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Love | The Ecstasy of Your Hand in Mine

Note: My original attempt at writing this quickly became an inspired investigation of the concept of ecstasy in relation to the concept of love in the history of Western philosophy – with a strong emphasis on Plato. That was likely because I had recently thought a lot about Socrates’ speech in the late sections of the Symposium, so those ideas just started coming out into creative exuberance, and the post-rock connections would have been too much for one post. In this post, I’ll speak of love, ecstasy, and the best song I can think of for these ideas in post-rock, a song I listened to and felt inspiration from again last night.

Last night, I was driving home from hanging with a friend on Christmas and pulled up “Your Hand in Mine” for the first time in a very long time. I had earlier recommended it online as a great example of the genre, as Explosions in the Sky is probably the best known post-rock band out there. I’ve actually brought up this song in passing previously on this blog, the first post, in explaining how experiences are expressed in post-rock without words (content sans concepts):

There is still content — just content sans a readily understandable set of concepts to pull out. Sometimes there are clues to guide — in the name of the album, the name of songs, etc. However, even these only give a general idea of what the encounter will be in the song. Thus, “Your Hand in Mine” by Explosions in the Sky becomes a question. Whose hand? Why? It’s only in listening closely, that it becomes clear that this is a song about love — the experience of sharing time with someone closely: your hand in mine.

Myself, Interpretation | Meaning | Content sans Concept

Whenever I introduce the genre to someone, this is my go-to song. It’s simple yet beautiful. The iconic “crescendocore” that the genre is sometimes critiqued for is at its strongest in this song. As the instruments build in intensity, the heart swells with feeling with their pull, and when I hear it, I feel touched so deeply in a way that few songs have done to me. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s a great example of the potency of this genre.

As I was listening last night, having gone through the journey I have in the last couple years, rather than thinking of holding a particular person’s hand or having memories of moments of companionship, I felt what I’ll describe as more of an unfocused I-You experience, the feeling of connection in general, a flow of unconditional love that isn’t focused on a person, rather an overflowing of outpouring presence that makes self fall away. It’s an encounter. A moment of living within a feeling that is so much larger than yourself, and as such, self disappears and the truth of interbeing and presence appears.

My post mentioned in the introductory note was about the ecstatic aspect of love in Western philosophy, and Buber’s I-You is like that. It’s hyperabundant overflowing of subjectivity. It’s standing in connection where boundaries and objects disappear. I’ve had a couple moments in my life that have truly brought this sensation to its strongest sense of kensho (as the I-You is conceptually similar to Buddhist descriptions of the kensho momentary insight that shows a brief moment of enlightenment – not only a book understanding of things such as emptiness, interdependent origination, and no-self but a moment of living them).

The funniest thing just happened in writing this. I have never completed I and Thou, and the half or so I did read was roughly 10 years ago. As such, I cannot even recall if Buber mentions love in the work, but the spiritual experience that he lines out at the beginning clearly conceptually sets up the space for what an I-You stance of love would be versus one that’s not, and in looking through just now in my English edition (which has an indexed topics section at the end), I found that he very powerfully delineates just this. First, let me present the I-You and I-It stances of mankind from the beginning, and then I’ll present the section on love. On both of these, I’ll provide my own translation from the German edition and will have the German version footnoted at the end of the post.

[1] The world is twofold for humans in line with his twofold attitude.
The attitude of humans is twofold in line with the duality of the basic words that they can speak.
The basic words are not single words, rather word pairs.
The one basic word is the word pair I-You.
The other basic word is the word pair I-It; whereby without any change of the the basic word, either of the words He or She can step in for It.
Likewise the I is also twofold for humans: because the I of the basic word I-You is a different one as that of the basic word I-It.

[2] Basic words express nothing that exists outside of them; rather, in being spoken, they ground a stance of existence.
Basic words are spoken with one’s being.
When You is spoken, the I of the word pair I-You is spoken with it.
When It is spoken, the I of the word pair I-It is spoken with it.
The basic word I-You can only be spoken with the entirety of one’s being.
The basic word I-It can never be spoken with the entirety of one’s being.

Buber, Ich und Du, p. 7 (trans. mine with some stylistic help from Kaufmann’s English edition)

For me, philosophical positions, as with most human expression, comes across with emotion and various layers of meaning, beyond just the black and white letters and words on the page. This is fairly obvious, but a corollary that is often overlooked or misunderstood is that this entails an aesthetic to conceptual frameworks within philosophy. There’s themes and emotional overtones, even in how ideas are built – almost like you could see within architecture or a painting, just a creation made of ideas rather than building material or paint. From these starting words, it’s fairly clear the aesthetic differences of these two concepts and how they will be developed in the sections to come. It’s actually quite breathtaking how simple and profound this description of aspects of spiritual/existential human life are. We have one way of seeing and experiencing the world that is about objectification and separation of self and object. The other is one in which self disappears in a present moment of relationship that is above and beyond this arbitrary divide. As such, “I-You” can only be spoken with the entirety of one’s being because it is standing within existence in a way that being is infinitely more than the I that speaks. It is a speaking where subject is not expressing as some observer having an experience of things outside of him/her; rather, it is an ecstasis of being being spoken in the presence of relation, an encounter unfolding beyond any delimitation of quantifying or objectifying. As such, it can be foreseen that love would be a relational hyperabundance of the greatest power, and indeed, it is:

