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."