in a fuzzy Plato's Hermaphrodite Theory sort of way.

Hmm. I'm sure I could never find it, but there definitely is a passage in Proust's Temps Perdu that takes on this issue from the other side. Basically, he says that what makes love for a human different than "love" for an object is that, while objects are immutable, you can never fully know another human being because by the time you get close to him he's already evolved a bit more. So true love can never be an addiction or a habit because you have to constantly modify your perceptions and emotions to fit the object of your desire.

As usual, I'm uncertain of my own take on this. It's possible that both types exist, but that's not a very comforting thought because how can one ever be sure that his love is the latter and not the former? All that is romantic within me (and there is an embarassing amount of it) wants to deny love-addictions, but there's also something rather thrillingly defeatist about the thought. Perhaps the secret to a successful relationship is simply a healthy dose of self-delusion, or, as my mom says, "After you get married, keep your eyes tightly shut.*"

*Lest my mom sound like some sort of mythomaniacal Avril I., the full quote actually begins: "Before you get married, keep your eyes wide open."