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Romance As Illumination

Henry Flynt

(c) 1996 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

A. In focusing the topic of this chapter, two issues come into play. One issue is that affectionate and sexual relationships, which may or may not be solemnized by marriage, comprise a wide and variegated realm of interpersonal existence. I do not want to speak here about every sort of pair bond.

I want to speak about love which comes as an uncontrived breach in psychic isolation, and throws the lover into the turmoil of unforeseen companionship. One finds the other person "touching," or fetching, and fascinating--evoking a sentiment through which one feels intensely alive. Such an "affair" may be of short duration. The commitment may not really be mutual; the lover may project a fantasy on the beloved which disperses when the beloved asserts his or her actual aspirations. When the affair is broken off, it may result in extreme depression and a lifetime of unrelieved yearning. The lover is permanently changed, and the memory is indelible. Both the joy and the despair disclose possibilities not reducible to any other side of life.

The other issue is that romantic love is not a simple mode of interpersonal involvement. Companionship and sex are involved, and also the reciprocity or complementarity of gender, whether or not that is illusory or contingent. Romantic affection is not an autonomous aspect of life; indeed, it may throw you into a conflict of loyalties and aspirations. The couple offer each other resonance or parallelism, and also complementarity (each supplying what the other supposes he or she lacks to be complete), and also emotional support and consolation. There is also the prospect of parenting a child and expanding the sentiment to parental love. There is, then, the prospect of leaving one's willful individuality to merge affirmatively with another subjectivity; at the same time, the companionship of love may be a support to one's individualizing qualities. In my approach to psychology, romantic affection is compared with other avenues of experience in which one affirmatively sheds the self, or in which the self is energized or exalted. Again, it is clear that the love affair is a composite or integrated mode of interpersonal existence; and for our psychology, the integration of these aspects has to be retraced.

Romantic affection is a continuum of possibilities. I cut that continuum in order to be able to say something non-trivial. The account which follows is an illustration; I don't claim universality for it.


It is possible for romantic affection to be illuminatory. Romantic affection is not always folly; nor is it always the banality of marrying one's housekeeper. We accept readily enough that a cultural artifact can be illuminatory. Consider that another person can potentially involve oneself more comprehensively than any artifact. Romantic affection can be one avenue of escape from encapsulation. Another person can have an emotional importance to oneself, and a capacity to inspire oneself, which are qualitatively different from other sources of inspiration. Romantic affection may involve the discovery of a person whose charm is unique and irreplaceable to you. The person loved may be a human novelty whom you appreciate--but whom you could not have predicted or planned. Love is a mixture of (conceptually distinguishable) human aspects which are ends in themselves. The illuminatory modalities which it may lead to, and the enduring devotion which it may initiate, can be far from tenuous--and do not deserve condescension.

"Love" is a generic or abstract word. It is not helpful to conceive of concrete romantic affection as a simple phenomenon. Rather, it is a sentiment (sometimes an illumination) arising from a blending of lust, emotional support, "personality-complementation," transfusion of vitality, wanting a soulmate, etc. Love involves companionship, emotional support, empathy, body experience, exaltation.

Desire may not be reciprocated; one or both partners may discover that he or she knew the other less well than was believed; the notion that romantic involvement has to be pairwise is only a stereotype; some people seek abusive partners; etc etc. Another example of how far love is from being elementary: the overlap between love and "sexual perversion" evinces such a discrepancy between what people do and why they do it, on the one hand, and what public discourse says people should do, on the other, that it has made the careers of generations of social critics.

An outstanding aspect of love is that it is unspecialized and nontechnical. When love means anything, the lovers apprehend themselves reciprocally as wholes and as unique. People who, by virtue of technical expertise or initiation in a narrow specialty, are supposedly superior to everyone else are no more "geniuses of life" than anyone else.

Other writings of mine are wary of love and its mystique. Romantic affection is not an autonomous aspect of life; it does not have a unique meaning. There is no guarantee that it will be redemptive (as idealizations of love may portray it as being).

