CHAPTER XI

 

OSCAR MILOSZ,

THEORETICIAN OF LOVE

 

ANDRIUS KONICKIS

 

 

At the end of his life, Oscar Milosz confessed to his younger friend, A. Godoy, that in the realm of the senses he had been living like a prisoner enclosed between four blank walls. Therefore the poet concluded: "I probably am a theoretician of love". It is obvious that by saying "theoretician", Milosz wanted to stress that he did not practice it. Yet Milosz’s creative work as a whole, including his early poems, plays, novels, metaphysical poems and even interpretations of the Apocalypses, reveals his theory of love, which is indeed impressive, being both perfectly harmonious and contradictory. As we know from the poet’s life story, the so-called "mystical vision", experienced by him on December 14, 1914, divided his life and creative work into two essentially different parts, sometimes even called "before" and "after" the vision. Therefore we should accordingly distinguish two parts in Milosz’s theory of love, two stages of its formation. Leaving out the first part of his theory, we are going to discuss the basic features of the second part after the vision.

Though Milosz’s work is inseparable from the theme or problems of love, he does not give a precise or concrete definition of love. We cannot even rely on the sentence in Epitre a Storge, where the author explains: "To me (the word "love" — A. K.) always means . . ., among other things, the eternal femininity-divinity described by Alighieri and Goethe, angelic sensibility and eroticism, innocent motherliness . . . perfect harmony among people . . . all music by Richard Wagner little understood so far . . . and, finally, in the universal sense, the Orphic intuition."1 Naturally, we cannot expect a classical definition of the concept of love (per genus et differentia specifica). We can try to analyze the poet’s separate statements, to bring out and understand the main characteristics and functions of love, and in this way form a so-called contextual definition of this particular concept.

 

A CONTEXTUAL DEFINITION

 

In his novel, L’Amoureuse Initiation, "unselfconsciously ascending" to the divine abode of love together with Earl Pinamonte, Milosz nearly forgets that on earth the concept of love is usually used to describe the relationship between man and woman. In his metaphysical poems (i.e. written after the vision), the thinker turns to this "perfect harmony among people, which consists of the husband’s charming wisdom and the attraction of the wife’s love, the real spiritual situation of the first with regard to the second".2 As we can see from this phrase, concord or harmony is based on the essential difference of its components. We are not going to look for the sources of this motif in ancient times, though in fact it is very old; its variants in classical antiquity certainly were known to Milosz (such as, for example, Aristophanes’s fable from "The Feast" by Plato, or "the most beautiful harmony emerges out of differences" by Heraclitus).

There is reason to think that Milosz’s reasoning was influenced by the doctrine of the divine order by Emmanuel Swedenborg, which in its turn was derived from the earlier tradition of European thought. In the words of the clairvoyant Swede, "a heavenly marriage is the spiritual conjunction of two persons into one"; and since "the denizens of heaven descend from the family of humans", there is a certain, though not absolute, analogy between heavenly and earthly marriages. The symbolic equivalent of man is reason, and that of the woman — will; in this way they have been conceived and created, and their common aim is to connect into one. When this spiritual conjunction of reason and will "descends into the body", it is "perceived and felt as love", which is the true "conjugal love" (amor conjugalis) (De coelo et inferno, 366-368).

Swedenborg probably was not greatly influenced by the ideas of equality of man and woman which emerged in the age of "enlightenment", or perhaps they were not yet distinct and strong enough for the thinker to react. Yet already in the 19th century, the age of "progress", ideas of equality were further developed, even overdeveloped; the striving for equal rights for both sexes levelled them, and their essential differences and features were denied. At the end of the century F. Nietzsche could not keep from joining the discussion: "In my opinion, natural opposition (though Nietzsche speaks about nature, he has in mind the same psychological differences between man and woman, called "spiritual" by Swedenborg — A.K.) will not be eliminated by any social agreements or the best aspirations to justice . . ." (La gaya scienza, 363). The philosopher’s arguments could not stop the powerful movement of "emancipation", which gained momentum at the beginning of our century and acquired some unpleasant features. Nikolaj Berdyaev expressed his indignation: "By mechanically imitating male qualities out of envy and anger, the woman becomes a spiritual and physical hermaphrodite, a caricature and a pseudo-being." Is the woman’s freedom achieved by imitating? Hardly. In the philosopher’s opinion, at best she can become "a second-rate man".

