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Monday, August 1, 2011

"My Life's Companion", or The Jeweler's Shop, part I - The Transfiguration of Time in the Experience of Love

In this and several following posts, I shall use my previous posts as a preamble to a theological reading of Pope John Paul II's The Jeweler's Shop, taking it as a phenomenology of love.

I spoke in a previous post of how the "theatre of the inner word" pares down the unessential distractions in a theatre so that the bare nakedness of the spoken Word could affect the audience directly by its own power.  As an example of this, John Paul II's The Jeweler's Shop paints in its words a phenomenological description of the experience of being in love, but theatrically transfiguring being, time, and the physical stage - those unessential distractions - in order to let the essence of love shine forth more directly and more clearly through the inner word, and by doing so he created a logos-like figure, the Jeweler, who is both a character in the play and the condition that renders the play possible.  I shall devote one post to the transfiguration of time in the service of experiencing love, another to the transfiguration of space and Wojtyla's treatment of the stage, a third post to the figure of the Jeweler, and a final post to the play's eschatological conclusion.

Instead of being a coherent story stuffed into a single place and a simple linear passage of time, The Jeweler’s Shop gets all of its unity from the aspect of eternity. Indeed, though the Brechtian emphasis on narration will become evident in the story's eschatological conclusion, there is no story per se, for what is important are not the ephemeral relationships between the characters, but rather their experience of love as their relationship to God and to those made in His image. Instead of being a story, the play is an extended phenomenology of love, in which each of the characters in turn reveals his own soul and by doing so reveals the greater reality of love in which it subsists. At the heart of this phenomenology, Wojtyla discovers time - kairos - as the ultimate reality within human love. In this respect, he may have been influenced by thinkers such as Heidegger and Bergson who had also come to the conclusion that man’s being is nothing other than time, but by giving a phenomenology of love rather than of being Wojtyla reaches his conclusion quite independently of previous thinkers. Wojtyla believed that time was redeemed and given its meaning by love, and that through love, time meets eternity - that love “cannot be a single moment; man’s eternity passes through it”. In the play, Teresa describes this conjunction between time and eternity by recalling the words with which Andrew had proposed to her.

We were just walking on the right side of the market square when Andrew turned around and said,
“Do you want to be my life’s companion?”
That’s what he said. He didn’t say: do you want to be my wife,
but: my life’s companion.

It is in one’s life - one’s Da-sein - that time is found, and love defines one’s life. When a husband and wife are wedded, their love is eternal, as all the poets have known - but their love is also what time is made out of, as Wojtyla shows us. It is lack of love - especially in the form of unchastity - that turns meaningful time (kairos) into a meaningless succession of events. Pure kairos has nothing to do with the mere succession of events. Teresa could not recall what time it was when Andrew asked her to marry him; in a very real ontological sense, this was because there really was no time. In the inner world of the theatre, where pure kairos can be present without chronos, the meaningless and linear succession of events simply has no relevance. “At such moments one does not check the hour, such moments grow in one above time.”

On the other hand, when one falls in and out of love and changes lovers as his fancy suits him, he makes everyone incapable of being his “life’s companion”. It still remains possible to have a succession of sex partners, and even that indissoluble domestic arrangement officially known as marriage; but true matrimony - when the two become one flesh, as “life’s companion” to each other - becomes impossible. Each successive love affair makes mockery of the previous one, depriving it of all its meaning; as permanence is lost, consciousness of time - that is, of the possible dissolution of the love at a point some time in the future - makes it impossible for one to love the beloved in an altruistic manner. Such a lover is not loving the eternal soul of the beloved - which exists irrespective of chronological time, and which will never cease to exist - but is rather loving the soul as it exists, and only as it exists, now. To love with consciousness of time is to love a fleeting experience, and not an eternal soul - consciousness of time is almost unthinkable, for example, in the love between a mother and a son. Loving now is not ontological; it does not alter one’s being, only one’s emotions. True and real love completes the person; when the two become one flesh, they are no longer just themselves. After Teresa married Andrew, they existed no longer except in each other. Man is composed of an intellect, a will, and a body - thus in love, the bodies become one, the spouses know each other more intimately than it could be thought humanly possible, and most fundamentally, their wills are for nothing but each other. “Love - love pulsating in brows”, the chorus sings, “in man becomes thought and will: the will of Teresa being Andrew, the will of Andrew being Teresa.” An identity this close pertains to the essence of man, and is thus unchanging; it cannot be severed by material events such as death, for “love is stronger than death”. After Andrew was killed in the war, Teresa said “Andrew did not die in me, did not die on any front, he did not even have to come back, for somehow he is.” Presence, as Gabriel Marcel has told us, has nothing to do with physical location - bringing us to the phenomenological interconnectedness between time and presence and space, and to the subject of the next post.

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