Every love affair is a threesome
Let me clarify.
In any love affair, there are three perceived participants: the lover, the beloved, and love itself, which is often treated as a separate entity. We are at the mercy of love, manipulated by it, helpless in the face of it. (I refuse to say “love is a battlefield” unless Pat Benatar’s people offer me money.) Although it is a process, and a part of us, we nevertheless see it as its own organism. This can be a problem, as love often does not do what we wish of it. From that complexity many great works of art have been made. In most every facet, love is collaborative if it is to succeed.
My topic today is also a collaboration. A cartoonist called Naters reached out to philosopher/theologian Peter Rollins with a proposal: he offered to adapt some of Rollins’ parables into a book. The collection they created, entitled Enduring Love: Tales of Torturous Desire from the Lonely Forest, tells nine stories of love through an existentialist context. Funny cartoon animals and existentialism might not seem like a natural combination, but the pairing works well. Naters has a degree in animation, and his poses are lively and precise (the tree frogs in “There is Hope” are my favorites). He keeps the book on an even keel as the stories themselves move through the many characteristics of love.
I’ve read most of Rollins’ books, and it is in storytelling that he really shines. His books can be academic and a bit daunting if you’re not well read in philosophy or theology, but his stories are concise and often hilarious. I highly recommend his book of parables, The Unorthodox Heretic and other Impossible Tales, as an introduction to his work. Enduring Love continues in that vein of entertainment surrounding a core of enlightenment. After that, try his first book, How Not to Speak of God, and go from there.
Existentialism is no stranger to ideas of love. The lover might perceive their beloved as an Other, experience intersubjectivity (you can look these up yourself; I’m not going to clutter this post with definitions), angst, even despair. But even with such formidable components, love is possible in an existential context. Here’s a short piece on Existentialism and love from The Paris Review; start there.
The stories in Enduring Love vary greatly in length and tone. Perhaps the word “existentialist” has some negative connotation, calling to mind some Frenchman expounding on the hard edges of life (I can hear Heidegger and Kierkegaard objecting at being called French) but there is much more to existentialism than that. Rollins deals with the “exquisite sufferings of love,” some of which manage to end happily. Lovers part and reunite; others part only to remain apart. My favorite story is “Great Secret” which (I hope this doesn’t spoil it) upends assumptions about divine love and the idea of salvation. Heavy stuff for a graphic novel? Not so.
A number of these stories have semantics at their core. “The Lake of Truth” asks “What is it to be in love?” In some aspects “Tiny House,” inspired by an Islamic parable, is about the questions “what does ‘tiny’ mean? Tiny in relation to what?” “There is Hope,” inspired by Philip K. Dick‘s story, “Expendable,” is about the need to ask questions. There is action and contemplation. Perhaps that is because the nature of love is the nature of a question, not just asked to be answered, but asked for the process that leads to the answer. The journey is as important as the destination – perhaps more so, if the destination is not a happy one. But, then, love is not entirely about happiness, either.
The first edition of Enduring Love as sold out, though copies are still available to Rollins’ supporters on Patreon. I won my copy through a contest on social media, so thanks to Peter Rollins for that opportunity. I’d love to see more thinkers and cartoonists work together; perhaps Enduring Love will start a trend.