Love and Its Discontents: Irony, Reason, Romance (excerpts)

here are the ways in which public culture and capitalism transform and shape emotional life.

First= the power of Reason
beliefs —in transcendence and authority— become accountable to Reason

“the Empire of light and reason” exposes us to truths we cannot bear. (Burke)

The scrutinizing of social relations by the implacable gaze of Reason can only tear down the harmonious web of meanings and relationships on which traditional power, obedience, and fealty rested

only lies and illusions can make the violence of social relationships bearable

modernity is a “sobering of the senses,” a violent arousal from a pleasant if numbing slumber and a confrontation with the naked, bare, and barren conditions of social relationships (Marx)

Knowledge comes at the price of desecrating that which we revered

Modernity is defined by its ambivalence toward its legitimating cultural core, by a sense of dread of the powers it may unleash

in their impulse to control the natural and social world, the various modern institutions of science, technology, and the market, which aim at solving human problems, relieving suffering, and increasing wellbeing, also dissolve our sense of mystery (Max Weber)

he history of love is far from being a story of progressive emancipation from the shackles of economic rationality

while more emancipated and more egalitarian, and thus, more free and unconstrained, modern love is also counter-intuitively more rationalized than its premodern counterpart (premodern marriage was determined according to criteria of social rank, status, and wealth)

there is no longer a strong institutional distinction between interest-driven and purely romantic decisions

Second: from enchanted to disenchanted love. In a scientific way

“Enchanted” love is simultaneously spontaneous and unconditional, overwhelming and eternal, unique and total.

this approach to romantic love thus affirms the radical uniqueness of the object of love, the impossibility of substituting one object of love for another, the incommensurability of its object,
the refusal (or impossibility) to submit feelings to calculation and Reason, and the total surrender of the self to the loved person

modern love has become the privileged site for the trope of irony.

“enchanted” definition of love moves to a disenchanted cultural definition of love

What is an enchanted experience?
An enchanted experience is mediated by powerful collective symbols that key one to a sense of the sacred. It is based on beliefs and feelings that involve and mobilize the totality of the self; these beliefs and feelings are not processed in second-order cognitive systems and are ultimately. In enchanted experiences, there is no strong distinction between the subject and object.

What is a disenchanted experience?
Disenchantment is both a property of belief that becomes organized by knowledge systems and expert cultures (as opposed to hot symbols), and a difficulty in believing. This is because both the cognitions and emotions organizing belief become rationalized

what makes conduct rational is the fact that it is “methodical,” that it is systematic, that it calculates means to achieve ends, and is in Weber’s words, “controlled by the intellect.” (Max Weber)

A number of massively powerful cultural forces can be said to have refashioned the sentiment and experience of love, and to have contributed to its rationalization and thus to a profound change in the way in which we experience it: science, technologies of choice, and political values

Psychology, psychoanalysis, biology, and evolutionary psychology have explained the feeling of love by subsuming it under such categories as “the unconscious,” “sex drive,” “hormones,” “survival of species,” or “brain chemistry.” Under the aegis of scientific explanations, these frameworks undermine the view of love as an ineffable, unique, and quasi-mystical experience, ultimately undermining both its absoluteness and uniqueness.

The Freudian popular culture in which most modern polities have become steeped has made the forceful claim that love is a reenactment of early childhood conflicts and that it is often nothing but the repetition of a drama with other early protagonists who are the true origin, and even the cause, of the present object of love. Love is thus reduced to a universal psychic structure.

in prescribing models of intimacy based on negotiation, communication, and reciprocity, the psy-sciences make intimate relationships highly plastic, to be fashioned out of the design and reflexive monitoring of an autonomous will and tailored to the particular needs and psychological make-up of an individual, thus liquidating the association of love with an absolute form of transcendence

Autonomy is at the center of the model of selfhood advocated by psychology, and the practice of autonomy transforms the ideal of emotional fusion into an ideal of negotiation between two fully mature selves

psychology also makes the experience of romantic suffering into yet another symptom of an insufficiently mature psyche.

love—based on self-sacrifice, fusion, and longing for absoluteness—is viewed as the symptom of an emotional dysfunction

the emotional experience of love becomes harnessed to a utilitarian project of the self, a project in which one has to secure maximum pleasure and wellbeing, thus making love into an experience in which one should count his/her utilities.

