The Fall of Eros, 这意象令人印象深刻。
This book is an attempt to recover the power, the danger, and the beauty of eros under the tutelage of its proper teachers and knowers, the poetic writers. Against my will I have to use the term "eros,'' in spite of its alien and somewhat pretentious Greekness as well as its status as a buzzword since Freud and Marcuse. There is an impoverishment today in our language about what used to be understood as life's most interesting experience, and this almost necessarily bespeaks an impoverishment of feeling. This is why we need the words of old writers who took eros so seriously and knew how to speak about it.
The sexual talk of our times is about how to get greater bodily satisfaction (although decreasingly so) or increasingly how to protect ourselves from one another. The old view was that delicacy of language was part of the nature, the sacred nature, of eros, and that to speak about it in any other way would be to misunderstand it. What has disappeared is the risk and the hope of human connectedness embedded in eros. Ours is a language that reduces the longing for an other to the need for individual, private satisfaction and safety.
Isolation, a sense of lack of profound contact with other human beings, seems to be the disease of our time. There are great industries of psychotherapy that address our difficulties in "relationships"— that pallid, pseudoscientific word the very timidity of which makes substantial attachments impossible. This way of describing human connection begins from the tentativeness of our attachments, the alleged fact that we are naturally atoms wanting to belong to clusters without the wherewithal to do so, a situation that would, at best, make contractual relations possible. This abstract term puts citizenship, family, love, and friendship under the same makeshift tent and abstracts from their very different foundations and demands. Yet one has to have a tin ear to describe one's great love as a relationship. Did Romeo and Juliet have a relationship? The term is suitable only for expressions like "they had a relationship." It betokens a chaste egalitarianism leveling different ranks and degrees of attachment. "Relationships" are based on "commitments," as in "I’m not ready to make a commitment." It is a term empty of content, implying that human connectedness can arise only out of a motiveless act of freedom. It reeks of Sartre's No Exit—"Hell is other people." It is this contemporary condition that led me once to describe us as social solitaries. I meant by this not that we have attained the condition of solitary self-sufficiency that Rousseau so vividly characterized and Kant, looking to Rousseau, calls the very model of the sublime, but that we are lonely while living in society, with all the social needs for others yet unable to satisfy them.
Ancient views of politics taught that man's nature has an impulse toward society and that society is not necessarily a maiming or division of man but potentially his perfection. Similarly, the ancients believed that eros is a natural longing for the beautiful, which, given the complexity of man and of things, can be damaged and misled but is in itself a perfection of human sociability by way of the passions.
Yet simply put, human sex is inseparable from the activity of the imagination. Everybody knows this. The body's secret movements are ignited by some images and turned off by others. Ideas of beauty and merit, as well as longings for eternity, are first expressed in the base coin of bodily movements. A biologist can describe male erection and female readiness and tell us what bodily processes make them possible, but he cannot tell us when and by whom they will be set off. The truth of erotic arousal defies materialism. One sees action at a distance. And it is imaginative activity that converts sex into eros. Eros is the brother of poetry, and the poets write in the grip of erotic passion while instructing men about eros. You can never have sex without imagination, whereas you can be hungry and eat without any contribution of imagination. Hunger is purely a bodily phenomenon and can safely be left to the scientists, and now to the dieticians. But our sexual dieticians are absurd. The best you can do by neglecting or denigrating imagination is to debauch and impoverish imagination.
In a better world, sexual education would be concerned with the development of taste. All the great lovers in literature were also lovers of tales and had their heads full of sublime rivals in their divine quest. The progress of civilization is intimately connected with the elaboration of erotic sensibility and a real examination of the delicate interplay of human attractions. But everything today conspires to suffocate imagination. There have been hardly any great novelists of love for almost a century. Scientific sex claims to tell us about the real thing. Reading classic books has become less and less of a taste among the educated, although cheap romantic novels, the kind that are sometimes stuck into boxes of household detergent, apparently flourish among housewives who haven't heard that Eros is dead. There is practically nothing within our horizon that can come to the aid of ideal longing. Sure, you can be a romantic today if you so choose, but it is a little like being a virgin in a whorehouse. It just doesn't fit with the temper of the times and gets no support in the current atmosphere.