Romantic affection is a unique avenue, qualitatively incomparable with other modes of experience. The opposite of love is not literal sequestration from other people; it is feeling alone in the middle of a crowd, or feeling ignored by a crowd.

Love as I refer to it has intense admiration for the other as an important component. Also the person loved is cute, charming (winsome); fascinating, intriguing.

Heterosexual romance confounds friendship with sexuality, and in addition, male/female complementarity or reciprocity. A same-sex friendship is not the same thing (and it's not just because that friendship is not sexual).

You escape from isolation: not to a person who only duplicates you, but to one who intrigues and awes you. It's not a mirror for solipsism; it's the attraction of the unfathomable.


I wish to proceed to the specific phenomenon of interest and explore it introspectively. From that, I propose to pass to issues of the determination of reality.

I do not wish to cover the whole realm of pair-bonding. I do not wish to cover the sociology of "partner" roles or of marital success. I do not wish to cover social problems in relationships. (Nor women's attitudes as feminists have defined them.)

There are "relationships"--which may end in marriage--which reflect convenience and comfort. The pragmatic affair where you value the other for reliability and carrying their own weight and so forth (not the impossible dream). They are not our concern here.

Nor do I discuss "love" which is an act of pity or patronization--or "fellow feeling" etc. I don't wish to give a pretentiously virtuous panegyric on "love" as an act of pity (altruism, philanthropy). I'm talking about romantic affection which is clearly self-interested. But there are disparate relationships which some men can have with women wherein they marry a housekeeper or whatever and don't place any intellectual demands etc. on the beloved. I'm not concerned with that either.

In the love I speak of, mutual comprehension is necessary, and admiration of the other is necessary.

In this discussion, I refuse to contend with unworthy methodologies, whether in psychology, sociology, or Freudianism. It is far less important to fight behaviorism or Freud than to proceed to the phenomenon of interest. I already treated some of the unworthy methodologies at great length in two manuscripts from 1983 and 1984.

Actually, the most apposite reference in the academic literature may be W.J. Goode's misleadingly titled "The Theoretical Importance of Love."[1] Romantic love is disruptive, and it is normal for there to be social controls which curb it drastically. Also, in the course of a relationship, romance is supposed to evolve into the companionate bond. (Which in our society is then inexorably followed by the breakup.) These determinations clarify my topic: I am writing about the very moment which is supposed to be suppressed or outgrown.

The academic literature makes other observations which I recognize as valid, but would not have made myself. For one thing, romance involves the lovers becoming absorbed in each other--shutting out the rest of the world. For another, love is extremely projective: meaning that it is very difficult to convince the attracted person that the feeling is not reciprocated.

The literary-irrationalist literature of love may be noted.[2] It is filled with hyperbole about escape from the self and merger with the infinite, not to mention the inseparability of love and death. That hyperbole is as objectionable as the methodologies of psychology and sociology.

* *

B. The realm of romantic relationships combines sex and companionship. Romantic relationships shade over to the wish to form a family; and to expedient motives for marriage. For many people, pair-bonding may consist in being stolidly comfortable with each other--without the turmoil of having what otherwise would be psychic isolation breached.

You can be infatuated with a person because of the person's appearance; you may draw inferences from a person's appearance which bear little connection to the person he or she is, and the infatuation may be futile.

A cynic can argue that all actual romantic affection is infatuation. That is to say, even when a relationship permanently changes one's life, or becomes an indelible memory, it turns out that the object of your affection is a fantasy you conjured from the other person.

Romantic affection is like discovering a new room in the soul. (I explain this literally in this and later sections.) It is also catastrophic. The sudden release from isolation; finding a soulmate, a person who simultaneously evokes lust and is fetching. Somebody who may stem from a very different personal background and have lived a very different sort of life--nevertheless, there is the shock of recognition of parallel feelings or values. The other person resonates with your feelings; there is a mutual recognition in how you feel about things or what you value. The other greets your inclinations, ideas as legitimate, warranted. Accepts you not for acted plausibility and presentability, but for what you respect in yourself. The other validates what you respect in your self--which may be ridiculed by the "community." That means that the other, like yourself, managed to escape a certain subjugation.

