Chapter 1 ‘Vom kosmogonischen Eros’, Ludwig Klages
In the first chapter of his book*, Ludwig Klages looks at different perceptions of the word love (Liebe) and the different meanings assigned to this word. In elucidating the different shades of ‘Liebe’ he highlights the inadequacy of this word for the purposes of his book (I will be writing something on each chapter, so you will find out his philosophical destination shortly after I do). For this post I want to share with you some of the different definitions of love à la Klages. Please bear in mind that I am translating these concepts from the German, and whereas they are beautifully, concisely and simply expressed in the German, they are slightly forced in English.
There is love as a spiritual/emotional quality, where we speak of a ‘loving person’, i.e. someone who has the capacity for love or where love is an integral quality in their personality.
There is love is a condition of taking continual or temporary pleasure (Wohlgefallen) in something. Such pleasure is made up of inclination (Neigung) and interest (Interesse), with the emphasis in interest on the love to a thing. In its extreme form this is expressed as an enthusiasm (Begeisterung).
Love is also understood as Christian love/Karitas – a duty-bound esteem or expression of mercy.
Then there is the ‘tendency’ of the heart (Herzensneigung), an inclination, pull or draw to certain things or to particular features and characters. Each arbitrary tendency of the heart establishes a selective and specific relationship between the heart and the object of its affection.
There is a love to particular parts and features of a person: hands, feet, smells…), which ranges from a purely habitual inclination up to a passionate pull towards the love object.
An impulse/drive/urge (Trieb) dictates the direction which it compels you to follow; an inclination (Neigung) dictates a direction which you would allow to manifest or not if the appropriate situation arose.
The various classes and forms of inclination are too weak however to convey a genuine urge for union (Vereinigungstrieb). The difference is expressed using its negative form as follows: if you experience a negative inclination against an object you will avoid it; if you experience a negative emotion from a Trieb-state (a state of compulsion ruled by an inner urge), such as hate, fury or envy, you seek out the object to deliberately break with it.
Since true union with a love object is not possible, the fulfilment of this urge is generally epitomised in the form of close physical proximity. The essence of such love is expressed in tenderness/affection (Zärtlichkeit), which in turn is manifest in its basic form as a mother’s love.
The need for affection (Zärtlichkeitsbedürfnis) runs through each person’s life and can also be satisfied with objects, such as feathers, velvet, fur … essentially any kind of sensual touch.
Then there is the urge/drive to engulf or devour (Verschlingungstrieb) which is only satisfied once the love object is devoured or consumed (e.g. food, drink, although I believe this concept could also understood in a metaphysical or abstract way). This type of drive is more than an impulse; it forces a situation into being where the urge is fulfilled. The words ‘passion’ or ‘enthusiasm’ are too weak for this type of love, in its extreme form it becomes ‘lust’ or an appetite on many levels of being.
Then there is the sexual drive (Geschlechtstrieb/Sexus). In this context the noun ‘love’ is used synonymously with the word sex and ‘to love’ or ‘to make love’ is used for the sexual act. This is an urge to copulate and is expressed in sexual activity; as such it can be subclassified into: different-gender sexual love, same-gender sexual love, sexual activity with animals, love of self-display (exhibitionism), sexual activity incorporating particular body parts (fetishism), etc.
Love in its extreme form is called passion when the love object is socially approved and an addiction (or also perversion) when it is not approved socially (e.g. extreme love of drink – alcoholism; extreme love of food – gluttony, etc.).
In summary, Klages lists a brief range of ‘loves’:
Love of an object
Love of self (i.e. egotism)
Love of our neighbour/enemy
Love for friends
Extreme, passionate love
Love of drink
Just this brief array makes it clear that a philosopher is walking a semantic minefield if he chooses to use the word ‘love’ to convey any concept. Consequently, for the above diversity of reasons, Klages decides not to use the word ‘Liebe’, as, he says, none of these definitions can even approach the true knowledge of elemental Eros.
So what does Klages want to tell us about Eros? Stay tuned for the next chapter on the concept of Eros in antiquity.
*Nb. Cosmogonic: pertaining to the branch of astronomy dealing with the origin, history, structure and dynamics of the universe