Rob Riemen is the Founder, President, and CEO of the Nexus Institute, a leading international center for intellectual reflection to inspire the Western cultural and philosophical debate. Mr. Riemen is also the editor of the essay journal "Nexus."
In 2004, the Nexus Institute initiated the cultural philosophical debate on European identity during the Dutch presidency of the European Union. Riemen collaborated with the Austrian EU presidency on the conference "The Sound of Europe" in January 2006. Mr. Riemen has lectured widely, including in the United States. His book current book is The Nobility of Spirit. Three Essays on a Forgotten Idea."
Question: Can you define love?
Rob Riemen: No you cannot define love. You cannot define love. For a very good reason, because the most essential things in life are beyond definition. This is why the philosopher Wittgenstein said at the end of his small Tractatus . . . He said the things we cannot speak about we have to remain silent about, because there is more truth in the silence than in all kind of words about it. So no, there is no definition of love. However, everybody which is a human being – and maybe even beyond, I do not know – knows what love is. We know it. At the very moment you experience this, you know what love is. I mean the . . . the . . . the phenomenon, the profound experience that is something that with somebody to whom you don’t have to explain everything because he or she already understands. The phenomenon that you can have this profound trust that whatever happens to you, he or she will be there. And again, the same applies for art and beauty. Let me explain very briefly. We started . . . We have become . . . No. We are living in a society in which usefulness is very, very important. What’s the use of it? Is it concrete? And so on and so forth. Can you define it? It’s all on the same level, because if it’s not useful why should we spend tax money, time, etc., etc., on it? But again Brett, the interesting thing is that the quintessential things in life must be useless – completely, utterly useless. Why? If we want to know what a poem, or a painting, or a piece of music has to say, it is us to be silent. Because only when we are silent we can listen, and be receptive, and answerable to what it has to say to us. At the very moment we think it should be something useful, it can no longer speak. That’s the same way with love. At the very moment you think that a love or a friendship has to be useful, you kill it. So love, friendship, art, beauty can only be life affirming qualities as long as they remain a form of invitation. You cannot force anybody to love you. You cannot force a friendship to be your friend. You . . . It’s out of the question. So again we are here dealing with the fact that the most quintessential parts of life are beyond words. That’s why we have art. That’s why we have music. That’s why we have symbol. That if you really love somebody, you give him or her a kiss. Or you give them a rose. Or you give a book, or whatever. But you cannot . . . You cannot . . . You cannot . . . You cannot say I love you because dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. But again this whole mindset is so much the opposite of a society who is drifting towards, “Love is romantic, should give me a good feeling. And at the very moment the good feeling is there; or if I don’t . . . no longer feel that I can fly, and so on and so forth, the love is over so I have to move on.” Well as long as you remain on this level of absolutely superficiality, you will never find true love. I mean everything will be done on the wings of your emotions. And emotions are like the weather. It changes constantly.
Recorded on: 10/3/07