The other person may have exactly those qualities which you feel incomplete for lacking. You may take the other person as a mentor in some aspect or aspects of life. So there is this complementarity. There is also the resonance, the mutual comprehension, the emotional support. The explosive emotional response.

Sex and sexual attraction are integral in this romantic affection. (When there is no sharing of perspectives, when the other is not fetching, then sex does not have the meaning it does in love.) Consenting sex need not be anything but a "reflex." Accompanying romantic love, it gains a meaning of acceptance, ecstasy, an abandonment of self to merge with another subjectivity. Real sex is overwhelmingly tactile. To touch the other person is "electric." Sex may offer a transfusion of vitality from the other person.

How another person's touch feels to you is a sign of how you feel about them.

Touching etc. as an expression of affection doesn't need a theoretical apology. It's the absence of such affection that requires an explanation.

Love means the richness of the encounter of another person, who echoes you, complements you. Who is a constant source of surprise. Who comprises an intent which you find fetching, which you admire, and yet which you do not circumscribe.

In life, one may become resigned to isolation and not experience the deficit as a vacancy. One is alone in a crowd, or is shouldered aside by the crowd. Then you meet someone whose comprehension resonates with yours, who has the same emotional dimensions, who accepts you, and at the same time may be different in a way which seems to complete you. Combined with the evocation of lust.

Love throws one in turmoil because of the shattering of one's isolation.

I'm not talking about unedifying risks: rejection and jealousy. (Fear of rejection associated with seeking a "date"; fear of having a lover "stolen" by a new competitor.)

You feel that your most important, most human capacity has been awakened.

When one is the only person who thinks and feels in a certain range, one lives in an amputated condition, a deficit. Without stimulation, emotional support, resonance, one lives in a psychic jail.

1) You do not invent the actual other person. That person comes from without. The awe that you cannot be complete by yourself; that you cannot single-handedly invent what you need.

2) You find "your truth" in "the soul and body" of another person. The resonance, the validation, residing in another person.

A light comes into the world. Because of the sympatico and the sexual connection to one other person, you feel an unexpected bond with people passing you on the street, as if you have essential empathy with them.

One of the things that both romantic love and friendship can represent is association, companionship, which is not schematic, specialized, role-to-role; and which is not merely a means to such a goal as brute survival.

The other person who is not just a mechanical product of the socialization process. The person whose originality or freshness is worth more than societal norms. The miracle when somebody has managed to escape societal processing and remain an unbroken or undemeaned spirit.[3]

Most of life is a gavotte with robots. Finding that you are not isolated is a shock. The soulmate effect. A light comes into the world or a door opens that you had not known existed. You need an interchange of affection. You need to have positive impulses and aspirations confirmed. You need sympathy for your standpoint in the world. You need miracles of cuteness, charm, an achieved way of life.

To positivism, it is not knowledge. But why wouldn't one consider it the only knowledge worth having?--that would be less stupid. The most fulfilling and revelatory encounter or episode one could pass through.

* *

C. You may fall in love with somebody because that person has to you a unique and irreplaceable charm. You may fall in love because the other person is a complement to you, supplying qualities of "personalty" which you lack, allowing you to feel more complete as a "personality" in a pair than by yourself. Love may also involve the seeking of a transfusion of vitality from another person.

Love as an escape from personal encapsulation. The discovery of someone who is a counterpart to you--which for many people may be easy, but for some is not. Even if one's perception of the other person is partly fantasy, one's romantic affection for another person can activate a dormant or latent side of one's personality. It can be revelatory, can change you. The person loved can be a human novelty who is understandable and profound to you, but whom you could not have predicted or anticipated or "scripted."


John Alten: Love has to do with valuing another person as a whole and as unique. Sex should be a spontaneous expression of solidarity.


