THE EROTIC SPELL
Since erotic love is the life force of Love which turns our world round, so to speak, this aspect of love is analyzed from two main perspectives: self-destruction and self-transcendence. This book of the ascendancy concentrates on the self-destructive aspect of erotic love in which the attraction between the man and woman is unbalanced, inappropriate; and so detrimental to one or both of them. [Contrast the transcendent aspect of erotic love, In Beauty and Passion.]
Considering the vital purpose of this life-force, it is no awakening, then, to understand how domin- ating the attraction of the sexes, in all its subtle and not-too-subtle manifestations, is to human life. It is love at its most primal, basic, erotic phase. In one way or another, it takes up nearly all of our energy, attention, and interest throughout the prime of our lives, however seemingly diverted we seem to be at times by our work and other interests. As Herman Hesse put it, from the perspective of men that all that men do they do for women and vice versa, I might add.
It is this erotic truth that takes the reader into the white heat of the man-woman attraction as pre- sented in my book, The Erotic Spell. It is a true account of a middle-aged man (37 years old) who falls into the throes, the spell, of infatuation for his 18-year-old student. It is love turned upside down, so to speak, love gone awry; yet blinded to its purpose. The work records the day-to-day turmoil that this man undergoes in struggling to resist, to overcome, this infatuation that he knows is not only wrong, but destructive to his well-being.
The point, or theme, of the work is to pinpoint the almost insurmountable frenzy of this entrapment; and how giving in to it, can ruin everything for an individual. This can be summed up in one of my aphorisms, Sex may be the one life force, yes; but no, it is not all of life's worth."
This forward is being written 18 years after the fact. And fact this chronicle was.
Eighteen years ago, I fell into an infatuated swirl with one of my senior high school students from which I almost never recovered. Being a writer, and accustomed to observing my thoughts and feelings, it was natural for me to record the event as it happened day by day. This probably turned out to be my saving grace, since it provided an outlet to channel the tumultuous soul-struggle (as I called it then) I was undergoing at the time.
I learned and grew from the ordeal; for it humbled me dramatically to the full force of the erotic in me which I had up to then underestimated by all my psychological defenses and transcendent yearn- ings.
As for my emotional and sentimental effusions while under this erotic spell, they are not exagger- ated; they are recorded as they occurred, and I need not apologize for them. I am not normally an emotionally charged person; yet as I came to see, somehow when my depths are plumbed, these emotions emerge, or more to the point: erupt But isn't that what erotic love is all about: that we mere mortals have not a chance in a million against
its purpose when it's on us? We all know how erotic not merely sexual love can blind us, can hurl us, into impulsiveness that jeopardizes friendships, marriages, careers, and who knows what else. And do we not justify this enflamement as "the way of all flesh."
Well, this is what nearly happened to me. The same age-old scenario. What this work clearly demonstrates, however, is the intense vital, moral, struggle to keep the integrity of my being, of my well-being, intact. There is clearly a transcendent factor involved here; and not simply a matter of bio-psychology "I'm infatuated now, so I'm going to have to suspend my better judgment whatever the consequences. I'm just a pawn of the life force, as everyone else is; so what more need be said."
What this work shows, if nothing else, is that "giving in" to the life-force is not as simple as that rationale for my type of person, who are in vast numbers, I'm sure. If this work accomplishes nothing more, it shows that a fierce inner (soul struggle wages between the human and the transcendent in us when the equilibrium between the two is off; and shows the nature of that struggle to maintain one's balance and integrity, one's commitments, one's fidelity, one's friendships, one's whole way of life, rather than to passively submit to the "inevitable." And probably my reason for not writing this experience down in diary form, but rather as letters to a fictional friend, was the realization that a person in such a cauldron desperately needs a sympathetic confidant to help ease his struggle, calm his turmoil, give him the proper perspective. This alone I think justifies not only the work, but writing to a fictional friend; whom, because I didn't have one at the time, I created. I was unburdening my- self to another "person" in writing my letters, instead of just recording my day-to-day experiences in diary form. And we all know that in writing a letter to a friend, we can be much more intimately ourselves, than when we are face to face, which makes it more difficult to articulate our thoughts and feelings.
