The week has come and gone and so has one of my favorite holidays of the year, Valentine’s Day. In light of February 14th, I spent of lot of time contemplating love and this holiday that celebrates it once a year.
In an article from 1993 published in the Winterthur Portfolio entitled The Fashioning of a Modern Holiday: St. Valentine’s Day, 1840-1870, Professor Leigh Eric Schmidt discusses the history of Valentine’s Day from ancient feast day to modern national holiday. A lot of things about the article irked me at first. Schmidt explains that,
“By the early decades of the fifteenth century, connecting the holiday to courtly conventions of ‘mannered love’ had become a literary commonplace, so much so that Lydgate simply used the term valentine as a shorthand for one’s fairest love. Linking the saint to birds, springtime, and lovers was a striking innovation, and why Chaucer and his compeers did so remains something of a literary mystery” (Schmidt, St. Valentine’s Day, 210).
Basically, Schmidt says that a bunch of poets used the death of two guys named Valentine on February 14th as an excuse to write poetry about love and no one really knows why. How romantic.
Schmidt then goes into how the modern Valentine’s Day came to be in America around the 1840s. Basically, it functioned as a consumer holiday and not much more. Valentine’s Day was a way to sell poetry and cards, probably exactly what the poets of the 15th century were looking for. However, the mass production that came with commercialization did worry some, “what concerned observers the most about the modern version of St. Valentine’s Day was the loss of sincerity and authentic self-expression at the hands of industry, commerce, and mass production” (Schmidt, St. Valentine’s Day, 240). At this line I was screaming, um duh, this should concern everyone. Something about the mass production of love is unsettling; as if we can just buy these feelings and give them out to anyone.
The article reminded me of something that I had read in Ursula Le Guin’s book The Dispossessed, a couple weeks ago. A mixture of men and women are sitting around discussing what exactly happiness is. The men lament that suffering is the condition of life. One, a man named Shevek, suggests, “I believe that the reality—the truth that I recognize in suffering as I don’t in comfort and happiness—that the reality of pain is not pain. If you can get through it. If you can endure it all the way” (Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 61). At once a woman of the group protests and argues, “the reality of our life is in love, in solidarity…love is the true condition of human life” (Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 61). The irony of this argument is that it comes from a woman. Of course the ambassadors to the emotion of love are the women of the group, but irony aside it is a valid position.
Is the opposite of suffering, love? And if so which is the disease and which is the cure?
Another man of the group tries to answer that question, “Shev’s right…love’s just one of the ways through it, and it can go wrong, and miss” (Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 61).
So, if suffering is the disease, love is only one cure and sometimes it does not work according to the men of The Dispossessed. To quote the famous pop ballad of Pat Benatar, “love is a battlefield”.
Considering Schmidt’s article and The Dispossessed we all might as well give up now and find another way to alleviate the pain of suffering. A very happy Valentine’s Day to me, am I right? Alas, my never-ending optimism cannot allow me to just stop there.
In an article from the New York Times published on Valentine’s Day, Huma Yusuf reports on the protest of Valentine’s Day occurring in Pakistan. At first you think, great! A quick fix to the pain and suffering that love, and a day dedicated to it, can bring to millions. But then you realize why this is happening. It’s the conservative Pakistanis battle to monitor the social behavior of its citizens, something the young men and women of Pakistan have already defeated. Yusuf explains,
“But in trying to clamp down on young love, Pakistan’s conservatives are fighting a losing battle. Having earned the legal right in 2003 to marry without their guardians’ consent, Pakistani women are increasingly risking everything — even their lives — to marry men of their choosing, not their family’s” (Yusuf, Don’t You Be My Valentine, 1).
It was a definitely an “AHA!” moment in my mind. Love, suffering, all of these things are my choice. Something Shevek understood when he said that we could move through the suffering. Something the commercialization of Valentine’s Day did to love. It gave consumers a choice and opened up the idea of courtship. It’s something that the men and women of Pakistan only 10 years ago won the right to. Choice
And at the end of the argument Shevek gives one last insight, “I’m trying to say what I think brotherhood really is. It begins—it begins with shared pain” (Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 62). Finally, men and women agree on something. Think back to what the woman’s first response was to Shevek, “the reality of our life is in love, in solidarity” (Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 61). Love is solidarity, brotherhood is solidarity, it is something we share. “Heartache to heartache we stand.”
If the commercialization and huge profits on Valentine’s Day are any indication, suffering and love are all shared pains. The reality is love is just another thing that binds us all together and we choose whether we feel it or move through it.
- Schmidt, Leigh E. “The Fashioning of a Modern Holiday: St. Valentine’s Day, 1840-1870.” Winterthur Portfolio 28.4 (1993): 209-45. JSTOR. Web. 14 Feb. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wlu.edu/stable/pdfplus/1181508.pdf?acceptTC=true>.
- Le Guin, Ursula K. The Dispossessed. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1974. Print.
- 3. 13 Going on 30. Dir. Gary Winick. By Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa. Perf. Jennifer Garner. YouTube. Digei Frunza, 17 Dec. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.
- 4. Yusuf, Huma. “Don’t You Be My Valentine.” New York Times. N.p., 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2013. <http://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/pakistan-cracks-down-on-valentines-day-celebrations/>.