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The Power Above: Zhang Zai, Spinoza, Sartre and Frankie goes to Hollywood

“The power of love
A force from above
Cleaning my soul
Flame on burn desire
Love with tongues of fire
Purge the soul
Make love your goal” ― Frankie goes to Hollywood

The integration between the heavenly and earthly elements of human existence has fascinated philosophers and artists throughout the ages. For example, in our current culture the song “The Power of Love” by the British band “Frankie goes to Hollywood” is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written in pop music. The lyrics describe the connection between celestial and terrestrial powers of love. According to Frankie, human desire is the expression of this power; it is the manifested flames of divine love. Our earthly desire purifies the mind; therefore, we should make love our primary goal in life. It seems that the original performance by Holly Johnson, the vocalist of Frankie, will forever be an engaging fusion of voice, charisma and lyrics embodied in distilled forms of love

The Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhang Zai is one of the most important philosophers of the Song Dynasty (宋). Zhang lived in a period of time (1022-1077) when Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism philosophies were erratically competing or seeking for mutual integration between them. Many thinkers in China attacked the fundamental concepts of the Buddhist position; paradoxically, those attacks could not avoid the synthesis, although partial one, between Buddhism and the old schools of thought in China

In relation to his predecessors, Zhang’s philosophical innovation is the priority he gives to the concept of Chi (qi 氣.( Zhang argues that all phenomena in nature can be understood in terms of one material force called Chi. Chi is associated with the world (the totality of things existing in our world) as one thing. The changes in the world are due to constant flux and change of Chi. Chi is invisible when it’s fully dispersed and solid when fully-condensed; it has two aspects: dispersion (Yang) and condensation (Yin) changing forever by the laws of nature. 

Contrary to his predecessors, Yin and Yang are mere aspects of Chi in Zhang philosophy and therefore are essentially one. Yin and yang movements are jointly linked by virtue of being made ​​of the same material. Concerning the nature of human beings Zhang distinguishes between two expressions of Chi: spiritual nature and material nature. Yang Chi movement is called the spiritual soul of the world. Yin Chi movement is called the material soul of the world. The spiritual nature is eternal, does not change and is associated with the good; the material nature is earthly, temporary, changes frequently and impedes humans to achieve their heavenly spiritual nature. Zhang attributes the cosmos the duality of movement of the same basic element: heaven and earth are carrying the same nature and the same basic fundamental concept

The philosopher Baruch Spinoza defines Nature or God as the only substance that exists in the world. What we humans can know about the world as God/Nature is called an attribute by him. God or nature has infinite attributes but humans, due to their limited minds know only two them: the attribute of extension (body) and the attribute of thought (mind). Thus the attributes don’t have an existence for themselves and can be defined as different perspectives of the same phenomenon, i.e. god or nature. The attributes are governed by the law of cause and effect. For example, the attribute of thought can be described as a casual chain of thoughts. Each one of us has his/her unique place in that casual matrix of extended/thought. Spinoza’s theory of attributes can be compared to Zhang’s Yin and Yang Chi doctrine. Like the attributes relation to god, yin and yang chi have no real existence of their own but are presumed to describe certain angle about the same phenomenon – the one Chi. The exact place in the structure of the attributes or the particular movements of yin and yang is the individual’s genuine aspect of the same unity they represent

Understanding of the one principle behind the whole universe is shared by Spinoza and Zhang. They also share the method for the right and moral way of living: we should know our unique place in the whole universe, in the one unity. Similarly, Frankie tells us in their song that we should understand the power of love through the recognition that earthly and heavenly power is one. Love is the interplay of the divine and the earthly elements. We should “make love our goal”, that is, to understand that our goal is to make love with the universe. Spinoza is famously “making love” with God as well: the highest level of human knowledge, the intellectual love of God is the only way to achieve the moral salvation of the soul

The Temperance card reveals similar ideas to Zhang, Spinoza and Frankie. The card’s peaceful character is really an angel whose wings almost touching the sky and feet touch the snake on the ground. The peacefulness of temperance is explained by his/her balance between the terrestrial and the celestial circulation of elements. The balance is harmonious because the card represents the unity of nature: the fluid which infinitely moves upwards and downwards between the two jugs is suggesting that we can understand the one fundamental nature of the nature. Our soul must find the balance between heaven and earth which will achieve the desired peace of mind. Being moderate is not a weakness but an expression of the wisdom of the mind and understanding of the processes of the cosmos.

