It seems that the greatest love stories could only ever be tragedies. We can not, it seems, help but be fascinated by catastrophe as some congenital cognitive or cultural programming and visceral predisposition to regret that we can hardly ignore but often enough also fail to acknowledge. More than this, though – we are each and all inadvertently drawn as a function of neuroanatomical chemistry to precisely the strongest emotional experiences, the most impactful spectacles and events. As a consequence of billions of years of biological evolution and the existential struggle to survive that is every living being’s natural inheritance, these vivid experiences tend, for better and for worse, to orient themselves towards suffering and sorrow in memory and action. There is light and there is joy but the sorrows always multiply faster, whether or not we choose to believe it.
This fascination with interpersonal darkness is of course much more than simple schadenfreude or drive-by voyeurism. Catching glimpses of other people’s suffering allows us to engage in a charade of pretence thatwe can control, isolate and understand as something other than intrinsic to our own lives this yawning abyss that haunts all relationships, all human lives and from which we so foolishly run post haste and haphazard into whichever open arms we might find. Our minds are shaped and accidentally self-validated by reflexive sorrows in ways that lead us to seek it in others, dissociatively as symbolic abstraction or intimately in embodied knowledge as it may indeed be.
It is a dark picture of humanity I draw, I understand, but it is as unavoidable to me as is the naked candle flame to an erstwhile moth drawn to its own unknowing extinction. A light acquires significance and value in inverse measure of the darkness that surrounds it, no less than life gains inestimable worth in comparison to the interminable vacuum and presence of absence that most of this Cosmos appears to represent. It is because we all lose each other (and, ultimately, ourselves as mortal vessels) in the end that all these small miracles of interpersonal as psychological intimacy might come to acquire the importance they do. Even then, we rarely if ever pursue anything other than those relationships that are bound to end in tears as, having once self-defined by the distance and dissonance they so powerfully bring upon us, we only ever invoke and sustain these fragile human selves by reproducing the unfortunate circumstances that have created them.
Our confusion is compounded by the fact that our experience of emotion, being mediated by a language and logic that is hardly up to or fit for the task of rendering unproblematic sense or definitive meaning to that experience, evades the closure and certainty we seek in each other. In seeking the light, we only ever and eventually find darkness and much as I long for proof or faith and belief that the world might ever be otherwise, this is the threadbare truth. I know that truly beautiful interpersonal connections are rare and fleeting in life and I do not doubt their importance but I wonder if the manifest impossibility of emotional closure might not in fact be some unrecognised or profoundly unintelligible blessing in disguise.
Romeo and Juliet resonates so strongly as narrative idiom of tragic romantic trope because there is a little melancholy wisdom in each and all of us that whispers: “this, too, is you.”