Everybody is interested in love, and most people have had pain and turmoil on the subject. For centuries, men and women have asked themselves: why is it that something making for such ecstasy can also give rise to such confusion, anger, regret? Issue #150 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, titled “What Opposes Love?,” is a classic on the subject. In it Eli Siegel describes what true love is and explains that while people want love in our lives, there is something in us that is against it: the desire for contempt, “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” He magnificently uses instances of world literature, including Racine and Shakespeare, to show that our feelings about love, which can seem so personal and intimate, are related to what men and women have felt throughout the centuries. Mr. Siegel writes:
The history of the world and the history of literature tell us that love has been opposed by hate and contempt. Since hate or its resemblance, anger, is uncomfortable, persons have often done a great deal to change hate or anger into contempt. Contempt makes another person less important; while hate or anger, though it may express oneself and give one some sense of power, still is not reposeful. Contempt attacks another person and is both secret and reposeful, if that is what a person wants it to be. Yet anger, hate, contempt, grief interchange. What has occurred in the world tells us this; and, as I said, literature does also.
The play in French literature that stands for the discomfort of love, the unsettlement of passion, is the Phèdre of Racine, presented first in 1677. An early critic, Donneau de Visé, in his Mercure galant (1677), said something of the play and the noted heroine of the play, Phèdre, which later years have not refuted. Donneau de Visé said of Phèdre: “she detests her passion.” >>Read more