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Love and Freedom 18 January 2006

Posted by VARANGALI in Arts, Culture, Relationships, VARANGALI.


In The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom famously asked if what Romeo and Juliet had was a relationship. In an age where the laboratory is the temple and scientists the high priests, it is only logical that love, too, be clinical. Yet Bloom’s question cannot be thus summarily dismissed. We yearn for such a time when love was indescribable, and could be at best alluded to in poetry.

In Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, Newland Archer, the protagonist, contrasts his own failed attempt to break custom for love in his youth to his son’s ease in accomplishing the same now:

“The difference is that these young people take it for granted that they’re going to get whatever they want, and that we almost always took it for granted that we shouldn’t. Only, I wonder – the thing one’s so certain of in advance: can it ever make one’s heart beat as wildly?”

It is instructive to remember that before Juliet, Romeo was smitten by Rosalind. Were Juliet not a Capulet – and therefore untouchable – would Romeo have treated Juliet as he did Rosalind, a passing fancy? Perhaps Newland Archer is right: what we yearn for is not a time of indescribable love, but a time of structure and custom that made something as amorphous as love dangerous. Perhaps in our pursuit of unbridled freedom we have lost our very appreciation for it.



1. hafsa - 19 January 2006

You have quoted in this entry two books that helped me make sense of modern young men.

Allan bloom especially is constantlyl on my mind the last few days, as i try to comprehend why there are 260,000 single eligible people on naseeb.com. Still single. (granted, there are those on that site ‘happily single’). So much freedom for young western Muslims, and we’re all caught in a horrible trap of indecisiveness. So many pretty young things available at the click of a button. I wonder where we’ll all be in 20 years? How many of us will continue to feel that bachelorhood is the pinnacle of happiness?

I read the ALchemist recently, and the following lesson can be taken from that book: that anything ‘constant’ (your family, or your sheep or your friends) is death before death. A muzzling of one’s dreams. so leave them. This is what the new prophets preach.

I found Bloom at a time when i needed to understand why the modern western liberal young person in my life claimed not to feel love. for anyone, at anytime. Though this is an extreme example, the flatness of this prototypes feelings and faith is acutely observed and explained by Bloom.

Another book i recommend along the same lines is “a return to modesty” by Wendy Shalit. She writes that modesty essentially guides human behaviour: things unattainable are special. Overfamiliarity with the opposite gender and sexuality in the public sphere causes that soul deadening flatness. That flatness i saw in my modern friend’s eyes.

Please do read Shalit and post your insights!


2. VARANGALI - 19 January 2006


I am a big fan of Shalit (shameless plug: if you’re in the Boston area, check out the Iqra Book Club – iqrabookclub.org – they plan to read Shalit and maybe Wharton too). And I agree: Shalit’s point on modesty can be construed as a positive aspect of the structure and tradition that defined and limited Wharton’s world.

I think one point that Shalit doesn’t fully flesh out, and is worth examining, is the effect of modesty on personal development. Shalit mentions that studying girls’ diaries at the turn of last century shows that the key themes for adolescent girls back then were centered around virtue. Today the key themes of adolescence (and perhaps beyond) gravitate around men, women, mars, venus, etc. The causal link between this new myopic obsession and the rejection of modesty is very interesting, and I think needs to be further studied.

And finally, I presume you’ve read Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. If you happen to have read his Shakespeare on Love and Friendship, please do share your thoughts on it, the book sounds intriguing but I have never read it.

3. other|matters » Of Wharton and Virtue as a Veil for the Vacuous - 15 February 2006

[…] The Age of Innocence provokes discussion by raising questions but rarely suggesting any answers. After savaging the strictures of old New York, Wharton leaves us with a gem of an observation that love, in fact, may be diluted by the modern freedoms we now enjoy (Love and Freedom, 1/18/06). Similarly, she not only questions those who pretend to be virtuous, but also the very virtues themselves. “Archer felt irrationally angry. His host’s contemptuous tribute to May’s ‘niceness’ was just what a husband should have wished to hear said of his wife. The fact that a coarse-minded man found her lacking in attraction was simply another proof of her quality; yet the words sent a faint shiver through his heart. What is ‘niceness’ carried to that supreme degree were only a negation, the curtain dropped before an emptiness?” […]

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