Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"Irrational and Extremely Stupid"

Very much liked this passage from a post at Seraphic Singles:

Almost everything we have been taught to find romantic--unrequited love, going into a decline for love, writing impassioned love-letters, standing outside our ex-girlfriend's window holding up a ghetto blaster playing "In Your Eyes"--is actually irrational and extremely stupid. The early 19th century has a lot to answer for. I reserve special blame for Goethe.

Although some of the things listed, I must insist, are not the fault of Romantics, but due to courtly love traditions. The Romantics mostly just made it fashionable for a while to commit suicide over some of them.

It really is remarkable how completely arbitrary romantic conventions are, and how slavishly they are followed nonetheless. It spreads everywhere: Queen Victoria wore a fancy white dress when she was married, she was imitated by rich people trying to make their weddings suggestive of Victoria's, then everyone else imitated the rich people trying to make their wedding as fancy as possible. Before everyone had the good sense just to wear their nicest clothes. Now people spend ungodly sums on a dress that will only be worn once. It's likewise amazing how people will pass off as wedding traditions things that were completely made up for Princess Diana's wedding, or for some soap opera or movie wedding. And wedding 'traditions' are just extreme forms of romantic conventions. It makes one wonder: How much of what we usually think of as a romantic date is really just bits and pieces cobbled together from movies?

Possibly related, but maybe just a tangent: Romeo amd Juliet we usually read as romantic tragedy. But it can also be read as the tragedy of a feud between families, brought to a crisis by teenagers incapable of thinking clearly, in precisely the boringly predictable ways teenagers are, which in this case just happens leads to complete disaster because of the feud. They are very different readings, and on one the whole thing is not so romantic, but they are both possible interpretations of the text. We read it the one way, but not the other, and that says something about us. Or take a different sort of case, that of Lydia and Wickham in Pride and Prejudice: how often do readers today fail to see just how stupid their running away was? (Thereby leading us to overlook just how utterly extraordinary Darcy's involvement in the matter was, which is much of the structure of the plot.) How much do we miss because we don't see things like this?

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