Category Archives: Love

Did Shakespeare Invent Love? (Nerdwriter1 Video)

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Her sociology class was among the most influential (probably the most) of my formal education. The aim of her research is a better understanding of manic depression and schizophrenia, diseases which even today are poorly understood by most scientists and psychiatrists. Greenfeld’s theory of symbolic reality, the symbolic basis of both the mind and culture, has had immeasurable effect on my thinking, personal philosophy, and writing. And it’s a perfect example of a foundation of worldview to which other elements have adhered over time. This is what The Nerdwriter is all about.

 

Can Sexless Love Be Fulfilling?

By Liah Greenfeld

In Modern Emotions and Perennial Drives: Love and Sex, I argued that the modern concept of love as an identity-affirming emotion, the way to one’s true self, and the supreme expression of the self, changed the cultural significance (that is, our attitude to) of sex, elevating it far above the base drive, legitimate only in marriage for the purpose of procreation and even then considered sinful within the framework of Christian morality which was dominant in our, Western, civilization throughout the last fifteen centuries of its pre-modern existence. Love became the greatest modern passion, it was presented from the outset–in Romeo and Juliet–as sexual love between a man and a woman, and the involvement of sex in it purified sex and added to it an important spiritual dimension. The essence of the modern ideal of love, and of love-relationship, however, has always remained its identity-affirming power, the fact that it offered the most direct route to finding oneself and, therefore, to  meaning in life and happiness [see Modern Emotions: Happiness].

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Modern Emotions and Perennial Drives: Love and Sex

By Liah Greenfeld

If you ever wondered, love–the identity-affirming one we all desire–is not dependent on sex and can well thrive without it. Love, as already Shakespeare said (and Shakespeare–see Modern Emotions: Love–was the expert on the subject) is a marriage of minds, after all, and the bodily element in it is at most secondary. Of course, the experience of that love we are discussing here is essentially erotic in the sense that the emotion is ecstatic and self-transcendent–finding that perfect understanding (the understanding that allows one to understand and accept oneself) in another person implies virtually merging with the other person in one’s innermost self, making the other person an essential, vital part of one’s identity. And this self-transcendence, merging of the minds, is naturally felt as a physical longing, a desire to become physically one–expressed as sexual desire. But sex, in this case, is an expression of love, not the other way around, and love can have numerous other expressions, it does not necessitate sex under all circumstances.

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Modern Emotions: Love

By Liah Greenfeld

Surprise! Surprise! Love, too, in the sense we understand it now, is not a universal human emotion. Even today it is not universal: some cultures are familiar with it and some are not. And, historically, only the last five hundred years in human history have known it — the same five hundred years that have known happiness, aspiration, and ambition. The first humans to fall in love also lived in the 16th century and were English. Today, of course, this most powerful feeling is familiar everywhere within the so-called “Western” civilization (which includes all societies based on monotheistic religion, i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and it has penetrated into other civilizations as well. But it has spread from England, accompanying other experiences (such as ambition or happiness) which were at first specifically English, and reached other societies in translation from the English language. Love as we understand it, therefore, also does not spring from human “nature”: it is essentially a cultural phenomenon.

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Are Human Emotions Universal?

By Liah Greenfeld

It is widely believed that human emotions, from love to ambition to pride or desire for freedom, for instance, are hardwired into our brain and that, therefore, both their range and their nature are universal, shared by humanity as a whole. This belief is wrong and itself reflects the fundamental universalism of modern Western, particularly American, thought and its tendency to consider all human consciousness and behavior as a function of biology. Both comparative zoology and comparative history  show that, above the limited range of emotions we share, as animals, with other animal species, what moves human beings and makes them suffer in one culture or society may be dramatically different from the emotions shaping the living experiences in another one.

Emotions, or feelings, as the name suggests, are experienced through physical sensations. In this they differ from other mental experiences, usually called “cognitive.” The part of sensations in an emotion allows us to place it into one of three categories: primary emotions, secondary emotions, and tertiary emotions. Primary emotions are experienced through specific sensations and represent the direct reaction of the organism to the stimuli of its physical environment. They include such experiences as pain and pleasure, fear, positive and negative excitement (joy and anxiety), hunger and satiation, and their biological function is to increase the individual organism’s survival. It is clear that these primary emotions are common to humans and other animals.

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Love, Madness, Terrorism: Connected?

By Liah Greenfeld

In the 16th century, in England, several remarkable things happened:

Social mobility, inconceivable before, became legitimate and common;

The ideal of Romantic love between a man and a woman emerged and “true love,” as we understand it today, was added to the human emotional range;

The word “people,” which earlier referred to the lower classes, became synonymous with “nation,” which at the time had the meaning of “an elite”;

Numerous new words appeared, among them “aspiration,” “happiness,” and “madness”;

The English society, previously a society of hierarchically arranged orders of nobility, clergy, and laborers under the sovereignty of God and his Vicar in Rome, was redefined as a sovereign community of equals;

The nature of violent crime, personal and political, changed, with crime that was not rational in the sense of self-interested becoming much more common;

The attitude to pets, especially dogs and cats, changed, transforming these animals in many cases from living multi-purpose tools to our friends and soul-mates;

The pursuit of growth — rather than survival, as was the case before – became the goal of the economy;

Mental diseases which were later to be named “schizophrenia,” “manic-depressive illness,” and “depression” were first observed, shifting the interest of the medical profession, in particular, from other, numerous, mental diseases that were known since the times of antiquity.

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Shakespeare and Mental Illness

Alan A. Stone, Touroff-Glueck Professor of Law and Psychiatry in the faculty of law and the faculty of medicine at Harvard University, in Psychiatric Times, March 12, 2013:

The ancient Greek dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides gave Western civilization its foundational myths: Prometheus, Oedipus, Antigone, and the Oresteia. Two thousand years passed until Shakespeare arrived and, according to literary critics, achieved something perhaps more important: he “invented the human!”1 I think of this invention as the secular conception of the human condition. Yes secular! it is a vision of the moral adventure of life constrained by no religious orthodoxy.

Scholars debate whether Shakespeare was Catholic or Protestant. He often draws on both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, but God is missing from his greatest plays. Nonetheless, to paraphrase Simon Russell Beale, the great British actor, to perform in those plays is to experience “redemption and transcendence.” Shakespeare’s understanding of the human condition miraculously transcends his culture, time, and place…     Continue reading