This thing called …

Love has to be a verb. As a noun it has almost no meaning. ‘Works of love’ (Kierkegaard); We wouldn’t need all this if we just stuck to the verb.

‘Erotic love’. What rubbish. It is but another dimension of agape, an added dimension. Not a lesser one. Loving is loving. There is no hierarchy, if it is true. There are simply different ways of loving, different expressions and impressions of the need to love.

So-called erotic love is simply the tangible physicality of loving. One that is usually, often, suppressed and that we allow to live in the socially permitted channels. We are taught to live like Joyce’s Mr Duffy, ‘a short distance from our bodies’. That cannot be right. We cannot have a mind without a brain. We are all psycho-somatic

Plato got it wrong. We are not looking for our other half, the lost part of our soul. It's much better, much more enriching than that: Two souls entwining, sharing their reality. (See also Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, p.50 f.) The more we share, the deeper the loving. Rilke was closer: Two solitudes that meet, greet and protect one another. (Zwei Einsamkeiten, die einander schützen, Grenzen und grüßen. Rome, 14. May, 1904). We can meet only if we are separate. We can only protect if we each have our own strength. We greet, welcome, take to our hearts, what we can see as a part from and, at the same time a part of, ourselves. German can express it more fundamentally: wahr-nehmen. Generally translated 'Perceive' .But literally: to take for true. Ich nehme dich wahr - I take you for true, in your reality, and in mine. If we can honestly do that, without the social props, then we can love.

We have to learn, to live somatically what Martin Buber means:The lived relation. The Thou hast to become It so that we can look at it, talk about it, write about it. It has to become an 'object', separate from us. This is why we cannot put the real thing, the lived, living relation into words. While it is being lived, in you, part of you, forming and creating the I-Thou relation, you cannot express it, Zum aus-Druck bringen, (Literally: press it out, express).

And that is why we need to make love with our bodies. This is the only immediate expression. And it is a pressure, a need to bring something forth, out of ourselves, towards the other. Even if it is only a stammering expression, as with Buber's cat. But it will do. It does do. For we all know, from the way someone looks at us, touches us, says hello …

‘Perhaps love is the aspiration to communicate peace and tranquillity and the aspiration to share that joy. Frustrated, it’s leads to longing.’ (J. Kirschbaum, February, 2014). Yes, because this encompasses, includes, all expressions of loving. This is what dissolves the barriers, breaks down the boxes, unites ‘eros’ and ‘agape’.

‘We all lead lives of quiet desperation’. Yes, but also of quiet, un-spoken, but lived LOVING. ‘Love is not the theme. It is the central glow’. Love is the ‘stammering glance’, the lightning flash. Gone in an instant. Was it even there? We’re always uncertain, because it is so tenuous, miss-understood. But we do know it. We simply have to trust our perception, our Wahr-nehmen, Take the so-called intangibles for real. This is what keeps us all going. And without it, we are nothing. Love is not the 'meaning' of life. It is why we can live. ‘We love each other or we perish.’ Literally. There are no metaphors.

Perfect love. ‘There can be nothing perfect in an imperfect system’ (Marx and others). No. This ignores the reality of living. ‘Perfection’ in human relations - which after all, are what we are always talking about, whether war, economics, science or art – Consists precisely in that moment, that fleeting moment etched out of the very imperfections of the system that strive towards balance, to creating harmony. All living, viable systems are by definition imperfect, because they are all striving, working towards, not maintaining, but attaining order. Two very different things.

Perfection cannot persist. But it can come about. Like today: blue skies, lovable postman, daffodils in the rain. If we are very, very lucky, blessed, perfection will happen again and again. If we let it. Or, as Buber puts it, if we go out to meet our destiny. After all this is nothing more – or less – than living ‘kontingent mit dem Herzschlag’ - in the now of the heart beat. Or Rilke: Faith, trust, Even in one's loneliness. This is the only way that loneliness becomes bearable as solitude.

Lack of faith means living in causality mode (Kierkegaard?). Means living only the I-it relation, living in algorithms, which we think, which we delude ourselves, give us ‘control’: If-then. … And we close our eyes to all the unknown, un-thought-of variables. Out of fear. Out of lack of faith in ourselves, in life, in others' ability to live the I-Thou relation, to know it, or even to glimpse it.

Perhaps loving also means giving others the benefit of our doubts.

Perfect love. Not an absolute. Perfection is continually perfectible. Can become stronger, longer, more robust. But perfection, unlike love, is never eternal. No, not love. Not the noun. Loving. It has to be lived. It is only by being lived (which we perforce do with our bodies!), by entering into the hearts, lives, the soul, of other beings, that love lives on.

Michèle Cooke


Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press: 1998

Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love

Martin Buber, Ich und Du (I and thou)

Rainer Maria Rilke, Briefe an einen jungen Dichter (Letters to a Young Poet)

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