Love and Pain/7

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Love and Pain by Havelock Ellis
Volume 7

It may seem to some that in our discussion of the relationships of love and pain we have covered a very wide field. This was inevitable. The subject is peculiarly difficult and complex, and if we are to gain a real insight into its nature we must not attempt to force the facts to fit into any narrow and artificial formulas of our own construction. Yet, as we have unraveled this seemingly confused mass of phenomena it will not have escaped the careful reader that the apparently diverse threads we have disentangled run in a parallel and uniform manner; they all have a like source and they all converge to a like result. We have seen that the starting-point of the whole group of manifestations must be found in the essential facts of courtship among animal and primitive human societies. Pain is seldom very far from some of the phases of primitive courtship; but it is not the pain which is the essential element in courtship, it is the state of intense emotion, of tumescence, with which at any moment, in some shape or another, pain may, in some way or another, be brought into connection. So that we have come to see that in the phrase "love and pain" we have to understand by "pain" a state of intense emotional excitement with which pain in the stricter sense may be associated, but is by no means necessarily associated. It is the strong emotion which exerts the irresistible fascination in the lover, in his partner, or in both. The pain is merely the means to that end. It is the lever which is employed to bring the emotional force to bear on the sexual impulse. The question of love and pain is mainly a question of emotional dynamics.

In attaining this view of our subject we have learned that any impulse of true cruelty is almost outside the field altogether. The mistake was indeed obvious and inevitable. Let us suppose that every musical instrument is sensitive and that every musical performance involves the infliction of pain on the instrument. It would then be very difficult indeed to realize that the pleasure of music lies by no means in the infliction of pain. We should certainly find would-be scientific and analytical people ready to declare that the pleasure of music is the pleasure of giving pain, and that the emotional effects of music are due to the pain thus inflicted. In algolagnia, as in music, it is not cruelty that is sought; it is the joy of being plunged among the waves of that great primitive ocean of emotions which underlies the variegated world of our everyday lives, and pain--a pain which, as we have seen, is often deprived so far as possible of cruelty, though sometimes by very thin and feeble devices--is merely the channel by which that ocean is reached.

If we try to carry our inquiry beyond the point we have been content to reach, and ask ourselves why this emotional intoxication exerts so irresistible a fascination, we might find a final reply in the explanation of Nietzsche--who regarded this kind of intoxication as of great significance both in life and in art--that it gives us the consciousness of energy and the satisfaction of our craving for power.[154] To carry the inquiry to this point would be, however, to take it into a somewhat speculative and metaphysical region, and we have perhaps done well not to attempt to analyze further the joy of emotional expansion. We must be content to regard the profound satisfaction of emotion as due to a widespread motor excitement, the elements of which we cannot yet completely analyze.[155]

It is because the joy of emotional intoxication is the end really sought that we have to regard the supposed opposition between "sadism" and "masochism" as unimportant and indeed misleading. The emotional value of pain is equally great whether the pain is inflicted, suffered, witnessed, or merely exists as a mental imagination, and there is no reason why it should not coexist in all these forms in the same person, as, in fact, we frequently find it.

The particular emotions which are invoked by pain to reinforce the sexual impulse are more especially anger and fear, and, as we have seen, these two very powerful and primitive emotions are--on the active and passive sides, respectively--the emotions most constantly brought into play in animal and early human courtship; so that they naturally constitute the emotional reservoirs from which the sexual impulse may still most easily draw. It is not difficult to show that the various forms in which "pain"--as we must here understand pain--is employed in the service of the sexual impulse are mainly manifestations or transformations of anger or fear, either in their simple or usually more complex forms, in some of which anger and fear may be mingled.

We thus accept the biological origin of the psychological association between love and pain; it is traceable to the phenomena of animal courtship. We do not on this account exclude the more direct physiological factor. It may seem surprising that manifestations that have their origin in primeval forms of courtship should in many cases coincide with actual sensations of definite anatomical base today, and still more surprising that these traditional manifestations and actual sensations should so often be complementary to each other in their active and passive aspects: that is to say, that the pleasure of whipping should be matched by the pleasure of being whipped, the pleasure of mock strangling by the pleasure of being so strangled, that pain inflicted is not more desirable than pain suffered. But such coincidence is of the very essence of the whole group of phenomena. The manifestations of courtship were from the first conditioned by physiological facts; it is not strange that they should always tend to run _pari passu_ with physiological facts. The manifestations which failed to find anchorage in physiological relationships might well tend to die out. Even under the most normal circumstances, in healthy persons of healthy heredity, the manifestations we have been considering are liable to make themselves felt. Under such circumstances, however, they never become of the first importance in the sexual process; they are often little more than play. It is only under neurasthenic or neuropathic conditions--that is to say, in an organism which from acquired or congenital causes, and usually perhaps both, has become enfeebled, irritable, "fatigued"--that these manifestations are liable to flourish vigorously, to come to the forefront of sexual consciousness, and even to attain such seriously urgent importance that they may in themselves constitute the entire end and aim of sexual desire. Under these pathological conditions, pain, in the broad and special sense in which we have been obliged to define it, becomes a welcome tonic and a more or less indispensable stimulant to the sexual system.

It will not have escaped the careful reader that in following out our subject we have sometimes been brought into contact with manifestations which scarcely seem to come within any definition of pain. This is undoubtedly so, and the references to these manifestations were not accidental, for they serve to indicate the real bearings of our subject. The relationships of love and pain constitute a subject at once of so much gravity and so much psychological significance that it was well to devote to them a special study. But pain, as we have here to understand it, largely constitutes a special case of what we shall later learn to know as erotic symbolism: that is to say, the psychic condition in which a part of the sexual process, a single idea or group of ideas, tends to assume unusual importance, or even to occupy the whole field of sexual consciousness, the part becoming a symbol that stands for the whole. When we come to the discussion of this great group of abnormal sexual manifestations it will frequently be necessary to refer to the results we have reached in studying the sexual significance of pain.

Original footnotes[edit]

[154] See, for instance, the section "Zur Physiologie der Kunst" in Nietzsche's fragmentary work, _Der Wille zur Macht_, Werke, Bd. xv. Groos (_Spiele der Menschen_, p. 89) refers to the significance of the fact that nearly all races have special methods of procuring intoxication. Cf. Partridge's study of the psychology of alcohol (_American Journal of Psychology_, April, 1900). "It is hard to imagine," this writer remarks of intoxicants, "what the religious or social consciousness of primitive man would have been without them."

[155] The muscular element is the most conspicuous in emotion, though it is not possible, as a careful student of the emotions (H.R. Marshall, _Pain, Pleasure, and AEsthetics_, p. 84) well points out, "to limit the physical activities involved with the emotions to such effects of voluntary innervation or alteration of size of blood-vessels or spasm of organic muscle, as Lange seems to think determines them; nor to increase or decrease of muscle-power, as Fere's results might suggest; nor to such changes, in relation of size of capillaries, in voluntary innervation, in respiratory and heart functioning, as Lehmann has observed. Emotions seem to me to be coincidents of reactions of the whole organism tending to certain results."