(The following text was written when I was madly in love with someone who did not feel the same way toward me. It is an expression of my feelings at the time and should be read as such and not as a final statement on the nature of love.)
When one is in love, a fiery storm rages within, a storm of intense desire that is a form of madness. This vast, expansive passion is belittled in this society. What is called “romantic love” (a misnomer and an abuse of the term “romantic” if this term can also be applied to one such as Byron) is sentimentalized pablum for mediocre saps. It lacks the intensity and cruelty that give true passionate love its edge.
Since the cruelty of this passion is a loving cruelty, it doesn’t want to hurt simply for the sake of hurting. Rather it is cruel in its determination to fulfill itself if that is at all possible. Thus, just as this love is not sentimentally romantic, this cruelty is not Sadean. Sade* portrayed a cruelty that was sexual and aimed at the realization of desire, but this desire and, thus, this cruelty were loveless. While some of the characters in Sade’s novels were portrayed as unique individuals, they did not treat their victims as such or seem particularly interested in knowing any other person as such in any deep, intense way. They are portrayed as wanting only two things from others: first and foremost, sexual gratification, and secondarily, material gain which makes the pursuit of the former easier. The idea that the Other may also be an entire individual who one may wish to encounter and enjoy in her fullness is lacking in Sade. The closest Sade comes to this is friendships of mutual self-interest between individuals who recognize the same sort of cruel, loveless sexuality in each other and realize that they can help each other fulfill these desires. It is interesting to note that this ultra-egoist, loveless sexuality ends up at times becoming a quasi-communist sexuality (though only within the circle of those who share this form of sexuality – those outside this circle can only be its victims) as in the Sodality in Juliette or in Madame de Sainte-Ange’s advice to Eugenie to fuck anyone who wishes to fuck her regardless of who they are.
The egoism of passionate love is a different sort of egoism. It desires the Other as a total being, as a singular individual. While such desire certainly cannot fit well into capitalist society, it also cannot be communized, because its basis is in individuals as unique beings. Its cruelty refuses to damage the beloved because it wants to have the beloved in her entirety, not just a part of the beloved. This is no less cruel than Sadean lust – possibly it is more so – because such passion wants to consume the loved one completely and to be consumed by her. But this cruelty does not dehumanize like that of Sadean lust (the victims in Sade’s novels are never presented as human individuals), but rather is the determination to fully take the uniqueness of the Other into oneself…
My own present passion shows another aspect of the cruelty of passionate love. I don’t see how I can fulfill this passion, how I can bring it to completion. Yet I so desire this intensity, this fiery storm that can be more beautiful and frightening than the most intense of psychedelic experiences, that I am willing, in fact, determined to put myself through whatever is necessary to keep this passion alive. Thus, I am cruel to myself due to passionate love.
Some will fear the association of love with cruelty just as some fear the association of play with violence. But passionate sexual love differs from friendship because it is based in difference and a poetic form of conflictuality. Friendship arises out of a recognition of similarities, of mutual interests. Of course, friends also enjoy each other’s uniqueness, the differences between them, but this is not the basis of friendship. In love, on the other hand, it is precisely the difference that fascinates, this unique other that is what one is not. This is why this passion takes on the form of a desire to ingest, to consume the other and to be consumed by her. It is a desire to increase the wealth of one’s being. But, at the same time, each tries to keep himself or herself distinct from the other. And each desires that the other maintain their distinctness as well… So the lover is his own adversary as well as that of the beloved. It is this conflict inherent in passionate love – this conflict within and between lovers – that is the source of its unique form of joy and pleasure.
When a lover loses himself in the other, this conflict ends. The love loses its passion and becomes mainly a habit of comfort and laziness. This is very different from the situation in which lovers also become friends (or friends become lovers).In this latter situation, a new dimension is brought into play. The passionate enjoyment of difference, of otherness, dances with the more reasonable enjoyment of mutual interests, shared projects, the pleasures of lives shared; a dialectic of intensity and ease, fiery passion and tenderness. All of the cruelty is still there, but blended with camaraderie.