Like Berdyaev, Milosz condemns this kind of "emancipation": "woman’s, as well as man’s freedom, is knowledge of the Law and faithfulness to it".3 "The Law" here is the primeval principle, God’s intention and "spiritual vision", in which man and woman were given a certain place appropriate to their nature. In this respect Milosz would agree with Nietzsche that it cannot be replaced by any "social agreements". "It is enough for woman to be free if man realizes her spiritual place relating nature with God. Any other freedom leads to the fabrication of the conjugal principle".4

 

THE CONJUGAL PRINCIPLE AND MYSTERY

 

Milosz most probably borrowed this concept of the "conjugal principle", both as a theoretical construct and semantic component of his doctrine, from Swedenborg. Yet, though agreeing with him in principle, the poet somewhat changes the symbolic equivalents of the sexes: "Man is wisdom, woman is love of that wisdom".5 A certain substantiation of these symbols can be found in Milosz’s note written while reading Swedenborg: "Woman rescues man, since loving his wisdom, she saves man from the dangerous necessity to love his own wisdom" (we can compare the woman’s new role as a "saviour" with her function as "initiatrix" (initiatrice) from the earlier period of the poet’s work).

The conjugal principle, or the phenomenon of marriage in general, certainly was not invented by Swedenborg. We know that it is the basic principle of the existence and survival of humanity, which ensures the emergence of the new; thus it is the principle of recreation based on the interaction of two different origins or sexes. Though it seems so simple and ordinary, note that there are two rather than one or three origins. According to somebody’s witty remark: humanity consists not of the black and white, the rich and the poor, the wise and fools, and finally, not of the rulers and the ruled, but primarily of women and men. K. Horney generalizes this principle well in a laconic manner: "All of us are subjected to the great law of heterosexual tension": the great law or great mystery of humanity.

In addition to the concept of the "conjugal principle", Milosz uses the even more impressive concept of "conjugal mystery" (arcane conjugal). In the time of mythological, i.e. purely symbolic, thinking, cosmogonic secrets were regarded in the light of this principle (mystery): not only gods who most often were anthropomorphic creatures, but also planets, objects and phenomena were born of the interaction of masculine and feminine origins, to be married to one another later; "husbands" and "wives" usually loved each other, but there were family conflicts, cases of infidelity, illegitimate children — everything in the life of humans.

In Milosz’s cosmogony and metaphysics the conjugal principle plays the fundamental role, the role of the "cornerstone". Yet the poet’s concept of wedlock differs quite markedly from the traditional one. "The divinity, secret, non-corporal fire is the husband of "The Song of Songs", and he radiates his spiritual light . . . in the form of the cosmic wife, who is the Femininity of Manifestation (Manifestation)".6 Often referring to "The Song of Songs" as a peculiar paradigmatic, though encoded, expression of the mystery of wedlock, Milosz reveals its secret contents in the following way: it is "a dialogue between the Father and the Beauty of the Universe, between the Son and His beloved Catholicism, the future universal Humanity, and, finally, between the mortal husband and wife."7 Note not only the pairs of the dialogue, but also the two opposite orders, are parallels of masculinity and femininity: Father-Son-husband; the Beauty of the Creation-Humanity (Christians also say: The Church)-wife. The poet concludes those two orders in the following way: "The mystical situation of man with regard to woman is the same as that of God with regard to His Creation".8

The thinker seems to get something wrong: we can agree that the Beauty of the Universe or Humanity is the child of God-Father; but to say that the wife is the husband’s creation is a rather incongruous view of marriage. Yet, these or other incongruities still allow us to see a system, quite consistent with regard to its structure rather than its functioning. It is a system of reflections and correspondences with its own inner logic and certain roots in the ancient and modern tradition. It contains elements of three styles of thinking: Judaism, Christianity and the Cabala.

