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Mapping love
Human rationality is no match for Divine Madness

April 7, 2004

Of the great mysteries of the universe, love is perhaps one of the most mysterious. We know much about the processes of birth, aging, and death. Their singularity and finality leave little ambiguity. But of love, we know little. Love has so many different faces-Romantic and Platonic, Eros and Agape, parenthood and friendship. Love generates contradictory feelings-agony and ecstasy, jealousy and generosity, fear and hope, murder and suicide. Love leads to diverse outcomes-often creativity but sometimes confusion, despair, and paralysis.

Can there be a theory of love, i.e. a conceptual map to guide us through its complex pathways? As the great Sufi poet Rumi reminds us, "whoever has been taught the secrets of love, is sworn to silence with lips sealed". Yet Rumi himself wrote two illustrious volumes of ecstatic poetry about love (Mathnavi and Diwan-I-Shams).

An attempt to map the terrain may speak of human hubris. But our yearning for understanding constantly compels us to write poetry, make music, and tell stories about love. Hence, this humble effort at mapping love may be forgiven as an act of love. It won't capture the mystery, but it may show the pathways for those who may need it. To those who are naturally gifted and have no need for such cognitive maps, I tip my hat.

Love should be considered, above all, a force of nature permeating the entire living world, from plants to animals and humans. In human love, this force primarily manifests itself as libido, a sexual and creative energy. Freud and Jung juxtaposed this force against Thanatos, the death wish. The two great psychologists of the 20th century considered human psyche as a field of struggle between the biophilic and necrophilic forces, i.e. love of life vs. forces of decay and death.

But love is not purely physical and sensual. It is also a process of psychic identification of one being with another. Moreover, it is a process of self-transcendence, a journey into the unknown and unknowable. It is a desperate effort to overcome human separation, finitude, fragility, and frailty by the psychophysical identity and union of two beings and self-transcendence.

Employing some time-honored Freudian terms, we may argue that love is driven or inspired, whichever you wish to call it, by the socio-psychic forces of Libido, Ego, Alter-Ego, and Super-Ego. Eros is thus torn between four poles of attractions and outcome, including Eroticism, Narcissism, Alterism, and Altruism (See Figure 1).

The Self (a composite of all four psychic forces) is at its most primal level driven by the forces of libido and Sensualism. But the Self is also psychically attracted to all those who mirror it. That is what constitutes Narcissistic Love. We fall in love head over heels with those who are like us. However, the Self is consciously or unconsciously aware of its own shortcomings and seeks self-improvement in what it sees itself as lacking.

That is how Alteristic Love comes about, inspired by those whom we admire-our cultural heroes, parents, teachers, and friends. Above all, however, the Self wishes to transcend itself by giving its own vitality and possessions to another being. In this respect, Super-Ego is in command, i. e. the composite of all the ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness that since childhood a culture has programmed in us. At its best, Altruistic Love is exemplified by the love of parents for their children. Altruism also plays a significant role in true and lasting friendships as well as in loving marriages.

If we consider this map to capture the central elements of love, we can locate our loving emotions within its boundaries. Purely sexual attractions gravitate toward the sensual and libidinal pole, while "unselfish" loves are located at the pole of altruism. Adolescent loves are often torn between the three poles of Sensualism, Narcissism, and Alterism. Crushes are often Narcissistic, while hero worships are Alteristic.

Because life outside of the circle of love is equivalent to death and darkness, wherever we are on this map is a good place to be. There are zillions of points in the globe represented by Figure 1 that correspond to the diversity of human socio-psyches among over the six billion people of the world. As we mature, however, we center our lives and increasingly move from the bottom of the map to the top parts.

One last caveat. Love is divine madness. Its boundaries are unknown. It is neither rational nor irrational. It is a-rational. Cognitive maps, however, are rational constructions of world beyond human rationality that combines chance and necessity in a chaotic and lonely universe. Human rationality is no match for Divine Madness. That is why Rumi wrote, "Take away this Reason from me, and render me Mad once again". Love is the Divine Madness that bonds all the sentient beings in the universe together in an ever-lasting unity.

Rumi says:

With love, bitter turns into sweetness.
With love, dregs turn into honey.
With love, pains turn into healing.
With love, they revive the dead.
With love, the king becomes a servant.
With love, thorns become flowers.
With love, vinegar becomes wine.
With love, gallows become thrones.
With love, misery turns into happiness
With love, prison becomes a rose garden.
With love, the house becomes a home
With love, thorns become lilies
Without love, wax turns into iron.
With love, fire becomes light.
With love, the devil becomes an angel.
With love, stones turn into dust.
Without love, the garden turns into a desert.
With love, sorrow becomes joy.
With love, monsters become divine.
With love, sting becomes pleasure.
With love, lions become tamed.
With love, sickness leads to health.
With love, fury turns into mercy.
With love, the dead turn into living.

Majid Tehranian
Newport Coast, California
January 1, 2004

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Majid Tehranian is Professor, School of Communications, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research in Honolulu, Hawaii.  His latest book is Bridging a Gulf: Peace in West Asia (London, I. B. Tauris, 2003).


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By Majid Tehranian


Rumi's rubaiyat
translations by Zara Houshmand

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