Does the Pursuit of Eroticism & Romantic
Infatuation Lead to Disatisfaction or Fulfillment?
In all times and places human beings have found sex close to irresistible, and this even apart from the relief of bodily craving. Sexual union is the one activity in which a man can feel wholly himself, having his way, neither God nor man intervening, the woman responding. In the four-thousand-year-old Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the prostitute, having seduced the virginal Enkidu, says to him, “Now you are like a god.” So any man might feel, for about ten minutes. What else in our world makes a man feel godlike, even for ten minutes? There is a mystical, magical element in sex which survives any number of unmagical, un-mystical experiences of it.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Shakespeare (Sonnet 129)
It is not difficult to see why vested interests are liable to favour a sexual revolution. Nothing is more calculated to induce acceptance of the social and economic status quo than erotic obsessions when they are divorced from love or procreation. These, especially the former, can prove subversive forces in that they stimulate individual and particular emotions and loyalties, whereas eroticism is generalised and therefore conducive to a conformist state of mind. Bread and circuses have to be paid for by the State; pornography is cheap and in plentiful supply. Marx said that religion was the opium of the people. Sex is better.
[In the following passage from Aldous Huxley’s novel Those Barren Leaves we get, I believe, quite an accurate description of the effect sexual infatuation—commonly and misleadingly called ‘love’ in everyday English—has on some men, especially young men who are intensely idealistic and intellectual.]
The weeks passed. I saw her almost every day. And every day I loved her more violently and painfully, with a love that less and less resembled the religious passion of my boyhood. But it was the persistent memory of that passion which made my present desire so parching and tormenting, that filled me with a thirst that no possible possession could assuage. No possible possession, since whatever I might possess, as I realized more and more clearly each time I saw her, would be utterly different from what I had desired all these years to possess. I had desired all beauty, all that exists of goodness and truth, symbolized and incarnate in one face. And now the face drew near, the lips touched mine; and what I had got was simply a young woman with a ‘temperament,’... And yet, against all reason, in spite of all the evidence, I could not help believing that she was somehow and secretly what I imagined her. My love for her as a symbol strengthened my desire for her as an individual woman.
All this, were it to happen to me now, would seem perfectly natural and normal. If I were to make love to a young woman, I should know precisely what I was making love to. But that, in those days, was something I still had to learn. In Barbara’s company I was learning it with a vengeance. I was learning that it is possible to be profoundly and slavishly in love with someone for whom one has no esteem, whom one does not like, whom one regards as a bad character and who, finally, not only makes one unhappy but bores one. And why not, I might now ask, why not? That things should be like this is probably the most natural thing in the world. But in those days I imagined that love ought always to be mixed up with affection and admiration, with worship and an intellectual rapture, as unflagging as that which one experiences during the playing of a symphony. Sometimes, no doubt, love does get involved with some or all of these things; sometimes these things exist by themselves, apart from love. But one must be prepared to swallow one’s love completely neat and unadulterated. It is a fiery, crude and somewhat poisonous draught.
[In C. S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, souls in hell can hop on a bus and visit heaven whenever they like. Some do, but in heaven they are like ghosts, and most of them don’t stay because they find their new surroundings uncongenial. To feel at home they will have to change, and change is hard—as the following excerpt cleverly shows in the case of a ghost who is tormented by lust, represented by a little red lizard sitting on his shoulder, twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.]
“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap” (here he indicated the lizard) “that he’d have to be quiet if he came—which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”
“Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.
“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.
“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.
“Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.
“Don’t you want him killed?”
“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”
“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”
“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”
“May I kill it?”
“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”
“There is no time. May I kill it?”
“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”
“May I kill it?”
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process . . .”
Thoughts about Eroticism
As bees their sting, so the promiscuous leave behind them in each encounter something of themselves by which they are made to suffer.
Coquettes know how to please, not how to love, which is why men love them so much.
Free love is sometimes love but never freedom.
How desolate and ultimately disastrous and destructive is the pursuit of Eros for its own sake.
In my second marriage I tried to preserve the respect for my wife’s [sexual] liberty which I thought my creed enjoined. I found however that my capacity for forgiveness was not equal to the demands I was making on it.
None of us know what exactly is the sexual code we believe in, approving of many things on paper which we violently object to when they are practised by those we care about.
Of all sexual aberrations, chastity is the strangest.
Sex is the closest that many people ever come to a spiritual experience. Indeed, it is because it is a spiritual experience of sorts that so many chase after it with a repetitive, desperate kind of abandon.
Sex without love is an empty experience; but as empty experiences go, it’s a pretty good empty experience.
She often dined with me at the Cecil Hotel, where her appearance in the dining-room always created a marked impression. This I liked. In relations between the sexes, there is a strong element of exhibitionism.
The anger of lovers renews their love.
Terence (from The Woman of Andros, 166 BC)
Sex attraction doesn’t necessarily bring affection in its train. Sometimes it thrives on hostility. Sex can mix and blend with any strong emotion, of which love is only one.
The Freudian psychologist insists that the sexual impulse is the chief source of psychological suffering and disorder.
The journey from erotomania to erotophobia is shorter than many people think.
The only thing that sanctifies sex is desire.
Germaine Greer Interview
The sexual freedom of today for most people is really only a convention, an obligation, a social duty, a social anxiety, a necessary feature of the consumer’s way of life.
’Tis an affect worth consideration, that they, who are masters in the trade, prescribe as a remedy for amourous passions the full and free view of the body a man desires; so that, to cool his ardour, there needs no more but at full liberty to see and contemplate what he loves.
When you’re in love your instinct is to contemplate the beloved. When you’re in lust your instinct is to contemplate your enjoyment.
Whenever we attempt to exploit sex like any other natural force or try to turn it into an intellectual problem and a matter of conscious emotion, we make a mess of it. Sex is good. It is the intrusion of the rationalising, exploiting mind that pollutes it and makes it turn rotten.
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