Considering Love in the Age of COVID-19

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Love gathers canonical texts around the theme of love – poignant reading in the pains of isolation

Courtesy Experimenter Books

Reactions to the isolation forced on people around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic tend to have fallen into one of two camps. The first sees, in horror, the destruction of any sense of productivity and a collapse into apathy; the second assumes that the period of quarantine provided a unique moment for creativity and self-improvement as professional projects, trips and obligations were put on hold. Aveek Sen is in the latter camp. Working with Kolkata gallery Experimenter, the writer and curator convened a series of Zoom-based seminars – ‘critical but candid discussions’ – around the theme of love.

This digital publication, a riposte to Raymond Carver’s celebrated 1981 short-story collection, gathers the texts that served as references during those conferences – canonical literature such as Aristophanes’s eulogy to love from Plato’s Symposium (c. 385–320 BCE) and the sometimes controversial poet and scholar A. K. Ramanujan’s 1971 ‘Love Poem for a Wife’ – as well as films and music, embedded as hyperlinks. An essay by Sen on Björk’s song ‘Hyperballad’, for example, features the cover art for the album on which it appears and a link to Michel Gondry’s promotional video. When life is lived online, this erasure of geography and genre seems fitting.

This is not just a useful resource for the romantically inclined. It tackles the concept of love as a dangerous and damaging feeling too. A text by Sen, originally published in 2008 in The Telegraph India, concerning the bizarre story that a British judge had annulled a marriage after it was discovered that the couple were separated-at-birth twins, introduces a series of texts by the seminar’s participants reacting to this seemingly tabloid story. Of the assortment of poems and prose replicated here, Priya Thakur’s short fictional letter is the most affecting – given the pains of isolation under which this book was produced, the emotion is presented as a double-edged sword. ‘Life gets in the way of love,’ she writes. ‘I don’t know what shape my love remains in anymore. But I know that I love you, always and forever.’

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Love (2020), edited by Aveek Sen, is published by Experimenter Books

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