‘The Collector’ And Absurd Love

In Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, Janet Malcolm interprets a part of Freud’s essay Observations On Transference-Love to read “Isn’t what we mean by ‘falling in love’ a kind of sickness and craziness, an illusion, a blindness to what the loved person is really like?”. Although it’s a paraphrasing of a material I’ve never read, it sounds as if it’s the closest thing to absolute truth Freud ever said. Similarly, Plato in his dialectic Phaedrus, discusses the nature of love and desire, with Socrates at one point concluding that ‘love is a madness’.

After reading Nabokov’s Lolita I needed something less orotund and mentally cumbersome to read on the come-down from that novel. Not yet jaded by tales of creepy men, I decided I’d give The Collector a go, a book I remembered being recommended by my English teacher. I’m very glad that I did. Although the author John Fowles is explicitly on record as saying the novel is about class and intellectual divisions within society increasingly dominated by a wealthy but responsibly impotent minority, there is also a more thorough investigation within the superficial narrative: that of bad love.

The concept of ‘bad love’ might seem an oxymoron, the idea of an elevated-self and spiritual bond being described as an affliction can easily be seen as an impossible contortion of the word ‘love’ itself. The usually-depicted situation wherein two people fall in love sees the two individuals involved as respectively causative of the other’s being ‘in love’. We are used to the idea of love between two people being caused by temporal and proximal factors. While there is no absolute criteria, we see love as a series of social inputs and outputs. If I spend x amount of months with this person, if I have y amount of intimate exchanges with this individual, love will be caused.

To give even an inch of credence to this idea has so many dangerous implications. Millions of non-heterosexual individuals are either persecuted or forced into self-repression because of the refractory nature of love. To believe that love can be caused by such interactions and formulas is to say that it can therefore be eluded by omission of these interactions. This is the same precept that fuels sexual correction camps and the wider homophobic institutions existing today. Love, who you and how you love, cannot be decided solely by these factors. It is a state of being that exists outside of your own agency. Instead of two individuals being the causative agents of each others’ love, it is more likely that two people in love with each other have experienced the same change simultaneously but independently. Laterally. Because the state of being in love is not down to our individual decision, to seek a fatalist ‘love’ is a defeating task.

This is exactly the task our protagonist Frederick Clegg suffers with. He kidnaps secondary protagonist Miranda and keeps her prisoner in his house so that she can learn to love him. This is what he believes to be his ultimate fulfilment.

To seek love from an individual you do not know enough about is worse than any regular love. Love entails obsession above anything else, it entails an insatiable fascination, and if this obsession and mental fervour cannot be channelled towards someone who can reciprocate the same satisfaction in sheer discovery, then acceptable obsession becomes unhealthy obsession. Frederick knows nothing about Miranda. He can wax lyrical about the way her hair looks and the way she carries herself, but knows nothing of her mind. This is a crucial idea. The kind of love Frederick exhibits is the love of her physical surface, which is only a slice of her identity. As such, he loves completely only that which she allows him to experience. Frederick loves an incomplete person, so has incomplete empathies for her.

In philosophy, ‘the Absurd’ refers to the human instinct to find purpose in life and the human inability to do so. It is an absurd struggle due to the fact that full knowledge and understanding of the life and universe we seek to comprehend is an impossibly vast ideal. The sheer amount of knowable entities atop the infinitely unknown dominates any attempt to find meaning in the life we inhabit. If this is ‘the Absurd’, then Frederick’s love for Miranda is an absurd love. To some extent, all love is absurd. We believe that we can love another person unendingly and entirely but in reality, surely the future and reality of the person we love is too vast to fully understand, and, therefore, love?

Frederick’s unwarranted love is deplorable, it is absurd, but it is also relatable. It is an unfortunate human pitfall, perhaps an unfortunate male pitfall, to at least one point in your life surrender your emotions to an individual you know not nearly well-enough. To surrender your thoughts to someone who is an imaginative extrapolation of their actual self. To deceive yourself into allowing someone you do not or cannot know to affect you.

Damn, boi. That shit’s real.


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