Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I'd like to revisit that bit I quoted from an article about Sylvia Plath yesterday.
It was obvious from her poetry that Sylvia thought herself in love. Yet Perry had a rather different perspective. ‘It was all incredibly innocent. Our dating comprised of just getting together and talking or bicycle riding. I viewed her as a tremendously appealing person, but I never recall ever being romantically attracted to her, which puzzled me because she was so pretty.’
Perhaps one of the reasons was Sylvia’s emotional inconsistency. Whereas she assumed a boy would remain fixed in his feelings for her – to remain in awe – she felt able to flit from one heart-throb to another.

She never grew out of this capriciousness. She was forever in a state of emotional flux, yet assumed those around her to be fixed, their gaze directed towards her alone.
As I said yesterday, the problem being described here is not "emotional inconsistency". Plath, in fact, never changed. She always saw those outside of her primarily as being those who were, or should be, interested in her. Her emotional focus was very consistent; it was always on Sylvia Plath.

Okay, but why should we care about this narcissistic loser, especially given that she offed herself decades ago?

Answer: No reason I can think of.

But what virtue should she have had? What virtue should we all have?

If we simply take "emotional inconsistency" and reverse it we get "emotional consistency". Is that the thing we should aim for?

Well, we spend a lot of time trying to convince ourselves of that. It doesn't matter how lame pop songs on the theme of "I will always love you" get, they still find millions of buyers. And Adele can sing a song about being a creepy stalker showing up outside her now-married-ex's place and people will sit around crying into their chardonnay because it's so terribly meaningful that some loser should still feel love for the person who they can never have.

Here's another question: Hey Adele, the guy left you and married someone else, has it ever occurred to you that he might have done that for good reasons? Maybe you were selfish, maybe you were never around when he needed you, maybe you criticized him all the time, maybe you were a really lousy lay. Instead of focusing endlessly on your own emotions, maybe a few hard questions about what you have done wrong would be apropos. Starting with, I know I repeat myself, why are you stalking this guy?

The virtue we should be aiming for is the one Jane Austen praised: constancy. Constancy is not an emotion; it isn't inside us. Constancy is something that can be recounted in terms of behaviour and not by pointing "inside" myself at some nebulous thing that others have no way of telling if it is actually there.

Have you ever seen this scenario. Someone you know is in a relationship with some guy/gal and she/he speaks critically of them all the the time. Then the much criticized guy/gal leaves her/him and suddenly she/he is wallowing in her pain and talking about how much she/he loved him/her. And the thing is, they aren't lying if lying means saying something you know to be untrue. They genuinely believe what they are saying.

Of course, what they are saying isn't actually true simply because they feel it to be true. Emotions work that way. Emotions are always true when you feel them. If you feel cheated, then you feel cheated because the measure of the feeling is the feeling. No one who feels cold ever asks themselves, "Do I really feel cold?" And if you later feel warm, it doesn't make sense to think, "Did I really feel cold? Maybe I just thought I felt cold?"

It doesn't even make sense to ask whether you really were cold. The room may have been eighty degrees but if I felt cold then I felt cold. There is no room for dispute.

If love is a feeling, then there is no way to test love. It makes no sense to accuse someone, or ourselves, of being emotionally inconsistent, if love is a feeling. If, on the other hand, love is going to be something we can prove, then love has to be something that can be measured in terms of actual behaviours.

Constancy! It means loyal and dependable. Is that love? It is if we mean by love what Saint Paul meant by love (that reading comes up this Sunday by the way). It is if we mean by love something that is self-sacrifice for another person. This self-sacrifice can be quite joyful. Most of the time it is. Sometimes it isn't and sometimes it is excruciatingly painful. Either way, it can be justified by pointing at behaviour.

Try it in the case of selfishness. Think of Adele showing up and stalking her ex. She says she still loves him and the proof of that is ... that she is behaving like a creep trying to disrupt his life?

But, but, but, she hasn't gotten over him, she feels pain, it isn't her fault.

Maybe, but would you enter into a relationship with someone if you knew she or he was capable of that sort of thing? Okay, turn it around, do you think anyone else would want you knowing you are?

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