155. Eros vs. Thanatos, Part 5: Is the Goal of Love Death?

In previous posts we have seen ways in which Eros (erotic love) can imply, lead to, or be thwarted by Thanatos (death). Here is yet another example of a relation between the two.

In his book The Meanings of Love (Praeger Publishing: 1997), Robert E. Wagoner writes:

“Everyone is in pursuit of something or someone he or she does not have. Love is thus the motor of human experience. If we are content with what we are, with what we have, then we do not act. It is precisely because we are never quite satisfied, never quite content with the way things are, that we seek something other. Erotic love is restless, it energizes us, it keeps us on the move. Without love we would come to a dead stop.” (14)

But what is Eros, despite its many manifestations, ultimately after? One plausible answer comes from Plato’s Symposium in which Plato’s character Aristophanes states: “Love is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, our desire to be complete.” And in Socrates’ speech we encounter Diotima’s teaching which claims that all life, not just human life, is moved by this erotic urge for completion.

But if this is true then we can see how Eros and Thanatos are intertwined yet again:

Eros, the desire for completion that prevents life from coming to a dead stop, seeks total completion which would bring life to a dead stop.

This analysis seems to lead to the paradoxical conclusion that the aim of life is death. Freud infamously agreed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Norton and Company: 1961):

“Every modification which is thus imposed upon the course of the organism’s life is accepted by the conservative organic instincts and stored up for further repetition. Those instincts are therefore bound to give a deceptive appearance of being forces tending towards change and progress, whilst in fact they are merely seeking to reach an ancient goal by paths alike old and new. Moreover it is possible to specify this final goal of all organic striving. It would in contradiction to the conservative nature of the instincts if the goal of life were a state of things which had never yet been attained. On the contrary, it must be an old state of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or other departed and to which it is striving to return by the circuitous paths along which its development leads. If we were to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons—becomes inorganic once again—then we shall be compelled to say that ‘the aim of all life is death’ and, looking backwards, that ‘inanimate things existed before living ones’” (32).

This is no doubt a difficult view to accept. Indeed, the self-defeating aspect of it might be a good reason not to reduce love to Eros. Rather, we might also pursue a form of love such as agape which, unlike Eros which selfishly seeks to possess various things perceived to be valuable in order to become whole, altruistically gives by creating value.

For part 6 of Eros vs. Thanatos, go here.

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