 

A SYSTEM WITH STYLES: JUDAISM,

CHRISTIANITY AND CABALA

 

As we know from Milosz’s cosmogony, with the radiation of the physical light there appears the visible physical world, space-time-matter; the poet explains that this "physical creature" is the wife of "The Song of Songs", "the Femininity of Manifestation", and "It is born of God, as Eve is born of Adam".9 As Eve (woman) is secondary with regard to Adam (man), Femininity in general is secondary with regard to God; it is the logic of traditional Judaism and the Old Testament. Yet, Light (the World) meets Fire (God), like Love meets the Law — the poet further expounds in a mathematical way. It follows that Love is also secondary (derivable, as we could say mathematically), and thus can be compared with the woman, who according to the known formula is love of man’s wisdom. Man-wisdom can be compared with God-Wisdom, which again is a typical image of the Old Testament. "Man is the rigorous Law . . . and He turns into Love in the beauty and compassion of the woman",10 writes Milosz. But if this transfiguration of the Law is a somewhat "later" event, does it mean that love does not "yet" exist in God Himself? No. "God is identical to His law and His necessity . . . and to be one’s own law and one’s own necessity is to be Love".11

In this way the main thesis of Christianity , "God is love", is convincingly grounded in an attempt to harmonize the Old and the New Testaments (which hardly yield to harmonization), and this is done largely and quite successfully by the basically Cabalistic style of Milosz’s thinking. Creation (Love, the Woman) emerges "later" not with regard to time; it is merely farther removed from God-Fire, the source of everything. This again is not spatial, but according to certain rules of the logic of symbols. God is separated from his creatures not by segments of time or space, but by degrees-mirrors, in which the entire Absolute is reflected momentarily and eternally in the Beauty of the Universe. Milosz calls it "the spiritual vision of the Sole Seer". Yet the extent of preciseness with which the most perfect essence of the Divinity is reflected in any creature depends on the mysterious laws of refraction of light on the mirror. Thus (let us further interpret this doctrine), Love, existing in God in the form of the Law-in-itself, is manifested in our world as a sexual drive, which also seems to be a law in itself.

There is one more essential addition: "The law became love . . . through the splitting of the primitive man into husband and wife".12 Thus we can suppose the existence of two varieties of love: 1) love as a law-in-itself, both in God and in the solid primitive man; and 2) love between man and woman, which we can see in our imperfect world, "farther" removed from God. Created by God in the form of His image, the perfect primordial man consisted of both man and woman and thus was androgynous. The "fallen" man of our world must finally return to this state conceived by God, — it is an antique and archetypal idea, common to many mythologies, the biblical variant of which (Gen 1, 27) has given way to "another" way of the creation of man (Gen 2, 21-22) found in popular Christianity.

This idea had crucial influence on the philosophical works of both Milosz and his predecessors-teachers (Bohme, Swedenborg) and like-minded contemporaries (Berdyaev). The ways of returning to the primeval state proposed by these thinkers differ; for some time Milosz thought that it could be achieved by "properly loving an earthly being", but later started to talk about "the placement of oneself in Nothingness", that is, finding one’s proper place with regard to God, which can be treated as something similar to the Evangelical metanoia, "the transfiguration of mind", turned into "repentance" in translation from the Greek.

The placement of Father and Son in one (male, creator) order seems to be of interest to us merely as a feature of Christian thinking, as an emphasis on the identity of these two members of the Holy Trinity. But it is not what matters most. The first miracle of the Son, the turning of water into wine, is "a mundane equivalent of the divine mystery of marriage":13 a husband creates a wife. This "equivalent" is rather vague, but one detail is intriguing: the miracle takes place during the wedding. In the variant of the New Testament which has reached us, the description of this wedding (II John, 1-12) allows us to think that the earlier version of the text contained something more and rather different, and even leads us to think that it was the wedding of Jesus Himself.

Milosz, certainly, explains it in a different way: "The Son becomes one with the Father . . . and stops being the son", and "Mary is no longer His mother". Let us interpret: a woman is a mother, a creatrix, while her son has not matured and become a father himself. This limits the woman’s creative power, which seems to have been taken away from her by placing her into the second (female, creatures’) order. Yet Mary is a special woman and mother: her birth is "spiritual", like that of "the first nature": both were born "without semen". Meanwhile, Jesus was born of Mary, "impregnated by non-corporal light", and this is "an equivalent of the first Adam, produced from bright cosmic matter".14

Milosz again tries to bring the Jewish epic into accord with the dogmas of Christianity using the tools of Cabalistic terminology, but he is not very successful: for example, he completely ignores Mary’s biography, which is widely known though it has not become canonical. Yet the poet needs Mary’s birth to be purely "spiritual". Having taken away from "The Son of Man" his wife from Kan (or perhaps from neighboring Magdala?), "The Son of God" is being proposed another bride — the Church, the future Humanity and Catholicism; Milosz defines their relationship as that of the husband and wife from "The Song of Songs".

