Of Love, etc.

Arranged marriages were once common in the West. Today things are very different, of course; most of us would say for the better. But do personal ads represent a desperate search for perfection? Dalrymple reviews Paul Hollander’s new book, Extravagant Expectations, in New English Review and wonders, “Is the individual search for happiness enough of a philosophical foundation for the good life?”
At the root of the problem is our belief in the perfectibility of life, that it is possible in principle for all desiderata to be satisfied without remainder, and that anything less than perfection, including in relationships, not only is, but ought to be, rejected by us. We cannot accept that we might at some point have to forego the delirium of passion for the consolation of companionship, that Romeo and Juliet is fine as catharsis but not very realistic as a guide to married life at the age of 56. We cannot have it all.
We are in revolt against what Hollander calls ‘the limitations imposed by our mortality, genes, social and physical environment, and chance,’ as Satan was in revolt against God. Extravagant Expectations is an excellent illustration of how the examination of a seemingly minor social phenomenon can soon lead to the deepest questions of human existence.

7 thoughts on “Of Love, etc.

  1. Gavin

    What an excellent and enjoyable essay (as usual). I have long thought that many in the West now suffer from saturation of choice. Presented with unlimited options, human beings typically do nothing, and this seems harmful. I’d like to see TD write even more on this topic.

  2. Clinton

    Gavin, I loved this ad (for comedic value, that is):

    “I love hanging out… I am typically up for whatever and have fun in most any situation…?”

    Nice of her to be so specific. I feel like I know her already.

  3. Gavin

    Yes, she really marks herself out as something special doesn’t she? As Dalrymple says, the main problem is that people try to be everything to everyone, and are more than anything scared of appearing elitist. On this latter point, see Ed West’s excellent article (again, as usual) here: http://goo.gl/rU02H

  4. Jaxon

    Yes, very good, I think this is such an important area, subject.
    For me frankly, perhaps tragically, Groucho Marx comes to mind on this one – I don’t care to be with anyone who’ll have me.

  5. Jaxon

    On the issue of meritocracy, if it was genuine merit it should inspire enough admiration and respect to offset the only too human inclination to envy.

    There is nothing like the “transcendent orgasm” (as TD describes it in All Sex…) to move people to fake merit, to use words falsely (yes, very good article by Ed West) to be dishonorable.

    Two key elements of sexual selection come to mind.
    The lottery of genes – Ed West expresses concern about the negative politically correct connotation assigned to ‘Elitism’ and I’d say those who complain loudest about, are most threatened by, elitism are probably those most prepared to gratuitously flaunt whatever advantage said lottery has bestowed upon them.

    As I pointed out in response to TD’s Peter Bauer article

    “[TD] also says something similar in Praise of Prejudice – he states how his own increase of wealth i.e. acquisition of Microsoft technology is compatible with an overall massive increase of Bill Gates’ personal wealth…”

    “However, people take their reckoning from their immediate social sphere; most especially where the “false prospectus” of transient sexual relations is the norm; this I’m sure, far more often than not, will shape most profoundly the manners, prejudices and priorities of [most people, engendering a cynical, resentful] zero sum outlook.

    The second ‘key’ element is what I might call the ‘Basie effect’
    To quote TD/Ballard

    “The internment camp in which Jim eventually finds himself fosters a horrifying loss of moral compunction, but it has its compensations. He forms an alliance of convenience with a young American, Basie, a small-time crook and wheeler-dealer of the kind that tends to do well in such situations. Ballard contrasts Basie with Jim’s father, a stern and upright, if distant, figure. “At home, if he did anything wrong, the consequences seemed to overlay everything for days,” Ballard writes. “With Basie they vanished instantly. For the first time in his life Jim felt free to do what he wanted.”

    As TD says in A Lost Art:
    “Cassatt conveys the physical gestures that express the emotional bond. She observed mothers’ hands, for example, with a closeness usually reserved for the face, so that in her depiction of them, which is scrupulously accurate, one sees the physical correlate of fathomless love.”

    and speaking of Pieter de Hooch’s A Woman Peeling Apples for Her Daughter

    “Neither mother nor daughter is beautiful in the conventional sense: in fact, both are decidedly plain. The beauty is in the moment and in the relationship between mother and daughter, not in the purely physical features of their faces. In this undramatic scene, we see not merely a moment of an era gone by, but the expression of a much deeper, enduring human verity that lies beyond appearance.”

    Basie-men have a confidence that dissolves the sense of betraying the social conventions most conducive to this fathomless love.

  6. Jaxon

    Here’s charming insight into the wonderful world of dating.

    In the London Evening Standard (**.10.09) Nirpal Dhaliwal “Sex In The City” writes

    “…hone your skills on weaker prey, they’ll be devastated when you move on but who cares? You can’t get an upgrade unless you book a seat for the journey. And it serves them right for believing someone so out of their league would stick around. Cynically using others as esteem enhancing emotional props to stave off the stigma and anxiety of loneliness until someone better comes along is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a common human survival mechanism currently the basis for just over %100 of London couples.”

    Cover story – Lawyer guilty of £7m swindle at bank “…she also used some money for surgery on breast implants and a pair of earrings worth £40 000”


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