Conflict is the lifeblood of most narratives, and the seeds of conflict are usually found in the choices characters make. These choices are inevitably fueled by their desires, and the source from which desires spring determines both the course of the narrative as a whole and, more specifically, the consequences the characters must face. While I was writing the book, I depicted the proper/improper handling of desire as a matter of lust versus love. Characters driven primarily by lust misunderstood and mishandled desire while characters inspired by love displayed a deeper understanding and handling of desire. In my novel, I present lust as base and crude; love as refined and transcendent. The former springs from the material, while the latter, from the spiritual. The excerpt below presents the only direct reference I make to desire in the novel. It is taken from a scene where Reinhardt, a father, makes a rather feeble attempt to describe the difference between lust and love to his son Béla during a visit to an art gallery.
“Desire can come from two very different sources: love and lust,” Reinhardt explained. He found the expression on his son’s face disquieting, yet plowed ahead regardless. “Love appeals to the higher elements within us. It is elegant and refined. Love appreciates beauty. Admires it. Nurtures it. Preserves it. Lust, on the other hand, appeals to the lower elements within us. It is grotesque and coarse. Lust misjudges beauty. Scorns it. Deprives it. Destroys it.”
Nothing I have written in this post thus far is terribly original, but I find it interesting that desire and its motivations are rarely discussed explicitly in our contemporary world. Perhaps the topic is too obvious to be worthy of discussion or too threadbare to warrant extensive consideration because it seems nearly everyone understands the difference between lust-fueled desire and love-fueled desire. People are also aware of the negative consequences lust-fulfilled desires bring and the benefits of desires fulfilled through love, yet most seem incapable of resisting desires motivated mainly by lust. This is somewhat understandable in our contemporary world. I imagine few civilizations in history actively encouraged the misunderstanding and mishandling of desire with as much tenacity as ours does today.
The end goal of desire is gratification, which in our spiritually impoverished world exists almost exclusively in the material; hence, most desires today are aimed solely at gratifying physical cravings for material goods, sex, status, and power. Harnessing lust is the most effective way of satisfying these material aims because lust views the object of desire as exactly that – an object. When eyes possessed by lust look out into the world, they see only things – things whose sole purpose for existence is pleasure/desire gratification. Oblivious to the existence of anything beyond the realm of the material, lust manipulates desire and makes it into a ruthless predatory force that tears mercilessly into the objects it covets in a misguided attempt to satiate wants it regards as needs.
As I wrote my novel, I began to detect this pattern in some of my characters. Driven by the desire for riches, or fame, or hedonism, these characters viewed and treated those around them as means to their ends and used them as objects to gratify their desires. Some were corrupted beyond redemption, yet others became plagued with guilt or struggled to comprehend why the satisfaction they managed to wring from their satiated desires was so short-lived and fleeting.
Unwilling to see the world as it really is, desire fueled by lust cannot perceive metaphysical reality. When lust is unleashed upon the world, it may, albeit vulgarly, satisfy physical desires, but its scorn for the metaphysical ultimately leaves behind a gaping hole that can never be satisfied through the physical alone. This ignorance, willful or otherwise, eventually brings suffering to the lust-possessed as well because they remain securely locked in the world of things themselves. Unable to recognize Beings, they fail to see themselves as Beings and regard themselves as merely things. Yet, they are Beings nonetheless – but their indulgence in lust has cost them the price of spirit, as Shakepeare’s Sonnet 129 makes clear:
Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despisèd straight;
Past reason hunted, and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad -
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and prov'd, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Desire itself is neutral. What seems to make it negative or positive is how it is understood and how it is handled. Desire ruled by lust is inherently negative, but desire ruled by love is not only positive, but essential. Love understands the true source of desire and works toward that end. By refusing to allow baser instincts to overpower our desires, we are offered the chance to see the true source of our desires. We can then work toward harmonizing our desires with the spiritual and, hopefully, gratify these desires in the material world in a manner that simultaneously aligns with the spiritual.
The characters in my novel that recognized this truth push beyond mere base physical cravings and pleasure-seeking, and elevate their desires in a manner that, at the very least, attempts to be in harmony with love. This does not imply that love-fueled desire is limp-wristed, passive, or weak. On the contrary, since their desires were inspired by love these characters can perceive the world as it really is and act accordingly. If strength and harshness are required, they are more than capable of supplying it, but even then it is done in love – in the understanding that they are Beings in a world of Beings, not a thing in the world of things.
None of the characters in my novel are pure representatives of desire motivated purely by lust or love. In other words, it is not a story populated by demons and saints. Some characters are more aligned with love than others, but even those in greater harmony with love occasionally misunderstand or make missteps.
I believe the same holds true in our world. Desire is an enormous part of our experience in this material realm, and I doubt any of us is capable of completely adhering to love when confronted by desire. Even our most noble and successful efforts to gratify our desires in harmony with love undoubtedly contain elements of lust, but the more we position our desires in love, the more we resist the urge to gratify our desires primarily through the lust, the more we shun the heaven that leads men to this hell, the closer we will get to understanding the world as it really is and ourselves as we truly are or, at the very least, are meant to be. That, in essence, is what I attempted to convey in my novel and this post.