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     //  Hermeneutics and Love

      In Hawaii, there is a flower called a Naupaka. With a single layer of white pedals sprouting from its center, it resembles a daisy that has been split down the middle—a half circle with four or five pedals. On these islands there are, in fact, a pair of these asymmetrical flowers, one which sprouts in abundance from the shores of the Pacific and one which grows only in the mountains. The Hawaiians have a myth about these flowers. They believe that this pair of flowers, which go by a single name, were once human lovers, perfect in their beauty and unfailing in their faithfulness. But the Hawaiian Goddess, Pele, found the young man desirable and, contriving to separate the two, appeared before him cloaked in her divine beauty. The man remained unswayed, and refused the goddess, fleeing to the arms of his lover. Pele, conceited and vengeful as only a god can be, cursed the pair of lovers, binding them together and turning them into a single flower. She then carved this flower in two, flinging one half down to the shores, and one half into the mountains; Here they would remain, forever separated by the spite of her power—half a whole. If one designed to reunite them, taking the Naupaka from the beach into the mountains to be planted near her lover, she will quickly wilt from the cold; And, if the mountain Naupaka is whisked down to the shore, he will burn and char in the sun and wind. Thus, do the fates treat lovers.

    Such portrayals of love litter the terrains of literature, art, and history. In the Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, love is portrayed as an affliction akin to a nervous disorder. For Proust, love is characterized by anxiety, doubt, and insurmountable separation. Instead of bring two people together, love magnifies the distance between lovers—to be in love was to be a part apart. “Silence,” he writes in The Guermantes Way, “is a terrible strength in the hands of those who are loved. It increases the anxiety of the one who waits... And so too is it torture to endure the silence of a loved one. And this silence becomes a rupture, distance being multiplied beyond measure.”

    Goethe's Young Werther is likewise dominated by singular love. Moved to suicide by a love he could never possess Werther’s love is stymied by the weight of societal complications—his was the great misfortune of falling in love with a promised woman. The result is the same for Romeo and Juliet, along with their German counterparts, Tristan and Isolde—lasting reminders that “love can bend our bodies and prompt the sharpest torment.(Badiou)” When it comes to love, Alain Badiou reminds us, “We cannot forget the frightening number... that lead to suicide or murder.”

    The Greek poet Aristophanes, also recognized the anguish in love—a laceration which he claims to be the result of a cataclysmic wounding, inflicted by divine judgement. In Plato’s Symposium, he paints a portrait of this suffering: Originally a unified sex, with four arms and and four legs, man was split in two by Zeus as punishment for their insolence. “After the division, the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and threw their arms about one another eager to grow into one, and would have perished from hunger... So ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.” Like the division of the Naupaka, love is characterized by a tragic, deep rupture.

    Meanwhile, in Christianity we find love and tragedy entwined in the life, teachings, and death of Christ—the very avatar of love, whose death exalts the enduring ideals of love as solemn self-sacrifice. These ideals find antecedents in Job’s trials, the Judgement of Solomon, Isaac and Abraham, and Lot’s wife, among others. Here, suffering is not only inherent to love, it is tied to its very virtue.

    Throughout the innumerable discourses of love, one claim remains constant: Love is dangerous.

    Love consumes. It ravishes. It is an invitation to chaos and is, by its very nature, completely out of our hands. It pains us, strikes us, controls us, and “makes wise men fools.” But, these portraits of Love are  impressionistic—they are merely symptoms. They don’t get at love. What is love? And, why should it be so dangerous? If love is so perilous, why should we fall in love at all? Love is the only subject on which Socrates professes to have any knowledge, and still Aristophanes sounds more believable in his claim that “mankind have never at all understood the power of Love,”