Talking about love has suffered the most. Eros requires speech, and beautiful speech, to communicate to its partner what it feels and wants. Now there is plenty of talk about relationships and how people are intruding on one another, and there is talk akin to discussions on the management of water resources. But the awestruck vision of the thing-in-itself has disappeared. It is almost impossible to get students to talk about the meaning of their erotic choices, except for a few artificial clichés that square them with contemporary right thinking. Out of self-protectiveness, no one wants to risk making arguments, as Plato's characters did, for the dignity of his or her choice and its elevated place within the whole of things. What one cannot talk about, what one does not have words for, hardly exists. Richness of vocabulary is part of richness of experience. Just as there is a disastrous decline in political rhetoric, rhetoric necessary to explain the cause of justice and form a community around it, so there is an even more disastrous decline in the rhetoric of love. Yet to make love humanly, the partners have to talk to each other.
Students, like many other Americans, have a tendency to leave their reflections on eroticism at "You've got a right to do anything in the privacy of your own bedroom." This is a decent liberal opinion adopted to protect people from the prying eye of the law or the disapproval of public opinion. It is indifferent to what is actually being practiced, whether it is vice or virtue. It is self-protective and makes sex boring, a harmless pursuit of taste, like choosing among Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors. One wishes that we Americans could develop formulas for tolerance that did not at the same time destroy private discrimination of good and bad, noble and base. Does tolerance necessarily require a relativism that goes to the depths of men's and women's souls, depriving them of their natural right to prefer and to learn about the beautiful? As always is the case with contemporary moralistic formulas, this one nourishes our easygoingness, our unwillingness to judge ourselves. Yet however uncomfortable such an activity is, those who are not willing to undertake it are depriving themselves of the transcendent pleasures of eros. It is difficult for me to understand how people can accept the trivializing formula that their sexual tastes don't do any harm, when they are talking about what is, or what should be, a thing so central to their hearts and so close to the very meaning of life that it could confer the greatest benefit.
I can think of no better way of beginning our journey than by reading classic writers, poets or poet-philosophers, who cared about love. As I have said, speech about love by lovers is essential to the being of love; therefore, turning to the writers is not like turning to the encyclopedia for information but is to share in the experience of love. I ask for what might in our jargon be called a phenomenology, a detailed and comprehensive description of what it is we are trying to explain as we experience it before we enter into explanation. Such endeavors are surely also needed in politics and religion after two hundred years of abstractions from which they have emerged unrecognizable. But nowhere is this a more urgent task than in matters of eros, the first and best hope of human connectedness in a world where all connectedness has become problematic. The best books not only help us to describe the phenomena, but help us to experience them. They are living expressions of profound experiences, and without such knowledgeable advocates of those experiences we would find it very difficult to gain access to matters that depend so much on educated feeling and for which merely external observation is not sufficient. Books may provide a voice for whatever remains of nature in us.
This book is intended for the use of those who can still be charmed by books and who have an irreducible interest in the depiction of love. Such persons use books for pleasure and instruction. Books about love inform and elevate the fantasy life of their readers and actually become part of their eros while teaching them about it. Their appearance has to be taken for their primary reality, and they tell stories that can be naively apprehended and naively thought about. This does not mean that study of such texts with persons who know them well and have reflected on them for a long time is not useful and even necessary. Moreover, it is hard for someone to read Stendhal, for example, without knowing who Napoleon is. But Stendhal can help us to begin our reacquaintance with him. Such writers can begin the enrichment of lives, feelings, and experiences that have become impoverished. The popular power that Victor Hugo's or Dickens' novels exercised for more than a century required no sophistication, and people have understood them pretty well and with a fair degree of agreement concerning what they were about. This does not preclude greater intelligence or finer taste from seeing more in those novels, but persons possessing them must begin where less sophisticated readers begin.