A cynical theory that a pair have to have complementary traumas, impairments, to experience each other as fetching. In any case, you gain something from comforting another person. The other person's vulnerability is fetching. You have to know that you can't have everything, can't make everything go your way.

Love may be a relation of the individual to a fantasy. You expect it to redeem you when it can't. Reciprocal neurosis. What you believe about the other person may be fantasy, nevertheless, it may catalyze a new realm for you.


The "mystery of woman" is real, but only a fraction of women have it. Realistically from a mental hygiene point of view, it may be the other side of illness or dissipation--a complement to alcoholism or other drug use--unfocused, dreamy, vacant, changeable--also is more likely in societies where a woman's occupation is to be tempting, seductive.


One doesn't choose to have a homosexual dimension; it's something one discovers in oneself, a desire which surfaces.

The male norm is to be gruff to each other. To be tender is atypical and may be perceived as insulting. Male homosexuality as a return to boyhood where the absence of barriers is not improper. One seeks a transfusion of vitality, male tenderness, not the same as complementarity.


Sex does not come with built-in holiness; it doesn't care who uses it. It may be profane; boring; meaningless. Child prostitution in Asia. Rape in battle zones. People who voluntarily create versions of sex which establish conversions between pain and sex, abuse and sex, anxiety and sex.

There is little point in being piously horrified at social relationships when they are a way of life. The slogan of the dignity of the person, or right of the individual, is ascribed to "the West."[4] The point is that the phenomenon of the coolie, the peon--the "subhuman" menial--is common through most of history. The point is that for the parties to be bound to different classes to that degree formally precludes love as I speak of it.


The lover may have to compete for the beloved's affection; you may be able to get what you want by being forceful or willful. Urging what you want.

* *

D. What I fell in love with was what I saw in people and not what anybody else (including them) saw. Love was a private sentiment. But I don't call my view of the other deluded. It's just that the other was rich enough to catalyze more than one insight or exaltation.

When the situation ended, it was impossible to replace the other. I needed them, but I didn't know it until I met them.

These people represented a personal world which was new to me and which I couldn't have constructed or predicted--but once I saw it I desired it. A new synthesis.

Possibility of a different kind of life (or a door to a different personal world) which pertained to my needs for affection and camaraderie.

Since I didn't see these people the way other people did, I must have a unique profile of strengths, weaknesses, needs, aspirations which these people fitted.

The person loved is irreplaceable. Nobody could be smart enough to invent them; they are. The other person's unique way of life affects me like art or an intellectual achievement--except that the dimension of affection is more important--relationship with another person is important.

Needing affection: sharing attitudes and concerns--emotional support.

I don't want anything as pretentiously virtuous as the other person's freedom. I want the other person to accept me.

My ability to be fascinated, intrigued, stimulated by the other person is a unique accomplishment of mine.

The "love euphoria."[5] In my particular case, I obviously find most people disappointingly pedestrian. Then, the discovery that a sexually attractive person shares an outlook with me and is even affectionate and has come to be in a personal "world" which is fascinating to me. It changes the way I experience everything because everything acquires the possibility of fascination. The fact that another person is a miraculous accomplishment energizes me generally.


Each person develops a personal way of life, or "world." You (the other) inherit a particular family, ethnicity, tradition, etc. But you are a unique variant. When I tried to find a replacement for you in "your group," I couldn't. Then, on the basis of your values, you bring together a group of acquaintances, occupations, etc. The physical surroundings in which you live, etc.

You are erotically cute; but beyond that, your values and abilities bring together a way of life and an attitude toward life which is a revelation to me. A door to another life. Camaraderie and affection. I discover that I admire and need somebody who is not a mirror image of me.

One's life is a unique journey in a human world that is amoral and that doesn't add up to any one meaning or thrust. The beloved has to come along at a particular time in this journey; and may catalyze only oneself.

