I've been thinking about the whole concept of love letters lately, prompted by my recent paean to the special genius of Trent Reznor, no doubt. Before we go on, though, I want to point out that I chose an especially ludicrous picture of Mr. Reznor and his shiny rubber gloves for that last link, because even though it is possible to locate a photograph of him looking fairly average - or even totally delicious, give or take an ill-considered hairstyle - I wanted make sure to get some irony in here. That's right, bitches, I'm already laughing, so SUCK IT.
Anyway, I wanted to point out that there's an interesting situation where love letters are concerned, and this is what it is: on the one hand, one's love, the love in one's heart, feels real, and worth expressing, even if it's just that you love the bejesus out of some rock star in leather shorts whom you've never met. On the other hand, I wanted to point out that when you actually DO express something of that nature, it sounds like you're totally freaking lame, especially if you're over 30 years old, and the subject of said love is (arguably) a sexy rock star who you don't at all know, and who it's quite possible you'd feel like karate-chopping into oblivion ten seconds after saying "hey, nice to meet you."
To step deeper into the proverbial shit on this topic: one time I was reading this article about Viggo Mortensen, whom you may know as the sexy actor who brought my first literary crush ever to life when he played Aragorn son of Arathorn to fantasical perfection, but who is also a very respectable writer and visual artist. (See? Just typing that sentence was somewhat mortifying.) In the article, Viggo the Magnificent said something I really liked about writing love poems, and it was this: "I've done it before. I don't think I'll do it again. It scares people. They think you're insane." Now, no doubt Mr. Mortensen was talking about writing love poems for actual loves - you know, people with whom one is engaged in an intimate relationship - and I'm talking about something else, and that's a love of stangers and their work that can only be requited by the presentation and reception of more work, but here's what I wonder: in both scenarios, why do people think love letters are insane?
All this reminds me of another quote, one from my personal favorite postmodern literary critic J. Hillis Miller, who wrote the best article I have ever read on the topic of Gerard Hopkins, and for which, I will always love him. In his book On Literature Miller compared the experience of reading to that of a romance: "The relation between reader and story read is like a love affair. In both cases, it is a matter of giving yourself without reservation to another." Even more beautifully put, in my opinion, is his notion of the relation between the critic and the work he studies from his essay Literature and Religion: "The proper model for the relation of the critic to the work he studies is not that of scientist to physical objects but that of one man to another in charity. I may love another person and know him as only love can know without in the least abnegating my own beliefs. Love wants the other person as he is, in all his recalcitrant particularity. As St. Augustine puts it, the lover says to the loved one, 'Volo ut sis': 'I wish you to be.' " Let me just say this about that: nice shootin', J. Hillis.
Now, I often wish that this blog of mine were funnier and more ironic, but most especially when I do something like telling the world how much I love Trent Reznor. The truth is, though, that as easy as it is to laugh at me (and for me to laugh at myself), and as easy as it is to laugh at Pennsylvania's Prince of Darkness, for carrying on the way he does, I totally respect his absolute lack of irony, and although I am capable of cracking wise and heckling, and have a totally clear view of the truly massive amount of heckle-able material involved, it's not the way my secret self feels about that work. The truth is, I love it.
When I love works of art and artists, it's with earnestness and gratitude to them for finding ways to show me things I needed to see, and I'm totally not kidding, even if said artists are curtain-haired, drum machine-having goth angels covered in cornstarch, and their work consists primarily of overwrought expressions of totally straight-faced angst, about which they are totally not kidding. It would take a lot longer than I want to spend right now to enumerate the many regards in which I think Trent Reznor's work, as hysterical as it often is, is genuinely worthy of much more intelligent consideration than it ever receives, but at the very least, I LOVE the way that guy fully means it.
Which reminds me of something else, and that's the way people always say "Oh yeah, I liked the OLD U2 - you know, the "Live at Red Rocks" U2 - but now they suck. You know why people liked the old U2? I'll tell you why: there wasn't an ironic bone in their bodies back then.
Back in the proverbial day, Bono was ripping up the Irish flag to achieve the "white flag of surrender," and people ate that shit up because he was 100% in earnest, and that ruled. Youthful U2 was unambiguously lovable, but then the heckling began, because it's always easy to laugh at earnestness. After that, Bono found it necessary to start wearing the goggles and dressing up in the devil costume to visit the Vatican, and it became necessary to sort through layers of irony to realize that his heart was right where it had always been. Then, with tiresome predictability, people started shouting "SELL-OUT", and that's because, for the most part, people don't have much attention span.
Personally, I think the U2 that drips irony is every bit as brilliant as the U2 of earnest boys I fell in love with when I was 13, and that's because the defense mechanisms of that manufactured distance are an even more interesting territory than Bono's feeling that the strife should end in Ireland, but here's why: he's always been beautiful and prayerful, and he's always been savagely serious even in gold lame and horns. All of his songs have always been in absolute earnest, and they're all about love, one way or another. People, I LOVE that about him, and I will never stop.
My point, I guess, is this: irony is totally over-rated, but you know what? Love isn't.