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Anxiety: I Love and I Hate

Kierkegaard believed that those things that we are anxious about we both love and hate. Actually he said we have an antipathetic-sympathy and a sympathetic-antipathy towards them, but that’s a fancy way of saying the same thing. We want them and we don’t want them.

Those things that we feel anxious about are the important things — people who really matter to us. Big decisions. Big stuff. Do you want cocoa puffs for breakfast? Sure, why not. No anxiety. No love and no hate. No antipathetic sympathy or sympathetic antipathy. You simply prefer them.

Where did he get this stuff from? From life. But life as he lived it was told in the context of a particular story.

Kierkegaard was a Christian — sort of — which meant he believed in the old story of the Fall and the hoped for Redemption. What’s that?

Augustine, the North African philosopher of Roman times spent ten years as a Manichean — i.e. he believed that from eternity there had been two principles at war in the cosmos — good and evil. Then he became a Christian, in part to make his mother happy. He was the greatest Christian theologian of the Fall, though his enemies thought he was still a crypto-Manichean.

Augustine said the fall is the reason we want things and don’t want them. For example: sex. Before the fall sex was a matter of thinking it would be good to have sex and then joining genitals with no anxiety and no ambivalence — like shaking hands. But now our members — our sex organs — revolt. We can want to have sex with a person even though we think it’s wrong. We want and we do not want. As Catullus said: I love and I hate.

A strange story — falling and then loving and hating. That is the sign of trauma, they say, that you are in a sense split, into the person who underwent the trauma and the person on the outside observing it. They say that trauma splits how you see the world. You hate the person who traumatized you — of course. And you love him too. Why? It’s too scary to imagine that he doesn’t care. Part of you does Stockholm syndrome and sympathizes with the accuser.

And a story that takes you through what they call peripateia and anagnorisis — ups and down and something that makes sense of the story from all the masks of the drama — abuser and abused — and the person the abuser was abused by — and the person whom the abused abuses in turn — story knits together the trauma. It teaches us how we can love and hate.

Does thinking do it? Thinking is a sort of self-talk. We take two sides of the story.

Anxious people think a lot. Do I love her or do I hate her? Do I forgive him or will that kill me? They think to deal with their anxiety.

People feel anxious about two things probably — birth and death — joining together in love or breaking up.

Birth and death, copulation or separation with another person. But also internally. Birth and death of the fragments. Do the fragments join together and become a whole, which has a more nuanced view? Does the whole person undergo a new trauma and split some more?

In the old days there were two basic takes on all this — the school of love and the school of strife. The school of love thought the world was a bunch of separate things seeking to reconnect, while the school of strife thought life was about a bunch of unruly wholes seeking to tear themselves and others apart. Needless to say the School of Strife was in love with the School of Love, while the school of love strove ceaselessly to fend off the school of strife.

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4 thoughts on “Anxiety: I Love and I Hate

  1. For us, love and hate are both ultimate passions. Only the objects of our ultimate passions can wound us beyond endurance. We fear both the pain of the wound and what we might become as a result. Death holds no terror comparable to the scorn or the suffering of a loved one.

    The school of love and the school of strife make the same mistake about the world. Number, whether in oneness or in multiplicity, exists only at our level of reality. It’s something we create as we look at the world. Whether we look at the world as separating or as uniting, we’re still thinking of it in terms of number.

    You know much more about Buddhism than I do, but I think they got it right: the individual selves we perceive are an illusion, an artifact of the way we perceive ourselves and others. It doesn’t mean they’re “one:” it means that if they’re correctly understood, number doesn’t apply to them.

  2. “As Catullus said: I love and I hate.”

    Scrolling through the homepage glancing at titles, the anastrophe struck me to the extent that I had to click and check whether it was a Catullan allusion. And then it was confirmed midway. Well hooked!

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