The beloved just is. Nobody who ever lived is smart enough to concoct this person by manipulation. The person is an original solution to the profile of opportunities and restraints, the competition of wills and interpretations. Importance of inspired utilization of tradition. The person (the "you") is not so much self-willed as fated to be a certain way. You flow into an original solution that charms, enchants, fascinates, intrigues--without your willing it--or understanding it as an outsider might. So:

- tradition forms you

- the juncture in my life or journey when something happens[6] --opportunity.

My experience of being "intoxicated" by a novel person remains personally bounded. It is typical for other people not to see what I see in this novelty. (Analogously for a novel cultural artifact.)


Anon. "ordinary people" values

The ordinary person takes freedom from material want as the basic life-goal. Enough food, a home, a legacy for their children. This is the prerequisite for the most important life-goal, a circle of emotional warmth and material well being that is shared with family and friends--"happiness." As the most basic material demands become satisfied, the ordinary person does not expand his or her goals qualitatively, but desires more or "better" material things and other accepted luxuries, e.g. jewels, travel.

Fitting in is important because it is a non-strenuous form of social behavior that gives stability--and can help form a basis for self-identity, which is often lacking in the ordinary person, sometimes desperately so. Esteem and prestige are not granted to those who fit in most flawlessly, but to the members who most embody the goals and ideals of the group.

The ordinary person disapproves of sadness because "happiness" is the goal. Because this goal is elusive, a show of happiness is often used as as symbol to evoke true happiness, whereas sadness might bring even greater dread. Happiness is also felt because of "incomplete interpretations" (HF).

The ordinary person is besieged by his or her own intellectual insecurity and unwillingness, an overwhelming fear of being in the wrong and being punished, and a lack of understanding of how he or she fits into the world and the future.

This is well written and enriches the discussion, but what it depicts is the mask which the ordinary person wears when looking in the mirror. It implies that submission and aggressive subservience are rational goal-seeking on the part of unimpaired psyches--which is preposterous. I cannot expand on the question here.[7]

The romantic illumination is quickly shut down because usually the beloved person turns back toward an affirmation of banal life, humdrum life.

Romantic affection seems, indeed, to be a sphere unto itself. It does not challenge the culture's intellectual positions. When the relationship changes course, it turns back to humdrum life. One's need for emotional support etc. has priority over a specialized intellectual achievement; but it cannot refute the latter. People merely put pair-bonding and specialized achievement in separate compartments.

The learning in a relationship can be argued to be purely sentimental. Rather than challenging your intellectual orientation, it gratifies you emotionally in such a way that you shed skeptical analytical thought. I expand on this theme below.

* *

E. The romance will break up because it is not really mutual; one person is humoring the other. The person who is not devoted breaks away at the first real test of loyalty and aspiration.

It's one of the fault lines of existence, that in love you experience your companionable nature most strongly. Yet after all, the idealized other proves to be a mirage. Shallow minds want to deny one or the other of these two sides.

It is not an accident that the lovers turn out not to really know each other. Without malice, they may edit themselves to be more appealing to the other, to avoid the other's disapproval. It goes much further than that, in fact. There can be a romance between people who do not approve of much about each other. You turn a blind eye to an obvious weakness (not necessarily a wickedness) because the advantages, the gratification of the relationship are so important. People bend their judgment way out of shape if the relationship is the only hope available.

This means that from the beginning, the total simpatico was a mirage. The lovers were already squaring the circle, out of need.


When the affair collapses you may be thrown into a severe depression. The world is ashes; the light is lost; meaning is lost. For the rest of one's life, one yearns for the feeling of awakening, the charm, of companionship, of completion.

The depression when the affair ends

Consider the sort of desperate love affair which is sometimes described as opposites attracting each other. Given partners A and B, there is an exchange of affection, of emotional support, between them. At the same time, speaking in the perspective of A, B provides A with the presence of a desired personal quality which A lacks. A gets a sort of transfusion of vitality from B. B becomes the source of life's worth to A. Such a relationship is distinctly more dramatic than a partnership or friendship. Actually, I see nothing wrong in wanting to live in a thick affectionate atmosphere. Nevertheless, in life as we know it, the sort of affair I have mentioned is risky. It makes no provision for the growth of divergent needs or self-interests in the partners. (And the affair may involve babying one's partner, subordinating oneself to one's partner's limitations, etc. Actually, all affectionate relations in life as we know it have the rather peculiar character of private enclaves of emotional property.)

