Pop Theory 11: How to Love

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Pop Theory 11: How to Love

[Editor's Note: In keeping with the schedule, here is the sequential Pop Theory piece—about Valentine's Day—posted 8 Feb 2012. Yes, this actual Hallmarkiday is months away, but love is always in the air, or, to quote my favorite movie Love Actually, "love is all around you."]

It’s that time of the year again, my fellow AE’ers. That’s right. Valentine’s Day. And no one is immune or indifferent to this day of foules (or “fools,” as Chaucer, in the poem first credited with associating St. Valentine as a lovers holiday, would have us believe).

While I am fascinated by studies that document the physiological aspects of love and of failing in love— a little over a year ago, a meta-analysis study conducted by a Syracuse University professor found that “failing in love only takes about a fifth of a second” and “failing in love can elicit not only the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain”—I want to talk about how to love. Yes, Lil Wayne fans, the ethics of how to love.

In this column, then, I’m going to cull together some key components from various female thinkers about what I believe comprises an ethics of how to love. I’ll toss in my own thoughts occasionally, as I myself am in the process of working through my own ethics of how to love, something I’ve begun to think about specifically after the relationship that I thought was going to last forever (well, until I died) abruptly ended Valentine’s Day weekend two years ago. (Apparently, breakups are common during this time of the year —go figure.) After that debilitating breakup, I began to think more acutely about how I need to relate to myself before I relate to an other (in an intimate, sexual relationship kind of way). What I’ve come to discover is that this relation to my self must be grounded in self-love, compassion, and, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, a willingness to move beyond the survival instinct of self-preservation by embracing the gamut of emotions fluctuating between pain and pleasure.

"[W]e must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is....

Comments [5]

flygirl's picture

Two Be Two

I enjoy reading your posts.

This topic of loving the other is something that I have been meditating on for years, now. I wrote my PhD thesis (now, book) on it, and much of what I said intersects with your ideas. I like your analogy of the helix; I conceptualised love as mutual touch and as interpenetration (the latter inspired by an episode of Queer as Folk...).

I'm glad you quoted Irigaray because she is so relevant -- and so quotable. To Be Two has some beautiful lines around intersubjectivity as a caress between two that allows them to remain two. 

Marcie Bianco's picture

flygirl, thank you! i'd love

flygirl, thank you! i'd love to here your thoughts and actually would love to know about your dissertation/book! and, yes to irigaray! that's why i'm so devoted to liz grosz's work -- she seems to take irigaray's work to the next level.

flygirl's picture

My book

I'm totally getting rid of all anonymity here. Literature and theology written by an atheist. The link is here:


Maurice Merleau-Ponty also features.

From next year I'll take up a research fellowship to write about the Song of Songs in Victorian literature and culture. There'll be queer stuff in the project... which I toned down for the abstract:

"This project explores the Victorians' literary and artistic engagement with the biblical book, the Song of Songs. As a book on love, desire and marriage, the religious influence of the Song of Songs has been pervasive throughout Judeo-Christian history. How did the book's influence extend into Victorian society, where the modern concept of romance began to take hold? The project will discover how the Song of Songs was used to fashion, and to contest, the norms of romantic love, gender roles and marriage in Victorian literature and culture..."

I also write about Victorian porn Smile In my research, I basically talk about non-normative relationships.

It's been a while since I've read Grosz. You know more about theory than I do, though. I tend to use it sparingly. My strengths are in close readings and finding patterns. I love diving in and opening up the text -- it's a kind of intimate thing.

Grace Moon's picture

did you post this in honor of

did you post this in honor of the deep abiding love between Paula broadwell and David Patraeus?

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Marcie Bianco's picture

This is the next sequential

This is the next sequential post in the Pop Theory series...inspired by some punctilious woman I know.....