Why was Milosz so much concerned with these different systems of thought, Judaism and Christianity? Let us try to find out. At the time of writing Les Arcanes, Milosz was approaching his conversion to Catholicism, "the return to the religion of my forefathers (to be more exact, from his father’s side — A.K.)". He had not forgotten the religion of his Jewish mother as well. Let us recall his "fascination with Biblical poetry", which led the young man to Oriental studies. It is impossible to ignore these "fixations" (as a psychoanalyst would say) on the past: his parents, his family roots and his "home"; their impact was stronger than the poet himself thought, and they emerged from the depths of the subconsciousness, uncontrolled and unchecked, though Milosz himself confirmed that it was his "mixture of blood" which influenced his Ars Magna.

Soon after Les Arcanes (and his conversion), he started to look for his roots even more persistently: let us recall the biased research of the Lithuanian and Jewish origins and commentaries on the Apocalypses. Milosz’s views on this issue were quite clear-cut: to him the Judaic-Christian conjugal principle expressed the "power and glory" of this system, while other doctrines which "lack love" (pauvres d’amour), in his opinion, "converge in social amorality".15 Yet, though Judaism and Christianity can be considered "systems of thinking", they are first of all religions, or at best systems of religious thinking, whereas Milosz is first of all a thinker, religious though he may be. The Cabala, and in particular its modern ("French", according to Czeslaw Milosz) interpretation, which is by itself a peculiar synthesis of Judaism and Christianity, was the particular intellectual milieu in which Milosz was strongest as a thinker.

 

THE SENTIMENTALIST AND THE METAPHYSICIAN

 

At the beginning of this essay we stated that nowhere does Milosz give a concrete and final definition of love. Certainly, we would be right asserting that other philosophers given to the reflection of love also refused immodest claims to produce a concise definition of love. Yet in their speculations they always formulate certain quasi-definitions allowing one to establish their general conceptual views. In this respect we could distinguish two main groups of thinkers. Let us call them "sentimentalists" and "metaphysicians". The first talk about love as a human feeling; the second treat love as a universal phenomenon, element or principle. Certainly, pure "metaphysicians" or pure "sentimentalists" hardly exist; these are merely more or less distinct tendencies, and they are important to us as two ways of talking about love. Calling love "nature" Nietzsche, for example, establishes himself rather as a metaphysician; the same can be said about N. Stankevicz, to whom love is equal to "life". In V. Frankle’s conception love, "enabling perception of the personality of the other person" and "helping the lover to become the way his/her beloved wants him/her to be", shows the thinker’s "sentimentalist" attitude; while J. Ortega-y-Gasset regards love as "self-sufficient emotional activity". We have already noticed that Milosz speaks about love in these two respects: "metaphysical" and "sentimentalist". A closer reading of his metaphysical poems enables us to see a distinct tendency to "metaphysics"; perhaps we shall understand why the poet regretted so much the fact that even "great thinkers seem to express with the word love nothing else than passion, pleasure or curiosity".16

Therefore, when the human being was divided into man and woman, the Law turned (and is ever turning) into love — love in our human sense, since "there", in God Himself, it had (and has) the different shape of law-in-itself. Yet the Law in our world does not disappear, but exists in the different shape of love. We are able to realize or learn this original Law, God’s intention or, as we often say, the meaning of the world and life, only through love, by loving. The poet’s confession is instructive: "In the depths of this indefinite universe I know only one real place where the mind does not get stuck, and this place is my love".17 Milosz’s ever recurring image of the Place is both an intimate personal concern and a universal metaphysical problem. All his life the poet was looking for love "everywhere where he had the faintest hope of finding it"; all his life he was looking for a place: home, fatherland and roots. It turns out that love is this special place. It is "right here": everybody finds it in his/her own way. It is Goethe’s Elysium, Dante’s Empyrean, Swedenborg’s Adramandoni, Holderlin’s Hesperides. Milosz did not create his own special fabulous land of love, but his symbol of love looks even more impressive. The poet calls the addressee of his "Letter", Storge, his "bride", which means that he has married Love: family love, parents’ love for their children, according the classical Greek tradition, or "love of the poet himself for people", as Czeslaw Milosz explains. It is really an extraordinary and mysterious marriage.

