In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays (Original Harvest Book; Hb333) (4 page)

BOOK: In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays (Original Harvest Book; Hb333)
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Many critics have been alarmed by the highly charged atmosphere of your writing. Why are mystery, allure, and intrigue so often the weapons of your heroines?

I think it’s because I believe in communicating by way of the emotions, by imagery, indirectness, the myth. I think all my women have tried to live by the impulses of the subconscious. In all my novels, I have only one heroine in direct action, and even she discovers the necessity of the inner journey. I never believed in action, only in achieving life on a poetic level.

Love has always been the crucial issue for you in both your novels and diaries, but you seldom speak of it in an uncomplicated way. Why do you find love such an intricate mesh of relationships?

Love is complex. Because of the obstacles, personas, masks, a relationship is an arduous creation. Human beings construct labyrinths. If we live out all our selves, that becomes a very intricate pattern. But we have to keep a balance perpetually, the constant oscillations I try to describe.

The intuition is deeply a part of your novelistic method. Can you describe your fascination with divination in all its forms?

As a child, I was intensely aware of what people felt; I tried to confirm my intuition by studying psychology. My tendency to romanticize made me want to verify what I felt. Now I trust my intuition and its strength. When I was in Japan, I had a sense of contact with people who speak a language I do not speak. Intuition was my divination, but in my novels and my life I expanded my intuition. In Louveciennes in the thirties, I had an attic studio with steeply inclined ceilings. Between the windows, we painted the horoscopes of all our friends and followed them day by day. Each horoscope had hands like a clock and we arranged them in configurations of each day so we could study them and say “Artaud’s horoscope today is . . .” I’m no longer interested in the predictive side of astrology but rather in what it has to say about character. At the same time as we began following the charts, I imitated the form of the astrological charts and arranged my friends and their cities in constellations. I very much liked the idea of relationships being visualized as horoscopes and charts.

Notes on Feminism

The Massachusetts Review,
Winter-Spring 1972.


The nature of my contribution to the Women’s Liberation Movement is not political but psychological. I get thousands of letters from women who have been liberated by the reading of my diaries, which are a long study of the psychological obstacles that have prevented woman from her fullest evolution and flowering. I studied the negative influence of religion, of racial and cultural patterns, which action alone and no political slogans can dissolve. I describe in the diaries the many restrictions confining woman. The diary itself was an escape from judgment, a place in which to analyze the truth of woman’s situation. I believe that is where the sense of freedom has to begin. I say begin, not remain. A reformation of woman’s emotional attitudes and beliefs will enable her to act more effectively. I am not speaking of the practical, economic, sociological problems, as I believe many of them are solvable with clear thinking and intelligence. I am merely placing the emphasis on a confrontation of ourselves because it is a source of strength. Do not confuse my shifting of responsibility with blame. I am not blaming woman. I say that if we take the responsibility for our situation, we can feel less helpless than when we put the blame on society or man. We waste precious energy in negative rebellions. Awareness can give us a sense of captainship over our fate, and to take destiny into our own hands is more inspiring than to expect others to direct our destiny foe us. No matter what ideas, psychology, history, or art I learned from man, I learned to convert it into the affirmation of my own identity and my own beliefs, to serve my own growth. At the same time, I loved woman and was fully aware of her problems, and I watched her struggles for development. I believe the lasting revolution comes from deep changes in ourselves which influence our collective life.

Many of the chores women accepted were ritualistic; they were means of expressing love and care and protection. We have to find other ways of expressing these devotions. We cannot solve the problem of freeing ourselves of all chores without first understanding why we accomplished them and felt guilty when we did not. We have to persuade those we love that there are other ways of enriching their lives. Part of these occupations were compensatory. The home was our only kingdom, and it returned many pleasures. We were repaid with love and beauty and a sense of accomplishment. If we want our energy and strength to go into other channels, we have to work at a transitional solution which may deprive us of a personal world altogether. But I also think we have to cope with our deep-seated, deeply instilled sense of responsibility. That means finding a more creative way of love and collaboration, of educating our children, or caring for a house, and we have to convince those we love that there are other ways of accomplishing these things. The restrictions of women’s lives, confined to the personal, also created in us qualities men lost to a degree in a competitive world. I think woman retains a more human relationship to human beings and is not corrupted by the impersonality of powerful interests. I have watched woman in law, in politics, and in education. Because of her gift for personal relationships she deals more effectively with injustice, war, prejudice. I have a dream about woman pouring into all professions a new quality. I want a different world, not the same world born of man’s need of power which is the origin of war and injustice. We have to create a new woman.

What of ghettos and poverty? A new kind of human being would not allow them to be born in the first place. It is the quality of human beings I want to see improved, because we already know that drugs, crime, war, and injustice are not curable by a change of system. It is humanism which is lacking in our leaders. I do not want to see women follow in the same pattern. To assert individual qualities and thought was tabooed by puritanism and is now being equally tabooed by militant fanatics. But practical problems are often solved by psychological liberation. The imagination, the skills, the intelligence, are freed to discover solutions. I see so many women in the movement thinking in obsessional circles about problems which are solvable when one is emotionally free to think and act clearly. Undirected, blind anger and hostility are not effective weapons. They have to be converted into lucid action. Each woman has to consider her own problems before she can act effectively within her radius; otherwise she is merely adding the burden of her problems to the collective overburdened majority. Her individual solution, courage, become in turn like cellular growth, organic growth. It is added to the general synthesis. Slogans do not give strength because generalizations are untrue. Many intelligent women, many potentially collaborative men, are alienated by generalizations. To recruit all women for a work for which some are unfit is not effective. The group does not always give strength, because it moves only according to the lowest denominator of understanding. The group weakens the individual will and annihilates the individual contribution. To object to individual growth of awareness in women is to work against the benefit of the collective whose quality is raised by individual research and learning. Each woman has to know herself, her problems, her obstacles. I ask woman to realize she can be master of her own destiny. This is an inspiring thought. To blame others means one feels helpless. What I liked best about psychology is the concept that destiny is interior, in our own hands. While we wait for others to free us, we will not develop the strength to do it ourselves. When a woman has not solved her personal, intimate defeats, her private hostilities, her failures, she brings the dregs of this to the group and only increases its negative reactions. This is placing liberation on too narrow a basis. Liberation means the power to transcend obstacles. The obstacles are educational, religious, racial, and cultural patterns. These have to be confronted, and there is no political solution which serves them all. The real tyrants are guilt, taboos, educational inheritance—these are our enemies. And we can grapple with them. The real enemy is what we were taught, not always by man, but often by our mothers and grandmothers.

The trouble with anger is that it makes us overstate our case and prevents us from reaching awareness. We often damage our case by anger. It is like resorting to war.

Poverty and injustice and prejudice are not solved by any man-made system. I want them to be solved by a higher quality of human being who, by his own law of valuation upon human life, will not permit such inequalities. In that sense whatever we do for the development of this higher quality will eventually permeate all society. The belief that all of us, untrained, unprepared and unskilled, can be conscripted for mass action is what has prevented woman from developing, because it is the same old-fashioned assertion that the only good we can do is outside of ourselves, salvaging others. When we do this we ignore the fact that the evil comes from individual flaws, undeveloped human beings. We need models. We need heroes and leaders. Out of the many lawyers who came from Harvard, we were given only one Nader. But one Nader has incalculable influence. If we continue in the name of politics to denigrate those who have developed their skills to the maximum pitch as elite, privileged, or exceptional people, we will never be able to help others achieve their potential. We need blueprints for the creation of human beings as well as for architecture.

The attack against individual development belongs to the dark ages of socialism. If I am able to inspire or help women today, it is because I persisted in my development. I was often derailed by other duties, but I never gave up this relentless disciplined creation of my awareness because I realized that at the bottom of every failed system to improve the lot of man lies an imperfect, corruptible human being.

It is inspiring to read of the women who defied the codes and taboos of their period: Ninon de Lenclos in the seventeenth century, Lou Andreas-Salomé in the time of Freud, Nietzsche, and Rilke, and in our time Han Suyin. Or the four heroines of Lesley Blanch’s
Wilder Shores of Love.

I see a great deal of negativity in the Women’s Liberation Movement. It is less important to attack male writers than to discover and read women writers, to attack maledominated films than to make films by women. If the passivity of woman is going to erupt like a volcano or an earthquake, it will not accomplish anything but disaster. This passivity can be converted to creative will. If it expresses itself in war, then it is an imitation of man’s methods. It would be good to study the writings of women who were more concerned with personal relationships than with the power struggles of history. I have a dream of a more human lawyer, a more human educator, a more human politician. To become man, or like man, is no solution. There is far too much imitation of man in the women’s movement. That is merely a displacement of power. Woman’s definition of power should be different. It should be based on relationships to others. The women who truly identify with their oppressors, as the cliché phrase goes, are the women who are acting like men, masculinizing themselves, not those who seek to convert or transform man. There is no liberation of one group at the expense of another. Liberation can only come totally and in unison.

Group thinking does not give strength. It weakens the will. Majority thinking is oppressive because it inhibits individual growth and seeks a formula for all. Individual growth makes communal living of higher quality. A developed woman will know how to take care of all her social duties and how to act effectively.

My Sister, My Spouse

Preface to the Norton Library Edition of
My Sister, My Spouse: A Biography of Lou Andreas-Salomé,
by H. F. Peters.


It is thanks to H. F. Peters that I was introduced to Lou Andreas-Salomé, and this preface to the republication of his book is an act of gratitude. He presented a full portrait of her even though not all information about her was available. He was handicapped by her own destruction of many of her letters. But through his sensitivity, understanding, and empathy we acquire an intimate knowledge of a woman whose importance to the history of the development of woman is immeasurable. Peters has done a loving portrait which communicates her talent and her courage.

The lack of complete knowledge of Lou’s life forces our imagination to interpret her in the light of woman’s struggle for independence. We can accept the mysteries, ambivalences, and contradictions because they are analogous to the state of our knowledge of woman today. There is much to be filled in about the inner motives and reactions, the subconscious drives of women. History and biography have to be rewritten. We do not possess yet a feminine point of view in evaluating woman because of so many years of taboos on revelations. Women were usually punished by society and by the critics for such revelations as they did attempt. The double standard in biographies of women was absolute. Peters makes no such judgments. He gives us all the facts we need to interpret her in the light of new evaluations.

Lou Andreas-Salomé symbolizes the struggle to transcend conventions and traditions in ideas and in living. How can an intelligent, creative, original woman relate to men of genius without being submerged by them? The conflict of the woman’s wish to merge with the loved one but to maintain a separate identity is the struggle of modern woman. Lou lived out all the phases and evolutions of love, from giving to withholding, from expansion to contraction. She married and led a nonmarried life, she loved both older and younger men. She was attracted to talent but did not want to serve merely as a disciple or a muse. Nietzsche admitted writing
under her inspiration; he said that she understood his work as no one else did.

BOOK: In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays (Original Harvest Book; Hb333)
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