The Game of Love

originally written on Feb. 13, 2010
by Pat Nogoy, SJ

Physicists say we are made of stardust. Intergalactic debris
and far-flung atoms, shards of carbon nanomatter rounded up by
gravity to circle the sun. As atoms pass through an eternal revolving door
of possible form, energy, and mass dance in fluid relationship.
We are stardust, we are man, we are thought. We are story.
-Glenda Burgess, The Geography of Love

In the delineation of differance everything is strategic and adventurous.
Strategic because no transcendent truth present outside the field
of writing can govern theologically the totality of the field.
Adventurous because this strategy is…a strategy without finality…
The concept of play keeps itself beyond this opposition, announcing…
the unity of chance and necessity in calculations without end.
–Jacques Derrida, Differance

Housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome is the life-sized marble sculpture of Apollo and Daphne made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Prominent during his time, Bernini is known to have possessed the unique ability to capture in marble, the essence of a narrative moment with a shocking dramatic realism. A viewer can readily perceive this gifted ability by gazing at Apollo and Daphne, one of his famous works.

The story of Apollo and Daphne is one among Ovid’s stories, his Metamorphoses. It depicts the story of the god, Apollo, who scolds Eros or Cupid for playing with weapons only fit for an adult. In retribution, Cupid shot a golden arrow into the heart of Apollo, making the god fall madly in love at the sight of Daphne, the water nymph who is also a perpetually vowed virgin. Eros shot another arrow, a lead arrow, this time into the heart of Daphne for her to resist the pursuing Apollo. The Bernini sculpture features the moment when Apollo finally captures Daphne, yet she has implored her father, Peneus (the river god) to transform her into a laurel tree. Daphne’s transformation did not deter Apollo from embracing the tree. He vows to care for the tree; and even cuts off some of her branches and leaves to make a wreath and proclaims the laurel as a sacred tree.

Cunning as it may be, the story presents the reality of love as a game. Had it not been for Cupid’s interference, Apollo and Daphne would have been spared of the tragedy. Similarly, beings move around without the necessity to fall in love. One can breath, eat, dream, live life without necessarily falling in love. Love is a game of chance, as they say, a kind of serendipity. The immediate implication of these clichés is that it is a non necessity. There is no need to panic for Valentine’s day; there is no need to scour for a partner to give in to tradition of Hearts Day. Love does not pressure. It has its own time.

Yet when that time comes, despite its non-necessity, one cannot help but fall in love. When love strikes the heart, one remains helpless. It is as if a greater force encumbers the lover; it is like an experience of demonic possession of some kind. We lose control when we fall in love. Just like Apollo, who is considered the god of wisdom, we go mad. Just like Apollo, who is known for his maxim “everything in moderation,” we become exaggerated. Just like Apollo, who is a renowned warrior, we get so weak at the sight of the Beloved. There comes into presence a commanding force to pursue the Beloved. There comes into presence a greater chaos that overthrows our own individual order in favor of the Beloved. Suddenly, we are no longer our own designed planetary system wherein we live as if we are the center of the universe. The center has moved; we become off-center (eccentricity): we become a mere planet that revolves around the light of the Beloved. When we had all the reasons to go without being in love, when the time comes, we now have all the reasons to be in love. Love is a strange game isn’t it?

Rules of the Game

From the onset, one can see that the game is played according to its own rules. The rules of the game demarcate the distinctiveness of the game. One knows the game at hand by knowing its rules. Further, the presence of rules ironically show the seriousness required to play the game. One cannot just simply play the game in whatever manner he likes. For example, in basketball, one cannot simply throw the ball at an opponent’s basket; he must shoot it in the team’s chosen basket, eluding his opponents’ defense to incur a point or two. In the case of tennis, one must hit the ball into the opponent’s court; and one cannot kick the ball for he must use a racket. In soccer, one is prodded to use all parts of his body in dribbling the ball except the hands and arms. The rules of the game betray the seriousness of the game. One cannot simply fool around with the game.

