Tag Archives: Alain de Botton

“On Love”

I just finished reading “On Love,” a novel by Alain de Botton. He’s supposedly famous for “How Proust Can Change Your Life” but I’d never heard of him; this was his first novel. I found this book in my building’s “free box” and thought it sounded…interesting. Well, imagine a text book about love. With numbered paragraphs, the process of falling in love is carefully and logically explained by the protagonist who finds himself, quite suddenly, immersed in that process. It is, in ways, as logical and clinical as say, a treatise on Sociology (or any other -ology). However, being about love, which is anything but logical or clinical (or even explicable), the poor guy struggles with understanding his irrationality.

Sigh. That sounds like academic gobbledygook and doesn’t do the book justice. It was both interesting and charming, as in I felt “charmed” by the man’s words and emotions. As he desperately attempts to deconstruct love, his miserable failure to do so captures the way we all feel as we fall. And “falling” is the ideal word: that helpless experience of losing control.

There were a few passages I dog-eared because they were so great:

“In the oasis complex, the thirsty man imagines he sees water, palm trees, and shade not because he has the evidence for the belief, but because he has a need for it. Desperate needs bring about a hallucination of their solution. Thirst hallucinates water, the need for love hallucinates the ideal man or woman. The oasis complex is never a complete delusion; the man in the desert does see something on the horizon. It is just that the palms have withered, the well is dry, and the place is infected with locusts.”

How true this seems to me. It explains how someone who is a single, free-spirited dominatrix one day can become a happily married 9-to-5’er the next. She merely hallucinated her need for love and — voila! — the perfect man presented himself. Thus explains my inability to find “the perfect man”: I have not yet hallucinated the need for love. Perhaps next week…

“Dr. Saavedra had diagnosed a case of anhedonia, a disease defined by the British Medical Association as a reaction remarkably close to mountain sickness resulting from the sudden terror brought on by the threat of happiness. It was a common disease among tourists in this region of Spain, faced in these idyllic surroundings with the sudden realization that earthly happiness might be within their grasp, and who therefore became prey to a violent physiological  reaction designed to counteract such a possibility.”

This “illness,” anhedonia, made me curious. Was it a real illness? Sure enough, I looked it up and it was defined as “Loss of the capacity to experience pleasure. The inability to gain pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences,” and was a symptom of depression or schizophrenia. Hmm. The route being “hedonism” this was the opposite  and one might recognize the copy from antidepressant commercials. How odd — and sad — that there’s a medical definition for the inability to be happy. Having experienced depression I can say that yes, it happens. Thankfully I’ve come out the other side and now find myself often feeling inexplicably gleeful over the most mundane things: my coffee mugs lined up in my cupboard, a clean basket of laundry, the way a new sweater perfectly matches an old skirt. Even literally “stopping to smell the roses” can bring about a burst of joy.

But enough about all that happiness. I know my stats on here are always far higher when I’m cunty and grumbling. I’ll be back to discuss “On Cunty” soon!