Lecture «Love in times of heartbreak», by Mónica Sorín

A warm embrace to you all.

Anna and I have decided that I start with some general reflections on love and then she will continue with the theme as it is presented to us in the practice of art therapy. At the end, we will invite you to give a resonance to our presentation, using body and voice, through the practice of “dramatic multiplication”.

While still living in Cuba, I published in 1986 a book about love. This decision arose from my unsettling observation on how relationships were conducted at that time in Cuba. The great interest that this book aroused confirmed the need to discuss this subject.

But at that time, I could not foresee the ferocious attacks the phenomenon of love would receive in the following years, both within the contemporary culture and in the daily life of the Western world. Perhaps it is the same in the rest of the world, but I have no sufficient information about it.

The growing rupture of the social fabric, the systematic ideologizing of love and sexual relationships, the increase of sado-masochistic practices as a fashion trend, or conducts such as Ghosting and its numerous forms: Orbiting, Caspering, Mooning, Benching, Curving, Fishing, Fielding, among others, are evidence of the gradual degradation of relationships. To say this does not imply believing that the situation was ideal before, far from it. For millennia, the couple and the family have been a source of well-being and – also – of much psychological suffering. As if «heaven» and «hell» merged in this context.

The subject is so vast and complex that I have chosen – in such a short time – to concentrate on a few points that I believe deserve our particular attention today. I will limit myself to stating them, so that everyone can, if they wish, continue to explore them in more depth; in particular, to think about how these phenomena are being reflected in our daily work with people and – of course – how they are reflected in ourselves:

– Few of those human needs are universal such as the need to love and to be loved. Love is one of the main drives behind our daily behaviours. Without going any further: can anyone here claim that he or she does not need to love and be loved? Only psychopaths do not know what I am talking about. Unfortunately, many psychopaths of various kinds, on one side or the other, have unlimited power in today’s world, and their inhuman ideological, economic, cultural and geopolitical policies, among others, seriously undermine the construction of human relations in general and love relations in particular.

– Fernando Ulloa said that tenderness should be the first human right and a condition for the ethical development of the person (here understood not as sappiness, but as recognition of one’s own vulnerability and awareness that you don´t own the other).

Removing tenderness, therefore, means dehumanising ourselves. And it also means cutting off from our ethical commitment to life.

– Accepting that we need each other, that I need you and you need me, implies the huge challenge of building relationships that do not become a ‘sad passion’, to use Spinozian language. Accepting the fact that I need you and you need me does not contradict the necessary development of my psychic autonomy. I can be independent in my way of thinking, acting and walking through life, without it preventing me from belonging, from being part of: a couple, for example. In other words, to ensure that the perverse game of power does not imply inequality in the exercise of each one’s power.

– That loving each other empowers us, that loving each other does not mean that in order for one of us to move forward, the other one must retreat. The more there is struggle for power, the less there is potency. I feel happy to say this: those of us who have attended various EGS Symposiums in the past have had the privilege of seeing Margo and Paolo, Paolo and Margo, as two figures who, by loving each other, nourished each other’s power and that of the other: Margo and Paolo constituted a powerful we, where Margo was Margo and Paolo was Paolo; the third that formed the two of them, was – and still is, in our memory – a powerful engine of creation and life.

– It is difficult to build loving relationships if we do not open ourselves to the innocence of becoming: to bet on life, even in the face of the lethal harshness of these times. Leaving the door open: that creation and the occurrence of events may not be aborted by morality; morality which, nowadays has so many disguises, that it can confuse us if we are not being alert. When everything is regulated, critical thinking disappears and even love is restrained by moral precepts. Once again, I remind you of the importance of not confusing morality with ethics. Morality tells us what is good and bad, it obliges us to… or forbids us to….

Ethics, on the other hand, invites us to listen to ourselves and to question our existence. Political correctness and the self-assumption of a supposed moral superiority by social sectors on many sides are replacing at an accelerated pace not only the exercise of thought, but also the exercise of eroticism and love.

It has been said that history happens twice: the first time as a great tragedy and the second time as a miserable farce. It could be added that the opposite is also true: history happens twice, the first time as a miserable farce and the second time as a great tragedy.

I fear that if we do not take seriously the alarming signs that today’s world is sending regarding the manipulation of bodies, sexuality, eroticism, we may reach a point of no return: frozen bodies, cloned bodies, abused and mistreated bodies, obedient bodies, bodies that are obedient to mindless amorous practices, which threaten the physical and psychological health of human beings.

Another aspect that calls our attention is the growing wave of ugliness in everyday relationships. I say ugliness to refer to the lack of aesthetic care in relationships. This leads me to question the way in which contemporary imaginaries elucidate the ill-named (?) romantic love. A lot is said today about «romantic love», to make it responsible for various evils of our time. And it is true that this name is used to designate phenomena that need to be subjected to thorough critical enquiry:

– For example, emotional dependency on the loved one. Personally, I believe that recognising that I need the other and lovingly accepting that the other needs me opens the way to tenderness and the acknowledgment of our vulnerability. This, which makes us human, becomes pathological when the loving bond becomes fusion. This fusion can take various forms: believing that the other is my property, or that the other believes that I am his property, or both at the same time, that is to say that we both believe that we own the other; this manifests itself, for example, in something very common: that the need for recognition replaces the recognition of the need. This is not a play on words, it is essential for health: if my need for the other to recognise me is greater than my need to listen to myself, I will inevitably be unhappy. It is only by assuming to its furthest consequences that I am me and you are you, that we can create a healthy and loving relationship.

