Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Art of Loving: Introduction

Is love an art? Or is love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one "falls into" if one is lucky? Erich Fromm in his 1956 classic suggests that real love "is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone." He claims that it is only through developing one's total personality that one attains the capacity to experience real love, which should be considered a rare achievement.

Fromm's acknowledged masterpiece offers a penetrating analysis of various types of love ranging from brotherly love to motherly love to erotic love to self-love to the love of God. He notes that most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved rather than that of loving. In pursuit of this aim they follow several paths. One, which is especially used by men, is to be successful, to be as powerful and rich as the social margin of one's position permits. Another, used especially by women, is to make oneself attractive, by cultivating one's body, dress, etc. However, the capacity to love truly, according to Erich Fromm, involves the basic elements of care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge which need to be cultivated with discipline, concentration, patience, and a supreme concern for mastering love.

Please join us here for a month long exploration of love and the art of loving. We will approach the subject not only from classic but also contemporary and inter-disciplinary perspectives since today love can be understood far more holistically than it was in the times of Erich Fromm who was especially quite influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Since then we have made great progress in understanding the phenomena of love. Although, socioeconomic and psychoanalytic approaches offer useful insights into the puzzle of love, they become far more illuminating when integrated with cross-cultural social and cognitive neuroscience. If love is mysterium tremendum then learning to love is nothing less than our summum bonum. As Bertrand Russell said so succinctly: "The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge…Love brings ecstasy and relieves loneliness. In the union of love, I have seen in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heavens that saints and poets have imagined."


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a great read- wish I had the time! A book that drastically altered the course of my life is bell hooks' "All About Love" in which she spends the first part of the book talking about the cultural obsession with love that exists at the same time that we have almost no clear definition of it. She borrows M.Scott Peck's definition of love- which, from memory is something like 'commitment to one's own or someone else's spiritual development."

In this sense, love is a verb, an action, and not a descriptive term. She says there is a term called "cathexis' which is something like connection, bonding, and that is usually what we mean when we talk about love. She says that someone who abuses another, may have cathexis, but this is most certainly not love. I don't know if i'm spelling cathexis right, or where the word comes from.

Usually when I hear people speak of love now, I ask for a definition. There is admiration, attraction, yearning, commitment, habit... these may all be part of a loving relationship, but aren't themselves love.

And what if we love a song? A book? Or a nation?

Thanks Nomi for your inspiration!


Anonymous said...

The Art of Loving By Erich Fromm deals with self love, love of God,
love in the Western society and the practice of love.
Self love! What is it? Is it the same as selfishness? Mr. Fromm refers to the "widespread belief that, while it is virtuous to love others, it is sinful to love oneself". The belief that self love was selfish goes far back in Western thought, and was supported by Calvin and Freud, who identified self love as Narcissism.
Fromm opposes this view by stressing that the love for my own self is inseparably connected for the love for any other being. Rather than an affect,love is an attitude and an action. When looking at love as the ability to love, the ability to give, it becomes obvious that this is severely lacking in selfishness. The selfish person is interested only in himself, wants everything for himself, feels no pleasure in giving but only in taking.The world outside is looked at only from the standpoint of what it can get out of it. Fromm then concludes: "Selfishness and self love, far from being identical, are actually opposites.

Anonymous said...

It is true that selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either. The circle is closed when you consider similarities between a selfish and a neurotic unselfish person. Both share a greedy concern of others. Fromm uses the example of an oversolicitous mother: while she consciously believes that she is particularly fond of her child, she has actually a deeply repressed hostility toward the object of her concern. She is overconcerned not because she loves the child too much, but because she has to compensate for her lack of capacity to love him at all. Unselfish people have a less obvious and more hidden self centerdness. They leave the other under obligation to them.

Anonymous said...

No one understands love better than Woody Allen. But I would like to know what progress has been made in undertanding the nature of romantic love. Same old testosterone (men) and estrogen (women) driven unconscious biological imperatives keep finding new schemes and rationalizations.

You got it Woody..."In the lover, the loved
one is always the most beautiful thing imaginable, even though to a stranger she may
be indistinguishable from an order of smelts. Actually the prettiest women are almost always the most boring – and that is why some people feel there
is no God."

Anonymous said...

Why phenomena with not much in common are all labeled love, one has to figure that out first. Until then, how do I love ME let me count the ways. Can more than one love rule the heart? Is there a hierarchy of loves which can harmonize all their diversity? What are the differences in feelings and intensities towards different objects of love.

It’s no mystery how long the emotion we popularly call romantic love lasts. Other loves or attractions or projections are an even greater enigma. There are more questions than there can be answers. Fromm can’t be certain that evolved love can be realized without some selfish feelings supporting it consciously or unconsciously? Can genuinely evolved sensibilities about love be consistently practiced where fear, meanness, insecurity and narcissism underlie the biological and existential dynamics. In the wake of rampant disillusionments, disappointments, contradictions, true love is more fantasy than reality. To move from fear to love, one has to completely forget the payoff. Or is it better to have loved and suffered than never to have suffered at all.

One word should not be allowed to name the evident complexity and plurality. Sometimes apples and oranges…love before marriage, love after marriage and/or children, the love between human beings without regard to gender or race or class or creed; the familial love--parental, filial, fraternal; love for one's country, love for God etc.

Brutus lays down his life for Rome as readily as Antony gives up his life for Cleopatra. And of course, love between Adam and Eve is different from the love between Adam and Steve;

Anonymous said...

Love, be it a state of consciousness, or a thoughtful value based engagement without the drama of emotions, it has a universal element.

Love by any other name will feel as wholesome, as sweet, and as fulfilling.

And the sphere of love is not limited to things divine and human but to all animate and inanimate entities.

Love is the creative force which engenders things and renews them, or it is the power which draws all things together into a unity of peace, preserving nature itself against the disruptive forces of war and hate.

Anonymous said...

These are very interesting comments. To make sense of the plurality of this thought, feeling, value, or action called love, is it not neccessary to know "where one is coming from" when one feels one is loving or is in love or is falling in love? Unconscious has to be made conscious. The energy behind that types of love can originate from different levels of cognitive, emotional and spiritual development.

Anonymous said...

Fromm concludes that there is nothing more conducive to giving a child the experience of what love, joy and happiness are than being loves by a mother who loves herself. She becomes a good role model of self love and teaches the child through her example.

To summarise these ideas on self love, Fromm quotes Meister Eckhart:" If you love yourself, you will love everybody else as you do yourself. As lond as you love another person less than you
love yourself, you will not succeed
in loving yourself, but if you love all alike, including yourself, you will love them as one person, and that person is both God and man . Thus, he is a great and righteous person who, loving himself loves all others equally."

For Erich Fromm, the religious love, the love of God, springs from the need to overcome separateness and to achieve union. This is achieved in similar ways to the love of humans. In all theistic religions, whether they are polytheistic or monotheistic, God stands for the highest value, the most desirable good. Hence, the specific meaning of God depends on what is the most desirable good for a person.

Looking at the development of the human race, at the beginning man found unity by remaining one with the natural world. At that stage, they identified with animals and trees, transformed them into a totem, and worshiped animals as God. Then they worshiped man made idols made of clay, silver or gold.

As man became more aware of himself,God was given the form of human beings. Fromm refers to them as the female and male nature of the Gods, and talk about the mother centered and father centered religions.

In the matriarchal phase, the highest being is the mother. She is the Goddess, she is also the authority in family and society. The essence of matriarchal religion is similar to the essence of motherly love: unconditional, all-protective, all-enveloping, it can not be controlled or acquired. At the next stage of human evolution, the patriarchal phase, the father becomes the Supreme being in religion as well as society. Here demands are made, principle and laws established, and the society organized in a hierarchical way. What is asked for is obedience and faith.

Then God is being transformed from the figure of the father into a symbol of his principles of justice, truth and love. We can observe this in a way God is depicted and described from a benevolent father figure to more abstract concepts and principles.

A mature love of God, in Fromm's view, would mean to long for attainment of the full capacity to love,for the realization of that which "God" stands for in one

Anonymous said...

Fromm compares theistic and non-theistic positions. In all theistic systems there is the assumption of the reality of the spiritual realm, as one transcending man, giving meaning and validity to man's spiritual powers and his striving for salvation and inner birth. In a non-theistic system, there exists no spiritual realm outside of man or transcending him. The realm of love, reason and justice exists as a reality only because man has been able to develop these powers in himself throughout the process of evolution.

