Saturday, October 15, 2011

humanity’s Eros

As the oldest of institutions, marriage seems outdated in modern times, when each individual is encouraged to break with tradition in order to fulfill him- or herself.
So begins the book jacket inner front panel of The Love Lives of the Artists, Daniel Bullen, 2011: “Five Stories of Creative Intimacy”—stories of pioneering artistic couples of the early 20thC, telling of “a brave, new kind of marriage, where spouses would be allowed—even encouraged—to fulfill different aspects of themselves in outside relationships.”
Shared creativity, they believed, would transcend their jealousies and compensate their sufferings: through art, they would rise above conventional marital fidelity and prove a higher fidelity to art and to themselves.

The Love Lives of the Artists tells the stories of Rainer Marie Rilke and Lou Andreas Salomé, Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin—five couples who approached their relationships with the same rebellious creativity as they practiced in their art….
Whence comes the encouragement? one might wonder. The Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt might trace the appeal to the nature of our modernity, exemplified in the Eros of nature that Lucretius exudes in the beginning of The Nature of Things. In his new book on the matter, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Greenblatt finds a Renaissance vision quest in an itinerant 15thC scholar’s searches through dusty monastery libraries which turns up the almost-Lost manuscript by Lucretius, a quest which is exemplary of the Renaissance “swerve” of cultural evolution that led to modernity. Greenblatt, in his “Preface”:
Lucretius begins with an ardent hymn to Venus, the goddess of love, whose coming in the spring has scattered the clouds, flooded the sky with light, and filled the entire world with frenzied sexual desire….
The book jacket indicates that
The copying and translation of this ancient book—the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age—fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.
Ah, yes, so much waywardness, so much transgression shapes originality.
From their early artistic development and their first experiences in love to their artistic marriages and their affairs—and then to their fights and reconciliations, nervous breakdowns and further creativity—The Love Lives of the Artists describes the promise and the price of freedom and creativity in love.
My early-20s infatuation with Miller and Nin (Americans in Paris, early 1930s) greatly affected my life before discovering Sartre or Rilke. Finding Love Lives… and Swerve tonight caused me to also recall Marcuse’s great (but now outdated) Eros and Civilization (1955), which I absorbed in my mid-20s. But I’m way beyond that now. As I wrote last April (before I chose to prefer ‘psychal-’ to ‘psycho-’):
My reflectively exploratory interest isn’t exactly psychoanalytic, but that’s pertinent, in a generic sense (not a therapeutic sense) that’s as philosophical or literary (writerly) as psychological (again, not as a therapeutic approach—but that interests me, too). My psychological interests are generally drawn by appeals of self expansiveness (not egoistic self possession) for the sake of self enrichment. With a smirk, I call it interest in psychoenhancement (accepting appearances of eccentricity).

Calling a venture psychoenhancive might be apt for much that goes on in academic rhetoric, e.g., Kaja Silverman, World Spectators which allegedly pursues “a profound and vital erotic investment by a human being in the cosmic surround [...and] demonstrates the inseparability of philosophy and psychoanalysis” in terms of “visual culture, art history, and literary and film studies.” (Later, I’ll let Kaja draw me into her text, and I’ll render the play.) [4.15.11]