Love, In Theory

I’ve been thinking about how to persuade you to go, immediately, and read E.J. Levy’s Love, In Theory (University of Georgia Press, 2012: winner of the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award).

Here’s what I’ve got, since the book is failed by superlatives (and I’m looking you dead in the eye, here):

I want you to read this.

 

It speaks for itself, and it speaks right to you, cell by cell, with empathy and humor and the deep relief of large intelligence about language, about us, and about how far intelligence will and won’t get us in matters of love.

 

It’s sharp and funny and compassionate and wise and many other things that the more I say them the more I just want to say: “Look, if I’ve ever steered you right, just listen to me and read this right now.”

 

This is the real, outrageously beautiful thing. These sentences invite you in and don’t let go. You will laugh, empathize, recoil, grieve, laugh again, resonate, and be fed.

 

Go. Read.

 

I’ll be over here making quilts of her language.

 

Cento I

 

Without hard feelings, or soft,

we are waffling in the face of history;

Love somehow got left behind, defied

reasoning. These relationships ended

as they began, cordially, in corridors

and seminar rooms, on email, collegially.

 

Philosophy seeks a system, and love—

as any lover knows—is unsystematic

in the extreme. Love’s a messer-upper,

and philosophers, on the whole,

are a tidy bunch—at least I am,

or was, until we met.

 

What will we tell them when they ask

what we knew and when? We are not known

for our success in the realm of eros. Somehow

nothing ever grew from this. No feeling

blossomed in the thin soil of the mind.

To own it would be like owning love itself.

 

Join her. In the bath she will cry. She will say,

“You are untender,” that having sex with you

is like watching a Hal Hartley film.

She doesn’t mean this as a compliment.

She means you are unfeeling. She means

you are cold. An idea with legs. A talking head.

 

As a performative category, the performance

was only so-so. It seems to her that she can hear

each knot give way beneath the blade

with a sound like a relieved sigh:

she sorts the index cards into piles—

secrets, regrets, fears.

 

In the rearview mirror, they look

like enormous moths, or like a flock

of birdless wings, like some strange

new creature making its way, awkwardly,

hesitantly, for the very first time,

into the terrible beautiful bodied world.

 

Those lines are from:

“The men she dated were friendly, good companions; they discussed the subaltern and structuralism; they went to movies; they went to bed, but somehow nothing ever grew from this. No feeling blossomed in the thin soil of the mind; though they talked endlessly about sex as a performative category, the performance was only so-so. Love somehow got left behind, defied their reasoning. These relationships ended as they began, cordially, in corridors and seminar rooms, on email, collegially. Without hard feelings, or soft.”

- The Best Way Not To Freeze

“”What will we tell future generations when they ask us how we let all this come to pass?” she’d asked Gil. “What will we tell them when they ask what we knew and when? … We are waffling in the face of history.”

- The Theory of Enlightenment

“”Philosophers, it would seem, have little to tell us about love; I know, because I am one. Despite the name, philosophers—lover of wisdom—we are not known for our success in the realm of eros. Truth is, our greatest minds have been losers when it came to love… Perhaps that’s because philosophy seeks a system, and love—as any lover knows—is unsystematic in the extreme. Love’s a messer-upper, and philosophers, on the whole, are a tidy bunch—at least I am, or was, until we met.”

- My Life in Theory

“As they write their sketches, she sorts the index cards into piles—secrets, regrets, fears. After sorting them, she sits on her desk and reads through a few.

I am afraid of a world in which art does not matter.

I am afraid of suffocation. Of being suffocated.

Squirrels.

…In the rearview mirror, they look like enormous moths, or like a flock of birdless wings, like some strange new creature making its way, awkwardly, hesitantly, for the very first time, into the terrible beautiful bodied world.”

-  Rat Choice

“To own it, June thinks, would be like owning love itself.

…it seems to her that she can hear each knot give way beneath the blade with a sound like a relieved sigh.”

- Small Bright Thing

 

“Join her. In the bath she will cry. She will say, “You are untender,” that having sex with you is like watching a Hal Hartley film. (Feel, fleetingly, complimented by the comparison to Hartley, who is your fave, though you know she doesn’t mean this as a compliment.) In Hartley’s films, she says, everyone is always talking about love like it’s an idea rather than a feeling that they feel. She means you are unfeeling. She means you are cold. An idea with legs. A talking head.”

- Theory of Dramatic Action

 

 

Cento II

 

His was not so much a death as an unbecoming.

His feet hardly reached the floor.  His body

did not so much give out, as erase into the air.

 

If you give a man a mystery you will end up

with one of two things—a cop or a philosopher:

a confetti of images, inconsolable

 

beside the eviscerated figure of a papier mache donkey,

sun, or deer—it happened every year, the same old loss.

They slowly tore apart in the course of the day’s festivities.

 

We are the ones who are neither so poor nor so rich

as to be indifferent. We have the leisure to sympathize

and mourn; a dying breed, going the way of the dodo.

 

Those lines are from:

 “In the final week before Christopher died, whenever he walked—which was not often—he floated. His feet hardly reached the floor. His was not so much a death, Tuni will tell me later, as an unbecoming. ‘He unbecame himself.’ His body did not so much give out, as erase into the air.”

- Theory of Transportation

“I have observed that if you give a man a mystery you will end up with one of two things—a cop or a philosopher.”

- The Three Christs of Moose Lake, Minnesota

“What Richard will remember of the evening after that is a confetti of images, like the colorful piñatas his mother made for him each birthday when he was young, which they slowly tore apart in the course of the day’s festivities, leaving Richard inconsolable beside the eviscerated figure of a papier mache donkey, sun, or deer—though he should not have been surprised since it happened every year, the same old loss.”

- Gravity

“But in our defense I say that we are the ones who are neither so poor nor so rich as to be indifferent. We have the leisure to sympathize and mourn, and the good sense to be ashamed of ourselves. … The professor says we are a dying breed, the middle classes. … Even here, we are going the way of the dodo.”

- Theory of the Leisure Class

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You see? You’ll have no choice but to roll in these sentences.

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Why are you still here?

Go read it. Go.

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