Despite their difference both need not to fight each other. Fromm then explores the difference between Eastern and Western religious thinking. While Western thinking is based on Aristotle's logic, Eastern thinking embraces paradoxical logic, but words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.

Anonymous said...

Much of what Freud explained via inborn instincts, Fromm saw as arising from economic, political, social and cultural forces.

For Fromm, individuals were not bundles of drives tamed through repression; humans were always social creatures, acting within a social structure. He understood character as a response to cultural forces—such as the alienation from self that Marxists see as inherent in capitalism. Also, it is no secret that authoritarian governments have a tendency to produce sadists.

Humans loose their individuality—creativity—through joining groups and authoritarian systems, turning to destructiveness and cultivating conformity. The horrors and tragedies of the 20th century are a testimony to Fromm's insight.

Nomi said...

Throughout last fifty years, psychology has changed many times. Freud has gone in and out of fashion. Varieties of psychotherapy have flourished and vanished. But Fromm's book has been with us for half a century.

What makes a book endure? Topic of love sure is perennial. We are all starved for love. Love defines us, sustains us, nourishes us. Love is the answer to the problem of human existence, agree theologists, psychologists and philosophers of all times. Dozens of books on love get written every year but not many are translated in 34 languages. The continuing appeal of Fromm's book the world over could also be that Fromm wrote it from the depths of his heart, mind and soul. He lived and intimately experienced what he wrote about, cultivating the traits he valued in himself, especially the clarity of vision he calls objectivity. He intimately knew love and its many forms and complexities. Among some of his close women friends were Karen Horney, Katherine Dunnham, Martha Graham and Henny Gurland. Women were much younger, much older, homely, beautiful, white, black, cerebral and physical. What they had in common was strength, brilliance, and intense involvement, with what they cared about.

But the great love of Fromm's life was Annis Freeman which endured for 28 years. It is this passionate relationship that set the personal context for writing the Art of Loving which starts with the following quote from Paracelsus: He who knows nothing, loves nothing. He who can do nothing understands nothing. He who understands nothing is worthless. But he who understands also loves, notices, sees...The more knowledge is inherent in a thing, the greater the love...Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as the strawberries knows nothing about grapes.

Anonymous said...

Comsumer culture invites us to consume the same goods, work at the same jobs, adopt the same goals—defining ourselves through conformity and insignificant nuances of difference. But if we lack the courage to be individuals, we will never achieve love, since love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity.

Nomi said...

Fromm was schooled in psychoanalytic approach and therefore saw love with that framework for the most part. Ideas from evolutionary psychology consider love as a set of decision biases that evolved to serve genetic interest, that is, to facilitate reproduction of same genes. These biases consciously or unconsciously influence people’s attention, cognition, emotion, motivation, memory, and decision-making. For example, when one interacts with a stranger with no “family resemblances,” strong affectionate behavior is less likely than when one interacts with whom one shares genes. Humans encounter a variety of different problems related to survival and reproduction such as mate-seeking, mate-retention, and parental-care—and these problems require various solutions, with different decision biases evolved for every goal-system.

Therefore there are different kinds of love that are relevant to these various domains. The love one feels for one’s partner is different from the love one feels for one’s offspring.

Anonymous said...

Yes! there's different kind of love, and at the same time a parallel can be established between the love for one's parents and the love for God, between the growing up of an individual and mankind as a whole. In the history of the human race we see the same development: from the beginning of the love for God as the helpless attachment to a mother Goddess, through the obedient attachment to a fatherly God, to a mature stage where God ceases to be an outside power, where man has incorporated the principles of love and justice into himself, where he has become one with God.

Fromm then questions whether love and the spirit of Western culture are conducive. In our capitalistic society, modern man are alienated from himself, from his fellow men, from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions. Relationships are consumed like goods, and the experience of happiness is in "having fun". In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal describes is that of the smoothly functioning team. All this kind of relationships amounts to is the well oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives, who never arrive at a central relationship, but who treat each other with courtesy and who attempt to make each other feel better.

Love as mutual sexual satisfaction, and love as teamwork and as haven from aloneness, are the two normal forms of the disintegration of love in modern Western society, the socially patterned pathology of love.

One of the misconceptions of love is that there would be no conflict when there is love, " that pain and sadness should be avoided under all circumstances."

Love is only possible if two persons communicate with each other
from the center of their existence.
Love is a constant challenge; it's not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness,it's secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. Then Fromm gives an indication of what could be the proof for the presence of love: :the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned".

