There is a variety of love more powerful and lasting than that union with the other which beguiles us with its sensual pleasure, and more powerful and lasting than that platonic variety in which we contemplate the mystery of the other and thus become ourselves; mistresses grow old or pass beyond us; the flesh weakens; friends die, and the children fulfill, and thus betray, that potentiality in which we first beheld them. It is a variety of low in which you…have found yourself for much of your life, and it is one in which our poets were happiest; it is the love of the scholar for his text, the philosopher for his idea, the poet for his word. Thus Ovid is not alone in his northern exile at Tomis, nor are you alone in your far Damascus, where you have chosen to devote your remaining years to your books. No living object is necessary for such pure love; and thus it is universally agreed that this is the highest form of love, since it is for an object that approaches the absolute.
And yet in some ways it may be the basest form of love. For if we strip away the high rhetoric that so often surround this notion, it is revealed simply as a love of power…It is the power that the philosopher has over the disembodied mind of his reader, the power that the poet has over the living mind and heart of his listener. And if the minds and hearts and spirits of those who under the spell of that appointed power are lifted, that is an accident which is not essential to the love, or even its purpose.
I have begun to see that it is this kind of love that has impelled me through the years, thought it has been necessary for me to conceal the fact from myself as well as from others. "Augustus to Nicolaus of Damascus"--John Williams Augustus: A Novel (306)
In the face of death and delirium (when one can be "more reasonable than most men"), there are, we are told, three kinds of love:
- One consequent the pleasure of, let's say, body-coupling. (This is fleeting.)
- One (Platonic) consequent our intellectual awareness of our lack of knowledge about our intimates—a form of unstable, self-knowledge that is revealed to be an imprisonment.
An enduring love that the scholar-craftsman feels for one's necessary creations, which – upon further reflection – is revealed as love of power.*
It is no surprise that an emperor would identify his own ruling passion with a love of power; nor surprising that a novelist would have him say so. It is a bit more surprising that at the end of this novel about the art of ruling, which is simultaneously about the art of parenting, the novelist would allow his reader to entertain the thought that her immersion in the written text is a form of subjugation to the author's craft.
So, we are back in familiar terrain of the modern novel: the novelist as prosecutor of his own craft. We might say that the main defense of the novelist is that he acts from "necessity" ((305) or "destiny" (295)). While the propagandist's utility for the novel can be aimed at directly (recall), if there is genuine utility to the novel – elevating minds toward greatness (recall this post on Grunberg/Coetzee) – it is an unintentional byproduct of the love of power. (This is the secondary defense.) Williams lets us enjoy the irony that the emperor is wiser on the novel's possibility, and takes it more seriously, than his poet-propagandist (recall Maecenas here and here). But this very possibility is also destabilizing psychologically and politically; for the novel leaves no doubt about the dissatisfaction that follows from wise rule. Our excellence is revealed under duress (privation), not in prosperity.
This writer's necessity is not opposed to freedom (although there seems little room for the readers's/subjects' freedom--John Williams's sudden popularity offers a window on our limited aspirations). On the contrary, Augustus is recorded as claiming: