Interview with Gillian Rose by Vincent Lloyd

I came across this great piece yesterday, which is available on-line through the author’s website.

Gillian Rose

Vincent Lloyd is Assistant Professor of Religion at Syracuse University NY  who has spent quite a bit of (scholarly) time with Gillian Rose, one of my reddresstheology favourites.  Lloyd introduces this 1995 interview with Andy O’Mahony for RTE Radio with a very accessible introduction to Rose’s work.  He chooses the six key phrases which display Rose’s pre-occupations and offers a brief explanation.  For Rose…

‘Philosophy must start in the middle’

‘Ethical life is risky, there are no guarantees – we are all victims and perpetrators’

‘Ethics is politics is metaphysical’

‘Modernity is characterized by dualistic splits which postmodernity continues’

‘Ontology is a false substitute for metaphysics’

‘Love involves risk and vulnerability’

The interview itself betrays Rose as a much lighter character than her writing sometimes suggests and certainly confirmed my liking of her: if you’ve been intrigued by my work on love I recommend you go and read the whole interview, which took place just one month before her premature death.

Here are a few of my favourite grabs:

AO’M: You mentioned the disappearance of eros, meaning a desire or hunger.
GR:  Eros ranges from sexual desire to intellectual curiosity.  It’s just a hunger, I think that’s a good way to put it, because a hunger acknowledges a lack, but knows also that it can be filled.  If you just say, as some people do, that Platonic eros is lack, you’ve only got half of it.

                – – –

AO’M:  Point to those philosophers, those thinkers, who see eros  in more full-blooded, more positive terms…
GR:  I don’t think there are any now.  I think that is what’s missing from philosophy at the moment and that is what I’m trying to restore in my own work.  In the tradition, I think it’s in Rousseau, Hobbes, Marx – I even see it in Marx – Freud.  I think it’s in all the great thinkers, but not in deconstruction or other French thinking.*

AO’M:  ‘If I knew who I was’, says you, ‘I wouldn’t write.’
GR:  I don’t like it when people say, ‘I’m writing this book as a woman, as a Jew, as a Catholic, as a black.’  Those are things that need to be explored in order to know what they are.  We write in order to explore what they might mean.  To put them there as fixatives is fascist.  They are not fixed things, to be a woman, to be a Jew, to be a black, to be a Catholic.  They’re highly mobile, volatile things.  If you’re growing, you don’t even know what they are from one minute to the next.  So you can’t start your book by saying, ‘This is where I write from.’  You’ve got to find where you write from by questioning where you start from.

                  – – –

AO’M:  You say at one point in Love’s Work, ‘I’m highly qualified in unhappy love affairs.’
GR:  Perhaps some people have over-construed that.  I do say at the end of the book that I have had two very successful long-term relationships.  I don’t want to appear as simply a waif of love.  Nevertheless, that statement was introduced strategically and realistically because I wanted to explore what it is to be love-able and what it is to be non-love-able – I mean loveable and capable of love at the same time – and that’s why I introduced it in that dramatic way.  It is true, of course, because I have had a lot of unhappy experiences – otherwise I wouldn’t grow, would I?

AO’M:  Did you see any pattern?
GR:  Certainly I did.  One tends to think, first of all, that things are happening to you.  What you have to discover from unhappy love affairs in your own agency and your own ambivalence.  I think some forms of feminism detract from women being able to do that.  They teach women that they’re oppressed, and they don’t encourage women to see their own active involvement in situations where they may indeed be unequal.  But you need to see your own involvement in that, commitment in that, in order to move beyond it.

AO’M: You talk about the rage that some women feel towards other men in their lives that often masks an even greater rage expressed in terms of choosing an incompetent partner.
GR:  There’s a syndrome, which I discovered in myself, and which I see in other women, whereby you’ve very angry with men, maybe your father, and therefore you choose a partner who it’ easy to be contemptuous of.  I think that’s a syndrome that needs to be recognized more.  I would put that generally: we don’t talk enough about the power of women, we talk much too much about the powerlessness of women.

AO’M:  The power residing in what?
GR:  In being a mother, in being a lover … that women are not always on the weaker side of things, they’re often on the stronger side of things, but nevertheless representing themselves to themselves as weaker.  Therefore they don’t understand their own agency in their choice of love object.

               – – –

AO’M: You say that to spend the whole night with someone is agape.  We normally make a distinction between agape and eros, that agape has something to do with relating to God, eros to our fellow humans.
GR:  It’s more that eros is about desire and apage is about care.  If you don’t simply make love with someone and then leave, but spend the night holding them, it’s much nearer care than desire, or it’s the beautiful mix of the two.