Is it not a similar case for love? One cannot simply fool around by playing with people’s hearts. One must be serious in playing the game; he must be guided with a rule, if he wants to play the game of love. Though there are no clearly stated rules, one realizes that if he enters into a committed relationship, there are certain things he himself must choose not to do so he would not spoil the game. When one plays the game of pursuit, more or less he is invisibly guided—he is not playing in chaos and absurdity. If he chooses to do otherwise, he is already playing a different game, whether he knows it or not. Love consists of variety of games with their own rules. The problematic is that the rules are not clearly stated; there is no game manual that comes with the console of love. But this very fact also opens up the reality that though there are rules, the game itself is not played strictly according to rules. The game evolves, and when the game evolves, so do the rules.

Rules remain as guideposts and they are not overarching or, as Jacques Derrida says, a transcendent Being that governs the play of the game. They are part of the game itself and evolve as the game progresses. They can even be changed. In fact, the best way to play the game is not so much by the rules (though one needs a proper sense of the rules to really play the game) as it is by entering into its rhythm—a rhythm of to and fro; a play of forces.

The Play of the Game

The essence of the game is in its play; not in the competitive desire to win. The play of oppositions—one is pitted to a total Other; one is challenged by a Different Other. The variety and uniqueness of one’s forces, talents, styles explode in play with the Other’s variety and uniqueness. The magnificence of the game lies in its play of oppositions. The dynamism is produced precisely by the individuality and in letting the game take control.

The gift of individuality is often overlooked when one is in love. Often, the lover tries to be exactly like the Beloved in order to please her; cases of conformity with the Beloved’s expectations. And then when the honeymoon season ends, the lovers irritate each other with the idiosyncrasies of their unique personalities. They discover how different they are from one another; and these differences however little they are, cause so much friction, sparks raging conflicts and sometimes even the dissolution of relationship. The reality of difference is felt so much and stokes each other to anger and despise. Often one wonders why he fell in love in the first place, and what he saw in the Beloved that made him give up his solitary but peaceful existence for a chaotic adventure.

Yet just like the play of oppositions, the beauty of love explodes not in compatibility but rather in the relation of the differences. The play of differences tests each other’s whole selves; both players are taken out (eks-stasis), and always remain in the realm of the open. Each draws out the best from the other precisely because of this play of differences, of forces. Self-becoming is achieved ironically because of anOther, an Other that is unique and mysterious, an Other that exerts an opposite or counteracting force. We become better players of the game because of the game itself.

Is it not the case too for life formations? We learn that a biological being is composed of different and often reacting forces and compounds. Different elements merge to form a higher compound, one that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is the same case for love when we choose to struggle with our partners. What is formed is greater than the sum of its parts—a transforming synergy that sculpts the players themselves to perfection. Indeed, we become better persons because of our continuous struggle with the one we love, who is a total Other. And comes always as a surprise.

The surprise of becoming is the gift bestowed by the play of forces. The game evolves as it becomes unique; the players evolve and become better. The “better” is a gift—better in terms of extended patience, of doing things we could not imagine doing or even conceiving, among others. The heart of the lover becomes ever sturdier; the love he shares with the Beloved evolves into a deeper and wider horizon. This is the surprise: a surprise in its true essence of coming out of nowhere. The lover and Beloved do not know where they are heading in their chosen enterprise—a true adventure—yet by constantly struggling with one another’s idiosyncrasies, they begin to get a glimpse of the reality of love, a love that is beyond feeling and telling, a love that makes them become. Further, the game reveals the players to each other. The surprise of the Other comes in a revelation brought upon by the forces of the game. The lover is gifted with a feel of the Other’s force, style, attitude, reaction, among others and so is the Beloved too, with the lover’s revelation in play. Becoming and revelation bind the lover and Beloved intimately like a narrative weaving. Unknowingly, they weave their own love story—a unique tale of becoming in a consistent choice to stay together come what may.