If B abandons A, then A undergoes a psychic catastrophe. A loses access to the desired personal quality, loses the source of vitality, loses the source of life's worth, loses emotional support, loses the admiration from B which has come to serve as A's self-appraisal. A feels a mental anguish and deprivation to the effect that "everything is lost" and "I can't stand to live." A does not, strictly speaking, experience a dissolution of self, or an internalizing of a blight. But A's person-world is bereft of the source of life's worth. And A feels an anguish and worthlessness which wishes for oblivion.

Vague generalizations

I can lose the "I," can lose centered activation, presence, drive, organization, possession, discretion. This "I"-loss cannot be accomplished merely by suspending beliefs. But it is evidently contingent on beliefs which function as an operative delusion; and these beliefs are specific to the scientific culture. (In the sense of "Apperceptive Cogency.")

Even as the "I" is annihilated, there remains a more elusive "I" which observes its own disappearance; in analogy with the way I observe that comfort has been lost, i.e. that I am in pain. This configuration is not a figure of speech or a logical circularity. It is a mystery of content and praxis.

* *

F. There are other "losses of self": morning amnesia; the mock fever of a psychedelic experience (where the self-center attenuates). There are also other states in which the self is energized, potentiated. Dexamyl produces the "cruising altitude" phenomenon where you believe that you can see all the way back into the most formative moments in your distant past life.

Heroin and the feeling of solace, comfort, consolation, of being embraced.

Avenues of "spirituality": Romantic affection is one. Another is the ability to feel (anything which is not demeaning): including the sombre, the morose, the bleak. Jeering and defilement destroy it.


It is not uncommon for a romantic affair to run a course in which the relationship is experienced in markedly different ways. In person-world analysis, one's processing of one's modally different episodes (waking, dreaming, morning amnesia, the hypnagogic state) into a "longitudinal substantiality," an identity over time for oneself, is opened up. To maintain this level of incredulousness, the synthesis of romantic episodes (including dreamed episodes) into a "longitudinally substantial" affair would have to be opened up also.


Love as camaraderie which could contribute to a new vehicle for the transmission of cultural values. (Eroticized camaraderie.) This is a way-out idea on the other side of bohemian wife-swapping. I never got to this point because the people I loved did not have the "avant-garde" sense of adventure I had. They were not counterparts of that part of me even though they were bohemians. They were ordinary people in the KH sense. They wanted the warmth of a circle of friends (of "their own kind"), not an extra-cultural adventure.

* *

G. There is no guarantee that you will find a soulmate. Or that a relationship of this degree of inspiration will last more than a week or whatever (will be a substantial mutual commitment).

I don't claim that romantic affection is certain to make people "grow." Companionship becomes an end in itself. It may be shackling. It may sap one's will to tear oneself away from others mentally--when that is necessary to think originally. The mentally sequestered state feels tragically lonely in comparison to love. So: love makes the average person dopier, because it is a bribe-reward to conformism.

In concrete human relationships, love may takes the guise of a trade in which one swindles oneself. Given lover A and beloved B, A strikes a bargain with B in which A gains emotional support and access to a desired personal quality (which B possesses and A lacks). But in return, A accepts being constrained by B's limitations. To obtain the all-important emotional reassurance, A blinds him- or herself to B's pettiness, self-deception, selfishness, general inadequacy, or the like. The hunger for emotional gratification as reassurance can conflict with emotional gratification as ecstasis--which to me means an openness to disorienting uncanniness or delirium. Thus, declarations of "love of love" are not appropriate in a serious world-vision.