AO’M:  But how absolute a distinction is it?
GR:  I don’t agree with Nygren who makes an absolute distinction between agape and eros.  I think eros fulfilled always becomes agapic.#

AO’M:  Where is friendship, then, in that mix?
GR:  Friendship is also a very beautiful and important thing.  it could all be seen under the sign of friendship.

Go to Vincent Lloyd’s webpage to read the whole interview here.


* Remember that Rose is commenting almost twenty years ago – if she were alive today I think she would agree the situation has changed somewhat, and I think that she would very much like Jean-Luc Marion’s recent book The Erotic Phenomenon.
#  I cheered out loud at this point when I first read the interview!  Absolutely!!  Can’t agree more!!!  It’s captured masterfully in this piece by ‘soul scape’ artist Louis Parsons

Eros and Agape

Holy Week: Being-in-love with God

Amidst all of the possible thought trails to pursue in Holy Week, it is The Liturgy of the Bridegroom that continues to grab my attention.  In particular, I have been mindful of the great burden of broken love which human beings almost universally share and the wonderful, therapeutic opportunity to confront that loss and pain as we turn our eyes towards the Cross of Christ.

Hence, I’ve decided to share the final of four sermons which I recently delivered at Southern Cross Ministries, a contemporary/charismatic Anglican Church in Melbourne.  Theme of the sermons, Being-in-love with Jesus, is taken from Bernard Lonergan’s epistemology of conversion and knowing, and is material that I will continue to develop for 2 other (very different) contexts this year.  Not only is it the result of intense theological reflection from the past year, it is the result of three and a half years of hard living and an awful lot of prayer.

A sermon in response to Song of Songs 2:1 – 3:5

Romance as the Pathological Religion of Western Culture

The psychology of love is a massive cultural phenomena in our Western. It is, in fact, one of the things non-Western cultures criticise us for. It is our obsession; our pathology; and our replacement for religion in a secular age. As our culture moved away from seeking meaning in religious notions of transcendence, we projected those spiritual needs onto our human relationships. Romance has become our religion.

A case in point: I saw the movie Any Questions for Ben? when it came out last month. Poor Ben is going through a quarter life crisis: he feels cut adrift, lost, yearning for something more and for his life to ‘mean something.’ So does he turn to religion, spirituality or even psychotherapy? No, he turns to love! He finds it within himself to commit to one woman and trusts in that relationship to satisfy these inadequacies he feels.

There is a pressing need to address the unrealistic expectations on intimate human relationships of all kinds – parental, romantic, platonic, etc. And whilst I am going to be focusing on romance today, much of it can be transferred to others whom we are close to, and especially to our mothers and fathers.

If we seek ‘god’ in a human person we will always be disappointed. But more subtlety, if we seek the source for our own personal transformation in another person, we too easily fail to integrate any fleeting transcendence within ourselves. It is not that God is absent from human relationships, indeed, frequently we experience the wonderful grace of God in our intimate relationships, but the source of God is not located solely within them as the object of our affection. It is a glimpse of heaven, but we live here and now on earth.

Robert Johnson is a Jungian therapist who has written on this issue:

“…What we seek constantly in romantic love is not human love or human relationship alone; we also seek a religious experience, a vision of wholeness. Here is the meaning of the magic, the sorcery, the supernatural in the love potion. There is another world that is outside the vision of our ego-minds: It is the realm of psyche, the realm of unconscious. It is there that our souls and our spirits live, for unknown to our conscious Western minds, our souls and spirits are psychological realities, and they live on in our psyches without our knowledge. And it is there, in the unconscious, that God lives, whoever God may be for us as individuals.”


Mystical romantic Love

When I first read the song of songs as teenager, I really could make no sense of it. The unfamiliar imagery and the mysterious whisper or sometimes snigger, that seemed to accompany its mention. I was taught that there was a huge debate about this book of the bible. Some say this is a book about a man and a woman, so its a book about marriage and about the sanctity of marriage. Others say that it is an allegorical book about loving God, and the mystical experience of knowing Jesus in the thrill of the holy spirit. I have no doubt in my mind now that it is both. And the reason that it is both is because, in the words of Richard Rohr, the way we love anything, is the way we love everything.
I have a friend who used the Song of Songs as the basis for a major art project last year. I greatly anticipated the artwork for many months, for she is a beautiful and skilled artist, and she was trying a new technique with ink. When she shared the finishe product I was surprised and taken aback. She created a book with selected words from Song of Songs on one side, and images of indigenous shrub on the other. It is a comment on the Love of God that we can discover through nature!

St John of the Cross was a sixteenth century mystic, who wrote his own love poetry to God, some of which was directly modelled on the Song of Songs, with the voice of the bride and then the bridegroom taking it in turns to declare their experience of love. He found such spiritual nourishment in the Song of Songs that when he was dying, he requested the priest read from the book of Song of Songs, unstead of the usual prayers for the dying. This John once urged a younger Christian, “Enter within yourself and work in the presence of your Bridegroom, who is ever present loving you.”

He is picking up on Ephesians chapter 5 of course, where St Paul describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as Bridegroom and Bride. We must be careful to always remember that in Paul’s meaning each of us as individuals are only a part of the Bride, Christ is ours by virtue of us being one with one another, but this language of bride and bridegroom is not uncommon amongsts spiritual writers across the ages. Singing love songs to Jesus is not new and by no means exclusive to the contemporary charismatic worship movement!

In a sermon on Loving God, Rowan Williams remembers a story about St John of the Cross and wonders, do any of us love God so intimately?

“When St John of the Cross was staying at a convent over Chrismas, one of the sisters saw him, when he thought no one was looking, picking up the figure of the child Jesus from the crib. He hugged it close to his chest and then, with eyes closed, danced around the crib for a few minutes. Well, that, it seems, is love of God: a devotion that makes people more than a little dotty, that produces an all-pervading warmth and delight, an incommunicable gladness beyond all words. ‘My beloved is mine and I am his.’”
Is this kind of crazy love just a personality thing? Some of us are more emotional than others and they are the one’s who have this kind of relationship with God in prayer? St John of the Cross entered into his great love affair with God when he was kidnapped and imprisoned. The Dark Night of the Soul was literally for him, 9 long months in a dark, damp, medievil cell. Upon his escape he began to write poetry of what had happened in the darkness, the breaking through of light and love as he cast himself entirely on God.

Spiritual writers describe love and suffering as the two great doorways into knowledge of God. Both are experiences which wrench our hands off the steering wheel; bind our fate to the whims of another; shame us into knowledge of our own powerlessness. Hence, it should be no surprise that the darkest moments of our lives have a unique capacity to throw us into the arms of God.

Rowan William’s deals with the relationship between this mystical love with St John of the Cross describes, and other more rational forms of love: love is a decision, love is a choice, love is a set of actions putting the other person first. Yes, love is all that but the Song of Songs and the saints who pray them, reveal to us the possibility of more. And then he gives some great advice:

“If the ‘love of God’ means nothing to you…, then love the lovers of God. Love the love of God in Francis or John of the Cross, Dick Sheppard or Mother Theresa, Aelred of Rievaulx or Charles de Foucauld. To love love-in-someone is, by the courtesy of heaven, to love love and so to love God. It is to turn our eyes toward, to choose and desire the truth of all truth, the beauty of all beauty. It is to look and hope in and love and serve and know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, from whom and for whom everything in heaven and earth exists, even the cold, flabby, and fantasy-ridden hearts of human beings.”


The agony of falling-in-love

There was a bigger reason why I struggled with song of songs as a teenager, beyond knowing what this mystical sort of love was. Really, I just didn’t didn’t have enough life under my belt to really get it. Maybe, and this is a hint for some of the young people here this morning, maybe if I’d had The Message version I would have cottoned on a little sooner. The bride’s dream at the start of chapter 3, Eugene Peterson translates:

“Restless in bed and sleepless through the night, I longed for my lover. I wanted him desperately. He absence was painful.”
At age 15, I knew not enough about falling in love to grasp the deep longing and great confusion of feeling within the text. Listen to the repeated refrain:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not awaken love until it is ready!”
In recent years I have found myself often repeating a little mantra to myself: “it is possible to feel two very different things at once.” Intense passionate love is like that. In fact, Robert Johnson would say, suffering is an essential ingredient in romantic passion. It is agony to awaken desire for a lover with whom we are not able to share a bed – whether that is for practical or moral reasons, temporary or permanent. Now, when I read the text I feel the complexity of love! At once joyous and burdensome.


