Difference, Disharmony, and Drama Are the Essence of Marriage

Difference, Disharmony, and Drama Are the Essence of Marriage June 29, 2015

Marriage should beat you up because it encourage irreconcilable difference (Kalighat Painting, "Woman Striking Man With Broom," Calcutta, India, 1875; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100)
Marriage should beat you up because it encourages irreconcilables differences (Kalighat Painting, “Woman Striking Man With Broom,” Calcutta, India, 1875; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100)

The debates around the redefinition of marriage in the United States orbit around the philosophy of love. What’s largely missing is a coherent understanding of love’s definition. The French Catholic philosopher Fabrice Hadjadj offers some pointers about the essence of love in marriage.

Hadjadj starts with difference, or, as Levinas called it, alterity:

Sex is the starting point of two types of relations both of which depend upon difference. There is a double difference: The difference between the sexes and the difference between generations. The first is concerned with relations between spouses, while the second is concerned with relations between parents and children. This double difference is the first difference experienced by every human being. In the relation man-woman or the relation parent-child every one of us experiences a relation to an Other, meaning, toward a person who will never be me, who is irreducible. It is impossible to fuse with the opposite sex, because the person belonging to the other sex is an Other par excellence. Men see women as belonging to a world that they will never penetrate. It is similar in the case of parenthood: Children see their parents as those who belong to a wholly different world and the parents see the world of their children as wholly Other. The propagation of the model of father-buddy or mother-friend does not work. Therefore if such a science [of the sexes] would be possible then it would be based upon relations with the Other, where this Other is a spouse or parent.

The French philosopher then uses the drive toward harmony in contemporary marriage redefinitions as a foil for the disharmony of sacramental marriage:

Not only is it not serene, but it is problematic, dramatic, and unresolvable. If in sexuality we seek only good self-esteem or fulfillment then we go beyond it. A woman does not desire a man because she has the same interests, but only because she is a woman. However, when you choose a person of the same sex—of course excluding the instance of a supernatural friendship in Christ—then it is largely because you have a lot in common with him or her. If, for example, I wanted to expand my sphere and feel self-fulfilled in it, then I would become “homo.” That is, as I describe it, “homophilic,” and not “homosexual.” I remember a film about Truman Capote in which the writer spends a vacation with his “friend.” Both of them write before noon, then in the evening they read to each other what they have written, and then you can see each of them mutually developing their spheres. I as a writer could use something like this, but at the same time the reality of family is completely different. My wife, kids, and I—we all live in different spheres. Sexuality makes it so that my sphere is disturbed, the Other breaks into it. The natural result of sexuality is precisely the intrusion of the most real reality—if I may put it thus—because reality is something that I do not expect, that which resists me, and which, in the end, I cannot fully master.

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