The ​​magic liquid in the card flows in all directions and sometimes against the power of gravity. Consequently we are implied that temperance is a rare human skill or gift. The understanding that the material soul and spiritual soul are one material is rare as well. Zhang says that the wise man has the rarest gift to combine the spiritual and material one earthly matter. 

In their brilliant love hymn Frankie also says that love is also a dangerous game, a lurking deadly force: “With my undying death-defying love for you, envy will hurt itself”. We have seen that Spinoza’s perception of love as expressing our active desire to know our place in God-Nature has some links to Neo-Confucian philosophies. They both differ from the conception of love a dangerous death struggle for authenticity. This view is presented by the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in his celebrated book “Being and Nothingness”. We shall see that when he writes about love, Sartre borrows some key factors from the “Master-Slave dialectic developed by the 18th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

We generally think that love is related to the desire for perfection, but Sartre wants to describe it as a struggle for authenticity. Love is being with the other person, being there for her but at the same time a struggle for self-authenticity. Sartre emphasizes that love relationships bare a concealed struggle for power in their definition and the uniqueness of love involves strategic and forceful control of temptation. When we fall in love, we are preoccupied with the way in which we can get the other to think of us as we think of ourselves. The other side in the love-struggle relationship thinks exactly the same as we do, and therefore the birth of temptation always involves a hidden decision of the parties to finish their struggle. For example, the inherent concealment of love forceful agreements finds its expression in our sexual lives: Sartre argues that when we have sex we concentrate on the boy’s most passive and less humanoid parts: buttocks, breasts, hips and body hair. This is the actual result of the concealment of the struggle for authenticity. This does not mean that our partner becomes an object of sex, but rather an awareness of the powerful existence of the other. It is a dialectical struggle for power: we want to please the other so that she will tell us everything we wanted to hear about ourselves, but if we succeed too much, the other will lose credibility and authenticity will be destroyed. Pleasure is the means by which we control the other: we strive to satisfy our sexual appetites and bring the other to think of us in an authentic manner, but pleasure must be forcefully measured otherwise it cannot be used as a manipulative mean.

Thus Love is not an aspiration for divine perfection. As Sartre points out, when love fails, the immediate result is not only the end of the relationship, but also the emergence of a different sentiment than love: when one side showed too much power in order to win the love of the other side, we say that he was sadistic in the manipulative sense of the notion. When one side surrenders in order to win the love of the other side, we say that masochism in its manipulative sense has ended the relationship. “Frankie” says that when love thrives “envy will hurt itself” and they actually describe the powerful rules of love: envy is constantly trying to destroy itself so that the relationship of power will not suffer from over-exposure and remain hidden

The absence of perfection in love is also expressed in the Lovers card of the Tarot. The figure of Cupid shoots its arrows at the figure in the center but we notice that Cupid may miss and the arrow will land at the feet of the right female figure. It is not rare that love will miss its enjoyable goals and we will be left with our earthly socializing.  Thus we may infer that pure love is unattainable, all we do have is a game of power that sometimes climaxes to love peaks and sometimes misses it. The three figures in the card display the complexity of the act of love by showing a mess of touching hands. The central male character seems to be confused between his mind (the old figure on the left side) and his bodily desire (the young figure on the right side). Love’s arrows do not unfold this three polar emotional mess but rather make it manifest 

The three figures in the card can be compared to the characters in Sartre’s play “No Exit”: Joseph Garcin is the middle man who cannot chose between intellect and passion, Inès Serrano who is manipulative, inspired but not voluptuous is the female figure to the left and Estelle Rigault who strives to be passionate as long as her partner will tell the right manly words is the female figure to the right. It seems that the woman to the right wants to please the man and she will tell him everything he wants to hear and the woman to the left has won the man’s attention but not his desire. The card’s deeper meaning is that love’s authenticity is destroyed. Sartre’s figures are trapped in hell in an impossible relationship where intellect on the one hand and desire on the other will never reach their full potential. Sartre and the card state that love is a struggle for harmony but is not harmonious or celestial in itself; although they tend to be more physical and lustful in their nature, the arrows of Cupid will always miss their heavenly target

Frankie says: “Dreams are like angels, they keep bad at bay; love is the light scaring darkness away”: the understanding that earthly human dreams and heavenly angels have a common element is rare just like to keep bad at bay; just like the rarest love of God in Spinoza’s Ethics

We saw Sartre’s philosophy aspired to demonstrate how that we love the other person because she was doing the same thing. Contrary to Spinoza and Sartre’s naturalistic approach, the Bible explains how our conscience needs to be trained, that we love God because he first loved us. The earthly love is always pre-dominated and controlled by the heavenly love

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