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Jose Ortega Y Gasset and an illustration of an anatomical heart

Love According to Jose Ortega Y Gasset


In “Studies on Love”, we can find some of the keys that will help us avoid shipwrecking in the always choppy swell of amorous feelings.

We have all, at one point or another, been in love, and we have all felt how that love would end up dissolving, leaving us with the uneasy feeling that we stood before something that was no more than a mirage. Without a doubt, the frustration that derives from the entire process of falling out of love, that radical disillusion, is a practically obligatory experience in the path of life.

This reoffending love blindness, which drives us to chain ourselves to people who later prove they are inadequate for us, was a series object of reflection for Stendhal, whose study would derive in his famous theory of crystallization: love is just a hallucinatory process which we project on the other person, the object of our love, endless ideal perfections, where those ideal perfections were the ones that aroused our love in the first place.

Jose Ortega y Gasset returns to this subject in his Studies About Love, and he does this precisely by introducing a more than reasonable doubt in Stendhal’s theory. According to Ortega y Gasset, Stendhal exaggerates “the power of fraud that resides in love”. He believes that Stendhal’s biography reveals the seed implied by his theory: Stendhal never really loved and, more importantly, he was never really loved.

Comparing his life to that of Chautebriand, a wild and consecrated lover, Ortega emphasizes the biographic character within the theory of crystallization. He accuses Stendhal of being a mere “lover of love”, and it is this vein of idealism which the Spanish philosopher believes introduces the greatest mistake to his theory. If Stendhal did not love and was not truly loved, his experience could only be limited to false loves, which ended up evaporating, leaving behind a melancholic warning.

Additionally, since we are essentially subjective and “projective” beings, then this particularity can hardly be a decisive factor for the pretended falsity of love.

When we notice that sometimes (love) pretends to have certain qualities that, in reality, the beloved does not possess, we should ask ourselves if it is not love itself that is forged.

If, as Stendhal asserts, love is a construction of subjectivity, which imagines the perfection of the beloved, then being in love implies the exceptional activity of the conscience. Ortega y Gasset disagrees with this implicit conception. To him “being in love” —a process which he insists is different from love, “a much more ample and profound experience”— is, quite the contrary: a state of mental misery. Being in love presents the peculiarity of being a state where an object is paid particular attention and, thus, it neglects others. Ortega defines this state as a “type of transitory imbecility,” he points out: “Without the stagnations of the mind […] we could not fall in love”.

In turn, Ortega y Gasset considers that the genuine interlacing between two souls is a phenomenon comparable to mystical experiences, where the soul of the ecstatic experiences an indissoluble union with God. He also considers that the proof of this similitude lies in the vocabulary that is usually employed in emotional experiences: while the mystical experiences are narrated through erotic language, the experiences of being in love frequently rely on religious expressions.

For the enamored and the mystic, reality is diffused: their new reality will be built by a single entity: their beloved or God.

For all those that have experienced the end of being in love, where the imaged of the beloved becomes the pale shadow of what our initial fervor used to be, we only have the consolation of knowing that, while it was nothing other than the product of our imagination, it nonetheless represented a priceless lesson for our encounter with the real.

Every love transits through the frenetic zone of being in love; but in turn, there also exists the infatuation which is not followed by authentic love. Hence, let us not confuse a fraction with the whole.

But how can we know if we are on the right path towards love?

There are many “loves” where everything except true love exists. There is desire, curiosity, obstinacy, mania, sincere sentimental fiction; but it is not the warm affirmation of another being, whatever their attitude towards us may be.

For Ortega y Gasset distance can put appearances to the test:

Still, one hundred yards from the object, and even when we do not think about it, if we love it, we will be radiating towards him an indefinable fluency.

Thus, if neither time nor space are able to completely weaken our love, if this can only be stretched out until it becomes the thinnest of threads which regains its original density with the re-encounter, then we can be certain that we stand before authentic love, safe from any deceitful crystallization.

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