Anonymous said...

O Wow...what a loving expression of what mature love can be...Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts.

Nomi said...

Fromm suggests that falling in love is easy, but 'standing' in love so difficult. Although psychological and social factors are usually part of the equation when it comes to falling in or out of love, today we can also look at some findings of neuroscience which were not available in Fromm's time.

Helen Fisher in her excellent book, "Why We Love : The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love" suggests that romantic love is based the neural mechanisms for mate selection which include three interrelated motivation systems--: attachment, attraction, and the sex drive.

Attraction in mammals corresponds to what we label “romantic love” in humans. It is associated with focusing on one particular mate, showing him or her one’s affiliation, and trying to guard the partner from rivals.

Attachment is characterized by feeling of security and comfort as well as seeking proximity. In humans it is also called companionate love.

Fisher puts the three systems into the context of their neurochemical correlates.

Sex drive is related in particular to testosterone.

Romantic love is related to norepinephrine and serotonin.

And attachment is related to oxytocin and vasopressin.

There may be a general arousal component underlying all drives (involving the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) that produces motivation, and a more specific constellation of brain systems that evokes the specific thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are connected with every biological need related to love. Brain being a self-organising system, has a mind of its own.

Fisher's view implies that romantic drive is a mating drive similar to many other basic drives and is controlled in part by neurochemicals which determine with whom and how passionately someone falls in love, and how long that love lasts.

Neurochemical unconscious seems to be an integral force to reckon with when it comes to matters affectionate.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that one of the commentators places a value system on religion, which s/he then connects with love. Native American religions lack an all-powerful Father God, yet love exists in Native American cultures. It is not necessary to embrace a supreme male god in order to feel genuine love.
Even atheists and animists can love.

Of course, since much of love is initially caused by chemicals, then no gods need be involved. The question is - why do people stay in love? The chemicals continue to last? It is too easy/convenient/frightening to break up? The disapproval of society? Why not accept the physical evidence that being in love is fleeting, and eliminate (or revise)the concept of marriage? It may not be "selfish" to divorce after your hormones change and you realize that you can longer love your spouse - just realistic and practical.

Anonymous said...

Last chapter focuses on the practice of love. Fromm describes five points: First of all, the practice of an art requires discipline. It's not an enforced discipline, but self discipline.Part of it is a certain rhythm in one's life, and a reduction of escapist activities. It is essential,however, that discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it becomes an expression of one's own will; that it is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behaviour which one would eventually miss, if
one stopped practicing it.

Concentration, the second factor is rare in our culture. We live in a culture of over stimulation. This
lack of concentration is clearly shown in our difficulty in being alone with ourselves. The common habit of having TV or radio running
in the background is an indication of that. The most important step in learning concentration is to learn to be alone with oneself without reading, listening to the radio,smoking or drinking. It seems paradox, that being able to be alone is a prerequisite to being able to be in a loving relationship with another. To be concentrated means to live fully in the present, and to become sensitive to oneself.

Then there is patience. If one is after quick results, one never learns an art. Yet, for modern man, patient is as difficult to practice as discipline and concentration. Quickness is a desirable goal of our times. Modern man thinks he loses something...time...when he does not
do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains, except kill it. We can experience patience when we watch a child learning to walk. The child falls, falls again, and yet it goes on trying, improving, until one day the child walks without falling.

The forth requirement is a supreme concern with the mastery of the art. This describes activity which is not necessarily doing something, but an inner activity,the productive use of one's powers. If I love, I'm in a constant state of active concern with the loved person in a state of awareness, alertness, activity.

The ability of love depends on the relative absence of narcissism, and the development of humility, objectivity and reason, it depends on our capacity to grow up from the incestuous fixation to mother and clan, and it leads to the practice of faith. To have faith requires courage, the ability to take a risk, the readiness even to accept pain and disappointment. Faith can be practiced in daily life. It takes faith to bring up a child, to fall asleep and to begin any work.

Nomi said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Why not accept the physical evidence that being in love is fleeting, and eliminate (or revise) the concept of marriage? It may not be "selfish" to divorce after your hormones change and you realize that you can longer love your spouse - just realistic and practical."

Elimination or (revision) of marriage is a thought-provoking idea and humans continue to experiment with other types of relationships.

