Monday, July 6, 2009

Lucianesque 3: Species

Mopsia: I love you but I cannot live with you. It is as simple as that.

Mopsius: Ah—current convention’s love, I see.

Mopsia: What does that mean?

Mopsius: One supposes the trite might answer with—“And you cannot live without me either.”

Mopsia: You might say that and it is very trite indeed. I would not. I am getting along just peachy without you, if you must know.

Mopsius: No doubt. But tell me, what does it mean to say, “I love you but I cannot live with you.” Just an empty phrase? Or something more chivalrous, like “love from afar”? Or a troubadour kind of love perhaps?

Mopsia: Are you mocking me?

Mopsius: It is hard not to mock empty words.

Mopsia: Love is not an empty word. Don’t you have feelings? Don’t you understand what love means?

Mopsius: To be very frank, no. I did use the word now and then when I was very young, mimicking what those around me said, and presuming it applied as an expression to persons in my life. There was the French Canadian girl, for example. But she was long before you. Green eyes, auburn hair. Her family was from…

Mopsia: I don’t want to hear about it. You are cruel and cold and analytic. Don’t you have feelings? Do you have to analyse every word just to know what it means?

Mopsius: Yes.

Then you never loved me? I loved you.

Mopsia: Ah, in the past tense now. So one supposes the love without living together is a shadow of what you once thought of as true love?

Must you deconstruct every phrase? Who said anything about true? So, there was never any love between us? I loved you, I am sure of that.

No doubt we will soon hear of all the sacrifices you made for the word.

Mopsia: It is more than a word. It is a feeling.

Mopsius: It is an English word with rather doubtful associations to my mind, including zero.

Mopsia: Zero—I have not heard that before. Love is zero? Oh, tennis.

Mopsius: In origin that “love” is French, originally, “l’oeuf”, the egg. Egg then as cipher or zero meaning no score.

Mopsia: Etymology now. Ask him what time it is and he tells you how to build a clock. Say “How are you?” and he tells you what he ate for breakfast.

You know I don’t eat breakfast. That hasn’t changed. In this case, however, it is not a clock at issue but this word “love” you are using to say you cannot live with me. By the way, I understand—I am extremely difficult to live with in any conventional context.

That’s an understatement. Impossible to talk with as well.

Mopsius: Really?

Really. Always talking, always interrupting, always analyzing, always making a Federal case of every word I say. Always trying to get the last word.

Mopsius: Well, if it makes you feel any better I have all the same problems living with myself. Makes it hard to keep a regular schedule. But wasn’t there much more than words when the talking was through?

But you say there was no love.

Mopsius: It is partly the word. I just don’t like the word. It is universally abused. I prefer others—delight in one another, for example. You hardly ever hear it in advertising. And that’s a big plus.

Mopsia: Advertising. What has advertising got to do with it?

Mopsius: Well, say, “I delight in ALOOF, the new revolutionary detergent. Try it today!”

Aloof? Revolutionary detergent? What are you talking about now?

I suppose it’s better than, what?—“This fabric softener is sex on wheels.”

Mospsia: You are being absurd again.

I should hope so. That one might actually sell. I mean everybody uses sex to sell anyway. Why not be straight up and down about it? In any case, when you say, “I love you but I cannot live with you” it sounds a lot like no score in tennis—that kind of love, “l’oeuf”—the big no score.

Mopsia: Perhaps. You were always witty, even if it takes you hours to get to the point.

Mopsius: Actually that point was got to rather quickly if you think about it. At any rate, there never was any “l’oeuf” between us, I agree. As for, say, amour or amore, or even the Latin amor that is a different question, for me at least.

Mopsia: So now not building a clock, but writing a dictionary of foreign words and phrases. You are hopeless.

Again, I should hope so.

Mopsia: See what I mean? Next we will hear a dissertation on love in ancient Greek!

There is no concept of the English love in ancient Greek that I know of. Rather most recognize three roughly distinct ideas—philia, eros, and later agape.

I have heard this lecture a thousand times. You are not telling me anything new. Philia is love between friends. Agape is unqualified, celebratory love, as the Christians understand it. Eros is sexual.

It is a pity.

What’s a pity?

Mopsius: Here we are the perfect man and the perfect woman. No wonder we can’t get along.

Mopsia: Then am I correct?

Mopsius: I suppose that is one of the more common understandings of the three words.

Obviously whatever I say is wrong, is that it? But I got that from you, didn’t I?

Mopsius: Yes, I suppose you did, but retailed as the common understanding. Philia, for example, is love between friends, members of the same family, and also husband and wife. In English love as amiability covers the bases, which amiability descends from the Latin amicitia, “friendship”, among other things. But among the Romans it was also friendship in the sense of a formal relationship or alliance, between politicians or patrons and clients. You see…

Mopsia: There you go building a clock again. I don’t have the time for another lecture.

