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Love or Epilepsy? Saint Valentine's Day and liquid modernity.

Updated: Feb 25

Saint Valentine's Day is over and everyone is relieved.

Ironically, the famous Italian saint and martyr originally was the patron saint of epilepsy but, in the collective consciousnees, he is the protector of lovers. It is Geoffrey Chaucer's fault if Saint Valentine's Day has been associated with romantic love: in The Parlement of Foules (The Parliament of Fowls in modern English) also known as The Parlement of Bridds (i. e. The Parliament of Birds) Chaucer invented an ancient tradition which didn't exist, as Jack B. Oruch has demonstrated it in his essay St. Valentine, Chaucer, and Spring in February (1981).

Saint Valentine healing epilepsy, illustration (author unknown) from Dr. František Ehrmann's Obrázkový život svatých pro školu a dům, Brno, 1899.

Karl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668-1754), The Parliament of Birds, 18th century.

Saint Valentine's shrine in Dublin, Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church; picture taken by me, on 17th July 2023.

The statue of the Saint seems to stare at the people who look at it, as if it was a real human being, having a mute conversation with his visitor, whether a devotee or a simple tourist. Even a lapsed (and very sceptic) Catholic like me had a strange feeling while I was looking into St. Valentine's eyes, so I can easily imagine devotees talking to him as if he was a real, in flesh and blood friend.

In our modern society, in this liquid modernity - as Zygmunt Bauman called it - where consumerism makes people be the customers and the products at the same time, St. Valentine's Day is just another occasion to make money and to manipulate people, especially women.

I took the picture above at a bus stop in Paris and I added a comment on it because this lingerie advertisings for Saint Valentine's Day is a perfect example of this manipulation.

When a woman buys lingerie, clothes, or whatever, not because she likes them, but in order to be liked by someone, when she dress (and undress) herself to please someone other than herself, she is forgetting her own needs and her real desires by conforming her choices to the market rules. This advertising tells women to buy lingerie for St. Valentine's Day as they were a gift to be wrapped for men (more customers than lovers) to enjoy.

By the way, St. Valentine's Day commercialization imply that "everybody needs somebody" - not to love, but to be with: this manipulatory diktat is particularly addressed to women and reinforces the old and wrong idea that a woman alone has no worth.

I wish I could replace all these stupid advertisings by the picture of this page of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece Jane Eyre (1847) which I took at the Smith & Son bookshop in rue des Rosiers last Wednesday - on St Valentine's Day: when I opened the book, I picked this page at random and I was really glad because it's one of my favourite quotes from this novel.

Indeed, there is nothing more precious than freedom and self-respect; and, as Oscar Wilde said,

There is no love when one doesn't love oneself first.

Let's take care of ourselves and the people we love, and let Saint Valentine take care of people with epilepsy more than lovers.

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