I can’t remember how I came across Fromm’s seminal treatise, The Art of Loving, but it was in mid-April, when I was trying to figure out how to make sense of an exceptionally narcissistic individual and how he’d turned my life upside down. I read a chapter, and while it resonated and struck me as vital, I couldn’t put it into the framework of what I was coping with, so I put it down for three months as I worked through a lot of that. I picked it up two days ago and finished the other four parts of it in a night. It’s hard to write about this book without being too personal, because for me it’s a balm in the heat of chaos, but it’s helped me to affirm the things I’ve been trying to learn in this unprecedented time and in the sea of my vast loneliness.
Fromm writes empathetically, intellectually, and carefully from his perspective as a man of his time. This is to say that everything is heterosexual, his chapter on the development of religion through the ages is cringingly hierarchical and racist (just skip it, like, it doesn’t add much to the chapters that proceed it) and he’s still got a lot of Freudian comparisons that don’t really hold up, BUT- he is fundamentally onto something in his message. I really do think that, if he was alive today (all of 120 years old) he would be into our current politics and have a lot to say about the way we’ve differentiated and grown on gender, race, class and culture. Dude was a democratic socialist, and left Nazi Germany and lived through all of that, so his insight is nothing to sneeze at. If you can get past some of this 1950 maleness, you can see the message and the value in it, about the way capitalism dehumanizes and alienates us, about how our own poor child-rearing techniques and personal uses of narcissism harm our children and adults, and about how we fail to relate to each other because of our fears and our egos. What he says, fundamentally, about people and how they related and interacted 64 years ago, is still relevant today, almost horrifyingly so. What he has to say about how to grow beyond your rearing and your limitations, so you can be more loving, is fundamentally profound and compelling.
In a time of a pandemic, mass social unrest from deep inequities, and at a time when I’ve faced some of my biggest personal challenges, I feel like Fromm has sketched out a very vague map about how to grow and not be swallowed whole by the despair I’ve often caved into. I feel less afraid of being alone, and I feel like I got there right before I decided to try again with this book, and read it when it was necessary and soothing. Maybe if I’d finished the book back in April, I wouldn’t have seen the elegance of his message, because I would have tried to twist it to fit a narrative that was pulling me apart at the seams. Maybe I just couldn’t finish it because I knew I and the message weren’t yet compatible. Maybe I’m Dorothy Gale-ing this whole experience. I’m glad I got to a point where I could hear what he’s trying to say, take it in, and reflect on it. You might too- if you can remember to couch his perspective in the year 1956.