Sunday, August 19, 2012

Erich Fromm and The Art of Loving

Relatively light read during commute
 "Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort."
- Erich Fromm

Book : The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm (Introduction by Peter D. Kramer)

      "The reading of this book would be a disappointing experience for anyone who expects easy instruction in the art of loving." This is the first line of the book's preface by Erich Fromm. He must've been waaaay ahead of his time if he knew that our culture today would be scouring the self-help sections of bookstores trying to find the easiest instruction manual on love and relationships.

    "The Art of Loving" is written simply enough for the average, generally-informed reader to comprehend the book. At the same time, Fromm writes with elegance, clarity, and depth, you'd think this book was written by some Eastern guru (then again he studied religions extensively in his college years). He understands the society's consumerist approach about love and how it came to be. He's not one to sugarcoat. We all get the idea of how to be loved: by being the smartest, funniest, wittiest, most well-groomed, the perfect "package", and more often than not, we strive to be more lovable than to learn how to love.

Erich Fromm

From the moment we were born, we really didn't have to do much to be loved. The fact that we are someone's flesh and blood already means we are loved (in most cases anyway) regardless if we cry non-stop or make finger paintings on the kitchen walls. At some point in our lives, after looking at our parents' relationships, after listening to hundreds of love songs and watching romantic movies, we assume we already know how to love someone.

 Fromm writes that "behind the attitude that there is nothing to be learned about love is the assumption that the problem of love is the problem of an object, not the problem of a faculty."

      We think that loving is simple and it's only the matter of finding the right object to love that is difficult. On the contrary. Fromm traces this attitude back to Victorian Age, when the norm was marriages were contracted on the basis of social conventions. Love that time was not a "spontaneous, personal experience" and feelings were suppose to develop post-marriage conclusion. The notion of romantic love with the recent generations have become an "almost universal" concept in the Western world. This newfound concept of freedom in love almost immediately emphasizes that love would be easy if we find the right object- as against developing the attitude and practice of love itself.

  Fromm adds that the wrong assumption that there is nothing to be learned about love "lies in the confusion between the initial experience of falling in love and the permanent state of being in love." The miracle of sudden intimacy and letting the walls between two people break down is all the more exciting and exhilirating for people who have been "shut off, isolated, without love." This is extremely heightened by sexual attraction and consummation.

    Fromm warns: "this type of love is by its very nature not lasting". These persons gradually become well-acquainted, more familiar and more comfortable with their intimacy that it eventually loses the initial miraculous and exciting character until disappointment and mutual boredom kill what's left of the attraction. More often than not, people aren't aware of this, mistaking the intensity of the infatuation as intensity of their love.

 Fromm is one to talk from experience. He was married three times:
1. Frieda Riechmann, a physician and psychoanalyst who was noted for her groundbreaking work in schizophrenics.

2.Henny Gurland, a professional newspaper photographer. Committed suicide after years of tolerating a painful illness.

3.Annis Freeman, accompanied him on his month-long visits and supported his involvement with the United States politics in spheres of disarmament and peace movements.

  Fromm criticized Sigmund Freud's theories to be "narrow and mechanistic" and it "overemphasized sex" and that Freud failed to "understand sex deeply enough." Freud's theories explained human behavior via inborn instincts tamed through repression and "domesticated by society." Fromm believed that humans were always social creatures acting within a social structure.

   Fromm viewed love much differently in his time when society saw no other purpose for love other than the Freudian approach to satisfy one's sexual needs and that love is an irrational emotion. In his book, to achieve love as an art, we must have mastery of the theory and mastery of the practice. This book is roughly a hundred pages about the theory and practice of love written in simple language yet it is remarkably poignant, insightful, and isn't afraid to tackle questions that most of us don't want to bring up. Fromm is one of the most  prominent psychoanalysts who writes from a place of compassion and experience, and probably the only scholar who considered love as central to his studies. He explores love in all aspects, starting with parent-child relationships, brotherly love, erotic love, self-love, love of God, and romantic love.

 Peter D. Kramer notes in his introduction:
 "He has particular contempt for glossy magazine articles in which happy marriages looks corporate middle management... Even love as "haven from aloneness" is bound to fail. To love at all is to be engaged with humankind, with eyes open."


"My beautiful Love, I love you so that it hurts but the hurt is sweet and wonderful. I wish you feel it in your sleep."

- One of Fromm's messages he wrote in the 70's for his wife, Annis, when he awakened before her.




  1. Replies
    1. I hope there's a copy of this book in your school since it's a classical work because swkljhfjkfhgkjfda FEELINGS

  2. Posted excerpts from your blog @divakarssathya. Thanks for the excellent posts.

    1. You're welcome! Thanks for stopping by! :)


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