Love’s work

Gillian Rose has been one of my greatest delights in the past year. She is a contemporary philosopher who wrote a book in 1997 while she was dying, called ‘Love’s work”. In it, she describes “unhappy love”. Human love which is bound to be thwarted in this life – be it because it is unrequited, the object of our affection does not share the same passion for us, even when maybe they once did – or maybe the man/woman of your dreams just is nowhere to be found! Unhappy love includes all those cases which are deemed immoral or socially impossible – to be married and in love with someone who is not our spouse, or to be in love with someone who is too young for us, or considered inappropriate in some way; it is not uncommon to be strongly attracted to our teacher, our boss, our doctor, our priest: none of which are appropriate relationships to pursue. Finally, unhappy love can be purely because of impracticalities – they live on the other side of the world, you meet at the wrong time, or , in the worst possible circumstances, one’s Beloved has passed away and you are seperated by death!

In any of these relationships, unhappy love is the passion of loss. And interesting in the Song of Songs story, the woman is searching the streets for her Lost Lover. Romantic love, at its heart, is about the desperate human search for love! Some pyschologists like to ham up the idea of falling-in-love as addiction or an illness, but maybe, in one way, falling-in-love is a sign of good health! When a healthy body requires food we experience hunger pains: could not love pains be a function of a healthy soul telling us what we need? In which case, falling-in-love can be processed as a spiritual discipline: the soul’s prescribed remedy for deconstructing the immature ego and unearthing the true self. A drive to reclaim the perfection of Love as it was first known in pre-human form. Hence, Gillian Rose writes, unhappy love initiates an investigation into lovelessness. We come face to face with the epic journey to recover our sense of Beloved-ness.


Created from Love

The Love of God is woven beautifully into all God’s creatures. And what I have tried to describe in my previous sermons is an insight from the Dominican spiritual writer Sebastian Moore. Our desire for another, is triggered by a deep memory of ourselves as desirable. Some look or word from whatever archetypal man, woman or child is required to grabs our psychic attention, and we rediscover the Love out of which we were formed, as the Psalmist has said, I loved you in your mother’s womb, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

The way we love anything, is the way we love everything. The different types of love that we experience – for brother, for friend, for children and parents, for our heros, for our Lovers, for our enemies, all Love comes from the one source: God. And God, who IS love, has poured God’s own love for us into our hearts by the holy spirit. So the very source of all Love is within us, buried deep within our foundation as human persons, but released by life as we encounter love and discover ourselves to be Beloved in the eyes of others, starting of course, with our mothers, even before we sense the cool of a breeze on our cheeks. This is Sebastian Moore’s point, the person who awakens love in us, merely throws aside the veil, and we unearth the fountain of love from which we were created by God.

If we do not seek God within us, the love that is available in God stays distant, stays apart from us, it cannot change us in the same way when we keep it at arms distance. We must know it within ourselves if we are to survive the trials of human love.


Encouragement for sufferers of Unhappy Love

To close, let me speak to those whose heart is breaking right now, from unhappy love.
Let me say to you: this is normal. This is not nice, but this is normal. This is what human love is like. And even when you are in a relationship that is more happy than unhappy, there are still moments when the people we love let us down.

I have a close friend who is married, I am not. We have journeyed together through the unhappy love of our different circumstances and what we have discovered is that our pathways are the same: the way forward, towards happiness, is only through the discovery and determined depenence upon the love that is within ourselves. The love we seek, the love we all seek, is already inside you. It has been inside you since birth. The one who has awakened love in you is but a beautiful mirror, reflecting the Divine Love of Creation in your very Being. Set your heart on the higher goal, search for the source of all love, and you find what you so desperately seek in a mere mortal.

Let me also speak to those whose struggle is not so much lost love but betrayed love, the same is true. Seek the higher love, and you will find the source of forgiveness, grace, and justice, that will get you through. Mere human love does not have the capacity to love one’s enemies. You will need divine love for that. But that divine love is written into your inmost Being – Jesus can show you how to find it.

Finally, let me speak to those of you who are on the other side; who have been the cause of unhappiness in Love. Let me say to you, Falling in love is not wrong, it is not even stupid! But it is not always healthy, and it is not always right to pursue it in an outward relationship. Don’t fall for the lie that passion is all there is. There is a higher love, and that love calls us to a higher law. This higher Love is not a disciplinarian, but will reward you richly for choosing to invest in it. Jesus said even he who looks upon another woman lustfully is guilty of adultery! How on earth can we survive that kind of temptation? Self-discipline definitely has it’s place, but you will never chain up your mind entirely. So, you need a greater love. You need a superhuman love! And you need to know that love has forgiven you at your most undeserving.

So, start a journal, sign up for counselling, go on a silent retreat, take an art class, walk in the rain, buy a pet: but turn inwards, and let go of the person you think will make you happy. God has already given you what you think you want, look for it within yourself.

