In my novel The Birdcatcher, middle-age Chris Stone is on a train coming back from a lone hunting trip in northern Ontario, alternately watching the passing forests, low mountains and lakes outside the window and reading from a book of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry, when he comes to that poem where Lorca tells of his heart running off to the ‘forest of love’, and he cries out for it to come back, because, he says, no one goes to that forest anymore.
Looking out the window at the passing forests, Stone contemplates that and the world he lives in now, then says to himself:
So many had given up on love. So many were willing to accept so little. If a husband simply kept a job, helped pay the mortgage and stayed away from other women, most women were willing to call that love. …I wondered if Balzac, when he said our civilization was ‘monstrously sad’, was not thinking about that.
Yes, this is a problem I’ve been contemplating all my life. Except for a few years in the late ’60s, this has not been a romantic age.
Since Ronald Reagan was elected president of the USA at the beginning of the 1980s, inaugurating the greatest age of money worship in history, I haven’t witnessed much that you could call love.
There was plenty of love within my family, and I’m sure in many families, but I think it has to hide now, away from the public stage.
When I refer to love in families, I’m especially thinking of the love from children. Every now and then some philosopher will say that children can’t love because they don’t know what love is. But love is an instinct, not a conscious creation of the mind. Any parent who has loved a child, knows that that love is returned in spades.
But does love really have no place in this society? Is money and political power all that counts? Does selfishness really rule?
Well, of course romantic love is still there. It’s in our DNA, along with a love of the truth, a preference for reality over fake reality, etc. They may both have to hide now, but they aren’t going away.
Maybe real love is too weak to stand up to the increasing aggression and selfishness in our culture. On the stage of life, money insists now on being at the front of the stage all the time, always partially blocking the audience’s view of anything behind it. Just look at the fascination of the media with the incomes of celebrities, sports stars, and who the richest man in the world is at the moment.
This isn’t new. Lorca wrote that poem in the 1920s. Balzac said what he said almost two centuries ago. The ancient Romans, in their empire’s late decadent years, often sneered at love as something superficial, just icing on the cake.
Anyway, I can’t let go of this, Some more thoughts.
Yes, love is treated most of the time now as something superficial, something that should never be allowed to get in the way of making money.
The fictional novel is in a state of weakness now – I read recently that the average yearly income of authors is declining. I think it’s largely because most authors have lost faith in real love and truth. They don’t know how to write about it.
Yet, if you search for them, there are still great novels being produced by writers who are hardly known (You want me to name one? – try the young British writer C. A. Fletcher and his wonderful 2019 novel A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World – you’ll find real love there in plenty, combined with adventure).
There are great films too. Though I almost never watch films now, I had to see Ready Player One, because I had read the book. Though much of the book is missing, I left the theatre in awe of the film.
Though it can be difficult now to determine what the truth is when it’s surrounded by a flood of disinformation, I remain a follower of the Mexican philosopher Octavio Paz, who declared that there is, after all, a ‘verdad verdadero’ – a truth that is really true. The tree falls in the forest whether anyone bothers to watch or not.
In the same way, I know there is real love, which is infinitely superior to the fake variety, and it still counts with me, whether it is hidden from view or not.
Anyway, I just had to get that off my chest.