The person reaching out for romantic affection may instead run against impossibly unfair choices. Some people do not find a counterpart or soulmate. If attaining romance would require you to play a role for the benefit of another who is not simpatico to your (actual thematic) identity, such a necessity may negate the very point of an intimate relationship. I may not want to have to dissemble in a romance the way I dissemble to adversarial authority-figures. If you have to relate to everybody as a non-counterpart, that means that you are totally encapsulated--and that again negates the point of romance.

Let me mention one case that has come to my attention. When one is more and more nearly anticipating valuable, deviant insights, but has not yet attained them,[8] then the exercise of controlling the interface between oneself and other people shrewdly (not to mention turning one's whole life into an elaborately orchestrated lie) is beside the point. When one's need is to defend one's virtues from people who don't notice them at all, then compromise is rendered irrelevant.

The larger world involves the competition of wills and interpretations (in reference to the determination of reality) as mediated by the social structure or culture.

Given this, one may be able to get what one wants only by disclosing one's deviance and precipitating a power struggle. Adjustment-directed compromises and dissembling may be beside the point. Moreover, it is not necessarily easy in "social life" to fool other people into thinking that your are like them or that you have something they want. To seek to gain romance by adopting a false conformist identity negates the point of intimacy. If you find that upholding your virtues and reaping the joy of your qualities and activities makes you increasingly unpopular, then you have little ground for compromise or adjustment. Thus, guarantees that love will be achieved are not appropriate in a serious world-vision.

* *

H. Other people have a tremendous capacity to "intoxicate" (i.e. "stimulate"), me, in ways qualitatively different from other sources of stimulation. Then, life in the "larger" world is characterized by the interpersonal competition of wills and interpretations as mediated by the social structure or culture. This competition has more texture, scope, and sophistication in waking episodes than in dreamed episodes. [P.S. I'm not sure of this.] Episodes in which my thematic identity is decided are evidently based in such competition. It is thus a plausible generalization that the capacity which other people have to affect and ultimately "intoxicate" me is closely bound up with this interpersonal competition of wills and interpretations. [The question is whether person-world theory pushes these compelling life-phenomena outside the boundary.]

On the other hand, intoxicating concerted activity varies widely. Group-mindedness evidently involves an attenuation of the self in which your choices and judgments become the passive echoes of cues from other people. (You are seduced into self-inhibition.)

To repeat from an earlier page, the romantic illumination is quickly shut down because usually the beloved person turns back toward an affirmation of banal life, humdrum life.

Romantic affection seems to be a sphere unto itself. It does not challenge the culture's intellectual positions. When the relationship changes course, it turns back to humdrum life. One's need for emotional support etc. has priority over a specialized intellectual achievement; but it cannot refute the latter. People merely put pair-bonding and specialized achievement in separate compartments.

The learning in a relationship can be argued to be purely sentimental. Rather than challenging your intellectual orientation, it gratifies you emotionally in such a way that you shed skeptical analytical thought.

Isn't it primarily under demeaning threats that ordinary personhood (hereafter personhood), and dignity, are evident, and not otherwise? Suppose an individual lives continually in a condition of emotionally supportive concerted activity. Dignity-related perceptions might arise if a conflict in needs or values emerged, or if one of the participants took unexpected, startling initiatives. But as long as there is no such conflict or surprise, I have to ask whether dignity and personhood would even pertain to this condition. In other words, are not personhood and dignity self-protective modalities?--and are they not self-sequestering modalities? Could gratifying intimacy with no sense of risk produce a shift to a modally different state in which personhood "evaporated"?[9] If romantic affection intensifies self/other differentiation, can it not also attenuate it?

Consider romance--or any emotionally gratifying concerted activity which is risky: which perhaps unfolds in cycles of conflict and accord, estrangement and reconciliation. Certainly the nadirs in such a relationship plunge one into some sort of crisis (of dignity?). To say that you receive and expect emotional support from another person is to say that you allow or encourage the other person's appraisal of you to become your appraisal of yourself. (But this is only one of several alternatives? Receptivity to external reassurance is compatible with autonomy?) Not only are you "interested" in the other person's sense of you; you are pledged to agree with the other person's sense of you. Thus, a nadir in such a relationship becomes a parallel to an "I'm unsatisfactory" situation. One way to escape the crisis is to abandon the commitment to agree with the other person's sense of you. This is self-protection by sequestration?