As far as agape is concerned, the Christians surely used it the way you say, but among the earlier Greeks it was more affection or fondness, and interestingly enough the verb agapao could also mean to desire, as erao, the verb form of your sexual love, eros…

Mopsia: Stop there. I am not interested. You can’t understand a simple word like love without regurgitating ten dictionaries and an encyclopedia article. I have had enough of this.

Mopsius: Love and marriage, love and marriage…

Now what? What has that got to do with the price of rice in China?

Go together like a horse and carriage.

Stop singing. This is absurd.

Mopsius: This I tell you, brother, you can’t have one…

Without the other. What is this—a proposal?

Mopsius: No, certainly not. I thought we settled that long ago. But you do know the song. Way before the time of someone so young I am sure.

Mopsia: Frank Sinatra.

Actually I was thinking of Peggy Lee or Dinah Shore, but who knows.

Mopsia: Certainly not I, nor do I care.

Mopsius: What interests is that the song was the current conventional American understanding of love among many. For the time anyway. And if you pay close attention what it actually meant is no sex without marriage.

You always get back to sex, don’t you? But I don’t see how what you say follows. Someone sings of love and you think of sex.

Mopsius: Isn’t it absurd to think the song means that only people who are married to one another love? So it cannot be philia or agape. It has to mean sex. You can’t have marriage without sex or sex without marriage.

Mopsia: But that is absurd.

True enough. That is what they call the old days. No one would have dared sing, “Sex and marriage, sex and marriage—they go together like a horse and carriage.” And if they had they would never have got on the radio.

: Come now, that’s not necessarily true. They are just singing about one kind of love. And you have to bring sex into it. What’s sexual about a horse and carriage?

Mopsius: Good question. One pulls and the other gets pulled? One is the draft animal and the other is along for the ride? But I suppose that is the marriage part not the Kama Sutra part.

Mopsia: That’s a ridiculous interpretation. You are reading too much in.

Mopsius: I grant it looks pretty ridiculous now. But that’s what the lyrics say. At least we were beyond such simplicities. I never thought of you as a horse, and you certainly weren’t the carriage.

You can say that again.

Mopsius: Anyway it is a pretty gruesome picture of marriage, isn’t it? And of sex too if that is what it is about. I thought of us both as horses, a team pulling the same cart. Did you think of me as a horse?

Why not an ass?

Mopsius: Asses work too.

Mopsia: And who the bigger ass?

Mopsius: I never considered it a competition. Asses before the cart and all that.

Mopsia: I wouldn’t know. I have to go now.

Wouldn’t know? About marriage or about asses?

Mopsia: Look, this conversation is going nowhere fast.

But all that was just a preamble to eros. I have not got to eros yet.

Mopsia: Save it for another time. If there is another time. I am leaving.

Mopsius: Back to the love that can live without, I see. Tell me, is that philia, agape, or eros?

Mopsia: Certainly not eros, not from here to eternity. That’s history. I had thought perhaps we could be friends, but it is clear that is not possible.

Mopsius: They all say that. Friends? Philia I suppose. And Platonic? The only Platonic relationship I am interested in is with Plato.

Mopsia: Plato is dead if you haven’t noticed. About all I can manage is agape. Everyone in the world gets that. I will pray for you.

Mopsius: Plato dead? I am shocked. When? Where? Who told you? Where you there? Have I missed the funeral?

Mopsia: I must be going. Why don’t you write up what you have to say as a Platonic dialogue. That way you can give yourself all the best lines. I am not interested and I must go.

Mopsius: A dialogue. Capital! But I think you underestimate me. I will give you all the good lines. And I am not in the mood for anything Platonic. How about Aristophanes or Menander or Lucian?

There you go again. Games and more games—always games. I am not interested in playing. I am off. You can play with yourself.

Mopsius: Ah yes, you were always fond of solitaire, weren't you?

Mopsia: Whatever. Make sure you give yourself the last word in your dialogue or play or memoirs or whatever. That’s the only place you are going to get it.

Mopsius: Sure beats talking with oneself. Come to think of it, though, Plato’s Symposium is light enough. And the Cratylus is a barrel of monkeys.

See what I mean?

E. A. Costa [copyright eac 09]
Click on the image to view at full size. The image, in a slightly different version, appreared at another site in 2007, also under the title "Species".

1 comment:

Thorndike Pickledish said...

I like this Nichols and May banter--entertaining-enlightening and pithy-- Dean Martin had a hit of the song you were song trivia solved..wonderful surreal art..all in all a fine burmato Episode !