On the Value of Longing

Edward_Hopper_Summer_Interior

Summer Interior by Edward Hopper

I’ve been thinking, recently, a great deal about the value of fantasy and, by extension, of longing. To long is to reach and yearn and want, to search for the thing, whatever it is, that will soothe the ache of not-having. As humans, we long for so much. It seems instinctive for us to want.

To be in a state of longing is to be painfully and poignantly alive. It is, in essence, the concentration of desire on its object; the willful, (or un-willful), surrender to want. Longing, though painful, can be a pleasure, as well – one that is quite acute. It quickens the blood and sharpens the senses. It makes the body hum. Poor reward for those caught in the depths of it, but a compelling surface to skate on, nonetheless.

5 comments

    1. It’s a wonderful question you asked, and a very important point to clarify.

      The short answer is, not at all — one should never give in to longing no matter what it is, and to sanction such a thing would be irresponsible. Longing for something is very different than pursuing something because nothing else will soothe your desires. Consent is, always the primary concern. It isn’t the responsibility of the desired object to soothe your desire, it’s your responsibility to assess your longing / desire, and whether or not it’s ethical / appropriate in a given circumstance to pursue it. Self-discipline and self-awareness. You may long for your brother’s wife, but pursuing her would be unacceptable if she did not wish to be pursued (ie: consent), regardless of approval or disapproval by society in general.

      I see longing as being a bit like the ocean – blue and fascinating up towards the surface, but as you descend deeper into it, it gets darker, more mysterious, and potentially more dangerous. I would place the longing I refer to in the post up towards the bluer, shallower depths. The deeper into it you go, the more difficult it becomes to navigate it safely, which is why discipline and self-awareness are critical.

  1. This is fascinating to me, and so is your ocean metaphor above. My first thought is how much I agree, and how important the concept of longing is to me personally. Longing and desires are what I live for. “[L]onging is to be painfully and poignantly alive. It is, in essence, the concentration of desire on its object; the willful, (or un-willful), surrender to want.”—that’s beautiful and so well said, in my opinion. My response to the concept of longing is still overwhelmingly positive.

    But it’s true that in certain circumstances, wanting what you can’t have can be more pain than pleasure, and the farther you sink into the deepness of the ocean the truer this is. I almost wonder if general longing—one that’s not concentrated on an object of desire, or at least an unattainable object of desire—is less prone to sinking into that depth. What do you think?

    1. Thank you so much for that lovely comment, and especially for the great question!

      “I almost wonder if general longing–one that’s not concentrated on an object of desire, or at least an unattainable object of desire–is less prone to sinking into that depth.”

      I think that the destination you’re drawing with this question is spot on. I think that there is absolutely a difference between general longing and longing that’s concentrated on a single object. General longing can be wonderful – longing for rain on a hot day, longing for a hot shower, or champagne, or a character in a film, or a lover out of town, or whatever it may be really is a pleasure (for me anyway). But when that longing gets concentrated and intensifies to the exclusion of other desires, then I think the danger of sinking into those depths increases. It’s such a fine line… We all seem prone to walking it, though – as if it’s hardwired into our natures. Some of us just seem to walk it with more luck or success than others….

      On Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 12:26 PM, Malin James

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