The essential act that founds immediacy is usually understood as feelings and thereby misrecognized. Feelings accompany the metaphysical and metapsychical fact of love, but they do not constitute it, and the feelings that accompany it can be very different. The feelings of Jesus towards the possessed man is different to that for the favored disciple, but the love is one. Feelings are “had”; love occurs. Feelings reside within humans, but humans reside within their love. That is no metaphor rather actuality: love does not cling to I with the You consequentially only as its “content” or object; love is between I and You. Whoever doesn’t know this, know this with one’s being, doesn’t know love, even if one were to ascribe to it the feelings, which one endures, experiences, enjoys, and expresses. Love is a cosmic force.

Buber, Ich und Du, p. 19 (trans. mine with some stylistic help from Kaufmann’s English edition)

This explication makes it clear that there is “love” and that there is Love. There is an experience of “love” spoken from I-It that is about subject and object. This is the love of jealousy, zero-sum competition and drama; the kind of love that doesn’t reveal our greatest potential as human beings, develop our greatest flourishing – that of our entire being in resonance with the flow of everything. This is the case, even if we can point to all of our feelings and call them “love”. Love is something ecstatic. It’s something that is greater than us that we stand in and see from (which the next line of the text starts with). It’s the cosmic presence that we stand within in relation, in encounter with You.

At times of late, I’ve experienced profound sadness in coming to terms with the intuition that I will never have profound romantic love of partnership again, but hearing this song last night brought forth the moments (I’m trying very hard intentionally to avoid using “experience” for I-You events, as in line with Buber’s structure and description) I’ve lived of standing within this cosmic force, recognizing that that living within such a moment of presence is not dependent on the person’s hand, on romantic love, on courtship, on partnership, etc. That standing within is already there to be had as long as one lives. It merely takes opening one’s heart to the ecstasy of encounter, rather than the limited duality of experience.

German editions translated above:
[1] Die Welt ist dem Menschen zwiefältig nach seiner zwiefältigen Haltung.
Die Haltung des Menschen ist zwiefältig nach der Zwiefalt der Grundworte, die er sprechen kann.
Die Grundworte sind nicht Einzelworte, sondern Wortpaare.
Das eine Grundwort ist das Wortpaar Ich-Du.
Das andre Grundwort ist das Wortpaar Ich-Es; wobei, ohne Änderung des Grundwortes, für Es auch eins der Worte Er und Sie eintreten kann.
Somit ist auch das Ich des Menschen zwiefältig.
Denn das Ich des Grundworts Ich-Du ist ein andres als das des Grundworts Ich-Es.
[2] Grundworte sagen nich etwas aus, was außer ihnen bestünde, sondern gesprochen stiften sie einen Bestand.
Grundworte werden mit dem Wesen gesprochen.
Wenn Du gesprochen wird, ist das Ich des Wortpaars Ich-Du mitgesprochen.
Wenn Es gesprochen wird, ist das Ich des Wortpaars Ich-Es mitgesprochen.
Das Grundwort Ich-Du kann nur mit dem ganzen Wesen gesprochen werden.
Das Grundwort Ich-Es kann nie mit dem ganzen Wesen gesprochen werden.

Der Wesenakt, der hier die Unmittelbarkeit stiftet, wird gewöhnlich gefühlhaft verstanden und damit verkannt. Gefühle begleiten das metaphysische und metapsychische Faktum der Liebe, aber sie machen es nicht aus; und die Gefühle, die es begleiten, können sehr verschiedener Art sein. Das Gefühl Jesu zum Besessenen ist ein andres als das Gefühl zum Lieblingsjünger; aber die Liebe ist eine. Gefühle werden “gehabt”; die Liebe geschieht. Gefühle wohnen im Menschen; aber der Mensch wohnt in seiner Liebe. Das ist keine Metapher, sondern die Wirklichkeit: die Liebe haftet dem Ich nicht an, so daß sie das Du nur zum “Inhalt”, zum Gegenstand hätte; sie ist zwischen Ich und Du. Wer dies nicht weiß, mit dem Wesen weiß, kennt die Liebe nicht, ob er auch die Gefühle, de er erlebt, erfährt, genießt und äußert, ihr zurechnen mag. Liebe ist ein welthaftes Wirken.


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