The Intellectual Complexities of Loving
Does being an intellectual lend itself to a more complex love life?
Posted Jan 24, 2021
The difficulty in explaining one’s love for another person, in the falling in love sense, is rivaled only by trying to write about it. There is a strange infinity to love; endlessly falling, a complete surrender of the self, where even language seems to become superfluous and gives the poets an uphill struggle to produce something credible.
Who needs language when you have a complete understanding of another?
And yet, these moments of infinity are anything but infinite. When love is gone, it happens quick, it happens hard, and it seems to abscond with a large part of ourselves.
With love, we would die to protect it. Without love, we would die to find it.
Love is riddled with these paradoxes.
In these terms, whatever love is, it has to be the strongest motivator, the most authoritative enabler, and the commonest of common denominators for all behavior.
Loving others, loving oneself, and loving symbols and ideology are all enough to keep people tingling with purpose and buzzing with meaning.
I have deliberately framed love in this way because I think it is integral to understanding relationships that are often perplexing to those on the outside. I think we have all come across couples that have left us wondering how they are possibly still together. What is the elusive variable that makes these people put up with each other as they seem to delight in tearing each other apart?
Most recently, I came across this paradox in the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. Both Arendt and Heidegger are prominent minds of the 20th Century; Arendt is perhaps best known for documenting the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963 and for her essays on totalitarianism, and Heidegger was an esteemed philosopher who reflected on the sense of being. The relationship is paradoxical for two reasons. Firstly, Arendt was a German Jew and Heidegger, after his initial romantic entanglement with Arendt, joined the Nazi Party, and secondly, Heidegger was a married man and so the relationship constituted an affair. In addition, Heidegger was 17 years Arendt’s senior and was her professor when she was an undergraduate at university.
There is no question that Heidegger, through his teaching, inspired Hannah in the deepest most profound way. Any ceilings on her young intellect shattered when she met Heidegger, and out blew a voracious erudite beast that would go on to shake the world. This kind of influence is scant in all of our lives, and when we encounter it, especially in youth, we have no choice but to fall in love. This celebration of cerebration is a wondrous moment of intellectual freedom, and a landmark in our cognitive development. For these reasons, the young Arendt was not inhibited from becoming involved with her married professor, and Heidegger, whom no doubt basked in the adoration of his young and beautiful student, also enjoyed the prodigious company.
This makes one wonder if the sheer ecstasy of intellectual liberation automatically opens one up to giving oneself sexually and physically.
The world then crashed around Arendt. The rise of Antisemitism and systematization of identifying Jews for nefarious purposes saw Arendt flee to Paris, where she was safe for a few years and met the man she would marry, Heidrich. But when Germany invaded France, they were eventually rounded up and put in separate camps. Fortunately, they were able to escape, flee to Portugal together, and book passage to the United States where they would live for the rest of their lives.
Hannah remained in contact with Heidegger, and even though she was dismayed when he joined the Nazi Party and heard stories that Heidegger was starting to treat his Jewish colleagues with disdain, she would still find ways to defend him. After World War II, Heidegger struggled to maintain his academic standing because his reputation had been damaged by becoming a Nazi sympathizer. It was Arendt who continued to fight for Heidegger, and used her own academic reputation to help restore Heidegger’s credibility.
Arendt and Heidegger continued to need each other for the duration of both of their lives. Heidrich and Elfride, their respective spouses, even seemed to allow for this need and accepted it as necessary for their wellbeing. This kind of permission would make many spouses in otherwise monogamous relationships feel queasy, but Heidrich and Elfride loved their partners so much that they could come to terms with it out of respect.
This raises the question: Is there something different about leading an intellectual life that requires a different understanding of love?
The needs of an intellectual do seem unique.
Intellectuals do commonly experience loneliness and isolation, and meet few people in their lives who are able to get them. A rare occurrence of the melding of minds does come with a degree of euphoria, and both parties are likely to fight to remain within talking distance. Arendt and Heidegger were intimate with each other’s thought processes and schemas for framing the conceptual world. In addition, there is something enduring about intellectual intimacy versus short term lusting. If you both occupy a shared corner of the conceptual universe that nobody else is capable of entering, there is almost an infinite, boundless, and exhilarating journey awaiting you both that will outlive the cartilage in your joints. If this journey also began within a crucible of shared orgasms the need for each other will remain cemented in the soul, in spite of where life takes you.
I maintain that the love life of the intellectual is the most complicated of all.
Heberlein, A. (2021) On Love and Tyranny—The life and politics of Hannah Arendt, House of Anansi Press