As the intensity of my infatuation, lessened, I gradually came to a beginning understanding of the meaning of love, not only in its erotic heat, but in its broader human unity; to which previously I was fairly much oblivious to while my search for Truth, or call it what you will, prevailed. Truth, I have come to learn is Love at its core.
As emotionally and erotically, charged as this chronicle is, its main purpose, however, is the molli- fication of this vital side of us in preparation to a more expansive wisdom.
In hindsight, I would say that the theme of this work is one man's dubious victory, over the most powerful life force when it strikes the wrong two people - or person.
I'm struck, Edmund! A woman again ... and I'm hurting! Can you believe it of me with all my de- fenses: my dedication to knowledge and wisdom, to my writing, to my precious life with Celeste. And all along I thought it was the idea of love that fascinated me; not a chance, Edmund; she's the one who fascinates me! And what a devastating way and look about her! Not particularly beautiful, but pretty. And her eyes! God, how they mesmerize me. In their depths I see the Eternal-in-Woman of which Goethe and others write. Her soul seems to emanate through them as though beckoning me into the mystery of her being. Nothing physical about my attraction to her at all; it's her soul that draws me or at least so I imagine; and this is the magic word, isn't it: imagine! Everything is in the imagination. Without it there exist not man and woman, but male and female; not love, but sexual mating. But with the imagination, ah, then, chemical transformations alchemize into spiritual affin- ities; physical features etherealize into angelic contours; natural movements, expressions, manner-isms, metamorphose into goddess-like graces; "making the beast with two backs" transmute into nothing less than Man and Woman embraced in beauty. I marvel at how nature has generated such an incredibly complex design to draw men and women together. What a miracle! If there is any rea- son for believing in an intelligent order underlying reality, this is it as far as I'm concerned.
I'm certainly being uncharacteristically romantic, aren't I? I don't know what's come over me; I feel like a love-sick adolescent me, a 37 year-old "mature" man who claims to be seeking higher, deep- er, realities of life. Wisdom, knowledge, beauty, justice, transcendence, were-note the past tense here to be my life's ideals. And now look at me, enmeshed in the web of erotic captivation again. I don't know what went wrong. I thought for sure that the nature of my pursuits, my "higher calling," as it were, secured me from the bidding of that little fellow that devil-god, rather! Eros. But no such luck, as it's turned out. ... God, Edmund, what am I to do?! I want her more than anything; yet I know I can't have her; not because she's necessarily unobtainable, but because for some reason I dare not let myself go: become the romantic wooer. Everything I stand for seems to belie romance, especially with this darling girl and I mean "girl"; she's only seventeen, twenty years my junior! I realize that this age difference is not always so serious a discrepancy; but in my case, it is, and I know it. She is simply too naive and immature for me, and that is the fact of the matter....Yet the thought that I can't have her tears at me. All I have are my fantasies. My emotions are like exposed nerve ends, like raw, open sores. A deep ache disorients me. I can't, nor do I really want to, stop thinking of her. When by myself, all I seem to do is sit hour upon hour musing over her: entranced by her smile, her voice, her words, her expressions, her gestures, her walk. I replay over and over again everything I remember about her, project myself into various situations with her: emotional, intellectual and physical intimacies, marriage, family.
I have to stop here, Edmund; I'm quite embarrassed by all this. I feel like a comic figure. Please don't think any the less of me for my folly. I'm simply not the overman I fancied myself. As a matter of fact, this whole idiotic notion of Nietzsche's overman has no more reality than a unicorn.
I'll write you in a day or two once my glands have settled down a bit if they do; since I'll be seeing her tomorrow.
I'm suddenly reminded of Romeo's lines, "hang up philosophy! Unless philosophy can make me a Juliet." Precisely my sentiments at this moment.
I was about to mail this letter when I realized how thoroughly disconnected it was. Not like me at all. I simply plunged in without giving you any details of the matter, such as, her name Marianna. Ah, that name! where I met her, how I became infatuated with her, what she feels about me, and other such particulars. I'm too wrought up to write anything more this evening; I'll be more consistent in my next letter.
I hope you won't mind my unburdening myself to you like this, but I have no where else to turn to relieve my confused and troubled mind. If you consent to reading my outpourings, please don't feel obligated to answer all, or even most, of my letters. There's no need to. I just have to write these emotions out of myself whether you answer them or not. But of course whatever consolation or advice you might have to offer will be more than welcome-though I can't guarantee to follow good advice in my present condition. I'll wait to hear from you. Don't be long!
Received your letter this morning, and appreciate immensely your understanding and believe me, I need it! - and your willingness to follow me through this tempest, whatever happens. I'm under- going so many rushing thoughts, so many subtle feelings, such searing emotion so much suffering, that have been lying dormant for the past seven years. Not to say that I haven't been attracted to this woman or that, or have not entertained the thought of an affair or two; but I truly believed that my higher leanings, and my loving companionship with Celeste were enough to keep me insulated from the surge of my erotic emotions. My first defense, so I thought, was the attitude: I don't have time for love but I have since found the time, Edmund, my friend!
So, armed with these "rock" defenses, what then went wrong? How did the unforeseen happen? How did this bewitching young woman wrench me from my purpose, usurp my quiet pattern of life? Quite unexpectedly, I can assure you. I had no intention of pursuing her, nor did I invite her attentions ... well, not much any way; nor did I even give her a second thought. She meant no more to me than any other passing woman but I'm getting ahead of myself; let me explain how I came to know her. It's very simple; she's one of my senior high school students. There's nothing exceptional about her aca- demically for me to have taken special notice of her. But slowly, imperceptibly, she grew on me-in me, would be more to the point-as the academic year progressed; until now she has practically engrossed my entire consciousness and physiology. And, as any one who has experienced this knows, I can truly say, "I didn't know what hit me." From nowhere came that fatal shaft of love that struck me silly and jolted her into my being. At that moment my emotional equilibrium was shaken from its seven-year slumber. Suddenly she meant something vital to me. Here was a woman to be won!
Let me describe to you the trauma of that moment. The class hadn't begun, and she was present with two or three other students. Quite casually I happened to ask her if she were going on to col- lege, but she didn't answer me. Her eyes were off in a distance, in an aloof, enigmatic expression as though she didn't hear, nor care to, hear me. But I knew she did; I felt it. That was the instant she claimed me! Pain of rejection shot through me like a bolt. I couldn't believe what had happened to me. My whole being erupted. I immediately collected myself, as though her attitude meant nothing to me...but it did, Edmund, it did! Although quivering inside, I managed to pull myself through the period fairly well. But since that initial jolt, I've not been the man you know so well; I am now Everyman.
I don't mean for you to think that my infatuation I suppose that's what it is began precisely at that moment of impact; we know that nothing of such eruptive magnitude happens without some preliminary build-up. There had been for about two months previously a number of small nuances of attraction between us. You know what I mean: casual, though meaningful glances, smiles, and ex-pressions; subtle innuendoes, a mutual sense of being kindred spirits. I began to look at her especi- ally, to look for her, to anticipate seeing her in class. I observed her walk, her dress, her mannerisms-and of course her enchanting smile! (I punctuate this point strongly, because it is so much a wo- man's smile that wins a man). I saw in her a gentleness; a simple, though profound soul, a woman of the earth; and, in seductive contrast to her seeming innocence and melting passivity, I recognized a pert insolence about her: what I interpreted as the female instinct (if I may call it that) to be domin- ated by the force of a man's character; and heaven help the man who does not measure up to it! I read somewhere that a man's weakness is a threat to a woman's well-being, and I have always believed it; and I see in Marianna this primitive need for a man's strength to the nth degree. And, do you know, Edmund, I'm almost certain that it is this consciousness of the female in her that magne- tizes me so urgently to her; because I notice of myself that my masculine protective elements have been roused to a pitch ready for action.
