Mankind has never at all understood the power of love.
What we think we know about anything is not nearly close to the truth of everything. Yet, we spend enormous amounts of time and energy debating, lecturing, challenging, pontificating, and contradicting those who refuse to agree with or validate what we understand to be truth. When it comes to the boldness of expanding erotic intelligence and daring to weave the erotic within the threading of theological qualification; the level of argumentation and debate rises to hyper-hostile.
It’s difficult to dismiss the readily present reality that, when it comes to sexuality— intertwined within the realm of the erotic— we take it too seriously. He might have not been the first to remark on such an observable phenomenon, but in similar fashion, C.S. Lewis offered his own lamentations on the topic of Venus (the carnal element of Eros). In The Four Loves, Lewis remarks:
“I believe we are encouraged to take Venus too seriously; at any rate, with a wrong kind of seriousness. All my life a ludicrous and portentous solemnization of sex has been going on.”
Why So Serious?
Sex is so serious that is has been poured into a concrete of ceremonialism on one end of the spectrum, and on the other, into a concrete of consumerism. Of course, we must leave room for the seriousness of the degradation and perversion of the erotic. Sex is so serious that it is power. A superpower, or supernatural power; so long as the conditions are met. Such a condition is sometimes called a custom. A custom that was known to be honorable in the days of Socrates.
In Plato’s Symposium, an eloquent discourse takes places on the topic of Love. Pausanias is next in line to give his speech on the topic of Love and custom.
“For we have a custom, and according to our custom any one who does service to another under the idea that he will be improved by him either in wisdom, or in some other particular of virtue—such a voluntary service as this, I say, is not regarded as a dishonor, and is not open to the charge of flattery. And these two customs, one the love of youth, and the other the practice of philosophy and virtue in general, ought to meet in one, and then the beloved may honorably indulge the lover. For when the lover and beloved come together, having each of them a law, and the lover on his part is ready to confer any favor that he rightly can on his gracious loving one, and the other is ready to yield any compliance that he rightly can to him who is to make him wise and good; the one capable of communicating wisdom and virtue, the other seeking after knowledge, and making his object education and wisdom; when the two laws of love are fulfilled and meet in one—then, and then only, may this beloved yield with honor to the lover.”
My use of a rather long and detailed portion of the discussion offers credence to two points I would like to make about the necessary importance of updating our erotic education.
First, and primarily; What I glean from Pausanias’ rather loquacious presentation is that, for love to be considered honorable and, for love to have the fluidity to operate within its own parameters as set forth by the lover and the beloved; the pair must also be readily informed about the type of adventure that they dare to embark on; as two becoming one. For love’s power to be actualized, virtue, wisdom, and communication competence are fundamental. That is to say, from my understanding, that love is not for the ignorant. You must be willing to enter into such a commitment with eyes wide open.
In the realm of the erotic, there is a necessary tension. A giving and a receiving, a pulling and a pushing. Such is the case with our partners in an erotic, romantic, sexual relationship. Such is the case with love. It is both a deconstruction and a reconstruction. An unlearning and a learning. We must pay attention to what works and what does not work. We learn from our mistakes. When we play in the erotic, we must take notes.
The word “law” (nomos) has a variety of meanings in the Greek lexicon: “usage, that which is assigned, custom, law, of law in general, of divine laws, of a force or influence impelling action. In this instance, I interpret that when Pausanias says “having each of them a law”, that each of us, when joining together in a relationship, bring our own force and influence impelling action. We are two separate particles, each with our own atomic structure, that when paired up, we bond in spatial proximity—two become one. We become a quantum entanglement and can no longer be described as independent of the other, even if we are separated by a large distance. Our “two laws of love are fulfilled and meet in one.”
“For when the lover and beloved come together, having each of them a law…”
Such a phenomenon occurs and gradually becomes a “service to another under the idea that he will be improved”. Love is the improvement of the Other. Love is the improvement to the soul. Love is the improvement to evil. And if love is the improvement to the lover and the beloved; if “the lover…is ready to confer any favor…on his gracious loving one, and the other is ready to yield any compliance…”, the improvement comes in the form of surrender. Surrender is power.
Sex is Power
Sex is power. And the power can be properly applied to all areas of our life, so long as you are aware of, and know how to use that power. Otherwise, sex becomes the kryptonite. Which brings me to the second point.
There is abundant power in eros, so much so that it expands experience. Such an expansion is comparable with wisdom. We unknowingly curate a rather provocative and gracious curriculum for our erotic education. We oscillate between knowing and confusion within a relationship. Eros is both tender and aggressive; but there is a bit of a skill involved in balancing the injection of each. There are times to be aggressive and times to be tender. But there is a significant difference of the intensity of both tenderness and aggression that varies from relationship to relationship. And this is the ultimate undoing of our understanding of the erotic. We have been led to believe that what works for one relationship, works for the other. This is why we cannot ever be certain to how erotic love works. Which might explain why there are limited volumes of work on the topic. But if we are not willing to be open-minded to a reeducation of eros on a broader scale, we are never going to be open to full surrender and the full power of our sexuality.
Now certainly, the power of sex is so fierce and energizing that one can hardly not take it so seriously. It plants life, creates life, gives life. It is serious business of life-giving essence. But it is also silly and it’s sloppy—slippery, sticky, and sweaty.
It’s not only that it’s both serious and silly; it’s also an agent of transgression. Eros isn’t just embodied in physicality; it is also embodied in the mind. And in the psyche; as Esther Perel states in her book Mating in Capitivity, “in the crucible of the erotic mind, we bring the more vexing components of love—dependency, surrender, jealousy, aggression, even hostility—and transform them into powerful sources of excitement.”
Simply put, Venus and Eros, or sexuality— sex, the erotic— and most importantly, love, both humble and humor us. We cannot be so quick to reduce the nature of love, nor the elements of love, like the erotic and sexuality, into such simplistic terms as definable translations through scholarly equations of sound logic and quantifiable mathematics. Love isn’t so simple.
“Love is not simple. It is a mixture of several elements united and animated by desire. Nor is its object simple.” Octavio Paz
Part II can be found here.