Saturday, February 18, 2006

Eros and Thanatos


I was listening to the Met broadcast of Aida today, and it got me thinking about death and love. Why is it that lovers in opera, plays, and poetry have to die so often? Then I thought that perhaps it is the only consummation possible for Eros if it is not procreative. Sexual desire or longing for the other should be somehow attached to the creation of new life; that is its proper fulfillment. Boy sees girl, boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy seeks girl, [boy and girl get married], boy "gets" girl, [boy and girl raise a family]. The parts in brackets are the parts left out of the operas and movies. The operas replace the last bracket with "boy and girl die", whereas the movies just end, leaving the audience with the uncomfortable feeling that the lovers in the movie will soon grow tired of each other and break up, only to find others, like James Bond finding a new girl in each installment. Dying would be preferable!

A love story without a marriage and a family is bulimic by nature--it is a story about longing without consummation, eating without nutriment, a race without a finish line, a prayer without a god, a mere phantom without substance. Death at least gives some sort of a conclusion to it. That's why Romeo and Juliet had to die. That's why Wagner wrote of Tristan and Isolde's love-death. It's also why Jane Austen's novels are so good: one always has the impression that the principals will raise lots of kids on their country estate.

7 comments:

jas said...

Those who have not experienced the love of a child cannot understand why two people will sacrafice all.

Jane said...

But...Romeo and Juliet did get married.

Karl said...

You know, Jane, you're right.

But, but, but, Tristan und Isolde weren't!

Bill said...

I'm not up on the standard plotlines, but might this unfruitful lovers' death be a parallel to the death-to-self required in the marriage of true lovers? The curtain falls as our lives-lived-for-self end and we're reborn in the life-for-others, perhaps something too joyously solemn to approach in these light entertainments.

Anyways, thanks for an extraordinarily fruitful post.

bw

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