Wednesday 14 December 2011

Attachment, Detachment and Divorce

Tolstoy's detailing of the relationship between Levin and Kitty in Anna Karenina is one of the most fascinatingly vivid accounts of the progress of love. The obsessions of the tabloid press are testament to the fact that how people fall in love and the processes of attachment are in many ways less interesting than the questions of how people fall out of love... effectively a process of 'detachment'. The divorce courts are full of it! Couples, who for whatever reason, once found a deep sense of personal communicative inter-penetration (to use Luhmann's powerful phrase), and shared a sense of joy and excitement in being together, gradually either 'grow apart' or (in the case of Kitty and Levin) may grow together in new ways.

Levin and Kitty's relationship develops in a way where it doesn't fall apart, but it certainly changes from the initial idealisations of both characters (Levin's obsessive idealisation of Kitty and Kitty's wishes for Vronsky and jealousy of Anna). What these processes both attest to is a process of identification and attachment: but the attachment isn't to something real, but an idea. Tolstoy describes Levin's early observations of Kitty, and an almost fetishistic fascination with tiny details of clothing, hands, etc.

The difficulties of life and the intimacy of their married relationship changes the situation. Towards the end of the book, the excitement of Levin's idealisations are long gone, gradually replaced with a deeper sense of spirituality (this is after all, for Tolstoy, a self-portrait!). A more stoic realism pervades their relations. These are the shifting attachments and machinations of identity, as each individual seeks a viable state in the environment they find themselves. In the process, old obsessions are jettisoned as unsustainable and new attachments are formed.

In the divorce courts, new attachments tend not to include the person to whom the attachments were once formed. But Levin and Kitty are interesting because they don't go this way. The detaching from initial objects of attachment causes re-attachments to new objects as identity reorganises itself. But what is fascinating is the focus of these new attachments. One might be tempted to say that sex lies at the heart of it (that would certainly be the tabloid line!). But this doesn't explain Levin and Kitty who turn to religion. It leads me to think that absence, of which sex and religion are manifestations, drives the processes of adaptation and change. Might becoming more aware of how absence works be a key to the sustainability and evolution of human relations??

No comments: