87. Eros vs. Thanatos, Part 3: The Furies of Creativity

In previous posts we have seen ways in which Eros (love) can imply, lead to, or be thwarted by Thanatos (death). Here is yet another example of a dynamic relation between the two from Alfred North Whitehead. In his book Adventures of Ideas (Free Press: 1933) he writes:

“The soul thereby by synthesis creates a new fact which is the Appearance woven out of the old and new – a compound of reception and anticipation, which in turn passes into the future. The final synthesis of these three complexes is the end to which its indwelling Eros urges the soul.” (275)

Whitehead’s point, despite his odd terminology, is clear enough: our soul has the capacity to take something from the past and, by anticipating the future, create something new. This process is urged on by the soul’s “indwelling Eros” or “the urge towards the realization of ideal perfection” (275).

Now, the good of this erotically driven process “resides in the realization of a strength of many feelings fortifying each other as they meet in the novel unity” (275). This vision of Eros clearly has affinities with Freud’s view of Eros in Civilization and its Discontents which, as we saw in earlier posts, binds things together into greater and greater unities of organic and social growth. But Whitehead goes on to write a comment which shows that Thanatos is involved in this process as well: “Its evil lies in the clash of vivid feelings, denying to each other their proper expansion” (275). Indeed, “Decay, Transition, Loss, Displacement, belong to the essence of the Creative Advance.” (286). So it seems that, unfortunately, the creative syntheses of Psyche and Eros necessarily entail many things typically associated with Thanatos.

Whitehead notes that the “word Eros means ‘Love’, and in The Symposium Plato gradually elicits his final conception of the urge towards ideal perfection”. But he then goes on to say something quite true indeed: “It is obvious that he should have written a companion dialogue which might have been named The Furies, dwelling on the horrors lurking within imperfect realization” (148).

Is it true that all our creative efforts towards ideal perfection, representing Eros, fall short and thus have an essential connection with the Furies of Thanatos like tragic exclusion, decay, loss, and displacement?

For eros vs. Thanatos part 4 go here.

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