The Masochistic pleasures of reading and watching sagas of unrequited desire

By Aneesha Puri

Despite our obsession with happily ever after fairy tale endings, novels and movies across the world have thrived and flourished since time immemorial on the theme of maddening and ennobling passion of lovers thwarted by their unyielding and stifling society, giving readers the much needed aesthetic splendour produced out of ceaseless suffering. This aestheticising of the agony, transmuted into beautiful poetry apparently satisfies some deep hidden impulses in us by allowing us to feast our senses on sagas of unrequited love.

The celebrated twentieth century French philosopher Alan Badiou’s treatise on love – In Praise Of Love, is an attempt to salvage the romantic love from the threats it faces from liberals and libertines and the wide spread consumerism of the contemporary world. But more than a passionate avowal of desire for its own sake, Badiou privileges a “sanitised”, “idealistic” and “utopic” conceptualisation of love. According to Badiou only long term, committed and consummated relationships which lead to a discovery of a universal ‘truth’ are worthy of being called love. But then what is the fascination that doomed love stories fire?

The soul-annihilating agony of unrequited desire? Far from such a narrow and reductive definition of love espoused by Badiou, the charm of the popular tragic romances – Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Troilus and Cressida, Hero and Leander, Wuthering Heights, Tristan and Isolde, Layla and Majnun, Heer Rhanjha lies in the fact that they depict desire in all its raw heterogeneity characterised by jealousy, obsession, masochism, sadism, violence and cruelty without depriving the love of its grandeur and splendour. The lovers in these doomed romances are depicted as renouncing the vacuity of society they inhabit and the social conformities by a desperate and relentless assertion of selfhood based on the other, in self-erasure, they seek self-assertion.

Their love is never consummated, moreover it is shown as too tempestuous to be contained in terrestrial terrains and can only find fulfilment in a metaphysical plane by extinction of the self. The sheer mental exhaustion and the self-destructive agony are the natural corollaries of the relentless pursuit of emotional gratification and reciprocity when it is accompanied by an awareness of the circumstances that will definitely go against it. Yet there is no stopping to the self-inflicted path of annihilation they have treaded on as a consequence of the fatal conspiring of the fate and their tempting of the fate.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]The utopic closures of novels might offer momentary happiness but the pleasure is not sustained because of the closure brought out by attainment of desire.[/su_pullquote]

For readers and movie viewers, the stories where love is requited and desire is satiated, suggests a sense of finality to the romance, whereas the charm of unfulfilled love lies in the fact that desire is still throbbing, it is this palpable anticipation of fulfilment despite awareness of the futility of such a hope, that makes doomed romances so intriguing. The utopic closures of novels might offer momentary happiness but the pleasure is not sustained because of the closure brought out by attainment of desire. The possibility of ‘what could have been’ is always more fascinating to the human mind than ‘what it actually is’. After all once the climax is reached, what is left to anticipate but ennui?!

[su_divider style=”double”]So Marcos Rojo might have some explaining to do when wife Eugenia Lusardo asks why he quite is so excited in this Instagram post.[/su_divider]

 Aneesha  Puri  is pursuing her Masters in English Literature from Miranda House. A self-confessed book- ravisher, keen surveyor of  society and its ideological politics, loves deconstructing and decoding  anything and everything that even remotely concerns people,  ranging from  celebrated, canonical literary texts to popular cinema and advertisements.  Her idea of utopia is a truly emancipated world which allows everyone, unfettered freedom to foster  his/ her potential to the maximum.