We men complain about the wiles of women; but I wonder, would we honestly want them any other way, even though they drive us to distraction at times? What would there be to win and "rein" were women as gentle and innocent as we idealize them? Women are far more incisive in these mating matters; they know (consciously or unconsciously) that men require challenge, adventure, uncertainty, conquest, in order to feel their manhood, their existence; and women furnish us these freely in their quiet, unarming submissive ways. And normally we haven't the faintest idea of what they're about; we attribute their "mysteriousness" to the so-called feminine mystique. To give you an instance of their subtlety, a woman once told me that she had to learn early in her marriage to let her husband permit her to do what she was going to do anyway! I tell you, Edmund, this "weaker" sex has it all over us; and we think we are "in charge." At this moment I am convinced that it is women, not men, who ultimately control events given their inborn resourcefulness, and their sway over men, especially in the first raptures of love; and thank the gods this rapture subsides, otherwise we'd never return to our senses. Still, even when we do, a woman wise in her ways will have her man well grounded and attached if only by domestic routine, not to mention commitment, responsibilities, her support. And should he lean toward activities not in her best interests or threatening to her security, she easily goes to work on his conscience (if he has one), on his vulnerabilities, until he comes around to the "practical" side of things. And gradually she has him realize that he can't live without her, that she is indispensable to his well-being. And if all that doesn't work, or no longer works, then she inversely tackles the situation by subtly impressing upon him through various moods, charms, innuendoes, susceptibilities, that she cannot live without him, that her well-being, and yes, even her emotional stability, her life, depend upon him. I don't think women as a whole are ever going to relinquish these "submissive" powers over men regardless of all the aggressive rhetoric of the feminists.
You see, Edmund, I'm not so naive when it comes to women. I certainly don't have the complete picture; though I do have considerable insight into their psyche. ... But, so what! I want that woman regardless of my insight.
I agree, Edmund, I shouldn't feel embarrassed by these most natural feelings. I appreciate your reassurance. And after all, as you said, I'm still young enough to be very much in the mainstream of love and lust don't I know it! Lust (my wild dog) is ever present in me, lurking behind my dignified calm. But romantic (or "erotic" I don't know which it is) love I had forgotten; had (so I thought) sublimated it for the intellectual life; and here I am right in the middle of it again! ... though I do have to confess, Edmund, that despite the pain, it's rather exciting to be reeling in these emotions once again; they assure me that I'm still flesh and blood, am not a mere intellectual abstraction. Once more I'm feeling the heat and force of my manhood; am down to my fundamental self, am desiring a woman erotically, with my whole being; and so know that I'm still normal. I want to be normal! I dread the thought of ever be coming a walking shell of a man viewing everything as a concept, or as a proposition for analysis. As it is now, dear friend, my blood has not yet turned into writer's ink. I'm not yet dead to the throb of life. Who knows what tomorrow will bring!
As a passing remark, I notice that for some reason I'm relating loving a woman erotically to loving her soul - by "soul," I mean that which animates her being as this woman. Don't we normally attribute sex to the erotic and not to the soul? There seems to be a discrepancy here somewhere, but I can't put my finger on it ... or maybe there isn't a discrepancy; I don't know. Well, I'm in no condition now to make fine distinctions; so I'll leave it and perhaps consider the question at another time.
She came to class today, smiled at me on the way in, and sent me for a spin. She looked so enchant- ingly feminine, her hair tossed up in back with full bangs over her forehead, which has always ap- pealed to me in the fair sex "fair sex" I'm certainly waxing poetic these days, aren't I.
Strange! I was at her desk helping her with a problem, and deliberately brushed her hand slightly. . .but nothing miraculous happened: no rapturously tingling sensations stirred me. To be sure, the anticipation of the contact was thrilling enough, but the actual touch itself-scarcely anything (!?). At the same time, I noticed how unattractively small her hands were; and that her dark complexion clashed with the delicate milk-white texture I find so sensuously appealing in women. You would think that in the throes of my attraction, even these slight detractions would be appealing to me; but paradoxically, I actually hoped to discover more enough so that I might lose interest in her! Could this be an unconscious defense mechanism resisting my impulse to love her? If so, then truly the unconscious is a marvel.
But physical features aside, what disarm me are her soft voice, her halting words, her shy reserve as though frightened to speak; and I'm sure these aren't a deliberate ploy, since she's no match against the other students who dominate the discussions. I realize, of course, that her timidity in class in no way means that she is the same in her own circle of friends and family; she might very well be a tigress with them. All the same, since I'm presently being swayed by appearances, her shyness radiates to me a helplessness that does not fail to stir my sympathy. Could my attraction to her then be merely sympathetic? No, I don't think so. I'm sure she doesn't need my sympathy; because be- believe me, she is strong in her weakness! What is it about her, then, if my attraction is neither pre- predominantly physical nor sympathetic? Might I want to be a father figure to her? No, I'm sure not; my blood is too heated for that. Well, whatever the reason, I have a strong desire to know her; to hear of her ideas on life and love and marriage and family, of her daily activities, of her future plans.
I feel a deep tenderness for her, Edmund; and on that thought, I'll close this letter.
I hope you don't mind my writing so frequently, Edmund, but I have to give these surging emotions an outlet, otherwise I'll burst. So be prepared for some heavy reading.
As you know, the school year is near its end, and classes have all but come to a standstill since final examinations are over. Marianna won't be attending school with any regularity this week, as she's rehearsing for graduation exercises.
Tonight is the annual school dinner, and I'm hoping "hoping" is too mild a word for what I really feel to see and speak with her.
You can imagine the ferment churning in me, Edmund; and yet not for a moment can I let it show, to her, or to anyone else. As always, I'm to be composed and in control my self-respect, you know!
I didn't see her at the dinner. ... An empty and frustrating evening.
Let me tell you something else she said, and with which the other two girls agreed. Apparently, she believes that it isn't a husband's occasional sexual foray that makes him unfaithful to his marriage, but only a love affair; since that involves emotional intimacy. And as it is this very intimacy which binds a marriage, he would betray it by sharing with another woman what he pledged exclusively to his wife. (As a side remark, one might ask if a husband would be betraying his marriage if this emotional intimacy no longer existed between him and his wife; and as this occurs in so many mar- riages, one might further question the validity or value of taking marriage vows. You can't pledge emotional intimacy. Well, it's something to consider.)
But back to Marianna. Quite a progressive young woman, isn't she. I hadn't considered this piece of feminine psychology before. But there it is. I'm sure this is not the attitude of most women (certainly not Celeste's, I'm sure), even though I realize the various circumstances that would force a wife to tolerate her husband's extra-marital dalliances. Nor do I think it would be a pleasant prospect for a sensitive wife to accept regardless of how open-minded she might be. Even Marianna conceded that, despite her resignation to men's promiscuity, she nevertheless wouldn't prefer her husband that way. I suppose the most a woman (or man) can do is to continually foster the emotional intimacy between them.
And I might add that I don't agree that all. or even nearly all, men are sexually promiscuous; whether a man is or not depends in large part on his basic moral character and sympathetic sensibility (both essentially related, I believe), two traits which, if they are relatively strong in a man, would make it difficult for him to hurt his wife unfairly no matter how inciting the sexual attraction. Still, I do admit that nearly all men can be enticed by an attractive woman (that "certain" smile, gesture, interest, will often do it); but that is not the same as promiscuity, but rather a matter of male susceptibility. I think, in general, wives know this of men, and so are considerably tolerant of this susceptibility. So, given a man's love of wife and family, his sense of fairness toward her; and fortunate circumstances so that his love and fairness are not put to proof unremittingly, this susceptibility remains mostly in the fantasy stage.
This has been more a tract than a letter, hasn't it. I'll stop here.
Before mailing this letter, I'd like to mention a couple of other matters. She told me today that she saw me at the annual dinner the other night. I melted at that, and responded that regretfully I hadn't seen her. I was moved because she sounded as though she had made it a point to see me,-which of course can't be conveyed in these matter-of-fact words I'm writing you. But if you had heard the way she said, "I saw you at the dinner the other night," you too would have heard something endearingly intimate about her intonation. The meaning I sensed behind her words wafted a magic that drew me even closer to her. This was the first direct suggestion that she cared; and you know, Edmund, what that can do to a man.
A little innocent scheme I had in mind will give you another indication of how far gone I am. I lent her a textbook about a month ago in place of one she had lost. She hadn't returned it; and since I wasn't expecting to see her in class anymore, I assumed that she had forgotten about it (if only she had deliberately forgotten!). So-o-o, I figured I had the perfect excuse to call her at home and offer to drop by and pick up the book, thereby saving her a trip to school how very considerate of me! If my plan worked, I would be with her in her own surroundings; and who knows what might happen from there. ... You can imagine how my expectations collapsed when she returned the book today. But then, she did remember; which means that she thought of me ... and what did she think, I wonder?!
Just before the period ended, she suddenly looked up at me and asked if I were going to the graduation ceremony - and so meaningfully, Edmund! Another sign that she cares. Of course I'm going, dear girl; you're going to be there, aren't you!
When Celeste and I arrived at the ceremonies this evening, I immediately began looking for her, but she hadn't arrived yet. Despair gripped me at the thought that I wouldn't see or speak to her before the exercises commenced, because I knew it wouldn't be likely that I'd have the opportunity to speak to her afterwards. I moved about, socializing for awhile, though no more interested in what was being said than I was in seeing anyone but her. Finally I spotted her. When she saw me, she smiled and came to me. At last! ... we were together outside of class. At once I began inquiring about her: how she felt about her graduation, what her plans were for the summer. . .but before we got very far, she was called away. And as thwarted as I felt, I nonetheless savored those few minutes together. They would suffice for now, I thought. And I consoled myself that there would be other opportunities.
During the ceremony, I was seated in such a position that I could see only her back except when she occasionally turned her face sideways and presented her lovely profile to my feasting eyes. At one point, she casually raised her finger to lightly scratch her cheek, and do you know what I thought, Edmund?-don't think me ridiculous, but here it is: "Imagine, she scratches her cheek too!" I have her in my mind as demigoddess! What's become of me? And she did it so gracefully that I idealized this insignificant, natural gesture into a celestial touch. I then proceeded to picture her eating, dressing, sleeping, combing her hair; and I wanted so much to be with her in these intimacies. Do you see to what extremes I've been reduced-or increased, as the case may be. I know better, but I can't help myself; these thoughts happen with no volition of my own. I have no idea where they come from. ... Yes, I do! From Mother Nature, that's where!
Ah, my friend, I feel so empty without her presence, so uninterested in any thing except her. My intellectual activities have stagnated, and all I'm able to write are these "love" letters. An old, old story all this love-mooning, isn't it, Edmund. I'm reminded of a phrase of yours that sums up life so succinctly, "ever ending, never ending." Life goes its way, and has its way; and all we poor mortals can do is succumb. I have to laugh at the free will proponents who think we're in control of our actions. "It's your choice," they declaim, as though they have the omniscience to witness, or intuit, the chain of events that lead to any person's behavioral patterns. Illusionists, the lot of them!
Nothing. A blank, flat, stale day. No classes, and no Marianna. I expect- rather I pray-to see her tomorrow, the last day of school when the seniors come for their report cards. Need I tell you that before tomorrow arrives an eternity will have passed!
Ah, what a fool I am, Edmund. What am I doing sighing for a 17 year-old girl? Have I lost my senses? Don't I realize the consequences of such folly? What about Celeste? My direction in life? The
unalloyed joy I find in my mental world? Am I to turn my back on all this for the fever of infatuation? I tell you, Edmund, it's as though she has awakened a sleeping giant in me. Every thing mental is now sterile and insipid compared to my romantic musings. I'm in a delirious cauldron! I feel like Faust now, about to sell my soul for the thrall of the senses.
A day that has run me ragged. A day of victory, a day of defeat, a day of torment, a day of euphoria; a day of hope, a day of despair - the day I left my wits behind.
As I describe my little episode, you'll clearly see what a madcap I've turned into; not at all like the reclusive "scholar" you once knew.