26 Response to the Blog “On Love and Desire”
Why did you choose such a delicate subject? You’ve ventured to go quite far with it. Why?
Pæderasty and homosexuality have become something of an old chestnut in public discourse recently. One even hears intimations of a new “culture war.”
My subject is love and desire as discussed by Plato, particularly in his “Phaidros.” Of course, to the extent that he deals with the idea of love as love for young boys, then I can’t speak for him anymore, either.
I think furthermore, that the subject of love between men was not viewed so dogmatically or ideologically in Classic times as it is today. We find ourselves there, after all, in a State by and for men, in which women had very little to say, also with respect to “love” (which didn’t exist at all in its present day, preferred form in any case). Love was always only sex, desire, procreation, even with Plato. Not responsibility or even love in the sense of Christian ethics.
Why didn’t the idea of love exist yet?
I think, because there weren’t yet any Christians in the Platonic-Classic heaven of the gods; much less Buddhists. Quite the opposite. The gods lived and loved archaically, that is rather animalistic and not at all Christian. Not a single god was capable of loving with complete surrender—that is without expecting love in return—or at least showed some merest sign of the grace of charity. Not to mention that none of them would have sacrificed themselves for another in the manner of Christ. In the center was always only struggle, power, and desire. The heavens were a mirror of life on the Earth below, their invention.
The men in Plato’s Athens had their wives, sired children (as did Socrates, the lover of boys, himself), and felt themselves responsible, especially when from the upper classes, to take care of the next generation’s young men. This also comprehended the love of boys in mutual understanding, as well as in families. Boys were courted as women are today: they had to consent, in the end, to entrust themselves to an older mentor. This led also to sexual contacts, which Plato however rejected. Now, whether this love for boys actually took place before the onset of puberty is unclear. I think rather not; hence, rather during puberty.
What do you think of the love for boys?
Of course I reject it. I would neither, at a more youthful age, have found it good—or, let us say, more appealing—to entrust myself sexually to an older man, nor would I find it good for my son, who is presently 16 years old. The times, and the attitudes, have decisively changed relative to those days.
The example only serves to show how relative mores and customs, even in raising children, actually are. What was good in those days can quite rapidly overturn and be rejected as wholly wrong and reprehensible now.
Why, then, do you deal with this subject?
The chapter on “Phaidros” is one of the subjects of my new book, “On Love and Desire.” There, it’s concerned essentially with the sexual conduct of the future, and also with the future of love in the age of mass-media pornography. That isn’t to say that it deals with the love of boys. Rather, with passion, falling in love, and new forms of living. I’m also given to believe that the family in its traditional sense, at least in our hemisphere (that is, in the developed West), will have but little chance of survival in its present form.
Men as well as women have lately become so deeply clamped into their work lives that it seems almost irresponsible for them to bring children into the world.
These will most likely be raised in nurseries of the State in the future, perhaps even fertilized or designed there. The representative researchers, with a wholly different idea of humanity, a moral orientation wholly different from what we have here in the West, are just around the corner, for example in China.
Even today, raising children is no longer really possible. As I see it, raising children overwhelms large portions of the population.
And where does it stand regarding love?
Pair-forming, and pair bonding, becomes ever more difficult. Finding one another no longer works, nor does living together for parents and couples. You eschew problems and conflicts, even when these—and this goes as well for coming to terms with the same—wouldn’t be a part of the relationship. You separate from one another once more, with or without offspring. Look at the many suffering single parents. The many unavailing and ever-ongoing partner-seekers. You find them even in swinger clubs—and what then? I don’t know all that well myself.
The age of Romanticism; in fact, already a first attempt at rebellion of the exploited individuals against mechanization and industry with all their tendencies towards alienation, this dream from a different time and world is at an end. To our eyes, romantic love is only a fake of the film and cultural industries. Whosoever still clings to it and believes in it is lost, they face a very rude awakening indeed. – The ethics of responsibility in the Christian sense likewise overwhelms one ever more. You can barely manage to take responsibility for yourself. Have you already managed to live and eat healthy today?
Feminism demands furthermore the separation of the sexes. Men and women resort once again to keeping among their own peers. Sparta and the Amazonian State—that would indeed be a model for the separation of the sexes. Children will be fertilized or cloned, the question of raising them is to be dispensed with.
In what should we then have faith?
In desire, pleasure, having fun, and distractions; these days we believe in them fervently. Pascal calls this “dissipation,” because we can no longer sit in just one place. Otherwise bad ideas insinuate themselves into our thoughts, terms like “sense,” “failure,” “end,” and “death” for example, which we perpetually suppress in our age of youthfulness, of needing-to-be-young, and of pleasure. At the least, the mercantile conditioning apparatus presently runs unrestrained in this direction. Love was, in Plato’s time, also nothing more than desire, that is: lust. Even as a longing for the idea of the beautiful and the good. But just this approach of Plato’s shows us, that lust has come to the fore as Eros, and must be subdued, domesticated. Apparently the Athens of Plato’s time was not at all like the classical image of Winckelmann,1 ideal and harmonious, but rather very militaristic and sexualized. Wait for my account of Sparta! You’ll discover yet more very strange new things.
In a State such as this no determinations regarding homo-, hetero-, or bisexuality are needed, nor regarding perversions or anomalies. In imperial Rome one sought pleasure even with animals. As Freud says, all is possible. So long as it does not become reality. And nevertheless so much becomes reality, especially in the present a horrible reality, which overwhelms at least my own capacity for imagination.
Where will we go in the future with love and lust, with families, couples, registered fertilization organizations for the ideal types of human beings: that is the subject of my speculations. Everything will change, and drastically. We find ourselves at the dawn of a new era, comparable with the discovery of book printing (which itself caused a world revolution, at least in Europe). In that age, murder and pillage were undertaken in the name of the right god against the wrong one.
The uncertainty is great and comparable indicators from other times of change are repeating themselves. I will return, as always, to the past. That’s my program—you know it from my other blog entries—: to investigate the future. My task now is to propose a vision of this future, of a future dominated by a strict technologically determined sovereignty (a technocracy). But I’d rather save these ideas for my book. I’d also rather not reveal everything just yet.
Do you believe in the future of love and lust?
Of course. For we are, if you’ll pardon my disrespectful manner of expressing myself, animals. Animals with intellect and reason, with bodies, feelings, and creativity, with gods and demons, love and lust. And yet also, time and again alien, new, and capricious, as far as the future is concerned. That can also be very positive. And animals do not well accord themselves with restraint or confinement.
I’m no ascetic, neither in the Christian monastic sense, nor the Buddhist one. But my bodily contact with various people could be counted on two hands. That is, the recently fashionable one-night stand isn’t for me. I’m a typical hanger-on of old-fashioned romantic love, even when the women in this realm were even more romantic than I and perhaps promised themselves too much of me. In the end it led to painful conflicts and separations, from which I nevertheless learned quite a lot for my later life.
In which regard?
I learned that for marriage and family, like-mindedness—that is also to say, consensus or agreement—is in most cases more important than the exhilarating Other. For a long time antitheses, and also the alien and wholly Other, fascinated me. For an artist, they are always inspiring, perhaps even necessary. I was also obliged to learn that antitheses can bring one to despair, can literally tear me to pieces. Idem velle et idem nolle – to want the same and to reject the same: that seems to me to be, in the sense of the ancient Romans, to be a better foundation for a long-lasting life together.
I was able to experience togetherness, marriage, and family as very beautiful and relieving; that is, even as liberating. And yet, as I said, I’m from a different generation and perhaps old-fashioned. Young people think in many cases quite differently, more self-referential, narcissistic even. Narcissism is one of the key terms in my investigation. … is the “Phaidros” text already published?
Why are you then asking me about it?
To make the reader curious.
About the blog?
Then publish it.
So. A method of advertising. For my new book as well?
If you want, yes. When will it be finished?
I don’t know exactly just yet. For Pentecost2 I’ll be back in Fatima, Portugal. There, I’ll have “watchmen” keeping watch over me, as I once wrote in a letter to a friend, so that I don’t write anything false or untrue.
Apropos Truth. Upon what sources do you base your writings?
I’ve already written in other places on this problem—on truth in the writing of history, for example. The English name the intended audience of my approach, my view of philosophy, as the life-form “the general reader,” what you might translate as “Durchschnittsleser.” It’s a journalistic approach, and I don’t want to tire the reader of my blog out with too many pseudo-commentaries or explanatory notes. It should provide impetus, stimulation, initiative towards reflection, to reach one’s own judgments. If these should turn out antithetical to my own, that’s also fine.
Everything comes down—you recognize my stance—to isothenia, that everything can be true and false, according to one’s view and the color glasses one wears at the time. And also should Plato think entirely differently on this point, indeed, would probably wholly and passionately reject this, my (sophistic) thought. I am in awe of him and venerate him as a result. More that Aristotle, the Stoics, or Epicurius. But on that, I’ll have more to say at a later time.
I would also rather not name my sources. Wittgenstein also never named his sources. As he claimed, there wouldn’t be anything new to say. Derrida, as well, thought along similar lines. Only if it should be especially important to you, then I will share them. For example, in the biography of Plutarch there is a chapter on Lycurgus, the mythical founding father of Sparta. There, I collect my information on Sparta. For example, that this State, despite great military successes within 200 years shrank by two-thirds (!). Why? But this, also, is connected to questions of love and lust.
Questions by Alexandre Herrmann
Translated by N.Andrew Walsh
1Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768) was honored as the “father of modern art history” for his pioneering studies distinguishing Greek, Roman, and other art traditions of Classical Antiquity, and one of the first Hellenists: his division of Classical Greek art into distinct periods based on systematic categorization of styles is credited with giving rise to the discipline of art history.
2It bears noting that the Christian festival of Pentecost, celebrated on the eighth Sunday after Easter (approximately late May), is still a form of civic holiday in Germany, for which most schools and businesses have the week off.