Freud and Love

Mark Edmundson explores the role of love and happiness in Western culture
Man Ray, 'Rayograph Kiss'

Mark Edmundson's apparently bleak summary of Sigmund Freud's outlook on love and happiness in the West:
Sigmund Freud is Western culture's laureate of unhappy love. He is our prose-poet of the heart's endless desire to break. The heart breaks time and again and, Freud insists, it is prone to do so in the same fashion. Freud, as the works gathered in this volume demonstrate, put the idea of erotic repetition at the centre of his thought. He believed that we are all inclined - many of us are doomed - to repeat, and what we repeat is disaster, erotic disaster and political disaster as well. We fall in love not only with 'sexual objects' (as Freud charmingly calls them) but, individually and collectively, with power. Though badly in need of sane and measured authority, we swoon before the authoritarian. For most people, there is not much to be done about these sad tendencies. Through experience, Freud believed, most of us learn nothing, unless it is to repeat our own worst experiences.

Life, from Freud's perspective, frequently circles from romance to disillusionment, then does so again and again. We seek perfect love, perfect truth, perfect protection. We believe that we once had those things (though we never did) and we continually sight them, glowing, on the far side of a noisy room or dispensing truth from a banner-draped stage, Klieg- or torch-lights flaring. We are drawn into the golden circle, abase ourselves, submit, and for a while enjoy an extraordinary sense of well-being. It is as though we have attained a long-sought completion. We never feel so strongly as then, in the midst of love, that we live in the present. (Though the truth is that in love, more than at any other time, we are dwelling in the past.)

Mark Edmundson, 'Freud in Love'
in Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Other Writings