Saturday, April 09, 2011
Thoughts upon the last bloom of the orchid falling
"Sex is the root of which intuition is the foliage and beauty is the flower." D.H. Lawrence
When did I first grow aware of this truth central to the philosophy of love expressed so well in so many works by my literary mentor, D. H. Lawrence? Perhaps it was at the age of eighteen, when sex with my high school girlfriend meant no more to me than masturbation, but the reticence and budding friendship of her brother meant so much more. It took me such a long time to unravel the mystery of it, often starting with beauty, the woman I met in college, and going backwards by intuition to the sexual union, finally so taking me out of myself and my ego, that I shook like a branch of leaves in the winds of a changing season. By the age of twenty-one I was convinced that love without sex was impossible, except the love of family, which usually is begun in sex, defined by sex. To this day I still believe this. I have friends with whom I have not had sex, of course, and friendship is a kind of love, true enough. Yet love which takes one out of the individual ego, transcends the self, leads us to behold the beauty of the other, making it part of our own person, is grounded in sexual intimacy. Otherwise, the holding back, the suppression of the sexual impulse, ultimately destroys the love.
My thought brings easy agreement when it refers to the love of the opposite sex, and when the age difference is slight. Many agree today that monogamy, enforced, as if a given to relationships, is the opposite of love, counter-intuitive, anything but beautiful when it turns to possessiveness and jealousy. The real question for me at an age past sixty, is whether love such as I have known in the past is still possible.
Last night I saw the film Dangerous Method. The film is brilliant, exploring the ideas and innovative insights of four people: Freud, Jung, and very importantly, Sabina Spielrein and Otto Gross. We all know about Freud and Jung. What Spielrein added for me was the analysis of the collision of egos in love, how that collision overcomes the selfishness and the isolation of the self, becomes simultaneously destructive and creative. She and Freud understood the embrace of Eros and Thanatos in a new way. There is death in every orgasm.
Then there is Otto Gross. I have read about him all day. In the film he advocates freeing oneself from inhibitions, letting go of what Freud or his followers called the super-ego. Analysis in his view must be revolutionary, not leading the patient to conform and become a good, productive citizen of society, but rather freeing the patient to explore creative, challenging feelings, especially sexual feelings. He became an anarchist, wanting to overcome the restraints, limitations, and narrow views of Victorian society. His attack on monogamy and his insight that bisexuality is a given in the healthy psyche, made him an outcast. So too did his view that a man must accept and understand his own homosexuality before he can be a complete lover of women. He died in poverty in Berlin in 1920.
One of the articles I read today discussed the "taboo of tenderness." We are fed the rule that men must be strong, must be anchors to women, supporting them, nourishing them, in order to be proper lovers. Lawrence bought into some such view. He believed there was a balance in the heterosexual relationship, a charging of the blood in intercourse. I entertained the idea myself. When I was with the three women with whom I had prolonged sexual intercourse, I was always the strong one, the anchor. It was a role that left me decidedly at sea. I sought an equal, someone like myself, wanting strength and independence, not someone whose happiness depended on me.
Despite having the best sex in my life with women, finding the most sexual satisfaction in heterosexual sex, I experienced the most profound love in sexual tenderness with other men, often with men predominantly heterosexual themselves. The actual sex we had was not mindless, which even fucking gay men usually turned out to be. It was the very exploration of our selves, our motives, the collision of egos Sabina Spielrein experienced that moved me, that took me from sex to intuition to beauty and back again.
Only I have no answers, even after all this love and experience. In the two most loving and caring sexual exchanges with so-called straight men, they both told me that the experience of sex with me was beautiful, most recently with a man far younger than myself, taboos broken open like an egg. Giving, tender. Beautiful. And yet, then and now, there was no mutual urge to continue to experience that tenderness of touch.
My love for an older man when I was twenty-one was without question the most important creative development of my own psyche. I learned that nothing is more vital than understanding, of sharing one's deepest ideas and experiences with another person of like mind. We later taught the same philosophy course. We talked of literature and philosophy as if they were the most important things in our lives. We even loved the same person for a while, one of the two men I mentioned above. Ours was a collision of egos that became Aristotelian friendship, mostly Platonic, I suppose, but rooted in sex that we experienced, full of intuitive foliage, flowering into a thing of beauty. We were lovers for twenty years, until he was murdered.
Eros becomes Thanatos.