On Love as a Legitimate Form of Interpretation
Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill in City Lights
It occurred to me tonight, as I was sitting outside the apartment in which I live, on a kind of lawn chair outside, and noticing a golden light far off in the sky, sinking down below the horizon, and above it two clouds, a longer and shorter one, illuminated from the bottom up from the sun going down - and thinking about someone I love, and then interpreting the two clouds as her and myself - that love is a legitimate form of interpretation that we do not talk about enough, and often we do not mention it at all, even though arguably it is the lens through which we all, no matter who we are, interpret most things in the world, and therefore deserves at least a blog post.
How so. There are different mystical traditions, and they are very different, so I am reluctant to situate this argument-blogpost within the context of some vague watered-down mystical lens. But I do think maybe we could speak of the notion of the anagogical lens, which is historically a legitimate form of interpretation used at least since or around Dante's time, in which texts were interpreted not only literally or metaphorically but with a kind of spiritual, or within a sort of spiritual dimension, a spiritual lens. Some texts, like maybe Augustine's Confessions, or passages in the King James Bible, would seem to lend themselves more readily to an anagogical lens, a lens that thinks about what love means, and that interprets passages through the lens of love, but of course imaginative texts can and often are read this way - think about Dante, or, better yet, a novel by Jane Austen - as ways for men and women and trans and anyone really to listen to the text with their heart and try to figure out, in a basic way, what it says to them about who might be right for them.
And even if we are not reading literature, I think this is how most people read in general, and I say that with respect and not the least bit of condescension. Not everyone reads novels, but everyone reads - an Instagram post, something on Twitter, an article on the internet - and we are often not reading for information, but for clues as to who would be right for us. If we are less mature, we might be reading about sex, because we are thinking about sex all the time, but if we are more mature we might actually start thinking about partners for life, about relationships that work and travel through time, about the meaning of intimacy, and the work that goes into relationships, and learning how to communicate and understand and meet another person's needs - of basically just not being shitty and narcissistic and juvenile and playing games - and if we are reading this way then we are reading through a sort of lens that places love at the center of our interpretive acts.
I think this is what I have been trying to develop with the idea of "heart reading." Not only do we often not read for cognitive reasons, rather than affective reasons, but we also read for affective reasons in order to find a partner, someone who can love us unconditionally for who we are. I suppose we could even invoke Plato in this context, and his writings somewhere about finding a partner as a kind of yin to our yang, a best friend, someone who doesn't complete us necessarily, but who gets us for both understandable and mysterious reasons. And I really do think this is why most people read, and that to argue that catharsis is a form of social justice is basically saying the same thing. How so?
To find love, we need to individuate, because if we don't, our relationships devolve into catatonic co-dependent nightmares. Meaning, we need to become our own people in contradistinction to both our biological parents and our other parents, whether these be artists, critics, mentors at work, whomever. But that means that, when we create art, we are both doing so to discover who we are, and therefore fighting against our influences and seeking love at the same moment. Catharsis as a form of social justice is therefore also a form of love, and if you think about it, justice would have to be an act of love, sans pity, but through strength and fighting against all the rapists and assholes who try to get in the way of our legitimate right to find love and work for it and live a life that places love as a central value.
What I'm trying to say is that I think every human being practices heart reading, but not every human being is interested in aesthetics, per se, and that for a fuller picture of what happens when we read - meaning, when we interpret - we should think more clearly about the meaning of love and its relationship to interpretation.