Tennessee Williams on Love and How the Very Thing Worth Saving Is the Thing That Will Save Us
“We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”
By Maria Popova
“Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills,” Tolstoy wrote at the end of his life in his forgotten correspondence with Gandhi about human nature and why we hurt each other, as the global tensions that would soon erupt into World War I were building. How love can save us and what exactly it saves us from — each other, ourselves, the maelstrom of our intersubjective suffering — are questions each person and each generation must answer for themselves.
Tennessee Williams (March 26, 1911–February 25, 1983), born several months after Tolstoy’s death, addressed this abiding question with uncommonly poetic precision several months before his own death in a 1982 conversation with James Grissom, who would spend three decades synthesizing his interviews with, research on, and insight into the beloved playwright in Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog (public library).
A quarter century after Martin Luther King, Jr. made his impassioned case for reviving the ancient Greek concept of agape, Williams reflects:
The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.
Complement with Jeanette Winterson on how art saves us and Elizabeth Alexander on the ethic of love, then revisit Williams’s conversation with William S. Burroughs about writing and death and his stirring reading of two poems by Hart Crane.
Published July 30, 2018