241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

We hadn’t even finished our desserts when he asked it. It was a question that seemed to have come out of thin air. I couldn’t believe that this sentence rolled from his lips like any other sentence. I didn’t know what to reply. Instead, I posed my date the same question. ‘What is your top three of favourite animals?’ Without hesitation, he summed up his favourite animals. For me, it was clear. There would not be a second date.

Even though the proverbial spark between the man in question and I didn’t occur, he continued to resurface in my mind now and then because of this peculiar question. I was bothered that he so readily answered this question to which I had no reply. I started to bother others with the same question. Many reacted like I did, in exactly the same order: first surprise, then disbelief, and at last frustration because of their inability to answer. Do none of us have favourite animals in life?

Even if I look at it more generally, I hardly have favourites. No favourite band, colour, food or film. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I go through a phase of immense appreciation for a dish or musician, but for a while now I have been very careful in using the word ‘favourite’ in this context. The realisation that my preferences are temporary prevails.

The whole idea of a favourite seems to have disappeared out of sight. The word ‘disappeared’ is not randomly chosen, because as a child I seemed to know exactly what I found cool and what I found dumb. Exactly.

How could it be that I was formerly so apt at listing my top faves and am now so hesitant to call something ‘my favourite’? This probably has to do with the limited information that you have at your disposal as a kid, in comparison to what you learn and know about later in life. As a child, the world seems to be encompassed within everything you know – your reality is the only reality. At a young age, you’re unaware of the limitations of your knowledge. Precisely the limited knowledge and information enable everything that you know to be simply divided into good or bad. The world is still black and white. As you get older, newer colours are added. Knowledge is accumulated and slowly you learn that there are countless elements in the world that are preferred or despised. There is so much information available that it is hard to distil favourites. Moreover, you find out that preferences also change quickly.

Maybe I should not have written my date off as a weirdo, but seen him as someone who is closer to his inner child than I am.

“You can’t have anything. You can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it – but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone. “ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

Indeed, desire slips so readily through our fingers once we hold that coveted thing. And in the blink of our eyes, we’re once more blinded by the glitter of the next novel beauty, the next promise of love, of wanting fulfilled.

The veneer is scratched away, layer by layer. Sometimes the process is lengthy, lasting months, years, decades. Other times, desire is doused instantaneously, without notice.

(Of course, let’s not become overtly cynical. Love exists beyond the glare of desire, yet for those who have not yet been so lucky we gladly play the fool, over and over again.)

You I Love (Ya lyublyu tebya)

Boy A

Be Kind Rewind

Lon (The Professional)

All That Heaven Allows

Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (Eternity and a Day)

L'amour en fuite

Drle de Flix

Victor Victoria

Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris)

The Thin Red Line

Enduring Love

Human Nature

Imitation of Life

Nichts als Gespenster


Rebel Without a Cause

Suddenly, Last Summer

The Cranes are Flying

You I Love (Ya lyublyu tebya)

"I love love” she said, closing her eyes. ––Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
Love loves to love love. ––James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

When we say we ‘love’ or are ‘in love’, what is it we love in someone?

Her face, his hands, her smile, his voice? The smell of his hair, those little sleepy eyes of hers, his gait, her enthusiasm, his music collection, intelligence, independence, her witticisms, carefulness, the touch of her skin? His broken fingernails? The way she looks when she looks away, the little, funny mark on his right shoulder? Just how he says ‘hullo’ on the phone? Some ‘objet petit a’ that escapes definition, outsores language, a thing we cannot grasp or touch – or, on the contrary, something you can point out, point at exactly, a ‘punctum’?

His, her, your ‘blinding originality’ as Roland Barthes puts it? Or nothing, not even something special in this other person? Couldn’t the original thing be what we share, what makes us unique, together? (Roland Barthes, Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977), s.v. Atopos)

It’s your eyes and eyebrows – your smile – no, I wouldn’t know, it’s everything all together, everything about you. ––Knut Hamsun, Victoria (1935 – my translation (rw))

How it, he, she makes you feel: special, extraordinary, normal, simply happy, yourself, someone else, timeless, neither old nor young? Doesn’t love affect more than bodies and minds, but the fabric of time itself? Why do we forget about time when we are together, but think of nothing else simultaneously: its slipping through our fingers, the prospect of parting – and the waiting and longing when we are apart? Is this true: love needs time, but for love there is no such thing as time?

It takes no time to fall in love. But it takes you years to know what love is. ––Jason Mraz, ‘Life is Wonderful’, from the 2005 album Mr. A-Z

Imagine a girl (a young man, a boy, an elderly woman, just someone) being born, growing up, going to school, learning lots of languages, seeing the world, visiting other countries, going abroad, studying something, somewhere, say France – falling in love, very much in love with this other French girl (young man, boy, elderly woman etc.). Just think of some details, the one noticing the other, the other too impressed by the brave new world around her, a chance meeting (in a park, yes in a park, in Paris, in the springtime of course), first glances, then, later, the first touch.

It will be a love affair, even if they don’t know it yet, each day, every moment is an empty page. There is rapture all around.

They talk, look at each other, drink cheap wine from even cheaper glasses, laugh, talk even more, listen to music, go to movies, the park, the zoo, discuss books, the theatre, whatever they like. Anything is possible. (There is more looking of course, hesitation and not holding back at the same time.)

The two of them speak English, usually, sometimes some words in French, they seem to have grown to understand each other, even their silences. They have been together for two, three months now, eat meals together, share each other’s rooms and beds, at intervals. There is a moment, one time, in full summer, a warm, dark, damp night (or early morning).

Be Kind Rewind

‘Je t’aime,’ the other whispers.
She shudders, wavers, waits.
I love you, too.

How long does it take to learn the language of love? If you learn to say ‘I love you’ in one tongue, is it possible to understand (really understand) the other speaking another, to make yourself understandable? In this (imaginary?) universe ‘I love you’ cannot be translated, nor understood, if you don’t understand it first. ‘Ti amo’, ‘Ik hou van je’, ‘Je t’aime’, ‘Ich liebe dich’, ‘Jeg elsker deg’, all mean something else.

How does love translate, if it is, actually, itself a ‘translation’?

Is it necessary to know what love is to know what love is?

Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris)