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LOVE FILMS
  • A Farewell to Arms - 1932
    dir. Frank Borzage
  • It Happening One Night - 1934
    dir. Frank Capra
  • Of Human Bondage - 1934
    dir. Jhon Cromwell
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    dir. Clarence Brown
LOVE BOOKS
  • Un amore tutto nuovo (1995)
    Abraham Giorgio
  • Che cos’è l’amore (1989)
    Abraham Giorgio
  • A Natural History of Love (1994)
    Ackerman Diane
  • Stare bene insieme (2003)
    Albisetti Valerio
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Falling in love and loving CHAPTER ONE

Falling in love
Falling in love and loving

Francesco Alberoni

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We fall in love. We say it, but what does it mean?
To capture the essence of this only partially-charted emotional territory, at once familiar and enigmatic to us all, we need to think in a new way. Admittedly, the rule in most scholarly work to is build up gradually to a revolutionary definition, but I think that to do so would less than useful here. I want to entice you to think in a new way straight off. At the same time I naturally aim to be as precise in my language and theory-making as possible, seeing that an accurate definition for the state called ‘falling in ‘love’ means reaching, with all due respect, beyond the traditional realms of psychology, sociology, and art. But this is important because our ‘falling in love’ is not an instance of sexual sublimation, nor a phenomenon of everyday life, nor a trick of the imagination—it is something very different. Falling in love is a formative state; scientifically it may be termed “nascent”, meaning in more common language that it is the ignition state of a special collective movement made up of solely two individuals.

I use the term “collective movement” intentionally because ‘falling in love’ is not an ungraspable, transcendental occurrence, divine or diabolic as the case may be. The experience of ‘falling in love’ shares the essential traits of any collective movement, which is a well-known sociological category, yet at the same time it retains its own unmistakable nature. No one would think, for example, to confuse it with such other examples of collective movements as the Protestant Reformation, the student protest movement of the 1960s, the Feminist movement, the Islamic movement led by Khomeini, or the No-Globals of today. It simply remains a special case within the same genre. Indeed, the great mass collective movements in history and the ignition state of falling in love are closely related in terms of the type of forces that they free up and set in motion, as well as in terms of the analogous experiences of solidarity and joy in life, or the feelings of renewal, which they stimulate. Their fundamental difference, on the other hand, lies in the fact that a very large number of people participate in these mass collective movements, which are also open to any others who may care to join them. In so far as ‘falling in love’, however, is a collective movement with just two participants, it embraces only them and appeals to the universal values that only they hold. This exclusive aspect makes ‘falling in love’ both a singular state and, on account of certain of its features, an unmistakable one.

Sociologists have already studied collective movements in detail and described the specific sort of experience they represent. Durkheim is one of the first to come to mind. His analysis of states of collective excitement is this: “A man who experiences such sentiments feels himself dominated by outside forces that lead him and pervade his milieu. He feels himself in a world quite distinct from that of his own private existence. This is a world not only more intense but also qualitatively different. Following the collectivity, the individual forgets himself for the common objective and his conduct is oriented in terms of a standard outside himself…[These forces] need to overflow for the sake of overflowing, as in play without any specific objective…At such moments, this higher form of life is lived with such intensity and exclusiveness that it monopolizes all minds to the more or less complete exclusion of egoism and the commonplace.”* When he wrote these words, Durkheim was not thinking at all about falling in love. He had in mind the French Revolution and other great revolutionary events. In truth, however, the experience which he describes above extends beyond these. It characterizes not only great historical developments like the French Revolution and the spread of Christianity or Islam, but also historical movements smaller in scale. Indeed, it is present in the initial phase (which we are calling the ‘ignition state’) of all collective movements, and that includes, most curiously, that of ‘falling in love.’ We find another similar description of this experience in Max Weber’s study of social phenomena which generate much creativity, enthusiasm and fervent belief. In Weber, however, they become manifestations of power; in other words, something that depends on the emergence of a charismatic leader.** With his appearance of the scene, this leader breaks with tradition, drags his followers into a heroic adventure, and inspires in the latter the experience of inner rebirth and radical change in outlook of the sort which Saint Paul termed “metanoia”.