Part of my intention in this book is to restore our awareness of the ambiguities and the conflicts in nature as it presents itself to us. True intellectual openness consists in trying to understand the writers as they understood themselves, which is possible if one is not arrogant about one's own understanding of things. One begins by picking up a story and reading it with the same wonder that one had as a child. The combination of innocent experience and cultivated intelligence is what we seek. I am sure that many of my particular statements about the books in the following chapters will raise objections in the minds of my readers, and I hope that this will encourage them to make better interpretations on their own—but without turning away from the writers and their books to seek ill-fitting keys in Freud or Derrida. You may disagree with my explanation of something that Darcy says to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, or one of Julien's strategies for the seduction of Mathilde, but the means for correcting me should be your careful observation and your good common sense. I am, of course, mindful of the contemporary prescriptions for what can and cannot be said about the relations between the sexes. I try not to pay too much attention to them and let the writers speak for themselves.
Always before my mind's eye while writing this book was a passage from Xenophon where Socrates in the simplest and most accessible way tells a hostile critic what he does and what counts for him: “Antiphon, as another man gets pleasure from a good horse, or a dog, or a bird, I get even more pleasure from good friends. And if I have something good, I teach it to them, and I introduce them to others who will be useful to them with respect to virtue. And together with my friends I go through the treasures of the wise men of old which they left behind written in books, and we peruse them. If we see something good, we pick it out and hold it to be a great profit, if we are able to prove useful to one another.”
Xenophon comments, ''When I heard this I held Socrates to be really happy . . ." Here there is none of the grand, mysterious rhetoric about the Delphic oracle, the daimonion, and the divine mission, which are the stuff of Socratic mythology. This, in contrast, we can understand immediately. What is more, such Socratic philosophizing is possible almost everywhere and at all times—"good-natured" persons sitting around reading the books of wise men and seeing together what they can get out of them for the guidance of their lives. "Friend," "good," "profit," and "pleasure" are the powerful words that cluster around the reading of books in Socrates' life. At the origins of philosophy and right up to our day this has been the life-perfecting activity, and the preservation of this naive but ever so mysterious and vulnerable pursuit will, I am certain, prove decisive for access to the reality represented by those wonderful words.
I wrote this book while recovering from a serious illness, and strangely this activity turned that period into one of the most wondrous times of my life. Every day I could consort with Rousseau or Stendhal or Austen and learn such wonderful things about loving and hating, benefaction and doing harm. When I went to bed at night I looked forward to getting up in the morning and resuming this living relationship to the books, and I was lifted above my petty concerns by them. I have attempted to communicate some of that experience here. How much more delight there is in learning about the virtues and the vices from Jane Austen than in emptily trying to teach them to her. Friendship and love may very well consist in sharing such experiences with another. In itself and immediately this transports us out of our dreary times. I hope that by this book I may touch at least a few potential friends who can love literature in spite of the false doctors who try to cure them of it.
I have no desire, and the facts do not permit me, to preach a high-minded and merely edifying version of love. If you still have the heart to proceed with reading this book, you will see that, as there is light here, there is also darkness, much hope and much disappointment, possible adornment of life and real ugliness and terror. I simply try to act as an honest broker for greater persons and writers than I am. As I have said, I present no theory, nor do I have one, although my observations cannot help but call into question other theories. I have constructed no schema to act as a clothesline on which to hang all the books of the tradition, as the estimable and enduring Denis de Rougemont does in his Love in the Western World. He wanted to judge it all, as a good Catholic, in terms of the struggle between Eros and agape and the futility of the former in the face of the latter. I have no such high aspirations, hoping only to show you what some great writers thought these things are.
