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Posts Tagged ‘love’

23 JANUARY, 2014

The Future of Love: Malcolm Cowley’s 1930 Parodic Prediction for the Age of Data

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The Stimulus and the Response go on a date.

In 1930, as the culturally raucous Jazz Age was coming to halt with the onset of the Great Depression and America was dreaming up a brighter, technologically advanced world of tomorrow, a curious anthology titled Whither Whither, or After Sex What?: A Symposium to End Symposiums (public library) crept onto bookstore shelves. Exploring the futures of such diverse subjects as prosperity, history, literary criticism, art, music, and the atom, it featured parodic predictions from a formidable roster of future literary titans, at the time in their early and mid-thirties, including E. E. Cummings, Edmund Wilson, E. B. White, and James Thurber (the latter two had just come off their own collaboration on a piece of equally entertaining cultural commentary, the 1929 gem Is Sex Necessary?: Or Why You Feel the Way You Do), illustrated with charming cartoons by the Bill Gropper.

One of the best contributions, both for its humor and its unintendedly poignant prescience, comes from the beloved novelist, poet, journalist, and literary critic Malcolm Cowley — he who contemplated the stages of the creative process some three decades later — and considers a subject that has occupied humanity for millennia: Love.

After a series of parodic predictions poking fun at the era’s scientific novelties like psychoanalysis and eugenics, some of which were dismissed as appropriately laughable decades later, Cowley considers “what Love will be — and society in general” in the envisioned new age, beginning with the concept of childbirth:

First, the children of the future will no longer be conceived by the methods unthinkingly adopted by our parents. Children will be had at special pharmacies out of glass vials — tied with blue ribbons for boys, tied with pink ribbons for girls, and tied with variegated ribbons to indicate all the new sexes that we may confidently expect to see developed by the intensive application of modern laboratory methods. Life will thus be greatly simplified. And to think of the relief to bashful parents who hesitate to reveal the biological facts to their children! Little boys and girls will no longer have to be told that the doctor brought them or that the stork dropped them down the chimney. They will know darned well that they came from the corner drug store.

'One of the possible methods of reviving the stork ceremony of birth in the future. A child is produced by laboratory methods, thus avoiding the present system of procreation which is disagreeable to some people and which can henceforth be reserved purely for purposes of debauchery. The infant is placed in swaddling clothes, attached to the beak of a mechanical stork. The expectant mother, who is trained from early girlhood for this serious task, is then given a large butterfly net, and at a signal from the head obstetrician the bird is released, to soar eagerly in swift mechanical flight. The young mother leaps forward, captures the stork with its precious burden, and an heir is born.'

Cowley, writing in the age of truly gobsmacking rules of romance, then moves on to the question of courtship in the future:

We may confidently predict that the mating pattern will be changed by the application of scientific Behaviorism. The post-adolescent male will have learned to condition away the fear reflexes which inhibit hugs and kisses. By producing a box of candy at every visit, he will offer a stimulus certain to produce a favorable response to himself. By taking his girl to the movies (if he can’t make love at home), he will behavioristically surround himself with an atmosphere proportious to the development of heterosexual affection. By gifts of jewelry and flowers, he will condition the sweetheart to a belief in his own prosperity.

But while Cowley’s intent was purely satirical in 1930, a time long before the discovery of DNA and the invention of the modern digital web, the prescience of his parody turns tragicomic in the context of today’s quantified self and personal genomics, where we obsessively measure our psychophysiology and proudly advertise its high points in online dating profiles — ours is, after all, love in the age of data. Cowley continues:

And when the moment comes to pop the question, he will not be so foolish as to say, “Will you marry me?” That would smack of the old Victorian repressions — and besides, marriage will long since have been abolished. Instead the lover (hereinafter to be known as “the Response”) will exclaim to the sweetheart (hereinafter to be known as “the Stimulus”):

“My IQ is satisfactory, my blood count satisfactory, my basic metabolism satisfactory, my male hormones present in satisfactory qualities. My instincts are wholly mature, my thyroid and pituitary glands properly adjusted, and I am capable of following the higher mammalian mating pattern. Will you live with me happily ever after in heterosexual matehood?”

“Let’s synthesize!” the Stimulus will reply, as hand in hand these twain go marching into the heterosexual dawn.

'The eternal triangle is not always husband, wife, and lover. It is sometimes, as we learn from the more prosperous psychologists, husband, wife, and child -- or, to bring the matter nearer home, husband, wife, and Pomeranian. This is but one of the problems which will be solved by a careful reading of the present Symposium, this last Symposium, this Symposium to end Symposiums.'

