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Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved: Part III

Gail Luddie Elder Small

This is the third post in a series of three exploring philosophical questions about love inspired by Beethoven’s letter to the Immortal Beloved.

PART 3. Good morning, on July 7 (or, “Steady, Happy Love”)

“…my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly…”

Maybe you’ve confronted some of the ways that happiness and unhappiness can intertwine in loving a person: I miss you when you’re gone. I tolerate your annoying habits. My heart jumps when we’re close. I just feel so happy right now!

But, is a volatile mix of love feelings compatible with happiness understood as a more stable, steady state of being? Beethoven writes, “My life in V[ienna] is now a wretched life – Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men…” Is love destined to make our lives alternatively joyful and wretched, tiringly yo-yo-ing us between happy and unhappy feeling?

“At my age I need a steady, quiet life – can that be so in our connection?”

Hill-Beethoven-TodayBeethoven writes of how his happiness rests entirely on the presence or absence of the Immortal Beloved. Some ancient schools of thought – the Stoics and certain schools of Yoga, for instance – have held that happiness isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) dependent on things, people, or circumstances beyond our control. Loved ones are going to die, after all, and that can’t be the factor deciding our life’s happiness.

Enter reluctant eyebrow furrows. Surely loving a person makes our happiness dependent on them in some ways? Maybe a loved one’s death isn’t enough to render a whole life miserable or wretched, but we’re not going to be the same kind of happy after that either. Where is the ground between dependent yo-yo-ing feelings and extreme stoic detachment?

“…never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.”

A faithful heart. Beethoven was concerned for, devoted to the Immortal Beloved. His heart was faithful in that sense.

We might also think of faith as a bridge between two acknowledgements. On one side: we humans are needful creatures, and in loving we are opening to dependency on someone other than ourselves. On the other: we humans are resilient creatures, and in loving we are standing, not collapsing for one another.

Sometimes it’s easier to acknowledge the ways in which we’re needful. Other times it’s easier to acknowledge the ways in which we’re resilient. What’s harder is consistently acknowledging the ways in which we’re both.

Steady, happy love calls for this – faith in resilience from the standpoint of need, and faith in need from the standpoint of resilience. A heart faithful in this sense is concerned, devoted, but in a way at once vulnerable in need and humbly grounded in resilience.

So it signs steadily, happily,

“ever thine/ever mine/ever ours”

Noelle Lopez studies Philosophy at the University of Oxford; her doctoral project explores prospects for an interpersonal ethics rooted in Plato’s thought on love. Sometimes in her free time she writes other things too. Her creative fiction, poetry, and playwriting have been performed at venues in California, Arizona, and England.

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