Loops, the Limits of Language, the Paradoxical Loneliness of “I Love You,” and What Keeps Love Alive – Brain Pickings

by Jeremy

When I walk — which I do every day, as basic sanity-maintenance, whether in the forest or the cemetery or the city street — I walk the same routes, walk along with loops, loops I often retrace multiple times in a single walk. This puzzles people. Some simply don’t get the appeal of such recursiveness. Others judge it as dull. But I walk to think more clearly, which means to traverse the world with ever-broadening scope of attention to reality, ever-widening circles of curiosity, ever-deepening interest in the ceaselessly flickering constellation of details within and without. In this respect, walking is a lot like love — for one human being to love another is to continually discover new layers of oneself while continuously finding new layers of the other, and in them, new footholds of love.

Loops, the Limits of Language, the Paradoxical Loneliness of “I Love You,” and What Keeps Love Alive

This renders the exchange of I love you’s — that coveted contract of mutuality — a strange sort of transaction, currency encrypted with change, the loneliness and loveliness of change: In any love worthy of the name, the I and you are ever-changing so that the passion binding the two is ever-renewing. But perhaps the strangest and most lonely-making aspect of I love you is that it traps the boundlessness of love in the limits language, as narrow and straining a conduit of love as the crack in the wall between Pyramus and Thisbe.


Thisbe
by John William Waterhouse, 1909. Available as a print.

Thinking about this on one of my cemetery loops, because the act of walking is also a mighty machete for clearing the pathways of memory overgrown with life, I suddenly remembered a passage by the French semiotician and philosopher Roland Barthes (November 12, 1915–March 26, 1980) from his superb 1977 part-autobiography, part-rebellion against the conventions of life and of the telling of life-stories, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (public library) — the playful, profound, blazingly original self-interrogation that gave us his existential catalog of likes and dislikes.

A hundred pages into the book’s more extensive meditation on the limits of language — our primary tool for narrating our inner lives so that we can understand ourselves and be understood — Barthes writes:

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