Tuesday, January 15, 2013

One last reflection about "the middle ground"

I have been reading again Karl Iagnemma's collection of stories On the Nature of Human Romantic Attraction. At the time my paperback edition was published (2004), Iagnemma was a research scientist in mechanical engineering at MIT. The stories in the collection all involve scientists of one sort or another trying to negotiate the bewildering no-man's land between the analytic and the romantic.

You've got to live a little, take a little
And let your poor heart break a little

Is there a middle ground between the analytical and the romantic? Between reductionist science and affairs of the heart? Not likely on the evidence of Iagnemma's stories.

You've got to laugh a little, cry a little
Until the clouds roll by a little

Which is not to say that science can't tell us anything about romantic attraction. The growing acceptance of gay marriage in the secular west can be attributed to the influence of Enlightenment science as much as anything -- to the empirical separation of the biological from traditional prejudices.

As long as there's the two of us
We've got the world and all its charms
And when the world is through with us
We've got each other's arms

Contraception, child bearing, infant mortality, infertility, erectile dysfunction, the prevention and cure of sexually transmitted diseases: In all of this science has eased the pains of love. But of love itself, falling in love, falling out of love, making hearts, breaking hearts, living on the boulevard of broken dreams –- of all of this science has nothing to say. There's no middle ground, only a muddle ground.

You've got to win a little, lose a little
Yes, and always have the blues a little

Iagnemma the scientist enters the impossibility complicated arena of romance with no more assurance than you or I. He is, however, an assured storyteller, and…

That's the story of,
That's the glory of love.