Sunday, May 27, 2012

From "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis Part V


"He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention toward me was love.  Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am faint with love.  O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!" (Song of Solomon 2: 4-6)


The Four Loves: Part V Eros
…I am not going to be concerned with human sexuality simply as such. Sexuality makes part of our subject only when it becomes an ingredient in the complex state of “being in love.” That sexual experience can occur without Eros, without being “in love,” and that Eros includes other things besides sexual activity, I take for granted.  If you prefer to put it that way, I am inquiring not into the sexuality which is common to us and the beasts or even common to all men but into one uniquely human variation of it which develops within “love”—what I call Eros.  The carnal or animally sexual element within Eros, I intend (following an old usage) to call Venus.  And I mean by Venus what is sexual not in some cryptic or rarefied sense—such as a depth-psychologists might explore—but in a perfectly obvious sense; what is know to be sexual by those who experience it; what could be proved to be sexual by the simplest observations.
          Sexuality may operate without Eros or as part of Eros. Let me hasten to add that I make the distinction simply in order to limit our inquiry and without any moral implications. I am not at all subscribing to the popular idea that it is the absence or presence of Eros which make the sexual act “impure” or “pure,” degraded or fine, unlawful or lawful.  If all who lay together without being in the state of Eros were abominable, we all come of tainted stock.  The times and places in which marriage depends on Eros are in a small minority.  Most of our ancestors were married off in early youth to partners chosen by their parents on grounds that had nothing to do with Eros.  They went to the act with no other “fuel,” so to speak, than plain animal desire.  And they did right; honest Christian husbands and wives, obeying their fathers and mothers, discharging to one another their “marriage debt,” and bringing up families in the fear of the Lord.  Conversely, this act, done under the influence of a soaring and iridescent Eros which reduces the role of the senses to a minor consideration, may yet be plain adultery, may involve breaking a wife’s heart, deceiving a husband, betraying a friend, polluting hospitality and deserting your children.  It has not pleased God that the distinction between a sin and a duty should turn on fine feelings.  This act, like any other, is justified (or not) by far more prosaic and definable criteria; by the keeping or breaking of promises, by justice or injustice, by charity or selfishness, by obedience or disobedience.  My treatment rules out mere sexuality—sexuality without Eros—on grounds that have nothing to do with morals; because it is irrelevant to our purpose.
          To the evolutionist Eros (the human variation) will be something that grows out of Venus, a late complication and development of the immemorial biological impulse.  We must not assume, however, that this is necessarily what happens within the consciousness of the individual.  There may be those who have first felt mere sexual appetite for a woman and then gone on at a later stage to “fall in love with her.” But I doubt if this is at all common.  Very often what comes first is simply a delighted preoccupation with the Beloved—a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality.  A man in this state really hasn’t leisure to think of sex.  He is too busy thinking of a person.  The fact that she is a woman is far less important that the fact that she is herself.  He is full of desire, but the desire may not be sexually toned.  If you asked him what he wanted, the true reply would often be, “To go on thinking of her.” He is love’s contemplative.  And when at a later stage the explicitly sexual element awakes, he will not feel (unless scientific theories are influencing him) that this had all along been the root of the whole matter.  He is more likely to feel that the incoming tide of Eros, having demolished many sand–castles and made islands of many rocks, has not at last with a triumphant seventh wave flooded this part of his nature also—the little pool of ordinary sexuality which was there on his beach before the tide came in.  Eros enters him like an invader, taking over and reorganizing, one by one, the institutions of a conquered country.  It may have taken over many others before it reached the sex in him; and it will reorganize that too…Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros want the Beloved.

C.S. Lewis “The Four Loves” in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis (1960, New York, Inspirational Press) 262-263.

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