Almost twenty-five years ago — back when I was in college — a professor of mine mentioned how Shakespeare’s love stories were losing their impact.
Students in the 90s weren’t as able to relate. Something had changed even in the thirty years or so since he had first read them. This came during a lecture on how texts are dynamic: There is no one permanent, authoritative reading of any story. It changes through time and from one culture to another. Our culture at that time was less understanding of love than it had been before.
Though I didn’t understand it at the time — finding myself then tossed about in a maelstrom of emotions I considered “love” — I later went on to see what he meant. We don’t talk much about love anymore. Recently, there’s been conversation about how love itself is passé. Some have even called it “dead.” Students might still trudge through Romeo and Juliet, but they do so only with an indulgence for the way people used to think, feel, talk, act. It’s quaint — this “love.” We’re less and less likely to relate it to anything real in our own modern lives.
I think what’s changed is this: You can’t enter love with “what’s in it for me?” as your prime concern. You can’t be entirely enveloped in yourself and still successfully love another. You also can’t be convinced all that matters is in the immanent realm–that which can be touched, measured, bought, and sold. But every cultural force over the last hundred years or so in the West has been driving us to think only of ourselves, and only of the material. That’s been a deliberate effort on the part of elites who run the place. Keeping us selfish and focused only on stuff makes us easier to govern, and more susceptible to marketing and and other inducements to consume.
Love itself is still very much alive. People who sense emptiness and shallowness in their modern, materialistic lives are miserable because they lack love. When I see school shooters and other violent miscreants, I sense their main lack was the sort of love that would have made life precious to them. There’s a pallid sort of squalor in many people that they’ve tried to counteract with self-congratulatory reassurances of their own success, or in the care they show towards small animals who are entirely dependent on them, and can easily be re-homed as needed. None of this really works. They still need to love — and be loved by — another human being.
I don’t know what will come along to break this spell, but it seems that something simply must. The tendency to stay isolated while maximizing consumption is, in a cultural context, suicidal. That’s another way of saying it can’t go on like this — if only because we’ll end up destroying ourselves. There are ample signs we’re already a few miles down that road. Perhaps that’s just what needs to happen. Part of the cycle of any civilization.
Maybe it’s not the encouragement we’d like to hear, but with the death of the West at the hands of those from “less developed regions” — ones who haven’t entirely given themselves over to a materialist cynicism and loneliness — love itself might be eventually be reclaimed.
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There’s a lot more talk of love in my novel. Get it here: www.diamondtbook.com