Loveology: Senseless Musings on The Experience of Love

Posted on July 10, 2011


I’m recalling a radio interview I once heard, between an NPR correspondent and a Cornell professor, Richard Klein. Klein mentioned that in ancient Greek, there were two verbs meaning “to see.” One verb was the one we are familiar with, meaning for the eye to be hit by a series of stimuli, flipped and turned and twisted into a basic similitude as a visual image. But the other was quite a different meaning. I found that old interview, and I’m going to transcribe below what the second word, drakane (not correctly spelled, I’m sure) means:

“The look that eyes can flash, like lighting, like dragon breath, that not only illuminates the eye, but sends out a kind of fire that penetrates the other. [It’s a word] for the moment when eyes flash and flash in a way that implies some kind of fateful encounter.”

It’s one of those words writers kill for. It’s a word we wish we had in English because there is no real way to explain it unless there is a phrase with all the knowledge of cultural connotation as well as a direct, precise denotation. It’s a word I wish I could truly use right now. Because this weekend I’ve been thinking about these moments—how do we interpret them, live with them, seek them out or follow after their occurrence?

You know love is real, not some invention entirely of the mind of man, because of just how infuriating it is. It’s changing, malleable, organic. It’s not a closed system or a monochromatic experience—it moves too fast for us to take hold of it at any given time. These moments of intense initial recognition, the piercing gaze and the immediate bolt that strikes through two individuals, drawing them closer and closer together, it is fleeting. It is a flash, a bolt, and it fades with a rumble of thunder, a growing storm as the brilliance grays and then falls heavy to the ground. It penetrates the earth and covers all and changes everything, never the same. But it is never the bolt, the flash, in the end. It is always asymmetrical, usually unrequited. That moment is the herald of something much more sinister. It’s a snare of longing, dangerous and beautiful.

But it does not always move forwards. Some moments of drakane remain frozen forever. The moments when you lock eyes, when you feel that pull, but you know you cannot move forward towards the other, or at least not fully. When you wish to call it fate, a destiny at the other end of the room. But when, if you ascribe it to fate, you must be a cursed creature, as you know fate has destined you to walk away as much as it has destined you to be with the other (or so you think at the moment). If it’s fate, then fate wants your soul rent in two, one piece of it forever in that room, at that time, and the other moving down whatever path it must. I think of these moments as the most pure. But whether that makes them the most promising or the most dangerous, I cannot decide.

The memory of that moment fades. When drakane and eros slowly mutate into something more stable and perhaps more realistic, the flash is rewritten in the mind, reinterpreted in light of a connected process. The context softens and alters the experience, the hardwiring of the mind. But without that replacement and evolution of love, drakane remains drakane, and slowly evolves into whatever you need drakane to be—the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal, perhaps the ultimate suffering.

How do we reconcile all of this?

I’m always amazed by the ability of human beings to exist with such contradictory impulses, with such rapidly changing perceptions and desires. I’m always amazed at the fact that we can rip our souls to pieces and then mend them together. It’s an internal and automatic struggle, to live with all of this. And we do not always weather it well, especially when we have a choice.

We don’t believe that we have a choice, but we do. There’s always choice. Perhaps the choices we make are fated by our predispositions and the driving momentum of every step we’ve taken until that choice. But when the bolt takes us, it is up to us which pull we listen to, which we allow ourselves to indulge.

So when the flash hits, and you know it cannot be more, cannot evolve, what do you do? You could walk away, let the memory fade. You could idealize the moment, seek it out and hope to evolve it. You could make the journey across the room, maybe seek one perfect kiss before the eternal parting. There’s risk in anything you do. The risk of measuring all subsequent experiences of love, the full storm, to the idealized moment.

Drakane is powerful. That’s why the word is related to dragons, to a fearsome and mythic beast. Love as the devouring flame: it’s an image that holds resonance. It’s the good burn that peels back the filth and façade of us, leaves us ashen and blows us away to be part of something larger. And as comes with the thanatos-eros aspect of human nature, that initial flame, the moment red heat saturates your body and courses boiling hot through you, the moment you are engulfed, it is intense pain, but the stimulation is intense pleasure as well. Orgasm may be la petite morte, but drakane is, then, la grande morte.

People have spoken to me of the magic of the moment before the kiss. The tension and desire of that moment is the root of the magic of the kiss itself. Skill with lips and tongue help, it’s true—but that sentence itself, it felt so clinical to write. As does the act if it does not have the adequate longing behind it. And desire is twofold: building desire builds pleasure, or the ability to enjoy gratification. But building desire builds suffering. This is, after all, the wheel of samsara.

We live to long because, I suspect, we long to live. And what would living be for a human being without a goal, without a longing? What more adequately human, but completely natural, than drakane, then? It’s exquisite pain, but there is pleasure in it. So we lash ourselves again and again, and curse and love at once.

So there it is: all love, or all love that is true and worth having, is in the end a beautiful torture. And perhaps it is a necessary torture. But which is the worse, the longing for the completion of the moment of drakane experienced but not fulfilled? That living with an image and a dream that will never be? Or the memory of the drakane once felt and tempered down by the evolution of love through its many future stages?

So when you encounter drakane, in its purest sense—when you have the ability to make the choice as to how you will remember and connect this moment to the rest of your life—what do you do? What do you do?

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