The beauty and the other: on the problem called eros

La belle

Divorce rates are rocketing, marriage rates topple down, people consume partners faster or prefer to live the single life. Not just in the west but also in India this is the trend.

Although it is an improvement that people, especially women, have finally the right to leave their partner, if he or she feels mistreated or entitled to look for someone else, it seems to me that today’s break ups have also a different reason.

The philosopher Byung-Chal Han was right when he pointed out that Eros needs a certain kind of “negativity”, a distance that creates room for earthly love. So close and yet so far, distance makes the heart grow fonder and other proverbs do not come ex nihilo.

Han writes: „Eros rips the subject out of itself towards the other. Depression, on the other hand, overthrows it into the self.” In other words, the depression attempts to subjugate the other by absorbing it as a part of its own ego, so that there is no distance left for otherness.

The Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa had a somewhat similar thought, when he reasoned that Eros needs secrecy in order to exist. Secrecy is just another form of distance or negativity. That is why lingerie can have so much Eros, unlike pornography. The first, like a gift warp, emphasizes the secret, whereas the second has stripped itself of all secrets, if it ever had any at all.

Love and eroticism need to let the other be and yet we try to make the other – particularly in times of (ever-changing) possessions – our slaves, offshore properties of our own ego.

This is symptomatic for societies of narcissism, which not merely propagate economically growth, but every growth from the house I reside in to the ego that resides inside me. If I say “Do this! Be like that!”, then it is nothing but a dictate of the ego, which wants to expand itself by annihilating contrasting behavior or action.

Jean-Paul Sartre saw things quite similar and came – with Hegel’s master and slave relationship in the back of his mind – to the conclusion that romantic love is destined to fail. Like Hegel he argued in his theory “Being-for-others” (“Etre-pour-autrui”) that I can solely become conscious of myself, when I find myself reflected in the consciousness of the other.

However, as soon as I am being looked at or reflected in the consciousness of the other, “I am no longer master of the situation”, as the other is evaluating, labeling, judging and creating his or her on picture of me.

Thereby he or she destroys my freedom by objectifying me into his or her world, writes Sartre. I am the way the other sees me and thus the freedom to create my own me is curtailed. Some people want the other to love them by being just the way the other sees them, but that is not authentic.

According to Sartre, love is a longing for unity with the other. In this case, it means to possess the consciousness, hence the freedom of the other. Here comes the problem: If I would enslave the other, I would be unsatisfied, for how can I love someone who has to love me.

Worse is yet to come. The other offers us a foundation for our being, which is vital especially in times where our being adopts kaleidoscopic characteristics. Still, as a free being you cannot be the foundation for someone else.

A little example: If she says you are a hideous, whisky-drinking, too-much-roti-eating bump and you vehemently deny that, then because you feel a loss of your freedom by her look and therefore her judgment.

You want her to see you the way you see yourself: a mehnati, occasionally-whisky-drinking, healthy Chippendale. And yet, if she sees you exactly to way you do, there is no other consciousness, which is the postulation for your own existence.

Sartre’s problem is also a problem of the ego. As an existentialist he was not able to realize that the dilemma was not actually a dilemma, for being afraid of being different in the eyes of someone else, is just one more angst of otherness – the otherness of my-self.

In this sense Hinduism and Buddhism are religions of romantic love and eroticism as they teach us to reduce the ego and thus to leave a niche or more for the other.

The Beauty and the Beast is not just another trivial Disney animation, but an old French fairytale that summarizes the modern problem of romantic relation-ships and marriages.

Belle, the female protagonist, is also averted by the beast’s otherness, here symbolized by his extreme ugliness. Later on she understands that this otherness is no reason for her not to love him.

Eventually, her love takes the spell of the beast and transmogrifies him into a beautiful prince. True love makes you see the beauty not the beast in otherness, so to speak.

This is not only true for romantic love but for any love concerning other beings. Be encouraged to accept the others otherness, or as Augustine once wrote: “Amo: volo ut sis.” (I love you: I want you to be.)

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