*Emile Durkheim, “Value Judgments and Judgments of Reality” in Sociology and Philosophy, trans. D.F. Pocock (Chicago: Free Press, 1953), pp.91-92

**Max Weber, Economy and Society, ed. G. Roth and C. Wittich (Totowa, N.J.: Bedminister Press, 1968) vol. 3, chap 14)

Under the charismatic leader’s guidance, economic concerns give way to the unhampered pursuit of faith and ideals and to a life filled with enthusiasm and passion. Weber attributes all these things to the leader—that is, to the particular traits of the leader. In essence, he makes the same mistake each of us makes when we fall in love: we attribute the extraordinary experience we are having to the traits of the person we love, when in reality the person we love is not any different from others (any more than we ourselves are). The impression that this person is so extraordinary and unique-seeming actually stems from the nature of the extraordinary experience that we are going through and from the type of relationship that has come to exist between us and our beloved. At a deeper level, these same things render both of us different and extraordinary.

Here, then, is our point of departure. In both history and society there is this special phenomenon called ‘a collective movement’ that causes the relationships between individuals to change radically and which transforms the quality of life and experience. Sometimes it signals the beginning of a new religion, such as in the case of Islam, Christianity, and the Protestant Reform, whereas at other times it accompanies the rise of a sect or a heresy, or else trade union or student movements. Last but not least, there is the sort of movement that witnesses the creation of a new collective “us” made up of only two people, as happens when we fall in love. In an existing social structure, the movement divides whoever was united and unites whoever was divided to form a new collective figure, an “us”, which in the case of those who have fallen in love is made up of the couple to the exclusion of all others. Yet in both broader collective movements and that of the couple, the forces at work display the same patterns of violence and pre-determination.

Up to now most sociologists, psychologists, and philosophers have seemed averse (perhaps out of embarrassment) to admitting to there being a common if not identical thread linking great historical processes like Islam or the Russian or French Revolutions to such a private everyday occurrence as that of two people falling in love. It is perhaps a question of professional pride: they’d prefer to study only large-scale phenomena, those big important things at the crux of human social life. For them, the love between two ordinary middle-class people or two teenagers, between an elementary-school teacher and a park maintenance worker, or between a middle-aged man and his secretary, must seem so paltry and dreary, so devoid of importance that it has never occurred to them that the same forces that they study might be at work in these passions as well.

A similar thing happened many years ago with biology—biology as it used to be studied. It was believed that first, at the top of the pyramid, there was man, king of all creation and made in God’s image; then came the higher animals—the marvelous horse and magnificent lion; and at the very bottom, there were the worms, ants, and mollusks. Yet today we know that every animal has the same cellular structure, the same proteins making up its cells, the same DNA, and the same synapses between its nerves. Of course, man and the higher animals are different, and we know very well how to distinguish a horse from a worm. The difference really derives from the fact that in the former the basic biological, biochemical, and genetic structures or processes are incorporated into far more complex systems than in the latter. Without belaboring the point, we can say that to understand things in our world we need to study both the identical structures or processes and those that are completely different.

The experience of falling in love is the simplest sort of collective movement, one we aren’t about to confuse with the French Revolution, say, or the carryings on of the first Protestants. Nor are we tempted, for that matter, to believe that a revolution consists in the sum of many enamoured individuals, for that would be like saying that a horse is made up of the sum of many worms, or that a horse is simply a great big worm. The two organisms are very different, and yet underneath it all they are both members of the same animal kingdom and function biologically in the same basic way.

The definition that I began with—that falling in love is the ignition state of a collective movement involving two individuals—fits this mysterious human experience into a theoretical category (that of collective movements), at the same time that the discovery that the experience of falling in love is a collective movement offers us, inversely, a formidable tool for investigating the nature of movements themselves. After all, collective movements spontaneously arise only very rarely. A man may live his entire life without ever being involved in one, or he may be involved only once. Moreover, when we are dealing with thousands or millions of people, with all their economic and class interests, and with every possible ideological variation on the same, it becomes very difficult to study the elementary processes at work. The intimate event of falling in love, on the other hand, is something we all know about firsthand, something we can describe and relate to others. It seems reasonable, therefore, that an ample analysis of what happens when we fall in love will open the door to an understanding of vastly more complex processes that go beyond the realm of an individual’s immediate grasp on experience.

Having said that, it is an issue that sociologists, philosophers, and historians should be addressing and not this book. We want to focus our attention more intensely now on our real subject: the collective phenomenon that we term “falling in love.” That means immersing ourselves in this experience in order to pinpoint one or more of its distinctive aspects. To do that, we must shed any vestige remaining in our minds of the commonly-held misconception that falling in love has exclusively to do with sexuality and everyday life. I want to start by talking first about precisely that aspect of sexuality in fact, because it is here that the crucial difference between ordinary and extraordinary experience really emerges. And this is so important because the state that we call ‘falling in love’ belongs, like all collective movements, to the realm of the extraordinary.

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