Monday, 31 October 2005

Enduring Love

Enduring Love
"They say that birds do it - bees do it -
Even educated fleas do it -
Let's do it - let's fall in love." - Cole Porter
I finished reading Ian McEwan's Enduring Love on the train today, and it inspired all manner of thoughts. For one, it meshed very nicely with Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works, which I'm also reading, since the narrator Joe is a science writer and thus Pinker's subject of consciousness and of evolutionary biology plays a role in McEwan's book. I was struck by that crossing of ideas between science and literature, then in the acknowledgements in the back, I noticed that McEwan acknowledges Pinker's formidable The Language Instinct as one of his sources. Was well chuffed to have made the connection.

Enduring Love is a tale of erotomania, the complete delusion that someone is in love with you, which reminded me of the first time I heard the word: in Diane Ackerman's excellent A Natural History of Love, where she discussed Stendhal - famously a victim of unrequited love. (Stendhal's name in turn reminded me of the Stendhal Syndrome, the psychosomatic illness caused by an overdose of beautiful art, but that's a concept I'll discuss another time.) (Actually, come to think of it Ackerman is a fine translator of science for the general public: very much like Joe.)
"When I got in she put her arms around my neck and brought my face close to hers. She knew I was a fool for this kind of encirclement. It made me feel that I belonged, that I was rooted and blessed." - Ian McEwan, Enduring Love
McEwan puts in a fake "case study" Appendix at the end (which fooled quite a few scientists), and ends it with this (real) quote from Mullen and Pathe: "the pathological extensions of love not only touch upon but overlap with normal experience, and it is not always easy to accept that one of our most valued experiences may merge into psychopathology". And the Mullen-Pathe quote in turn reminded me of Stendhal's quote "People happy in love have an air of intensity". Acts of real passion are often exquisitely intense. So what saves them from being classified as acts of delusion? How do you know you're crazy in love, not just plain crazy? There's the existence of reciprocity, for one - each "I love you" from a lover is an affirmation to the partner that he or she isn't crazy, that this incredible emotion exists and that both parties can feel it. (The Gin Blossoms allude to this doubt in "Found Out About You", addressed to a former lover: "Did you love me only in my head?") And, for another, there's the existence of acknowledgement: that is to say, the willingness of lovers to act as a couple to others, and/or the willingness of each lover in their individual capacity to tell others - verbally, or visually, such as the display of a wedding band - about the woman or man one loves.
"The pleasures of love are always in proportion to our fears." - Stendhal
And a final thought on Enduring Love. One of the most frustrating parts of the novel for me was when the narrator's girlfriend Clarissa refused to believe that he was being stalked, or dismissed the stalker as harmless. Cassandra - the seer who isn't heard, from the Oresteia - has always been one of the most compelling figures in fiction for me, and indeed film scenes in which people tell the truth but aren't believed, and are in fact mocked or patronised for speaking the truth, get me so riled up. Even those old episodes of Sesame Street where no one believed that Mr Snuffleupagus existed frustrated the hell out of me. (If I recall correctly, that ended when the Children's Television Workshop realised that the idea of adults not believing children - Big Bird, being, after all, just a big feathery kid - was not good if you want kids to report child molestation and other forms of abuse).

Come to think of it, this fear of not being believed shows up thousands of years later, in the cultural tic of suffixing sentences with "you know what I mean?" or "you know what I'm saying?" Having the unquestioned support of someone is one of the deepest signs of love, I think. Which is to say: it is very important for lovers to believe in each other; it is almost fundamental that they believe each other.

Edit: I did not know that there was a film version of Enduring Love. Starring the new James Bond Daniel Craig, no less, with Samantha Morton in the Clarissa role and Rhys Ifan (good choice, it strikes me) as Jed the stalker.



chuck palahniuk's diary is mainly about Stendhal's syndrome. have you read it? you should cos palahniuk rocks.


Yeah, you strike me as a Palahniuk reader! Haven't read it, unfortunately - not following the Palahniuk canon, and didn't know about the book until I read that Wikipedia entry on the Stendhal Syndrome.


yeah palahniuk is one of my favourite authors. nothing like tolstoy or plath or franzen or jelinek but he's more in the league of hornby and co. i read 'choke' first then went on to 'fight club' and then all his other books. there's something about his books. crazy, neurotic but a tinge of sadness. but the sad thing is that these days all i read are my school readings. i need to go out and get a book asap


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