In Greek mythology, Eros is a primordial god of sexual love, beauty, and fertility distilled from the chaos that created our universe. Although contemporary conceptions of eros focus on harmony and unity, in classical Greek culture eros was thought of as an agent of madness as well as a creative influence: it overwhelms and seemingly derides both sense and sensibility. It has seemingly addictive properties: it delivers intoxicating pleasure for as long one is immersed in it, enforced by withdrawal symptoms of mind-numbing pain.
Here I will tackle the erotic from an analytical and intellectual position, examining the ways in which eros permeates our interactions. From Socrates, Freud, to Bataille, sacred to profane, nothing is beyond inquiry.
The Role of Absence and Longing in Eros
In order to sustain eros, the object of desire must remain in a state of non- or only semi-possession. To desire something logically requires its absence: you cannot desire something you already completely possess. Desire is the result of feeling unsatisfied or sensing some potential lack which the object of desire will then fulfill, even if that lack is simply of the object of desire itself.
In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates finds fulfillment in the very absence of his object of desire: wisdom. In claiming ignorance, he subsequently increases his capacity for deficiency and desire to be a lover of wisdom, a chase that he understood as unending. For Socrates, eros embraced both carnal and intellectual longing.
Moreover, the natures of truth and of possession are inherently temporal and fleeting. Although Socrates conceded to an absolute and overarching truth, he theorized that man can only ever glimpse a shadow of that blinding, brilliant light– a shadow that is, by nature, transient. This temporal aspect of knowledge informed his courtship with it: the allure of both knowledge and its pursuit is that it is always in flux, seemingly within reach but too slippery to hold.
I believe Socrates’s relationship with knowledge can be transcribed to human romantic and erotic relationships. People, like truth, are not static entities. The rate at which people evolve (and occasionally devolve) in their own individual ways may vary from the explosiveness and unpredictability of a supernova to the slow, constant shifts of subterranean tectonic plates, but even the most obstinate responds and shifts in the naturally fluctuating environment of our world.
Even in the theoretical absence of change, every individual carries with them an abyssal well imperceptibly flooding with primordial and subconscious dreams and desires. There is a fertile chaos embedded in each individual from which to pluck and create. There is never a point at which we have concluded in knowing, and thus in desiring, another person. Moreover, if we follow Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the mere act of interacting with that individual changes, modifies, and informs their state. The relationship is interactive; the moment of ostensible conquer changes the object in question.
The tragedy, of course, is that we often assume we have arrived at our erotic destination. We cease to regard our lovers in awe, and take them for granted. We lose our sense of wonder. Our fearless Editrix commented on this very topic in a recent Formspring post:
The greatest mistake anyone can make is to assume that they are finished showing how much they desire someone. You’re never finished. People think that progressing a relationship is to commit to their desire. It isn’t. Marriage, for example, which is often seen as the ultimate commitment, doesn’t make you feel eternally desired.
Desire a thing to be shown daily. And to enable it to retain the intensity, you have to engage in a dance. You have to give passion space to simmer, then pull them close to stoke the flames again. It should never end.
Understanding the impossibility of truly obtaining or possessing one’s desire reveals the destructive and life-affirming nature of eros: nothing is beyond inquiry. Desire is something to continuously return to, re-examine, and inculcate each day. The burgeoning of desire requires cultivation, curiosity, and wonder. In recognizing its absence and our longing, we enact a creative and fulfilling dance with both our own desire and that of our beloved.
MORE ON EROS
Beauty, Eros, and the Particular