About reduction of love to brain chemistry:
Studies in neuroscience have suggested that a consistent number of chemicals are present in the brain when people testify to feeling love. These chemicals include: Testosterone, Estrogen, Dopamine, norepinephrine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Vasopressin.

for instance, the Serotonin effects of being in love have a similar chemical appearance to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which in turn would explain why we seem not to be able to think of anyone else when we are in love. Oxytocin and Vasopressin seem to be more closely linked to long-term bonding and relationships characterized by strong attachments

The euphoria or exaltation we may feel as a result of being in love are nothing but a chemical and involuntary reaction of the brain. Research also emphasizes that these symptoms tend to disappear after two years on average

On their side, evolutionary psychologists similarly attribute the feeling of love to an extraneous factor that serves the human species

emotions like love (or guilt or jealousy) are thought to have helped resolve the “problem of commitment”. Romantic love in particular may have served the purpose of instilling a desire to reproduce and to ensure that men and women will not walk out on each other on a whim. Love becomes
nothing more than the blind necessity of nature and of the social group.

With the prevalence of scientific modes of explanation, it is difficult to hold onto the view of love as a unique, mystical, and ineffable feeling

Because scientific frameworks aim to explain and find causes, they naturally undermine any experience based on the ineffable and the irrational.

Holistic approach Vs reductionism:
non-scientific explanations might be superior to the scientific ones because they account for the totality of our lived experience. (Nicolas Gane)
nonscientific explanations are superior to the scientific ones in that they are holistic
and more organically connected to the totality of our experiences.
There is a way in which science makes our experience less intelligible, for there is an incompatibility between existential frames of meaning and abstract, systematic ones (Max Weber)

Third: The Internet, a technology for choosing a mate
A premodern actor looking for a mate was notoriously rational: s/he typically considered criteria such as dowry size, a candidate’s personal or family wealth and reputation, education, and family politics.
Actors made very few demands from prospective partners, and more often than not, settled for the first available satisfactory good enough marriage prospect

A modern actors, from adolescence to adulthood, develops an elaborate set of criteria for the selection of a mate. Such criteria are not only social and educational, but also physical, sexual, and perhaps most of all emotional.

By enabling users to investigate a vast number of options, the internet encourages the maximization of partner selection in unprecedented ways, in stark contrast to the methods of premodernity

the gradual permeation of the computer into the pores of modern life deepened what Max Weber called the rationalization of the world

the internet has radicalized the idea that the romantic encounter should be the result of the best possible choice

Fourth: A political influence in the rationalization of the emotion of love: the feminism
Second-wave feminism has profoundly transformed our understanding of the emotion of love.
the feminist movement, as a cultural formation, introduced rules of conduct that rationalized love and sexual relations in two important ways.
The cultural categories of “power,” “reciprocity,” and “equality” have reorganized romantic relationships, driving them to become predictable and controllable.
The demand that language be neutral and purged of its gender biases, that sexual relationships be cleansed from the long shadow of power, that mutual consent and reciprocity be at the heart of intimate relationships, and finally that impersonal procedures secure such consent—all of these have
had the effect of undermining the cultural practice of “seduction,” as a semi-conscious practice of playing with one’s body and language in order to arouse desire in another.
Seduction is ambivalent, and it is their ambivalence that makes the prototypical seducers of Western culture exemplary of a certain form of freedom from morality. Don Juan, Casanova, and Cleopatra embody a kind of sovereignty and self-possession that are not easily bound by rules

Fifth: Irony killing the emotion of love
Irony has replaced playfulness and has become the dominant trope and tone of our times. Irony is inimical to love and playfulness. The three cardinal experiences that demand the elimination of irony, or that cannot survive irony, are raw grief or suffering, religious transport, and sexual passion (David Halperin)

Irony is a figure of speech that feigns ignorance; it feigns ignorance but counts, for its effect, on the knowledge of the hearer. It is the trope of the person who knows too much but refuses to take reality seriously. Modern romantic consciousness has the rhetorical structure of irony because it is saturated with knowledge, but it is a disenchanted knowledge that prevents full belief and commitment.


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