Erich Fromm takes a look at how one can obtain different universal and personal love: romantic, self, motherly, brotherly, love for God, parents loving children and erotic love in order to feel whole. Fromm approaches this ideal of attainment of love by viewing it as an art to master, hence, the title of his book The Art Of Loving. Like any other art form, Fromm believes love can be learned by mastering the theory of it and mastering the practice of it. (p.5) His rationalized approached is that of a builder; the builder is ready to build something that has not been built yet. By breaking down the meaning of love and analyzing it in minute detail, Fromm believes a person can obtain these different types of love by understanding the reasons why we need it.
Fromm explains early on in the Art Of Loving what love is. He sees it as an art like music, painting, medicine or some other kind of practice, one goes into and study. Fromm provides a layout, not instructions, how a person can perfect love through knowledge. Unlike other art forms where one has to acquire knowledge through an educational institution, Art Of Loving provides advice provided by the author to get love. Fromm invites the reader to engage in his intellect theoretical point of view about in Chapter 2.
Before he gets theoretical, Fromm takes an inside look at exactly what is art of love and perhaps why people want to acquire romantic love in order to feel whole. Under a capitalistic society, people approach obtaining love the same they engaged in financial transactions. Fromm views this as a reason people fail in accessing love. Although,
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People want to feel the experience of being in loved, they do not have the right tools to obtain it. Their capacity of being loved is beyond their reach. It is because society sets a standard in which one must follow in order to achieve acceptance; this includes love. For instance, women groom themselves to be attractive and men seek to buy things for a thrill. Both genders want to win each other’s love like their prizes (p.3). Over time during the twentieth century, Fromm says this social value has changed; however, the underlying sentiment has not. The essence of social requirements of obtaining love-the object has changed overtime. (p.3-4)
Fromm says by examining the reasons for the failure to love and the meaning of it will unlock an assumption, an error as he calls it –that one can not learn from love. Fromm disputes this thought and builds his case against it one brick at a time. Overall, the process of learning love as an art, the mastery of it, is achieved through knowledge of it. In Retrospect, the results will show in practice, one’s intuition. Fromm calls the intuition, “essence of the mastery of any art.” (p.5).
Like a true artist, Fromm looks at love from the outside, as an observer. As an outsider he can rationalizes his theory behind love; he explains “any theory of love must begin with a theory of man, of human existence.” (p.7). He takes us on a journey through his theories beginning with the existence of people and how their need to conform in society especially a capitalistic one for them to feel part of something, a union. Similarly, people feel this way about obtaining love. According to From, people in Western society are not forced to conform but subconsciously feel the need to conform in order to feel a part of something, to feel unionized, so one does not have to be alone.
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Fromm sums three reasons why people feel a strong desire to conform or form a union with others: the relieve anxiety of separateness, the routine of work or of pleasure, and the creative activity. Of course, this theorizing of people’s desire to conform stems from the 1950s believe that people are encouraged to be the same and not be different. Fromm is indicating this ideal of oneness or conformity is a “pseudo-unity”; it is not real unity. (p.17) Fromm thinks it is not real because of how people are persuade to act. He rationalizes that what people desire is” interpersonal fusion.” (p.17) The interpersonal fusion can be obtained in different ways. However, the real love Fromm discusses comes from mature love. He dismantles the failures of achieving real love by breaking down what people have been experiencing as what he calls “symbiotic union” . Symbiotic union comes in many forms: psychic symbiotic union, passive symbiotic union (masochism), active symbiotic union (sadism). All of these types of symbiotic union are falls under the umbrella of immature love because it part of escapism. For instance, the passive form of symbiotic love (masochism), “a person escapes from the unbearable feeling of isolation and separateness by making himself part and parcel of another person who directs him, guides him, protects him…” (p. 18) This goes back to what Fromm refers as part of a failure when one tries to separate from being alone. For the person to overcome the loneliness one will adapt to form a bond so they can feel loved. However, this love is “pseudo” because of how it was obtained-through escapism.
Continuing on with his theory on love, Fromm briefly touches on love between parent and child, in which the child is egocentric and only responds to the joy of being loved by the return affection from the parent. (p.36) Fromm elaborates by saying the
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Child has not yet learn to love, but as the child matures as adolescent the child will learn mature love. In doing so, the child breaks from his or her ego cell and experience love because one can. The author wants people to be clear about the difference. He says “Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines in relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love. In order for one to overcome this symbiotic attachment, one has to be able to not only love the other person but all people. (p. 44) Fromm briefly mentions the types of love: brotherly love, motherly love, erotic love, self-love and love of God. These easily can become symbiotic if it is not balanced with mature love.
To practice this art of love, Fromm suggests three requirements: discipline, concentration, and patience. Fromm believes people have very little discipline especially when it is not forced for instance in a workplace where one practices discipline routinely. As a result of not having discipline outside of work, one’s life becomes broken, crazy and unclear. (p.97) Fromm advices one not to practice discipline itself under the guise of a capitalistic society, but rather expressed at one’s will. (p.98) A person has to feel the expression of wanting to be discipline without constraints. It is necessary to acquire concentration during the master of art of love. To build this up, one has to learn how to be alone with oneself without distractions. Patience another virtue is something one needs to learn as part of the practice of art of love. (Fromm, 1956 p.98-104)
In discovery, one applauds Fromm for offering solid advice on how to go about learning the art of love by practicing it and through the practice one can master it. Fromm tackles such an important topic during his time period in the 1950s, a period where the
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Capitalistic belief is to be the same and feel the same, to be unionized. Fromm does not steer away from it; he tackles the issue, as a false-a symbiotic symbol- which leads a person to become detached from one self while desiring to become attached to somebody. Fromm is not discouraging people to stray way from others, in fact, he encourages. He is saying before one can have love, the mature kind, one has to build it. A person has to craft being lovable before one can be loved. Fromm concludes with “society must be organized in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. (p.120) The person has built the art of loving through knowledge and practice and will move forward to become master of their own love without feeling isolated in a capitalistic society. Therefore will be able to love knowing they are able to be loved.
- Fromm, Erich. (1956). The Art Of Loving. New York: Harper& Row, Publishers.