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onewhowalks's picture

Today in Anne's class, I talked a little bit about my love project in reference to our discussion on Getting Mother's Body. I apologize for how scattered my thoughts were- it's something I've thought and talked a lot about over the past 4.5 years, but it's been a while since I've introduced it.

For those of you who weren't there, I have an ongoing project in which I ask people to define love. (My very corny 14 year old self called it PROJECT DEFINITION: WHAT IS LOVE? On the cover of the original composition book of answers is written "love is the great intangible," a quote by Diane Ackerman) There are two parts: an open-ended written segment and an oral interview composed of questions drawn from my archive of written answers and my own research. The wrtten part I use because the vague prompt allows me to see what people draw on first and because writing often requires contemplation. I think it's important to sit with the idea of love- what one's definition is, why they think that, how they're living that definition out. The project started in part because we use the word love all the time, we reference it everywhere, we lust after it, it's in many ways a building block of our society... but we often don't even know what we mean when we say it. That's interesting!! The oral interview is included because some of my friends thought that the written wasn't "authentic" enough, and the only way you could get a person's real thoughts was through getting them to speak. I don't know about that, but I do think it adds something different, and it allows me to get answers to the cache of question I've built up over the years.

Some of those question that seem relevant to our discucssion of GMB are:

  • can you love something without liking it?
  • do you love something because of their flaws or in spite of them?
  • is the ability to love inherent/innate in everyone or must it be taught/learned?
  • is lust love?
  • is one-sided love less valid than two-sided love? is one-sided love love at all?
  • is love a choice? (written on the same post-it note is "familial love as definite? consistency?")
  • a couple variations on love as passive or active - is love more powerful as a feeling or an action?

another quote that seemed relevant was "[w/ platonic/romantic love you're] trusting someone to be your family" (Eliza, 20 June 14)

Abby referenced bell hooks' All About Love: New Visions (2000), a book which is extremely important to me. I read it a little over a year ago, the summer before my Freshman year of college. bell hooks offers an action-based definition of love.

"To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients- care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication"

This felt so good to read, because it was so tangible. Steps to take. A checklist. A rubric.  (many of the questions I ask/reflect on deal with falling out of love and true love, as well as the persistence of (true) love, such as "can you ever fully fall out of love?") The other definition of love bell hooks references primarily in her book is by M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled. This is what Abby brought into the space with her reference to All About Love.

"Love is the will to extend one's own self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."

Both M. Scott Peck's and bell hooks' frameworks for love are centered on action, nurturing, and intention. I feel like that INTENTION to love is something important to think about in regards to GMB and the love/relationships present between characters. How are they growing towards love? My instinct is to pull in the Billy/Willa Mae relationship, but I'm not sure that growth of love is what's happening here, but growth of respect? It's complicated because only Billy can change her feelings and actions; only Billy is alive.

One-sided love is one of those concepts that is very, very divisive in my interviews.  When I first started the project, I supported it. I think this was mainly because I  found myself in a situation of unrequited "love". You know. Picture the scene. I demurely ask the cool, smart senior I *loved* for their opinion for my *research*. Am devastated by cynacism supporting the following. The opposition to one-sided love is that it's selfish, ignorant, and/or just lust. It doesn't account for or respect the feelings of the passive side, and therefore cannot be love, a love depending on intention and activity in both parts of the relationship. The idea of one-sided love is a good place to bring in Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love.

Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love


Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love is a way of conceptualizing/categorizing different "types" of love. When I first started the project, I figured there were three primary types of love- familial, platonic, romantic. Sternberg's theory breaks down love into different combinations of three elements: passion, intimacy, and commitment. Varying emphasis and saliency of these three elements can be used to break down different stages or types of love or relationships. The more elements present and strong, the more likely a relationship is to survive. I think one of the benefits to Sternberg's Theory is that by taking away the language of "platonic, romantic, and familial," it takes away some of the expectation we have for those roles/scripts. I first found Sternberg's theory through different articles on the neuroscience of love. Sternberg's Theory does define lust and/or infatuation as love. The Triangular Theory also comes with a survey anyone can take that like, defines which type of love you have with a person you're thinking of. I especially love the survey because it allows for a close-text analysis of phrases and words that build up what each 'type' of love stems from. It's also interesting for identifying actions of love. This now has me thinking about mystifying language as a concept to think about in regards to love in passivity/activity.

Finally, or finally for this post/for now, I want to leave the Scarlet Letter quote I couldn't find earlier:

"It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for teh food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object. Philosophically considered, thereofre, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to eb seen in a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky and lurid glow." (Roger Chillingworth in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter)





hannah's picture

thank you, bea!