– Let’s go back to the wrongly? named romantic love. What I have just said, i.e. the need to differentiate between fusion and the human need for contact, is today very much contaminated by ideological discourses that confuse the concept and above all the exercise of autonomy. To put out the fire, they are sinking the ship. In other words, something as earthly and sacred as our need to be among others is being exploited and trivialised. It hurts me, in particular, how this ideological maneuver, carried out in the name of good intentions, is shaping subjectivities foreign to beauty and tenderness. I remember, for example, an interview I saw on TV. A young singer was asked how he would go about giving a flower to an unknown girl; he startled and exclaimed: «I would never do that! It would be harassment, wouldn’t it?”  Listening to him, I felt a mixture of amazement, sadness and dismay. I mentioned this very recently in a master class, and exactly four days later I was sitting alone in a restaurant when a young Pakistani man passed by selling roses. At the table next to mine were two middle-aged men. One of them bought a rose and handed it to me, with a smile; he made no attempt at conversing: in fact, he continued talking to his companion. It was just a gesture, with no other intention. But he could not imagine all that it unleashed in me: tenderness, a warmth in my chest, and the confirmation that this «battle», that I like to do, was worth it. It is worth it to revendicate the practice of beauty.

In this regard: the verb «to romanticise» is becoming very fashionable; I suppose that for those who use it, what I have just said about a simple flower is romanticising an everyday experience. If so, then «romanticising» is welcome. I dream of a society where beauty is instilled in the everydayness of relationships. Those who identify «romanticising» with something silly, something idealistic, something corny, should remember the great Romantics: Beethoven, Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Chopin, Alma and Gustav Malher, Bécquer, Goya, Dickens, Goethe, Jorge Isaacs, José María Heredia, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, Turner, Blake. The list would be endless. What Romanticism contributed to the history of art and humanity is inexhaustible. And since naming constructs realities, what we want to name should be named in another way. Otherwise, it could happen that in the name of a misunderstood «empowerment» (where strength is confused with harshness and sensitivity is confused with weakness or sappiness), beauty, sensitivity, gentleness, tenderness, passion disappear from our lives.

– And why talk about such things at an event dedicated to art and creative expression? Because few tools are as powerful as art and aesthetic experience, to question, to understand, to transform us. And because – without love – humans would cease to be human and, as one of its consequences, art would disappear. Addressing these issues is therefore a question of survival.

– It is our task, in any field (clinical, educational, community, in all fields, without exception) to revendicate and care for tenderness, passion, eroticism, beauty and aesthetic experience, as the pillars of love.

– Nowadays, perhaps since always, many confuse genitality with eroticism. The great Marguerite Yourcenar affirmed this in her Memoirs of Hadrian, that extraordinary novel which – in my opinion and among other intentions – constitutes a profound homage to the eroticism of bodies and also to creative eroticism.

Yourcenar says: » That mysterious play which extends from love of a body to a love of an entire person has seemed to me noble enough to consecrate to it one part of my life. The short and obscene sentence of Poseidonius about the rubbing together of two small pieces of flesh …….. does no more to define the phenomenon of love than the cord touched by the finger accounts for the infinite miracle of sounds. Such a dictum is less an insult to pleasure than to the flesh itself, that amazing instrument of muscles, blood, and skin, that red-tinged cloud whose lightning is the soul«.

Every time I read this text, I feel deeply moved. I don’t think I know of any work of art that is the fruit of genitality, because genitality tends to produce pornography. I think that every work of art undoubtedly arises from the free flow of creative eroticism, from the incomparable pleasure that the creative act generates. And, in many cases, from amorous eroticism. Creative eroticism, amorous eroticism: two forms of pleasure exclusively human.

If I try to synthesize the most common problems the patients currently bring in my practice, they are the following:

– Frozen bodies. Bodies with little capacity for affect, where mental «rumination» operates as a defense against feeling.

– The construction of bonds permeated by ideological norms: who I should desire, who I should not desire, what I should allow, what I should not allow. Paradoxically, the old myths and the new myths about love, which theoretically seek opposite effects, mingle in a dance that I find equally lethal and macabre.

– On the one hand, a longing to find «a love» and -simultaneously- unconscious strategies of escaping from commitment and belonging to a shared project.

– Morality is breaking through in a castrating way and new pictures are being created of what we could call the new pathologies, i.e. the new forms taken on by the pathologies of these times: the misnamed eating disorders, the compulsive search for «adrenalin», the virtualisation of relations, among others. 

To make it easier for bodies to speak, to express themselves, to feel. For bodies to listen to the heartbeat of the world, the heartbeat of the soul.

It is a wish that I always carry with me in my professional work: that our task may contribute to the free play of creative and loving eroticism in our students, in our patients, in the different people with whom we work. And, of course, in ourselves.

Mónica Sorín

Director of the IATBA Transdisciplinary Art Therapy Master’s Degree

Lecture held at the 34th Symposium on Expressive Arts. Barcelona 2023

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