What is love, and does change according to our surroundings and on the decade we’re in? or is a book that was written 50 years ago about love still applicable in our day and age? Exploring the ins and outs of Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving.
The Art of Loving, written 50 years ago, by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm remains strong and ever more relevant to today’s world. Breaking out of the traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, Fromm moves away from the patriarchal perspective and forms an approach based on the belief that feminine and masculine exist in one another.
It must be noted, that this book comes with a warning: this book is not about how to find love, far from it. It is a book to understand love.
The journey commences with the retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and their fall from Paradise. That once having eaten from the tree of knowledge, their genitals were exposed. What Fromm explains is that they were not ashamed of one another, the shock was, in fact, the self-realization of their separation through the difference in their bodies/sex. Thus, this begins the need to connect to find union with one another, to escape this sense of disconnectedness and separation. Fromm views love as the answer to human existence.
Fromm then moves on to the shift in traditions from an arranged marriage, one where love was viewed as something attained after marriage, to the now where relationships first start with love and then subsequently end with marriage.
He also highlights the falling in love and how quickly that extinguishes itself as fast as it lit up, which solely reflects our deepest sense of loneliness. The very act of falling in love is objectified rather than seen as an act one must dedicate himself towards.
In today’s world, we are socially disconnected. Our crave for love has increased alongside consumerism, where we seek love like a commodity, an object to purchase. We are drawn to window displays as we are drawn to the product. Similarly, we view ourselves as a package certified by society as a socially acceptable good, and in return, we look for a partner who is equally acceptable to find in the togetherness a love that will compliment a luxurious lifestyle.
“Modern man has transformed himself into a commodity; he experiences his life energy as an investment with which he should make the highest profit, considering his position and the situation on the personality market. He is alienated from himself, from his fellow men and from nature. His main aim is profitable exchange of his skills, knowledge, and of himself, his ‘personality package’ with others who are equally intent on a fair and profitable exchange. Life has no goal except the one to move, no principle except the one of fair exchange, no satisfaction except the one to consume.”
So, how should one view love? As a subject that needs to be studied, experienced and practiced just as any academic subject. Fromm divides the book into three parts: Theory of Love, Love and its Disintegration in Contemporary Western Society, and The Practice of Love.
The first part illustrates a fundamental relationship between the parents’ roles and the child development. It makes clear distinctions between concepts of selfishness and self-love. Rightly so, because how can one love thy neighbor as much as thyself, if he is incapable of loving himself?
Above all, the book sends a clear message on love:
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness of the person to the whole world as a whole, not toward one object of love.” ― Erich Fromm
The book is academic in its style, yet it is capable of appealing to an audience with a basic understanding and interest in psychology. It works as a self-help book without actually being labeled that. The book gives sound arguments, and it illustrates the scenarios to help the reader better understand the concepts. It’s a refreshingly optimistic perspective on humanity, which is a much-needed read in our current time.