However, there seems to be no easy solution to the 'predicament of separation-anxiety' except perhaps in growth of deepest human potentials such as capacities of love and reason, creativity and transcendence.

Since fleeting, ineffable neurochemistry of love is not the only dimension of love, marriages can still last if there is a healthy commitment on other levels. It is also useful to look at different taxonomies of love to get a better understanding of the phenomena.

Clyde Hendrick's literature review delineates six types of love:

Eros: Passionate Love
Ludus: Uncommitted Love
Storge: Friendship Love
Pragma: Calculating Love
Agape: Altruistic Love
Mania: Obsessional Love

It is suggested that each of these different types of love is activated for different reasons and has different consequences. It is possible to experience more than one type of love in an individual relationship.

Several researchers have also elaborated on the difference between “love” and “being in love.”

To "be in love" refers to only one type of love, and for a person to "be in love" with someone, that someone has to be both liked and sexually attractive.

The term love, on the contrary, is more universal and seems to refer to many different types of love.

In Erich Fromm words: "The only way of full knowledge lies in the act of love; this act transcends thought, it transcends words. It is the daring plunge into the experience of union. To love somebody is not just a strong feeling--it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise."

Anonymous said...

Fromm critisizes our society. He said that our society is run by managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is consuming more, as purposes in themselves. All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends;man is an automaton- well fed, well clad, but without any ultimatum concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function. If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place. The economic machine must serve him rather than he serves it.

He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share in profits. Society must be organized in such a way that man's social loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it.

It is remarkable that this was written 44 years ago, but still relevant today; if not a more pressing necessity, when faced with the imminent problems of self destruction and destruction of our planet through continuous exploitation of non renwable resources and waste explosion. Maybe it's a timely reminder to speak of love, the ultimate and real need in every human being.

Anonymous said...

Erich Fromm thoroughly understood the subtle powers of psycho-cultural determinism as he wrote, "Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinions as the result of their own thinking - and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as the majority. The consensus of all serves as a proof for the correctness of "their" ideas. Since there is still a need to feel some individuality, such a need is satisfied with regard to minor differences; the initials on the handbag or sweater, the belonging to the Democratic rather than the Republican party, to the Elks instead of the Shriners become the expression of individual differences. The advertising slogan of "it is different" shows up this pathetic need for difference, when in reality there is hardly any left."

This 'conformity within diversity' is observed across cultures and has much to do with everpresent yet invisible forces of selective propaganda and conditioning which are salient features of electronic media, education systems and power politics.

In the words of Fromm: "The dictatorial systems use threats and terror to induce conformity; the democratic countries, suggestion and propaganda. But in spite of this difference the democratic societies show an overwhelming degree of conformity. The reason lies in the fact that there has to be an answer to the quest for union, and if there is no other or better way, then the union of herd conformity becomes the predominant one. One can only understand the fear to be different, the fear to be only a few steps away from the herd, if one understands the depths of the need not to be separated."

Anonymous said...

"Love of the helpless, the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love ones flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, does love begin to unfold. Compassion implies the element of knowledge and identification. "You know the heart of the stranger," says the Bible, "for you were strangers in the land of Egypt;... therefore love the stranger!"

Nomi said...

The fact that English has only one word to describe what other languages use at least three words to name, complicates the discussions of love. The Greek triad of Eros, Philia, Agape, and the Latin triad of Amor, Delictio, Caritas, name three distinct types of love, which can only be designated in English by such phrases as Erotic Love, Friendly Love, and Divine Love. The attitudes that thinkers from pre-modern to post-modern times have taken towards love, range from admiration bordering on awe or reverence to complaints verging on fear and dread.

Erich Fromm was also a scholar of classics and his ideas about love incorporate that influence. Here is Plotinus' view of love which is not much different from Fromm's philosophy of love: "Now everyone recognizes that the emotional state for which we make this "Love" responsible rises in souls aspiring to be knit in the closest union with some beautiful object, and that this aspiration takes two forms, that of the good whose devotion is for beauty itself, and that other which seeks its consummation in some selfish act...It is sound, I think to find the primal source of Love in a tendency of the Soul towards pure beauty, in a recognition, in a kinship, in an unreasoned consciousness of friendly relation."

Anonymous said...

In your light I learn how to love.

In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,

where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,

and that sight becomes this art.