After spending some wonderful hours exploring Athens with Maria, we’ve come to a cafe in Plaka called Melina, named after Melina Mercouri, a Greek actress and singer who was a political activist during the years of the military junta and became a member of the Greek parliament in 1977. The walls are adorned with photographs of her throughout her life – her as a young girl in the arms of her grandfather, a mayor of Athens, her as a young woman looking every inch the starlet, and later pictures showing her looking more relaxed, but unmistakably glamorous.
The photos of her with her husband Jules Dessin captured my attention the most. There’s one of them gazing at each other, both smiling gently, and it intrigues me that only they really know what exists between them. I still feel a sense of amazement, as I always did while married to Mark, that I was one of two. When I came to Athens with him I wrote about what made it so very different to when I came on my own.
Now that I’m adjusting to being one again, I find I’m fascinated by couples and human closeness. Today I was watching a couple who were sitting on a bench, her leaning against him at a slight angle as they chatted in the sun. I can be equally as fascinated by couples who seem to only communicate on the most superficial of levels – how can people spend so much time talking about food or shopping, I wonder, when I overhear them.
The photos on the wall here suggest a deeper, more meaningful love, a working partnership, togetherness. I was reading Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love just a couple of days before Mark died, and was thinking how grateful I was that I had experienced the kind of ‘risky’ love that Badiou describes – the kind of love I think I can see evidenced in that photo today.
Badiou argues that such love can only exist between lovers, and can have little impact on political space, because of the impossibility of us loving our enemies. As part of a couple, and now alone, I am not convinced that there isn’t a way that love can make a difference in a wider sphere. I still have love for friends and family and, like never before, realise the importance of their love for me. But is all we can expect of love only what happens among people who we love and love us back?
Simone Weil, in an essay I’ve just read called Human Personality, strives to formulate how truth, justice, good and love – words that exist in the ‘impersonal’ or transcendent realm, can be comprehended and applied in society, or the collective. Weil makes a distinction between these words and what describes as the “middle values” of ‘democracy’ ‘rights’ and ‘personality’ which she criticises as deriving from a ‘bargaining spirit” .
In doing so, Weil challenges the value ascribed to intelligence, suggesting that we need to pass beyond it “into the beginning of wisdom”. Perhaps from the perspective Weil describes, Badiou’s pessimism about people’s willingness to pay the price of love can be challenged. Weil understood that love is about giving something of yourself away and needs to extend beyond the one who loves back.
Now, with a heart aching from the loss of my one love, I wonder what wisdom has to say about how it might shape my life from now on, about its relevance to how I live my life, not just in terms of relationships, but in shaping my personal politics. What difference would it make if we were to take the risk and find ways of expressing it in the world today, along with truth, justice and good?