Jose Ortega Y Gasset – On Love: aspects of a single theme (1957)

The ideology of recent times has lost cosmological inspiration and has become almost exclusively psychological.  Refinements in the psychology of love, by multiplying subtle causistry, have drawn away our attention from this cosmic dimension which is elemental to love.  …  We must not forget, however, that the multiform history of our loves, with all their complications and incidents, lives finally from that elemental, cosmic force, which our psyche – primitive or refined, simple or complex, from one century to another – merely administers and models in varied ways.  The differently styled turbines and engines which we submerge in the torrent should not make us forget that it is the primary force of the torrent itself which mysteriously moves us. (p.37)

*

The projection of imaginary qualities upon a real object is a constant phenomenon.  In man, to see things – moreover, to appreciate them! – always means to complete them.  Even Descartes notices that when he opened the window and thought he saw men passing in the street, he was not being exact.  What was it that he really saw?  – chapeaux et manteaux: rien de plus.  (A curious impressionistic painter’s observation…)  Strictly speaking, no one sees things in their naked reality.  (p.38)

*

crystallisation in love (p.39)

*

Romantic poses aside, let us recognize that ‘falling in love’ – i repeat that i am not talking about love sensu stricto – is an inferior state of mind, a form of transitory imbecility.  Without a paralysis of consciousness and a reduction of our habitual world, we could never fall in love. (p.51)

*

There is no love, for example, without sexual instinct.  Love uses it like a brute force, like a grig uses the wind. (p.51)

*

When we have fallen into that state of mental contraction, of psychic angina, of which falling in love consists, we are lost.  During the first few days we can still fight; but when the disproportion between the attention paid to a woman and that which we devote to other women and the rest of the universe exceeds a certain measure, it is no longer in our hands to restrain the process. (p.52)

*

There is only one case, other than falling in love, in which our attention is given voluntarily to another person.  It is the case of hate.  Hate and love are, in everything, hostile twins, identical and opposite.  Just as there is the act of falling in love, so there is – and with no less frequency – an ‘act of falling in hate.’

When we emerge from a period of falling in love we feel an impression similar to awakening and emerging from a narrow passage crammed with dreams.  Then we realize that normal perspective is broader and airier, and we become aware of al the hermeticism and rarefaction from which our impassioned minds suffered.  For a time we experience the moments of vacillation, weakness, and melancholy of convalescence.

Once begun, the process of falling in love proceeds with hopeless monotony.  This is to say that all those who fall in love fall in love the same way – the clever man and the fool, the youth and the old man, the bourgeouis and the artist.  This confirms its mechanical (p.56) nature.  The only thing which is not purely mechanical about falling in love is its beginning.  For that very reason we, as psychologists, are attracted by its beginning more than by any other phase of the phenomenon of love.  What is it that draws the attention of a woman to a man and of a man to a woman? (pp 55-56)

*

In the expressions of everyday language, which condense millenary insights, there exist magnificent and yet untapped springs of extremely accurate psychology.  It is always a certain ‘enchantment’ which inspires love.  Giving the name of a magical technique – enchantment – to the love object indicates to us that the anonymous mind, the creator of language, has observed the extraordinary and irrisistible state into which the lover falls.  The oldest form of verse, which was called cantus and carmen is the magic formula.  The ceremony and magical effect of the formula was the incantatio; hence encanto (in Spanish) or enchantment, and in French charme from carmen.

Regardless of love’s relationship with magic, there exists, in my opinion, a more profound similarity between falling in love and mysticism than has heretofore been observed.  We should have suspected this fundamental relationship in view of the remarkable coincidence with which the mystic employs erotic words and images to express himself.  All those who have been interested in this religious phenomenon have observed the same thing, but they thought it (p.58) could be adequately explained as an instance of metaphor. (pp. 57-58)

*

For Plato, love is a ‘divine’ madness, every lover calls his beloved divine, and feels ‘as if he were in heaven’ in her presence, etc, etc.  This curious interchange of vocabulary between love and mysticism leads us to suspect some common root.

