Positive Space

Love means creating for another the kind of space in which he can flourish, at the same time as he does this for you.

It is to find one's happiness in being the reason for the happiness of another. It is not that you both find your fulfilment in the same goal, like hitting the open road clasped together on a motorcycle, but [...] that you each find your fulfilment in the other's.

The liberal model of society wants individuals to flourish in their own space, without mutual interference.

The political space in question is thus a neutral one: it is really there to wedge people apart, so that one person's self-realization should not thwart another's. Nobody here - to put the point in a different theoretical idiom - seems to receive themselves back as a subject from the Other, as opposed to attending with due sensitivity to what the other has to say.

This is an admirable ideal, nurtured by what is in many ways a deeply honourable political tradition. The 'negative' freedoms it cherishes have a vital place in any just society.

But the space involved in love is rather more positive. 

It is created by the act of relationship itself, rather than being given from the outset like a spare seat in a waiting room.

To be granted this kind of freedom is to be able to be at one's best without undue fear. It is thus the vital precondition of human flourishing. You are free to realize your nature, but not in the falsely naturalistic sense of simply expressing an impulse because it happens to be yours. That would not rule out torture and murder.

Rather, you realize your nature in a way which allows the other to do so too. 

 And that means that you realize your nature at its best - since if the other's self-sulfilment is the medium through which you flourish yourself, you are not at liberty to be violent, dominative or self-seeking.

[Terry Eagleton]
After Theory, p.169-70


Related posts:-
Rights and Responsibilities
Negative Space
Taking back the Projection
Playing the Art Game | Distance
You laugh at my back, and I'll laugh at yours
Standing the strain 
A Pat on the Back
Individual v Environment
One Love?
Carry Each Other
Life Support
Giving and Receiving


  1. 'It is a fundamentally insane notion,' observes a character in W.G. Sebald's novel Vertigo, 'that one is able to influence the course of events by a turn of the helm, by will power alone, whereas in fact all is determined by the most complex interdependencies.'

    The cult of the will disowns the truth of our dependency, which springs from our fleshly existence. To have a body is to live dependently. Human bodies are not self-sufficient: there is a gaping hole in their make-up known as desire, which makes them eccentric to themselves.

    We are able to become self-determining, but only on the basis of a deeper dependency. This dependency is the condition of our freedom, not the infringement of it. Only those who feel supported can be secure enough to be free. Our identity and well-being are always in the keeping of the Other.

    To exist independently is to be a kind of cypher. The self-willed have the emptiness of a tautology. They make the mistake of imagining that to act according to laws outside the self is to be something less than the author of one's own being.

    [Terry Eagleton]
    After Theory, p.188-9

  2. The disabled body brings home our dependency to us. In needing help, they both force and allow a crossing of boundaries.

    Because their needs are more obvious - or more socially coded - they become easier to attend to. So whilst we all may, in some way, be in need, we are more able attend to the needs of the disabled person because they have been delineated and are known. They are also, in most instances, manageable.

    Perhaps we can distance ourselves from the disabled person because we know the ways in which they are different from us; we can chart the course from us to them. In this way we can help them without being too troubled by the fear of becoming them (or already being like them). Contrast this with the everyday neurotic, or even the schizophrenic.

    The disabled person allows contact. They remind us that we are interdependent, that we all need each other. They present a challenge to ideas about individuality and independence.

  3. Any true spiritual path must include two essential components - the means with which to perfect oneself, and the means with which to contribute something to others.

    [Matthieu Ricard]
    The Monk and the Philosopher, p.254