Sharing these kinds of thoughts with a friend recently, she put me on to this beautiful hymn which I’d never heard.

Geoff Mattheson, O Love that will not let me go.

1.   O Love that wilt not let me go,  
I rest my weary soul in thee;  
I give thee back the life I owe,
  That in thine ocean depths its flow,  
May richer, fuller be.
2.   O light that foll’west all my way,  
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
  My heart restores its borrowed ray,
  That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day, 
 May brighter, fairer be.
3.   O Joy that seekest me through pain,  
I cannot close my heart to thee;
  I trace the rainbow through the rain,  
And feel the promise is not vain,
  That morn shall tearless be.
4.   O Cross that liftest up my head,
  I dare not ask to fly from thee;
  I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
  And from the ground there blossoms red, 
 Life that shall endless be.

Love’s Work by Gillian Rose

(Vintage: London, 1997)

In the midst of an emotionally difficult period over Christmas, I read Gillian Rose’s astounding book, Love’s Work. Written in the final years of her life whilst she battled Ovarian Cancer, Rose seeks to describe what love is, and the meaningful place it has in any life worth living. Rose died aged 48 years.

There was a particular passage which startled me into cessation. I’d been ploughing towards Christmas, as most of us in the West do if we have friends and family and a pretence of importance, and I could do nothing from that moment but pause and feel all the feelings of life. Love catapults us into full engagement with life.

“However satisfying writing is – that mix of discipline and miracle, which leaves you in control, even when what appears on the page has emerged from regions beyond your control – it is a very poor substitute indeed for the joy and the agony of loving. Of there being someone who loves and desires you, and he glories in his love and desire, and you glory in his every-strange being, which comes up against you, and disappears, again and again, surprising you with difficulties and with bounty. To those this is the greatest loss, a loss for which there is no consolation. There can only be that twin passion – the passion of faith.”

Gillian Rose was God’s grace to me this Christmas. Sublime. Effusive. Wrapping me up in the safety of womanly love and care. All my questions about intimacy, betrayal and redemption were cradled in her exquisite writing about love of various kinds. But most movingly for me, is her chapter on ‘unhappy love.’

“In personal life, people have absolute power over each other, whereas in professional life, beyond the terms of the contract, people have authority, the power to make one another comply in ways which may be perceived as legitimate or illegitimate. In personal life, regardless of any covenant, one party may initiate a unilateral and fundamental change in terms of relating without renegotiating them, and further, refusing even to acknowledge the change. Imagine how a beloved child or dog would respond, if the Lover turned away. There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy. To be at someone’s mercy is dialectical damage: they may be merciful and they may be merciless. Yet each party, woman, man, the child in each, and their child, is absolute power as well as absolute vulnerability. You may be less powerful than the whole world, but you are always more powerful than yourself… Love is the submission of power.” (pp. 54-55)

For Rose, unhappy love is the passion of loss. Each of us tends toward those relationships which repeat our experience of loss, pummelling into us the lessons of our earliest love formations. However, love is always birthed from Beloved-ness. Sebastian Moore describes this as the Love of God woven beautifully into all God’s creatures, a memory of knowing oneself divinely loved by our Creator, triggered by some look or word from whatever archetypal man, woman or child is required to grab our psychic attention. The archetypal Lover need not even be aware of bestowing such a gift upon us! But if the Lover withdraws the gift, knowingly or otherwise, the Beloved is bereft, she must generate that love within herself without the mediation of her muse. Hence ensues “the initiate of an investigation into lovelessness. A challenge to that deprecating self-assumption.” We come face to face with the epic journey to recover our sense of Beloved-ness.

To deny the inevitable messiness, to numb the unavoidable pain, is to turn away from love’s work. Rose observes this as an incessant protestantism. Love’s work is to stay in the harsh reality of living, the glacially slow movements towards maturity, the discovery and love of our selves. “To grow in love-ability is to accept the boundaries of oneself and others, while remaining vulnerable, woundable, around the bounds. Acknowledgement of conditionality is the only unconditionality of human love.”

“If the Lover retires too far, the light of love is extinguished and the Beloved dies; if the Lover approachers too near the Beloved, she is effaced by the love and ceases to have an independent existence. The Lovers must leave a distance, a boundary, for love: then they approach and retire so that love may suspire. This may be heard as the economics of Eros; but it may also be taken as the infinite passion of faith.”

It requires faith to stay in the game. Faith to believe that we are truly Beloved. Faith to sufficiently stand our ground as a Lover approaches. And faith to see the Face of God in it all.