The mystic process, as a psychological phenomenon, is in fact analogous to falling in love.  It is so similar that it even coincides to the detail of being tirelessly monotonous.  Just as falling in love occurs always in the same way, so mystics of every time and place have taken the same steps and have actually said the same things.  Take any mystical book – Indian or Chinese, Alexandrian or Arabic, Teutonic or Spanish – and it will always deal with a transcendental guide, an itinerary of the mind toward the god. (p.58)

I understand perfectly, and en passant share, the lack of sympathy which the Church has always shown mystics, as if it feared that such ecstatic adventures might bring it loss of prestige.  The ecstatic is more or less a madman.  He lacks moderation and mental clarity.  He gives an orgiastic quality to his relation with God which repulses the grave serenity of the true priest.  The situation is such that, with extraordinary coincidence, the Confucian mandarin as the Catholic theologian feels toward the visionary nun.  Professional noisemakers of every class will always prefer the anarchy and intoxication o the mystic to the clear and ordered intelligence of the priests, that is, of the Church.  I regret not being able to join them in this preference either.  I am prevented by a matter of truthfulness.  It is this: I think that any theology transmits to us much more of God, greater insights and ideas about divinity, than the combined ecstasies of all the mystics; because, instead of approaching the ecstatic skeptically, we must take the mystic at his word, accept what he brings us (p.60) from his transcendental immersions, and then see if what he offers us is worth while. (pp. 59-60)

*

Mysticism, too, is a phenomenon of attention.  The first thing which the mystical technique proposes to us is to fix our attention upon something.  Upon what?  The most rigorous, studied, and famous ecstatic technique, Yoga, reveals most candidly the mechanical nature of all that will follow.  Its answer to this question is: anything.  It is not, then, the object which classifies and inspires the process; rather, it serves merely as a pretext for the mind to enter an abnormal state.  One must, in fact, pay attention to one thing simply as a means of disregarding everything else in the world.  We approach the mystical road by clearing our consciousness of the multitude of objects usually present and tolerated by the normal course of attention.  In St John of the Cross, for example, the point of departure for every ulterior advance is ‘the tranquil house’. (p.60)

*

 ..as St Theresa says, ‘an uprooting of the soul.’ – that is, cutting the roots and ligaments of our plural worldly interests, in order to be able to remain ‘absorbed’ (St Theresa) in one single thing.  Identically the Hindu will stipulate the condition for entrance to mysticism: nanatvam na pasyati – turning away from multitudes and diversity.

This process of driving away things among which our attention is wont to wander is attained by sheer fixation of the mind.  (p.61)

*

There is never a mystical trance unless there is first a mental vacuum.  ‘That is why,’ says St John of the Cross, ‘God commanded the altar where sacrifices were to be made to be empty inside…(sic) so that the soul will realize how empty God wishes it to be of all other things.’  A German mystic even more (p.62) energetically expresses that withdrawal of attention from everything save one singe thing – God – by saying: ‘i have been unborn.’  St John himself beautifully: ‘i do not watch over a flock’- that is, i have no preoccupations at all.

The most surprising thing, however, is that once the mind has been cleared of everything, the mystic assures us that he feels God before him, that he is filled with God; that is, God consists of precisely that vacuum.  Consequently Meister Eckhart speaks of the ‘silent desert of God’ and St John of the ‘dark night of the soul’; dark, but yet filled with light; to so filled that, since there is sheer light, the light encounters nothing else and is darkness.  This is the attribute of the sprit purged and annihilated of all personal preferences and interests, for by not liking or being interested in anything personal, that is, by dwelling in his vacuum, shadows and obscurity, he embraces everything with great ease, so that St Peter’s dictum: Nihil habentes et omnia possidentes (They have nothing and they possess everything.) really applies to him. (pp. 61-62)

*

‘The soul, that is, the spirit of this soul, remains as one with God,’ St Theresa indicates in La Morada Septima.  Do not think that this union is felt as something momentary… (p.63)

*

The ecstatic perceives it with the character of a definite, lasting union, as teh lover who sincerely vows eternal love.  (p.64)

*

This extreme situation finds its equal in the development of ‘falling in love.’  When the other reciprocates, a period of transfusive ‘union’ follows, in which each one transfers the roots of his being to the other and lives – thinks, desires, acts – not from himself but from the other.  Here again the beloved is no longer an object to be thought about, for the simple reason that you have him within you. (p.65)

*

The mystic inhabits the earthly world in appearance only, for he really exists in the other, a region apart, which he and God alone inhabit.  … In the same way the lover moves among us, without our having any effect on him other than rubbing the surface of his sensibility.  He has his life mapped out in advance, and, he believes, forever.

In the ‘state of grace’ whether mystical or sexual, life loses all weight and bitterness. (p.67)

*

 Love, then, in its very essence, is choice.  And since it springs from the personal core – the spiritual depths – the selective principles which determine it are at (p.90) the same time the most intimate and mysterious preferences which form our individual character. (pp. 89-90)

 

 

 

 

Advertisements