And what is love without a love story?

Yet the gift of a love story is not without a price. To tread the adventurous and never ending strategic geography of love is an arduous and fearful trek and navigation. At times, the lover and the Beloved choose not to care. And it is a reality. For to give—to always give—is a laborious sacrifice. As JL Marion states in his essay What Love Knows, “Charity waits for nothing, commences right away, and is fulfilled without delay…this is the reason why charity disheartens us, worries us, and taxes us: because when it comes to charity, no excuse, no way out, no explanation is of any avail.” There are no ifs and buts once the game starts. In the course of playing the game, when one’s expectations fall, when one’s individuality is challenged, the player gets weary and starts to control the game. We get weary in the banality of love, in the routine of being with the Other. When the Other challenges us, one can easily manipulate the patterns of revelation in order to respond with control over the Other. It is tempting to win every debate, to lord over arguments and our likes instead of letting the play of dialogue happen. It is taxing to listen and wait. At these times, especially when stressed, it is wise to take a leave, to have a break, to not care. Like Daphne, we want everything to stop for a while, and escape the game. We need to recharge; we want a timeout.

To Resume or Not After the Timeout

The timeout in a game serves a variety of purposes—rest, gathering of oneself, and change of tactics. A timeout is a breather, a relief from too much playing, and a purposive distance from the game. Similarly, lovers do take time out from each other especially when the heat is on, when the intensity shoots out of one’s boiling point. Everything is assessed—rules, control, intensities, patterns, happiness, among others; from within and without. A timeout is part of the game inasmuch as a short break or “cooling off” period is part of the relationship. However, at the end of each timeout, the play still beckons; at the end of the break or “cooling off” one makes a choice either to stay in the relationship or not, or if one chooses to stay, how will things play out this time. At times, the timeout results in the very dissolution of the relationship, the quitting of the game.

A lot of reasons can be drawn from quitting the game; a lot of lessons can be savored in an ending relationship. Yet, the lessons and reasons do not frame the choice; it is the choice to still play or quit that frames the reasons and eventually the lessons learned. Still the impact of love lingers as the players, despite quitting, will never be the same again. For better or worse, the lovers still remain different yet there is a difference that lies in the difference bestowed by the play of love. The lover is never the same self after a Beloved yet the difference in the lover is brought upon by the encounter with the Beloved, her difference; as such, the trace of the Beloved is found in the lover, more specifically in that difference she has made in his life. Apollo will never be the same without his encounter with Daphne, who is totally different from him. The difference coming from the play of differences of the lover and Beloved makes all the difference.

This difference makes each game different. No two played games are the same. There is no template for a game. The choice to resume playing opens the lover to new possibilities brought about by the difference of the Other despite the timeout. The timeout actually enhances the difference more, thus allowing the game to evolve into a higher and surprising level. And in this higher and surprising level, the gift of becoming is again bestowed. They grow to be better players than before and that is because of the play of differences. The key is the relation—the constant choice to give, to love. In a total giving of self, the lover and Beloved bring into the play their gifted evolving differences.

Like a remarkable tale, the lovers’ narrative continues to be intriguing, surprising, gripping, and transforming. The play of difference is contained in the narrative moment—real and dramatic—a moment like Apollo and Daphne who, despite the tragedy, displayed the interaction of the different forces found in the play of love. It is the kind of story of almighty hearts tirelessly dancing in the tune of the dynamic and mysterious universe. In this dance, all the more they become who they really are—Lover and Beloved; a magnificent play of differences.

About Pat Nogoy

Pat was sent to Zamboanga to teach high school students. Despite this mission he shares in the Society of Jesus, he also discovers that philosophy left a trace that continually gives. Time and again, this trace asks him to engage life deeply especially Zamboanga (its cultures, places, and peoples) and prods him to share his reflections. Aside from thinking and writing, he enjoys his other jobs as moderator of the high school choir and of creatively seducing more men to help make God’s dream a reality in the present as Jesuits.

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