Though long out of print, Whither, Whither, or After Sex, What? can be found online and is well worth the hunt. Complement Cowley’s contemplation with its modern, non-satirical counterparts exploring the natural history of love, the math of its odds, and its alleged science, the very concept of which Cowley so elegantly derided.

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20 JANUARY, 2014

The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: An Endearing Record of His First Loves from His Secret Boyhood Diary

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A lesson on self-awareness without self-consciousness.

As a hopeless lover of famous diaries, I was at once astounded and thrilled to learn that in the summer of 1910, shortly before turning fourteen, F. Scott Fitzgerald began keeping a short memoir in a notebook labeled Thoughtbook of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald of St. Paul Minn U.S.A., in which he collected fragmentary observations about his life and his social circle. Though he only kept it for six months, the celebrated author would later turn to the journal again and again, drawing on the vignettes and people in it as inspiration for his fiction. But despite being a critical piece of literary history, the Thoughtbook remained a well-kept family secret for decades, with access granted only to Fitzgerald’s official biographers, and only sparingly. Eventually, it ended up at the Special Collections Library at the University of South Carolina, in a facility out of a James Bond movie — a humidity-sensitive vault deep underground, controlled by fingerprint- and eye-scan doors.

In 2013, the prized artifact finally came to public life as The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary (public library), featuring a transcription of Fitzgerald’s original diary contextualized by scholar David Page, and accompanied by a selection of photographs from Fitzgerald’s childhood.

There are two particularly curious and prominent features of the Thoughtbook — young Francis’s propensity for lists, and his intense dedication to being a ladies’ man, meticulously recording his interest in various girls and theirs in him. Best of all, however, is the intersection of the two — his lists ranking the girls according to their appearance and his affections.

Fitzgerald at age fifteen, taken while he was a student at the Newman Academy in New Jersey just a few months after he finished the Thoughtbook.

In the opening entry, titled “My Girls” and penned in August of 1910, he details with delightful freedom of spelling and grammar his impressions of his first two loves:

My recollections of Nancy are rather dim but one day stands out above the rest. The Gardeners had their home three miles out of town and one day James Imham, Inky for short, my best friend, and I were invited out to spend the day. I was about nine years old Nancy about eight and we were quite infatuated with each other. I was in the middle of the winter as soon as we got there we began playing on the toboggan. Nancy and I an Inky were on one toboggan and Ham (Nancies big brother) came along and wanted to get on. He made a leap for the toboggan but I pushed off just in time and sent him on his head. He was awful mad. He said he’d kick me off and that it wasn’t my toboggan and that I couldn’t play. However Nancy smoothed it over and we went to lunch.

Kitty Williams is much plainer in my memory. I met her first at dancing school and as Mr. Van Arnumn (our dancing teacher) chose me to lead the march I asked her to be my pardner. The next day she told Marie Lautz and Marie repeated it to Dorothy Knox who in turn passed it on to Earl, that I was third in her affections. I dont remember who was first but I know that Earl was second and I was already quite overcome by her charms I then and there resolved that I would gain first place.

In another entry, written a month later, Fitzgerald introduces Violet Stockton, who would later serve as a major inspiration for the female characters throughout his fiction:

Violet Stockton was a niece of Mrs. Finch and she spent a summer in Saint Paul. She was very pretty with dark brown hair and eyes big and soft. She spoke with a soft southern accent leaving out the r’s. She was a year older than I but together with most of the other boys liked her very much.

[…]

At the time I was more popular with girls than I ever have been befor. In truth Kitty Shultz, Dorothy, Violet, Marie and Catherine Tre all liked me best.

In an entry from November of 1910, young Scott pens a list under the heading “These are the boys and girls I like best in order,” with clarifier that “the first three boys are tie”:

Art
Bob
Cecil
Shumier
Boardmen
Bigelow
Sturgis
Jim
D. Driscoll
R. Washington
Paul
Speply
Rube
Mitchell
Smith
Smith
Alida Bigelow
Margaret Armstrong
Kitty Schulz
Elizabeth Dean
Marie Hersey
Dorothy Green
Caroline Clark
Julia Door

But the most remarkable aspect of the list is a sentence that young Scott wrote vertically along the middle of the page, between the two columns of names — an expression of his crystalline awareness, even at such a young age, that human personality is in constant flux and that to change one’s mind is an essential part of the human journey:

This list changes continually
Only authentic at date of chapter

Indeed, what makes the Thoughtbook so extraordinary is the absolute earnestness with which young Scott observes his life as it unfolds, full of self-awareness but free of the self-consciousness by which most adult writers are chronically afflicted — perhaps the same outlook that Fitzgerald wanted to instill in his own young daughter twenty-three years later.

Pasted in the Thoughtbook is an endearing earlier entry from another journal, which young Scott wrote in 1908 at the age of eleven:

I love Kitty Williams. Today in dancing school I told her she was my best girl. I dared Earl Knox to say “I love you Kitty,” to her and he did it. Then I did it too. She asked me if I liked dancing school and I said I liked it if she went. Then she said she liked it if I went.

Beneath it, a list appears ranking his favorite girls in 1911:

  1. Kitty Schultze
  2. Alida Bigelow
  3. Elenor Alair
  4. Marie Hersey
  5. Julia Dorr

He then replicates the list for 1912 — but since the journal was only kept between August 1910 and February of 1911, it appears to be a projection for his future affections, making it all the more of a charming curiosity:

  1. Elenor Alair
  2. Kitty Schultz
  3. Marie Hersey

On February 12, 1911, he records his changing affections yet again:

Since dancing school opened this last time I have deserted Alida. I have to new crushes, to wit — Margaret Armstrong and Marie Hersey. I have not quite decided yet which I like the best. The 2nd is the prettiest. The 1st the best talker.

He adds, proudly:

Last year in dancing school I got 11 valentines and this year 15.

But brains prevail over beauty and Margaret wins out over Marie. In another entry from February 24, young Scott gushes:

I am just crazy about Margaret Armstrong and I have the most awful crush on her that ever was. This has been the case ever since Bob’s party. She is not pretty but I think she is very attractive looking. She is extremely graceful and a very good dancer and the most interesting talker I have ever seen or rather heard.

He proceeds to recount an impossibly endearing anecdote, brimming with the exalting highs and crushing lows of teenage love:

Jim Portfield and I were invited to call on Elizabeth Dean by Elizabeth and when we got there we found her too and we started out for a walk. Margaret and Jim walked ahead and Elizabeth and I behind. This made me mad and this was further inflamed when they got a block ahead of us. Then Elizabeth told me some things. She said that Margaret had given her a note the day befor in school which said “I know I am fickle but I like Jim just as much as I do Scott.” When I learned this I was jealous of Jim as I had never been of anyone before. I said some ridiculous things about how I was going to get even with him in Margarets estimation when we reached the country club. Elizabeth went ahead and asked Margaret which of us she liked the best. Margaret said she liked me best. All the way home I was n the seventh heaven of delight.

Slim as it may be, The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary is infinitely delightful and highly recommended. Pair it with grown-up Fitzgerald on the secret of great writing and his exquisite reading of John Masefield’s “On Growing Old.”

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15 JANUARY, 2014

How to Make Love: A 1936 Guide to the Art of Wooing

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“Although we live in a modern age, we seem unable to throw off the yoke of Puritanism.”

“Part of the modern ideology of love is to assume that love and sex always go together,” Susan Sontag observed in her fantastic meditation on love, sex, and the world between, “and probably the greatest problem for human beings is that they just don’t.” And yet we still refer to sex as “making love.”

In 1936, the year my grandmother was born, a man by the name of Pietro Ramirez Sr. took that delightful vintage guide to the art of kissing published the same year one step further and released How to Make Love — an illustrated compendium of advice on “the secrets of wooing,” featuring the same amusingly dated ideas on gender norms, social etiquette, and conventions of courtship. Ramirez boasts in the foreword:

Although we live in a modern age, we seem unable to throw off the yoke of Puritanism. [Older books] concerned themselves with the language of flowers as practiced between lovers, the language of fans, the language of parasols and, in fact treatises on the symbolic language of everything but the language of love.

What has been vitally necessary is a book written by a modern writer for modern people who live and love in a modern way.

Clearly, of course, not that modern, for the advice is restricted to the era’s only definition of love as heterosexual love. But therein lies the prescience of this vintage gem: It offers a meta-reminder that much like we see the “progressive” ideas of the 1930s as laughably outdated and restrictive, our present conventions about matters of the heart and body — as well as our efforts to legislate those — will one day become equally dated. Ramirez puts things in perspective:

The restrictions that bound us in the past, in the matter of social etiquette, have all been washed away by the cleansing waters of time. Not many years ago, our girls were warned to keep their young men from placing their arms around the seat of the buggy when riding or else suffer the ignominy of being classed as fallen women. Nowadays, we look upon such things more calmly. With the change in social customs there has been a need for a book which dealt with the art of love. This book is intended to aid you in your love-making.

One of the gifts of hindsight is precisely that: We come to see the natural arc of ideas as they pass from scandalous propositions to cultural givens to outdated norms, and in the process we remember that even the ideas that rile our greatest political convictions today will one day become fossils of progress in a more evolved culture. Here, for instance, is what Ramirez writes in the opening chapter, which considers the eternal question of what love is — a particularly emblematic fossil of cultural evolution today, in the age of marriage equality:

Marriage is the culmination of love. Two people should never fall in love with each other unless they understand thoroughly that their love for each other is to eventuate into a future marriage.

Bear in mind that in 1936 America, this automatically precluded interracial couples from ever falling in love, since the interracial marriage ban wasn’t lifted until 1967, as well as same-sex couples, who only just won the legal right to marry in 2013′s historic ruling.

Ramirez argues that the sole purpose of marriage, and thus of love, is procreation and that “the birth of a child demands that man and woman participate in the creation.” Oh, but it gets better:

Man was created strong. Woman was created weak. Therefore, it is up to the man to protect his woman. Woman is so physically constituted that she needs man’s strong protection.

(Ramirez, apparently, never met any of these ladies — or these, for that matter.)

From this basic “given,” Ramirez argues, springs every difference between man and woman. For instance:

There is the difference in the attitude of man and woman toward the culmination of love. Woman, although she is just as anxious for love as man, must never betray her anxiety. She must always be passive. Man, it is, who must be the active partner. It is he who makes love to woman. He chases the woman who was made to be chased. The success of love depends entirely on the understanding of this basic relationship.

[…]

That accounts for woman’s coyness, her shyness. That also accounts for her sometimes illogical habits of putting her man off. She realizes intuitively that, in order to make herself more desirable to her man, she must make herself less accessible. She must, in other words, establish the chaser-chased relationship between them.

And just to be sure we got the point, he adds:

A reversed relationship, that is where the woman is the physical superior of the man, is not only devoid of love but is ludicrous. … If the strong-weak attitude between man and woman is kept up throughout the entire period of lovemaking, courtship and marriage, the result will be a happy marriage that will bear fruit in love, children and marital bliss.

To be sure, not all of it is outrageously misguided — there is, as in all antiquated ideologies, a kernel of eternal human truth in some of Ramirez’s theories. He is, for instance, skeptical of the mythology of love at first sight:

It is in the understanding of each other that true love is born and nurtures and lives. For that is the secret of a lasting love, the one word: understanding. Only when there is this understanding, this common sympathy for each other, can true love function. … So it can be seen that the love which grows out of a long friendship is more desired than the love which is generated suddenly at first sight. If, after the sudden burst of first love, the lovers realize that they must learn to know each other thoroughly and they go about learning each other, then their love will be lasting. But, experience has proven that, usually, those lovers who are catapulted into a lover affair at first sight are usually those who are quick-tempered. A hair-trigger emotion such as love at first sight can only be possessed by people with hair-trigger temperaments.

Another whiff of sense comes from a related section on embracing imperfection, titled “To Err is Human”:

Understanding your lover is something that is required of you if your love affair is to continue to marriage. Realize that no one is perfect and that each of us is likely to err. If the faults irritate you, remember, try to remember the things about your lover that have made him so lovable to you. Balance of the bad with the good. See the big things only and let the little things go hang. Or else, if you discover some shortcomings in your lover that disturb you, think back on your own shortcomings and realize that, the things about him that are annoying to you are just as bad as the things about you that are annoying to him.

Ramirez goes on to offer a diagnostic test for how to know you’re in love, a set of guidelines for introducing your lover to your parents, and various other how-to’s of romance, until he gets to the down-and-dirty: In a section titled “How to Approach a Girl,” he presents a guide to that coveted first kiss:

In kissing a girl whose experience with osculation is limited, it is a good thing to work up to the kissing of the lips. Only an arrant fool seizes hold of such a girl when they are comfortably seated on a sofa, and suddenly shoves his face into hers and smacks her lips. Naturally, the first thing he should do is to arrange it so that the girl is seated against the arm of the sofa while he is at her side. In this way, she cannot edge away from him when he becomes serous in his attentions. This done, on some pretext or other, such as a gallant attempt to adjust the cushions behind her (tenderness, you see) he manages to insinuate his arm, first around the back of the sofa and then, gradually, around her shoulders.

If you suspect this might be getting dangerously close to date-rape territory, hold the premature evaluation — we’re getting there:

If she flinches, don’t worry. If she flinches and makes an outcry, don’t worry. If she flinches, makes an outcry and tries to get up from the sofa, don’t worry. Hold her, gently but firmly, and allay her fears with kind, reassuring words. … However, if she flinches, makes an outcry, a loud stentorian outcry, mind you, and starts to scratch your face, then start to worry or start to get yourself out of a bad situation. Such girls are not to be trifled with … or kissed.

Provided no face-scratching has taken place, this is what you should do:

Tell her she is beautiful. Then take a deep sniff of the perfume in her hair and comment on it. Tell her that the odor is like “heady wine.” Tell her that her hair smells like a garden of roses. Tell her anything, but be sure to tell her something complimentary. This done, it is only a natural thing for you to desire to sink your nose deeper into her hair so that you can get the full benefit of its bouquet.

Then, time for “The Technique of Kissing”:

Now is your chance! The moment you feel the tip of your nose touch her scalp, purse your lips and kiss her, the while you inhale a deep breath of air that is redolent with the exquisite odor of her hair. It is then but a few inches to her ear. Touch the rim of her ear with your lips in a sort of brushing motion. Breathe gently into the delicate shell. Some women react passionately to this subtle act. Brush past her here in this way again and note her reaction. If she draws her head away, return to the hair and sniff luxuriously of it. Then settle back to her ear, the while you murmur “sweet, airy nothings” into it. From the ear to her neck is but another few inches. Let your lips traverse this distance quickly and then dart into the nape of the neck and, with your lips well pursed, nip the skin there, using the same gentleness as would a cat lifting her precious kittens.

Then, with a series of little nips, bring your lips around-from the nape of her neck to the curving, swerve of her jaw, close to the ear. Gently kiss the lobe of her ear. But be sure to return to the tender softness of her jaw. From then on, the way should be clear to you. Nuzzle your lips along the soft, downy expanse until you reach the corner of her lips. You will know when this happens, because, suddenly, you will feel a strange stiffening of her shoulders under your arm. The reason for this is that the lips constitute one of the main erogenous zones of the body.

All right. You have subtly kissed the corner of her mouth. Don’t hesitate. Push on further to more pleasurable spots. Ahead of you lies that which had been promised in your dreams, the tender, luscious lips of the girl you love. But don’t sit idly by and watch them quivering.

But before letting young lovers get carried away in the quivering — in the attainment of “the culmination of love: connubial bliss” — Ramirez reminds them of the ultimate goal:

One thing you must always remember: love, above all, builds for future happiness. And this future happiness is a successful marriage. Nothing should be done in this pre-marital state that might injure the marriage relationship. Remember that ahead of you lies a life together, a life that will be built on a happy home, healthy children, congenial companionship and, above all, loyalty. And, always, in the back of your head, while you are courting, while you are kissing, while you are fondling each other, while you are enjoying each other, you should have the thought of this idea of building for permanence.

Ramirez also offers some practical advice on a crucial element of courtship — the love letter:

Most men consider it effeminate nowadays to write mushy, gushy love letters but they are absolutely essential.

[…]

In writing a love letter, try to imagine that your loved one is seated next to you on the sofa and that you are whispering sweet nothings into her ear. Then, instead of speaking those things to her, write them down on a paper (never typewrite them because type is too impersonal for as personal a missive as a love letter). Don’t write the letter as though it were a guidebook. Don’t be too brief. Go into complete detail about the things you’ve done and seen. And try, always, when possible to connect up those things with something parallel that happened to the two of you.

Despite the dated and outlandish assertions, however, Ramirez ends on a surprisingly sensible and timeless (albeit grammatically questionable) note:

When you are in love, ask yourself whether there is anything about the character of your mate that might injure your relationship in years to come. If you can truthfully and honestly say “no” to this question, then you will have before you a lifetime of happiness such as the most richest of millionaires has ever experienced.

Overwhelmingly amusing, frequently appalling, and occasionally astute, How to Make Love is well worth the used-books hunt. Complement it with another vintage treat on mastering a different aspect of the art of courtship, The Seducer’s Cookbook, then revisit the equally amusing The Art of Kissing.

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