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The Book that's mattered most to me: Rollo May, Love and Will,
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This review is from: Love & Will (Paperback)
Rollo May's Love and Will is the most important book I've read -- of any kind, at any time. Its importance to me is not because of some specific thesis May advances, but for an integrated set of ideas and values, and an understanding of human nature, that May presents. These have deepened my own thinking and understanding of my internal and external life experience. I re-consult the text frequently, and find myself quoting or paraphrasing it to others in many contexts, as I try to explain how I understand human interactions to actually work. Shortly after first reading it, I myself went to the length of honoring my baby daughter with the middle name "Will." She has certainly fulfilled that anticipation.
In general comments elsewhere about Existential Psychology (a 'school' of psychology he helped 'father'), psychoanalyst Rollo May sees psychotherapy as more than a cure or remedy; serving rather to broaden the client's ability to create meaning. Love and Will has helped me to do that -- to perceive, create and deepen meaning in my life.
The book was originally written in the late 60s during the sexual revolution, which was spurred on by widespread distribution of the birth control pill and the resulting opportunity to (further) separate love from sex in much of our culture. Love and Will may appear at first blush to be a response, arguing as it does that separating sex from love exacts a terrible toll in apathy. But the meaning of May's ideas are both broader and deeper, and reading his content as primarily about sex, or Eros, or even Love -- each among the major subjects addressed here -- gives less importance to this work than it merits. In the formulation about sex, love and apathy, for example, his most urgent focus is on apathy! I don't mean to deny the importance of sex, Love, Eros, or of these to his work; I mean to broaden the importance I attach to what May has written here, and what I think he contributes more generally.
When May speaks of Eros, he speaks most profoundly of it as a "daimon," a term which he debated vigorously, for example, with the great pioneer Carl Rogers, who insisted on misreading into it a simpler notion of "demonic!" But May's concept of the daimon was different. In Love and Will, May defines "daimon" as "the urge in every being to affirm itself, assert itself, perpetuate and increase itself...." So May's "daimonic potentialities -- notably the daimonic urge of Eros -- are the source of both our constructive and destructive impulses --and normally both" -- e.g., toward creativity and love on the one hand, vs. toward rage, paranoia, compulsive sexuality and oppressive behavior on the other. Love and Will has for me held this revelation -- the notion of the same core urges within our psyches being for both good and ill, depending on how we channel them, and often for both. It is fascinating to read a giant like Carl Rogers himself struggle with the subtlety of reconciling both the good and evil within the same daimonic impulse. It exemplifies for me how the power of May's subtle insight works.
Among my difficulties in chewing through Love and Will was his Chapter on Love and Death. I had to return to the chapter several different times before I could make my way through it emotionally. Here, May applies his broader notions of the meaning of anxiety in their most frightening setting. May makes the case the truest love can be experienced only in the face of death -- i.e., with the awareness of death's possibility. How well we know this from all our tradition of art and literature -- Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde loom so large! Yet how urgently we deny its applicability to our own lives. A skilled deployer of biblical and mythological references, nowhere is May's use more telling than in his noting the banality of love between the immortals in Greek mythology, compared with the fire that infuses those gods' relations with mortal lovers.
In his discussion of Will, May quickly distinguishes Will from the straw man version of Will many of us were raised with, which he calls "Victorian Will Power." Will power is decidedly not what May means by Will -- it is an artificial social convention for denial or even repression of one's wishes. It neither entails Free Will, nor the genuine consultation of one's own wants or wishes about anything.
May's exploration of this realm takes us through his idea of "Intentionality," which focuses heavily on our way of knowing, which is so interdependent on our way of intending. We see what we see based on what we intend about it. If we can form no intention, we literally do not perceive! Don't we all have examples of bumping into something right in front of us that, somehow, we literally did not see because we did not have it in mind, i.e., had no intention about it? May's illustrations are more elegant... In one charming example, he describes how we might see a piece of paper in terms of its surface texture if we intend to draw on it, but perceive it in terms of its sturdiness if we intend instead to make a paper airplane from it -- so intertwined are intention and perception. May's theory of intentionality builds from this foundation on up.
As elsewhere, May's approach combines practical, real life experience with reference to etymology and philosophy to reinforce the human understanding of how we humans think and understand our reality. Again and again, I have found myself enlightened and enriched by what he has shared.
These are just a few glimpses into a book rich with insights I return to again and again in the 30+ years since I first received this book as a gift in 1979. I recommend it to you for yourself, or as a gift -- not necessarily to read in a single sitting or week, but just as well for noshing and chomping. It need not be consumed as one integrated thesis, even though -- as one fine review here notes -- it will hold up quite well that way.
Make this fine book yours, use it as you wish so long as you actively engage your own mind, and it will serve you well.
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Initial post: Aug 11, 2012, 9:10:36 AM PDT
A Student says:
A very good review. Thank you.
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