Thursday, June 23, 2005

As Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz wrote in his splendid book, “The Double Flame”: politics is the great enemy of love. In the warmer months (and in warmer climes in general) love is ascendant. Politics is winter sport. We could not be so cynical all year round. We’d turn into reptiles. In the summertime we don't want to hear about the dark machinations of those supercreeps in the capital. Summer's here, where’s the beach? It’s not hard to resist the encroachment of the political into every part of our lives when it’s 90° in the shade.

There is something Grimms’ Tale enchanting about our reactions to the change of seasons. The maiden who’s fallen under the sorcerer’s spell awakened by a prince’s (or princess’s) kiss. Particularly up North, after an always brutal winter, the spring cycle seems like a magnificent discovery, something utterly new and marvelous, a rebirth. Winter is long, dark, epic, and we forget, burrowed deep in our holes, curled up in a ball, that love is what we live for. In all its various and sundry uncontainable forms. It almost makes the cruel winters here worthwhile, just for that moment of awakening.

The tyranny of politics and how to escape it defined the last century. A great book about the fatal opposition of politics and love is, of course, Pasternak's “Doctor Zsivago.” What makes Yuri Zsivago such a compelling figure is his defiant and ultimately doomed choice of love over politics in a totalitarian society where politics has taken over every aspect of life, where there is no unmapped private, inner place. That's what totalitarianism is about, after all: the false order of politics we impose on the chaos of human feeling, of love. Orwell explored the same territory in “1984.”

Both the extreme left and right have totalitarian tendencies, and never before have they been equipped with such perfect means to realize them as they are today. But human nature is the weed in their perfectly manicured gardens, and it can’t be stamped out, thank the gods. It keeps cropping up. The winter might be long, but once the thaw comes, all hell breaks loose. In winter politics is an end in itself. In summer it’s but an imperfect means to the pursuit of happiness.

Nowadays there’s a good deal of guilt attached to the idea of abandoning politics for love. But I think the guilt is a ruse. The big factor is fear. We are much more comfortable in our abstract world with the cynical predictability of politics. Plus we have a lot to lose when we open ourselves to love. Because love is by its very nature catastrophic, the Shiva of emotions, whether eros, agape, or philia. Politics divides, love unites to conquer. One is forever turning freedom to slavery, the other slavery to freedom. Of course, sometimes they’re hard to tell apart. A lot depends on the weather.


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