A word about the plan of this book. I do not try to give a total historical account of love or a survey of all the opinions that have been held about it. Instead I try to take the most eminent examples of rich descriptions of love to which we can have immediate access. I begin with Rousseau and four novelists—Stendhal, Austen, Flaubert, and Tolstoy—who were strongly influenced by him. Rousseau was both a philosopher and a literary man, with the two sides interrelated. He taught that philosophy had to have both the insight and the form that poetry lends. He was the greatest modern describer and proponent of love, and he initiated a movement of love. Romanticism. This great movement aspired to the establishment of a new basis for human connection amongst the isolation of bourgeois society. Its conception of love attempted to combine the purest longing with the fullest bodily satisfaction. It tried to rescue sex from Christian original sin and to recover the union of body and soul of Platonic eros while guaranteeing the reciprocity missing from the Platonic understanding of love and friendship. It did so through an ideal of love between radically different and hence totally complementary men and women, an ideal constructed out of newly legitimated sexual energy and an imagination emancipated from nature.
The Romantic movement is the precursor to some extent of the later movements that tried to manipulate rather than discover eros, and to dissolve it into its crudest elements shorn of the illusions of the imagination. But Rousseau's project still bows toward nature, eschews reductionism, and possesses an infinite awareness and delicacy, which inspired very great independent artists after him. Rousseau and the Rousseauans play a double role in this book. They are great witnesses to love, but the failure of their movement also was connected with the collapse of love as a theme of literature toward the end of the nineteenth century. Rousseau is closest to whatever reminiscences we have of love. His attempt to save love by fostering belief in an illusion of our own creation was in the long run, I believe, necessarily a failure. But from that failure we can learn about ourselves and also be motivated to look elsewhere. I do not wish to use Rousseau as a straw man for my preferences, but he and the novelists who followed him clearly display a set of common themes that still affect us and are the alternatives against which our sexual thinking rebelled.
The novelists of love whose works I interpret were both fascinated and repelled by Rousseau's charm. They explored all the alternatives he opened up: from a romantic love with a core of friendship between intelligent and virtuous though imperfect partners culminating in marriage, to a radical opposition between romantic love and the legal sanctity of the family. Romantic love became a standpoint from which to judge a bourgeois world in which there were no longer men worthy of love, marriage had become contemptible, and art for art's sake seemed to be all that was left.
After Romanticism, I turn to Shakespeare, who tries not to create love out of illusions but to present its reality. Shakespeare is to me the purest voice of nature, and he does not meddle with nature. His plays provide us with the greatest variety of erotic expression, and with Shakespeare eros is the proper term to use. All kinds of men and women, in all kinds of situations, are given us by Shakespeare to appreciate and understand, not to transform according to our will or our apparent needs. He takes lovers with the utmost seriousness and portrays with sympathy love's promise of unity, its mysterious attraction to beauty, and its hope to overcome even the ugliness of death. Yet he also shows its folly and disappointment. He helps us marvel at love's transcendence of political loyalty and ambition, and still reminds us of its need for legal limitation. Finally, he lets us see that love has a history from pagan antiquity to modernity—and that Christianity is the source not only of the repression decried since the Romantics, but of a deepening of women and a new sensitivity of men.
Lastly, I turn, with the help of Montaigne, that great mediator between Ancients and Moderns, to Plato, the classical philosopher of love, who, while sharing Shakespeare's fidelity to nature, treats of eros's expressions across a wider spectrum than could be suitable for the theater and with a more explicit rational account of their meaning. Plato's works, in addition to their philosophical content, are arguably works of art comparable to the greatest. He presents eros not only as a painful and needy sign of our incompleteness, but as giving and productive. He explores the tensions between love of one's own and love of the good, and between the politically necessary subordination of eros to the family and the liberation suggested by such questionable erotic phenomena as incest, pederasty, and promiscuity. He sees in eros the possibility of both individual happiness and true human community.
Almost half this work is devoted to Rousseau and Plato, enriched by the personages depicted by the other artists treated in the book. This book bears witness to a confrontation between the two greatest philosophical teachings about eros, another chapter in the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns.