Much bas been written about love: from Plato to Levinas, from Bachofen
to Lévi-Strauss, from Darwin to Lorenz and Dawkins, from Krafft-Ebing to
Masters and Johnson, from Dufour to Flandrin, from Freud to Kristeva,
the most brilliant spirits have tackled the subject matter - not
mentioning the countless love prophets, from Saint Paul, over Vatsyayana
to Comfort and the feminists. Although there is much to be learned from
their work, many important things have not been formulated yet: that
love nurtures in its own bosom the very forces that are out at
destroying it; that there are three kinds of love that are intimately
interwoven; and, above all, that, unlike is the case with Nietzsche's
God, love has yet to be born, and that man himself will have to attend
its birth as a midwife.
In order to analyse the sexual misery to the bone, I deemed it necessary
to take not only a historical, but also an evolutionary perspective. I
wanted to describe love in all its dimensions, the social included, with
which it is intimately connected. Such a broad perspective is absent in
practically all the approaches.
Only the evolutionists from the nineteenth century take not only a
evolutionary, but also a historical perspective, and include more
developed societies in their analysis at that. But their perspective
remains rather ethnocentric. In the best case, the caravan departs from
Mesopotamia, passes over Greece and Rome, heads towards our feudal
countries, to end up in the Western metropolises. Later anthropologists
amputate this broad perspective from its evolutionistic antecedents and
from its recent historical developments. Historians, who take care of
these recent developments, continue to walk the beaten paths between Ur
and some Western metropolis, if they do not further narrow the
perspective - geographically, thematically or socially. What they
thereby gain in precision, is at the same time lost in that they mostly
come to believe in a presumed uniqueness. The biologists, who took care
of the evolutionary prehistory, rather behave like a bull in the
historical and cultural china shop. A broader evolutionary and
historical perspective is failing altogether with most
philosophers, sociologists and sexologists.
Because I take so broad a perspective, I cannot possibly give due
account of the specificity of the sexual behaviour of concrete persons
in concrete moments and concrete places in history. Not only many
historians, but also many readers will reproach me such neglect. My aim,
however, is not to write a history of sexual love, but to construct of a
theory of love. Such theory has of necessity to contain the historical
('dialectical') dimension. I only have to study the many concrete
historical facts to learn which forms sexual love can take and how it is
that it takes these forms, and also to lay bare the underlying unity. Of
this unity, there is no history. There can only be a history of the way
in which love time and again emanates from an immutable kernel.
I deemed it necessary not only to take a broad evolutionary and
historical perspective, but to encompass sexual love in its totality as
well. From a contentual point of view, many authors have a rather narrow
understanding of love in terms of pure sexuality, pure reproductivity or
pure economical transaction (marriage). They thereby overlook the fact
that sexuality, reproduction and economic cooperation are in principle
intimately intertwined. The consequence of this is that they understand
society as an force that influences sexual love externally. As I hope to
demonstrate, society itself is an illegitimate and revolting child of
love. On top of that, many authors tend to lose sight of the manifold
social patterns within which love unfolds (monogamy and the many forms
of polygamy), not to mention the temporal aspects (lifelong or furtive -
promiscuous relations). Finally, it is crucial for a proper
understanding of sexual love, to realise that it is intimately
intertwined with two other forms of love: parental love between parents
and children and communal love between the members of all kinds of
No doubt, it is an ambitious project to study love in a broad
evolutionary and historical perspective. No mortal is able to master all
the facts. But, whoever does not recoil before such undertaking, is able
to disclose unsuspected relations. And that should mark the birth of a
new science. Like there is physics and logics, there should be an 'erotics'
that should be contentually defined as the study of love or the study of
Eros. The first steps towards such a science lie scattered over such
diverse disciplines like philosophy, sociology, psychoanalysis,
socio-biology, ethology, sexology and - negatively - economics.
I, have finally, resolutely opted to expound this complex matter as
concisely as possible. What I thereby lose in precision, I hope to gain
in clarity. It is my intention to map the complex interaction of forces
that drive Eros into ever new 'ek-stases' - in the sense of emanating
from a kernel.
Eros is the Greek word for 'love' in the broad sense of the world, and
not in the more narrow sense that is mostly associated with the word 'erotic'.
In this book, I will approach love in that broader sense.
To me, love is first of all sexual love, the love between man and woman.
The kernel of sexual love is lovemaking, to which will give all the
deserved attention. It is important to remind, however, that sexual love
encompasses more than lovemaking alone. Lovemaking is initiated by
seduction, and it may end up in pregnancy. Childbirth turns sexual
partners into parents, and these have, in a fourth move, to cooperate to
bring up op their children. Sexual love, then, unfolds in four phases:
from seduction, over lovemaking and reproduction to cooperation.
Love encompasses more than sexual love alone. Next to the love between
the sexes, there is also love between parents and children, parents and
grandparents. I will call this second form of love 'parental love'.
There is, finally, also love between the members of all kinds of
communities: 'communal love'. In this book, I will try to show that
these three forms of love originate in on another and fuel one another.
Thus, the fourfold movement, in which love unfolds, is continued in a
threefold, by which sexual love is inscribed in a more encompassing
whole, together with parental and communal love. If we represent sexual
love as a horizontal axis, this is extended into a vertical axis by
parental love between parents and children and parents and grandparents.
From the double bond with which sexual binds the sexes and parental love
the generations flows, in a third phase, love for the community: the
circle that circumscribes the cross.
In this book, we will focus primarily on sexual love. In the first nine
chapters, we describe the particular shapes that love can take as a
consequence of the tensions within sexual love itself. In the tenth
chapter, I introduce parental and communal love and I describe the
intertwining of the three loves. Only then can I tackle two new forms of
sexual love: the orgy and incest, both of which can only be understood
as condensations between sexual love on the one hand, and communal and
parental love on the other hand. Parental an communal love are only
considered in so far as the determine the fate of sexual love and are
condensed with it.
Sexual love is not an immutable given that remains constant over time
and place. In diverse times and places, it takes different shapes. Which
shape is determined by the way in which sexual love is embedded in
parental and communal love and from the conflicts between the many parts
of which sexual love consists. Sexual love can vary in three dimensions:
the social, the temporal and the contentual
From a social point of view, sexual relations can be plotted on a
continuum with on the one end reciprocal polygamy and on the other
reciprocal monogamy, and in between one-sided polygamy of the male (polygyny)
and one-sided polygamy of the female (polyandry). Quantitatively, this
continuum spans from relations of one with one, over relations of one
with many, to relations of many with many. That continuum extends form
relations of one with one, over relations of one with many, to relations
of many with many.
From a temporal point of view, love can vary from a lifelong relation to
a furtive encounter. The duration of each social pattern can be plotted
on a continuum between absolute faitfulness and absolute promiscuity (or
unfaithfulness). That yields a continuum with on the one end absolute
faithful reciprocal monogamy, on the opposite end reciprocal absolute
promiscuity, and in between serial monogamy, serial polygyny, serial
polyandry or serial reciprocal polygamy.
From a contentual point of view (qualitatively), love appears now as
seduction, then as lovemaking, then as the desire to become parents, and
finally as cooperation. All the social forms of love can concern one
single, some or all aspects of love: we can discern polyandry of
seduction, polyandry of lovemaking, polyandry of reproduction and
polyandry of cooperation.
From the outside, sexual love is determined through parental and
communal love. Also these two forms of love are not immutable, but take
ever changing forms, which can curb the unfolding of sexual love.
Because they are intimately interwoven, the three forms of love continue
to influence one another also in their countless variations. This results
in a second series of 'ek-stases' of Eros: de orgy and the incest.
3. GUIDELINES FOR THE LECTURE
Whas has been sketched above in all its simultaneity, has to be
expounded in the linear succession of a text. I have divided the subject
matter in twelve parts and arranged them according to the degree of
accessibility. The drawback is that the subjects that come first cannot
be analysed in all their dimensions. With each subsequent phase in the
unfolding of the model, a new subject is tackled, but, if necessary, the
subjects of the preceding chapters have to be reformulated or completed.
Many analyses are only fully completed in the last chapter. To help the
reader, I will remind the previous insights. Especially in the beginning,
many standpoints will chock the reader by their one-sidedness or lack of
nuances. I ask some patience and courage from the reader. I write for a
reader who knows to withhold his criticism until the last page. Whoever
reads the chapters at random will miss a lot.
I hope the reader will enjoy the lecture of this book.
Beyst, 1990-1992, translated may 2007
Footnotes will be added soon.
Stefan Beyst is also the author of
'The erotic eye and its nude'