The poet’s bride is "movement and place" to him; all the rest "is vanity, haze and shadow", and the poet solemnly declares: "I am the one who loves". It is an obvious allusion to "I am the one who is" (Ex 3, 14); but not only. Formulating his views on space-time-movement, Milosz transformed the cogito ergo sum by Descartes into a peculiar variant moveo ergo sum; here we also have another, even more significant variant of this formula: amo ergo sum.

Milosz declares: "A person longs for only one thing: to live and love forever".18 Probably we would agree that without life and love there are very few things worth longing for. Yet what does "forever" mean? We could guess it from Milosz’s cosmogonic conception; but he gives a kind of special "definition": eternity is "the first infinite moment of the first love".19 So, everything that exists, that by appearance, i.e. from the point of view of the "fallen" (in Christian terms) person, or a person having an incorrect attitude towards God (in Cabalistic or Milosz’s terms), seems to be situated in time and space, is in fact a mere vision of omniscient love, or "divine momentariness". In order to realize it clearly, one must place oneself appropriately, in other words — love properly. Yet, "true love is possible only in it (momentariness — A.K.), and only then does love allow us to perceive the moment".20 It is worth noting that only "metaphysicians" (together with Milosz, Nietzsche and Berdyaev) speak about the eternity of love or a moment equalling eternity; "sentimentalists" are more concerned with how to prolong love.

Milosz expounds: "Man and woman were conceived for the purely spiritual mode of existence"; they themselves "were the Spirit having the appearance of body".21 This arouses some doubts, not only because it is simply not understandable why "the pure spirit" needs this, to put it mildly, strange appearance; the past tense used in this construction somehow does not match the doctrine of the divine vision and momentariness. Yet if one can interpret this statement with the help of the conception of a proper attitude towards God, it becomes clear that "spiritual beings find (i.e. here and now as well — A. K.) their ideal place in this attraction which we call love. The latter is our sole reality".22 This is true, since love "was" the essence of the primeval law-in-itself, and "then" . . . — here we should have to repeat the above reasoning.

As we can see, while speaking about love in the "sentimentalist" way, Milosz always has in mind the "metaphysical" view, but not always vice versa. To the poet, love is first of all a universal and original cosmic principle; while the human feeling is as if secondary, and its "being" is ensured by "participation" in this highest principle (like things participating in the ideas in Plato’s system). Yet this secondariness is not identical to second-rate; on the contrary, the superior origin ennobles and elevates this human feeling. It is impossible to overlook the fact that Milosz’s "metaphysical" or "sentimentalist" view of love is too symbolic. Yet due to many conditions and circumstances in the interpretation of symbols there always remains something that does not yield to interpretation without contradiction. Therefore we can never be totally sure that we understood the poet properly.

The first part of Milosz’s theory of love, formed in his early poetry and particularly in his novel L’Amoureuse Initiation and the play Miguel Manara, analyzed the earthly relations between man and woman, and thus was more "practical" in this respect. The second part of this theory discussed here seems to be rather remote from earthly matters and seems "purely theoretical". Yet the whole work by Milosz almost directly reflects the poet’s life. In the first part of his creative work we can often see the poet’s concrete life with the naked eye; while in the second part one has to see through a dense veil of symbols.

 

Lithuanian Institute of Philosophy and Sociology

 

NOTES

 

1. O. Milosz, Ars Magna, in: Istorija ir butis (Vilnius, 1988), p. 221.

2. Ibid.

3. O. Milosz, Les Arcanes, in: O. Milosz, Oeuvres completes, Vol. 8 (Freiberburg, 1948), p. 152

4. Ibid., p. 153.

5. Ibid., p. 152.

6. Ibid., p. 58.

7. Ibid., p. 117.

8. Ibid., p. 119.

9. Ibid., p. 75.

10. Ibid., p. 119.

11. Ibid., p. 73-74.

12. Ibid., p. 168.

13. Ibid., p. 144.

14. Ibid., p. 125-126.

15. Ibid., p. 110.

16. O. Milosz, Ars Magna, p. 221.

17. Ibid., p. 224.

18. O. Milosz, Les Arcanes, p. 50.

19. Ibid., p. 151.

20. Ibid., p. 129.

21. Ibid., p. 120.

22. Ibid., p. 143.