Posted by Roger Mallett Posted on 27 November 2023

Love Really Can Thwart Tyranny

Long before Freud articulated the conflict, or at best the tension between the enduring psychic – and therefore cultural – forces of Eros (life-drive) and Thanatos (death-drive), the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Empedocles, paved the way for this by positing the corresponding pair of countervailing concepts, Love (philia) and Strife (Eris) or Hatred (neikos). According to Empedocles these forces act upon the four elements – fire, earth, air, and water – to construct and destroy, alternately, the cosmos or world as we know it.

For the ancient Greeks, cosmos was the opposite of chaos, so one can infer that, given the antagonistic relation between Love and Strife, the cosmic world is never completely ordered, but is always an amalgam of these two archaic rivals, with now the one, now the other, dominating. K. Scarlett Kingsley and Richard Parry (2020) comment as follows on the passage where Empedocles described this process:

Immediately one is struck by the comprehensive symmetry of this scheme. It seems to address coming-to-be and passing-away, birth and death, and it does so with an elegant balance. The four roots come together and blend, under the agency of Love, and they are driven apart by Strife. At the same time, elements have an active drive toward homogenization on the principal [sic] of affinity… While this passage describes periods when one of the forces is dominant, it also describes a cycle. One force does not finally triumph over the other; rather, their periods of dominance succeed one another in continual alternation.

The resemblance between this description and Freud’s on the relation between Eros and Thanatos (quoted in the article linked above) is striking, and testifies to the enduring awareness of human beings that love and hatred are not only interpersonal phenomena, but surpass that level to embrace the cosmic whole in terms of a cyclical process of creation and destruction.

Accordingly, the divine act of ‘creation from nothing’ (creatio ex nihilo; the official interpretation of God’s creative act by the church) described at the beginning of Genesis, may be seen as an act of divine love. The well-known passage in 1 Corinthians 13:13, namely ‘So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love’ may also be seen in this light. Why? Because if love is the ‘greatest,’ it means that it must be presupposed by the other two as the generative, creative force without which neither faith nor hope would make sense.

Against this backdrop one might wonder what is meant by the title of this article: ‘Love is all you need…’, with its echo of a familiar Beatles song, ‘All you need is love…’ What reminded me of it recently was when my partner and I watched one of our favourite movies again – Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe (2007); a kind of asynchronous companion piece to Milos Forman’s anti-Vietnam war musical, Hair, of 1979 – which concludes where the protagonist(s) perform the song.

As this suggests, the narrative of Across the Universe (which is also the title of a song written by John Lennon) is interspersed with the Beatles’ music (functioning as a kind of chorus commenting on the unfolding events), but sung by the actors in the film, notably Evan Rachel Wood (Lucy), Jim Sturgess (Jude), Joe Anderson (Max) and T.V. Carpio (Prudence).

As in the case of Hair, it is an anti-war musical with the Vietnam War as backdrop. Like all wars, the Vietnam War in these two films represents the destructive force of Thanatos, or Strife/Hatred, while the relationship between Claude and Sheila (in Hair) and between Lucy and Jude (in Across the Universe), respectively, instantiate Eros or Love. The fact that Across the Universe ends with Jude singing ‘All you need is love…Love is all you need’ to Lucy on a rooftop building in New York, after a brief separation, communicates the temporary triumph of Eros/Love over Thanatos/Strife – temporary, given the cyclical nature of the alternating dominance of the one over the other. This pertains to their own love-relationship, in which a temporary break-up precedes a loving reconciliation, but also signals the eventual end of the Vietnam conflict.

Read More – Love Really Can Thwart Tyranny


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