gershon hepner (5 3 38 / leipzig)
“I never looked for any marriage bond, ”
said Heloise to Abelard.
She knew that marriage is no magic wand,
despite the popular canard
that it consolidates relationships
that would be broken otherwise.
A lovely face can’t launch a thousand ships,
and marriage fails as a franchise
unless, instead of drifting without ease
into the boredom of routine,
the married couple sails like ships on seas,
not stretching in a limousine,
but tossed by waves whose turbulence ensures
that all emotions that they’ve felt
will amplify and not disarm amours,
providing them not a lifelovebelt,
but surfboard with which they can catch the waves,
not drowning since they do not tread
upon the other’s dreams, not bound like slaves
to rings that bound them when first wed.
Inspired by Katie Roiphe’s review of “A Vindication of Love” by Cristina Nehring in the NYT Book Review, June 21 (“Feverish Limitations”) :
Feverish Liaisons, Katie Rophe, June 21,2009
For most of us love is largely a matter of shared mortgage payments, evenings curled up on the couch in front of a video, or maybe a night in a hotel for an anniversary. But Cristina Nehring has a different idea. Her ardent polemic, “A Vindication of Love, ” puts forward a darker, more demanding vision of love. This is not, it should be said right away, a book without ambition: the subtitle is “Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century, ” though it is not exactly romance Nehring is writing about, but a more difficult, vital image of passion she believes we have lost. “We have been pragmatic and pedestrian about our erotic lives for too long, ” she writes, and in an examination of real and invented figures from the Wife of Bath to Frida Kahlo, she revels in love affairs that do not rely on our more hackneyed narratives. The result of Nehring’s literary and historical inquiry is a celebration of the wilder, messier connections. Her heroes and heroines tend to die, like Young Werther, who shoots himself; or try to die, like Mary Wollstonecraft, who throws herself off a bridge; or suffer, like Abelard and Heloise, one of whom is castrated and one of whom ends up in a nunnery. And yet Nehring admires these flamboyant men and women for the creative force of their affairs, for their ability to live outside the lines, for the ferocity of their feelings. She sees our modern goals of marriage, security and comfort as limited and sad, and quotes approvingly Heloise’s statement to Abelard: “‘I looked for no marriage bond, ’ she flashed. ‘I never sought anything in you but yourself.’ ”
In her most provocative and interesting chapters, Nehring argues for the value of suffering, for the importance of failure. Our idea of a contented married ending is too cozy and tame for her. We yearn for what she calls “strenuously exhibitionistic happiness” — think of family photos on Facebook — but instead we should focus on the fullness and intensity of emotion. She writes of Margaret Fuller: “Fuller’s failures are several times more sumptuous than other folks’ successes. And perhaps that is something we need to admit about failure: It can well be more sumptuous than success.... Somewhere in our collective unconscious we know — even now — that to have failed is to have lived.” Nehring sees in the grandeur of feeling a kind of heroism, even if the relationship doesn’t take conventional form or endure in the conventional way. For Nehring, one senses, true failure is to drift comfortably along in a dull relationship, to spend precious years of life in a marriage that is not exciting or satisfying, to live cautiously, responsibly. Is the strength of feeling redeemed in the blaze of passion even if it does not end happily? she asks. Is contentment too soft and modest a goal? Elsewhere, Nehring interrogates our steadfast insistence on balanced, healthy relationships, our readiness to condemn doomed, impossible entanglements. She argues that it may in fact be a sign of health to enter into a relationship that is turbulent, demanding or unorthodox. She praises long-distance relationships, arduous relationships, relationships with men who are elusive, relationships the therapeutic culture adamantly opposes. She asks, “Could it be that the choice of a challenging love object signals strength and resourcefulness rather than insecurity and psychological damage, as we so often hear? ”
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