The emotion of ‘love’ has extensively been interpreted and analysed in the literary, psychological, and philosophical domains. Poets have implicitly developed interesting theories to appreciate this heavily-loaded word, often leading to diverse academic implications. Through fictional works ranging from poems to short stories to novels to films, artists have addressed the subjects of their adoration both directly and indirectly.
Psychoanalysts have returned to the roots as far back as childhood, tried to decipher the cryptic language of affection and attraction, and informed us of the significance of our familial bonds. Mystics like Rumi and Kabir have told us to view this abstract notion from a metaphysical angle, regarding it as an impartial, ubiquitous and all-pervasive force.
Ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle have tried to bring the ideas of altruism and love together, understanding it in terms of an ‘extended’ form of friendship. Descartes and Spinoza have considered it equivalent to joy or the ‘medicine of sorrow’. Feminists have closely looked at the politics of love, thus taking a notch further and removing the restrictions on love between genders.
Love is entitled to freedom of expression. However, the eternal question of love remains unanswered even as books on the subject continue to pile on. More so when the notion of love is considered objectively, as the portrayal of love presented in fiction has remained beyond the perception of logic and common sense. Love appears to be something as complex as life itself. Perhaps, it can neither be comprehended nor explained.
An important question is: Is love the means to an end or an end in itself? Theoretically, another question that could arise in the mind of a sceptic is: What makes the notion of love extraordinary, eternal, infinite, timeless, not to mention incomprehensible? Such abstract questions call for negotiating the space between thought and emotion, the good and the bad, and the pragmatic and the idealistic.
However, it is pertinent to bring under the lens and thereby investigate the various meanings of love as given by theorists and philosophers throughout history, without discounting the possibility of placing it in the current situation of ‘love in the time of the pandemic’, and to thus analyse it.
One cannot deny that it is exceedingly difficult to define a notion as abstract and complex as love, no matter how frequently the word might find its mention in literature and film. Love could be everything or simply nothing. There are several theories in various traditions in which this intricate notion is dealt with in different ways ranging from gross to subtle levels. It is a concept that lies at the centre and, at the same time, the periphery of philosophy.
One understanding of love is that it is an observable phenomenon that entails the urge to belong and be with others. In contrast, another is an elevated understanding of love as an all-encompassing force that binds the entire universe together. Despite its resemblance with the ethical concepts of altruism and friendship, as seen by ancient philosophers, the notion of love remains so subtle and sublime that it appears to elude the intellect.
Perhaps, love cannot be understood. Love can only be lived.