So: the Eros tradition. (I'd call it the "erotic" tradition, but that word has more purely sexual overtones now, and there's no reason to assume that there's any more sex involved in this tradition of love than in the companionate tradition. In fact, arguably there's much less. But I digress.)
Rather than try to compose my own longish, thoughtful post on the Eros tradition, I thought I'd assemble a bunch of quotes about it from various authors, limiting myself to a few at a time and posting several times on the topic. That's an easier sort of blogpost to write, since I can steal a few minutes here and there to type things in when I'm too tired to think. I hope it will be a useful sort of post for readers as well, since it will leave you with some handy passages to use and sources to follow up.
The locus classicus of thought about the Eros tradition, at least for me, is Anne Carson's aphoristic study of eros in love, in writing, and simply in thinking: Eros the Bittersweet. I encountered this book late in my dissertation writing, so there's not much in my own book from hers, but it's been very useful for me over the years in the classroom and in some work on popular romance fiction. (My first PCA talk on romance, for example, was a piece on Emma Holly called "Holly the Bittersweet.")
"It was Sappho who first called eros 'bittersweet,'" Carson's book begins. "No one who has been in love disputes her. What does the word mean?" (3).
Now, the "word in question here is "bittersweet," not Eros--she's trying to get at why "a simultaneity of pleasure and pain is at issue" in the experience of Eros, which strikes Sappho in many poems as "an enemy" (4), since "love and hate converge within erotic desire" (9). Still, a few pages into the book, as she moves into her explanation of this convergence, Carson does give us a handy definition:
The Greek word eros denotes 'want,' 'lack,' 'desire for that which is missing.' The lover wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to have what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is n longer wanting. This is more than wordplay. [...] Plato turns and returns to it. Four of his dialogues explore what it means to say that desire can only be for what is lacking, not at hand, not at present, not in one's possession nor in one's being.... (10)As Carson goes on to point out, the Greek idea of eros doesn't simply apply to interhuman desires; rather, it also applies to the desire to learn, to know, to understand. "There would seem to be some resemblance," she writes, "between the way Eros acts in the mind of a lover and the way knowing acts in the mind of a thinker" (70).
The American poet and polymath Guy Davenport, in a review of Carson's book, glosses these ideas very nicely.
What's bittersweet is Eros, the god of falling in love (being in love is another matter, involving other, wiser gods). Gods and states of mind are contiguous in Greek thought; eros is the Greek for that giddy, happy, all too often frustrated conviction that another human being's returned affection and equal longing for you are all that's lacking to make life a perfect happiness. ("Eros, His Intelligence," in The Hunter Gracchus, 137)
It is the kinetics of desire that creates the euphoria of loving and of learning, of being alive. We are largely ignorant of satisfied desire as the ancient Greeks understood it. [...] Satisfied desire is a fulfillment of some kind and as a subject belongs to housekeeping, child rearing, reverie; that is, to the world of order. Desire and learning are by their nature disorderly, disruptive, agonizing: bittersweet. (140)You can probably already see why these ideas were useful to me in thinking about the many forms of "eros" in Holly's erotic romance. The ideas of lack, of falling in love, of coming to know, and of the deferral of satisfaction (since that would mean the end of eros) all have implications at once for characters in a story and for the experience of reading one. (Did I mention that we have a Call for Papers on Erotic Romance over at JPRS? Would love to see some philosophical approaches in the mix.)
OK, that's all I have time for now. The last word goes to William Blake, who probably knew a thing or two about Eros and love.
A Question Answered
What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women do in men require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
Nice little commentary on the quatrain, by Robert Pinsky, here.