1.17 The art of loving [Erich Fromm]

1.17.1 Is love an art?

Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Or is love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is matter of chance, something one “falls into” if one is lucky?

Hui: The author answered this question in the next Chapter “The Theory of love”. he believes love is active not passive; it is a “standing in” not “falling for”; It is practiced by human power in freedom never a result of compulsion. What does the “active character of love” mean? It means that love is primarily giving not receiving. In the next chapter, the author will discuss what is giving and what if a person can’t give.

What most people in our culture mean by being lovable is essentially a mixture between being popular and having sex appeal…Our whole culture is based on the appetite for buying, on the idea of mutually favorable exchange….“Attractive” usually means a nice package of qualities which are popular and sought after on the personality market.

1.17.2 The theory of love

1.17.2.1 Love, the answer to the problem of human existence

The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety…The awareness of human separation, without reunion by love–is the source of shame. It is at the same time the source of guilt and anxiety…Man is confronted with the solution of one and the same question: the question of how to overcome separateness, how to achieve union, how to transcend one’s own individual life and find atonement…The answer varies. The question can be answered by animal worship, by human sacrifice or military conquest, by indulgence in luxury, by ascetic renunciation [n. 放弃,脱离关系], by obsessional work, by artistic creation, by the love of God, and by the love of Man…The answer depends, to some extent, on the degree of individuation which an individual has reached…The more the human race emerges from these primary bonds, the more it separates itself from the natural world, the more intense becomes the need to find new ways of escaping separateness.

Hui: “Separateness” is a key concept in Erich Fromm’s work. In his book “Escape from freedom”, Erich said human escape from freedom because they want to escape separateness. He stated three ways of achieving this aim:

In all kinds of orgiastic state…orgiastic union have three characteristics: (1) they are intense, even violent; (2) they occur in the total personality, mind and body; (3) the unity is transitory.

Based on conformity with the group, its customs, practices and beliefs. It is the most frequent solution chosen by man in the past and in the present. It is pseudo-unity.

In creative activity (artist, artisan). In any kind of creative work the creating person unites himself with his material, which represents the world outside of himself. It is not interpersonal

Hui: In the author’s view, all the three are only partial answers to the problem of existence. The full answer is the interpersonal union by love which is the most powerful striving in man. Failing to achieve means destruction (self or others).

The dictatorial system use threats and terror to induce this conformity; the democratic countries, suggestion and propaganda.There is, indeed, one great difference between the two systems…But actually people want to conform to a much higher degree than they are forced to conform, at least in the Western democracies.

Symbiotic union [共生性结合] Biological pattern: mother and foetus, they need each other Psychic symbiotic union: the two bodies are independent, psychological attachment Passive form: masochism [ˈma-sə-ˌki-zəm 受虐狂] Active form: sadism Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. (contrast to symbiotic union). Two beings become one and yet remain two.

Hui: Discussion around “giving”:

Giving is the highest expression of potency.

It is well known that the poor are more willing to give than the rich. Nevertheless, poverty beyond a certain point may make it impossible to give, and is so degrading, not only because of the suffering it causes directly, but because of the fact that it deprives the poor of the joy of giving.

Hui: It reminds me a sentence from the book “Maxims” which says:“What we call liberality is often but the vanity of giving which we like more than that we give away.” The word “vanity” has negative connotation here. It is not a graceful motivation to give but it is not bad either. At least people with this mind are willing to give. Only God can see people’s mind perfectly. Other than God, who knows what is real under the sun? That is why making judgement about others is dangerous because all we can see is (part of) people’s behavior and you don’t know what are in people’s heart. On the other hand, we are judging all the time since we have to make a decision. I like the analogue saying “human are living on a dial of a clock. We can never open the back to examine how it works. We see what we see and guess the reason.” We are too stupid to be complicated. We are just sinful and making each other’s life tough.

Love is a power which produces love; impotence is the inability to produce love.

Hui: I like this way to describe love and impotence! Being a potent person is to be someone who can produce and give love not just receive.