To deny the cruelty is to reject the passion, the intensity of being in love. The act of physical love itself reflects this cruelty and the conflict that is its basis. Making love resembles wrestling or grappling. The more passionate it is, the more violent it becomes. Grabbing, pinching, scratching, biting all come into play in the physical attempt to ingest the other. But compare this to sex as portrayed in pornography: bodies barely touch except to the extent necessary for genital-orifice contact. This isn’t about passion; it is simply about getting one’s rocks off – the other is just a means of masturbating. In Sade, there is passionate cruelty, but it is loveless. If the other is a victim, he is simply raped and tortured to death – no conflict, just total domination. If the other is a peer, then each in turn submits himself to the other’s whims, but still without the conflict, the wonder, the storm, of love. Sadean cruelty and passion are thus so self-interested, in a contractive and solipsistic way that they express themselves in only the coldest, most calculated manner. As monstrous as Sadean lust may be, its violence cannot compare to that of passionate love. Sadean lust may destroy the passive, the weak and the self-sacrificial, but it does not destroy civilizations, devour galaxies or turn minds into flaming tornadoes of desire. Sade writes of the civilized expression of animal lust. The cold calculation is the civilized aspect; the cruel wantonness is the animal aspect. Sade is right to point out that human beings are animals and that, therefore, our sexuality is animal sexuality. But it is equally important to recognize that we are not essentially instinctual animals. Our relationships and interactions are not genetically determined. This is what makes all of the bizarre sexual permutations described by Sade, as well as the various forms that fill the pages of pornography magazines possible. It is also what makes the explosive battle of passionate love possible and even desirable. We can go beyond simply getting our rocks off and also beyond the cruelty of Sadean lust; we can learn to desire the utter unapproachable difference, the untouchable uniqueness, of another with such intensity and passion that we will strive to touch this uniqueness, to take this other into ourself and to penetrate ourself into this other. This desire is what I feel as passionate, erotic love. It is a madness, a wildness that puts one on the edge. And it is a joy without which life would not be worth living.
It is in terms of the conflictual nature of passionate love that the pleasure found in unrequited love can best be understood. When love is not (or cannot be) mutual, the conflict between the lover and the beloved is at a peak which may, for the lover, add more fuel to the fire than mutual passion would. One is confronted with the impossible, with what cannot be, and this is precisely what one wants. A kind of madness prevails, an inner conflict which tears the lover to shreds, but which the lover would not give up at any price. To be contented, happy, satisfied… but without the passion, the intensity, the conflict… without the beloved… This the lover could not tolerate, because a mind and heart so inflamed would find the mediocrity of feeling brought on by quenching the flame unbearable. Better the anguished joy of loving this marvelous Other.
When I speak of difference as the basis of passionate love, I want to be clear that I am not talking about gender. It is true that the one I love is a woman and this plays a part in my attraction, but it is not the cause of my passionate love for her. After all, I am not attracted to all, or even most, women (and I have been attracted to certain men). If the difference I have been talking about were that shallow, I would fall in love with categories, not individuals. The difference of which I speak is the singularity of the beloved, what she is that no one else could be. This is impossible to describe in words – only poetic language can begin to flirt with an understanding of this difference, just as only poetic language can come close to expressing the actual feelings of this marvelous passion, this beautiful adversarial relationship we know as love. The poetic use of language has a uselessness about it that is comparable to the uselessness of love. One cannot write contracts poetically just as one cannot contract to be in love. This is why marriage and other formalizations of love are absurd. What they try to formalize cannot be formalized, because it is a passion, a storm that strikes suddenly and may end just as suddenly. It is true that one’s conscious will can affect one’s passions and even, to some extent, direct them, but it cannot fully control them, and unpredictability remains a part of the marvel of passionate love. In the intensity of desire found in passionate love, the fire of human wildness burns brightly.
________________________*This is not completely true. In fact, in Juliette, a genuine and egoistic love does seem to exist between certain characters. However, most of the sexual relationships in his books do not involve such love.