Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 76: Philia, Agape, Eros & Tadzio’s Savage Century

The genus of same-sex erotic attraction is not a corruption or variant of a procreative sexual impulse, but is a vital component of nature’s effective survival and evolutionary impulse through altruism, empathy and bonding.

This important realization not only redefines same-sex attraction outside the reductionist concepts of “sexology,” but extends even to more primordial forces in nature, including as evidenced by the “left-handed neutrino” phenomenon discovered by atomic physicist Maurice Goldhaber (discussed in an earlier entry here as “violating mirror symmetry” of the universe).

Not only does this point to an engine of an underlying “negative-entropic” tendency for the universe to self-develop, it is of the same order of reality as the evidence of an indispensable “altruism” in social development of species discovered by entomologist E. O. Wilson that defies empiricist interpretations of Darwin’s theories.
Same-sex erotic attraction plays a critical role in this process – its progenitor being no less than the self-development of the universe, itself – in human social contexts, working to progress society from non-productive male chauvinist-dominated tyranny forms to constitutional, egalitarian democratic ones.

The 18th century mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1710) espoused a concept of the “monad,” the notion that everything in the universe is recapitulated in its every singularity, that applies here.

Platonists in ancient Greece understood the concept of “species love,” defining it in terms of the broad spectrum of “loves” that range from philia (brotherly) to agape (spiritual) to eros (erotic). Although almost no one operating within the matrix defined by a male-dominant species reproduction mode understands this, none of these Platonic-defined “loves” are associated with procreation, either the act of intercourse or the subsequent “motherly love” of child rearing, but instead that they are singled out to define a range for the kind of love that bonds and develops cultures.

Same-sex erotic (“eros”) attraction is a natural variant among these, no matter how much it may appear to emulate the procreative impulse. For any individual “called” to this kind of loving, that loving can be expressed in any one of the three ways, and can also express such loving as “agape” or “philia” without an “eros” component, at all. But they are all related.

In 1912, 100 years ago, the sinking of the Titanic on April 15 was perhaps an omen for a century sparked by the June 1914 launch of the Great War, the first of two World Wars, the rise of totalitarian regimes, mass genocides, the AIDS epidemic, a Great Depression and perhaps a second.

Another omen was German author Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, “Death in Venice,” about a doomed relationship between a burned out, aging composer and a young teenage lad, a relationship in which no words were exchanged.

Smitten by the Polish lad staying in the same vacation hotel in Venice, the composer, Aschenbach, was unable to either hide his interest or speak to the boy. The boy, Tadzio, responded to the interest, but also remained mute. The story ends with the composer’s death from cholera on the beach, watching the slightly effeminate object of his attraction wade into the water and pause, left arm extended in a contraposto pose.

Mann’s story was based on actual events, on a vacation he took to Venice in the summer of 1911, and the boy was discovered decades later to be a real person, Wladyslaw Moes (1900-1986).

American author Gilbert Adair reconstructed Moes’ life history and wrote a short biography, “The Real Tadzio: Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the Boy Who Inspired It” (2001). “Tadzio,” living in Poland, was pushed and pulled his whole life between the two great wars and fascist German and communist Soviet occupations, serving in the Polish military and as a prisoner of war.

He grew into and remained “something of a dandy to the end of his life, no mean achievement in Communist Poland,” Adair wrote. “Capable of charming the birds off trees,” he “prided himself on his grace as a dancer.” He married and had children, but otherwise had an uninspired life buffeted by the great social and military convulsions of his age.

There was more than physical beauty that attracted Aschenbach to young Tadzio in the novella. There was something in Tadzio’s demeanor, his charm, his way of carrying himself. Also, as Tadzio gazed back at Aschenbach, almost as if he foresaw his future trapped into conformity with a straight male-dominated century of war and fascism, was his silent plea, “Aren’t you going to save me?” Aschenbach couldn’t.

“Gay Liberation” is supposed to save the Tadzios of our time, to give them the space and the language to fulfill their full potentials to the benefit of all mankind.

Still, two important loves, one of a man for Franklin D. Roosevelt, the other of a woman for Eleanor Roosevelt, played vital roles in the past century’s survival of America.

To be continued.