Romantic affection reveals that I only feel alive and complete through another person who is a peer and an ally, but has a different history, and offers a prospect of union (through sex and through the more mysterious "baring of souls"). To elaborate, ideally, the other person has longitudinal identity, insight, purpose which enhance mine. Ideally, the other person is incomparably more affecting than a cultural artifact.

But life is not ideal, and the cultural artifact may have the advantage that it cannot renege on the inspiration I find in it. The "rounded off" human being is likely to be plodding, complacent, numbing. (Again, the ordinary person's values.)

A cultural artifact may be understandable, profound, may verbalize something you feel inarticulately, may pinpoint something you recognize in yourself, may solve a problem important to you--yet you never would have thought of it by yourself. That is, the artifact, even though understandable to you, is a genuine novelty to you. (Isn't this situation bound up with the interpersonal competition of wills and interpretations?)

Then: being confronted with people who have the advantage of you. And: encountering another person who is a revelation to you, as the start of romantic affection. If another human seems to me to have the advantage of me in "human" capacities--or indeed, if an artifact compels me to infer its production by a human of exceptional qualities--then the weight which the person-world premise gives to my self may seem disproportionate.

If there is, on balance, a challenge that love poses to the person-world premise, it is that the person-world premise unreasonably depreciates other people (and communication), treating them as hypotheses rather than as fact. Does the person-world premise imply that other minds and communication are at best speculative, whereas my mind and thought are elemental?

Love is one of those life-episodes that seems not to be confined within the boundary drawn by person-world theory. That was one of the motivations to formulate the "meaning" paradigm. The latter takes "recognized communications" as ontically elemental--no matter how much that conflicts with common sense.

Such is the issue of whether romantic affection forces the expansion of our ontology. But to proclaim love to be a phenomenon for which telepathic claims can be made becomes embarrassing when a romantic affair ends in disaster and you realize that your certain knowledge of the other person's mind was a wishful projection and delusion. A romantic relationship may involve an empathy which lends itself to claims that another's mind is telepathically palpable; but like as not the partners will discover that their certainty that they understood each other was a delusion.

When a lover is rejected by a partner, the event may make self/other differentiation so vivid as to substantiate common sense's judgment of reality regarding the subject-object split ("you can't possibly be a mindless phantom in my mirage"). But the demoralization and crumbling of the self which is part of this loss also militates against common sense: in regard to its presumption that the self is substantial.

You don't know other people psychically in the way the prevailing world-view assures you is routine. And this is not an abstract-dogmatic result. I find myself in a specious commonality. The cultural cement which conformism pours between people to bind them together also rigidly separates them. Breaking down this specious commonality or cement leads to isolation: and yet the ordinary self and ordinary personhood already are self-sequestered. Dissolution of the specious commonality leads also to modalities of concerted activity, etc., which constitute avenues of "communication" that do not confirm the common-sense reality but rather discredit it.


[1] American Sociological Review, 1959, p. 38.

[2] Such work is not only produced by poets. Cf. Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (1956).

[3] Here I am invoking the unsubjugated, exceptional person without guaranteeing theoretically that the person furnishes something substantial or deep. (In a climate of hipness, every hip person supposes that they and their friends are "the most.") I cannot digress here to plug that loophole in the discourse.

[4] To substantiate the origin via scholarship proves to be forbidding or futile.

[5] There is a literature on it in psychology.

[6] When I meet you?

[7] See "The Theory of Ordinary People--1994 Afterward."

[8] Now I am invoking deviance without guaranteeing theoretically that it is substantial or deep. (In a climate of hipness, every hip person claims to have the most awesome deviance.) I cannot digress to plug that loophole here.

[9] Not in favor of a landscape of objectivities, needless to say.