Belknap, S.G. “Love in the Age of the Pickup Artist: Stendhal Among the Seducers.” The Point. 2, no. 2 (Winter 2010): 9-32.
Also available at: Love in the Age of the Pickup Artist | The Point Magazine
Why did I read this article?
I heard about The Point magazine through one of my favorite podcasts, Common Ground Podcast with Joseph Hogan. The full podcast is available here: It is an interview with the founding editor concerning his goals for The Point magazine. Namely, it’s a magazine that focuses on promoting applied philosophy… encouraging people to live a more examined life by publishing a bi-annual magazine of essays from a broad array of perspectives focused around particular themes, such as “What is travel for?” “What is the Left for?” “What is Conservatism for?”, et cetera. I enjoyed the interview so much, I purchased the entire archive.
Belknap begins and ends with his own misadventures in love: Finding and losing a woman that he loves once the initial relationship ecstasy has worn off. In his coming to terms with how to think about why and how such patterns occur in romantic relationships, he explores the raise of the Pickup Artist in popular culture popularized by Neil Strauss’s book, The Game. He also examines a literary history of the tensions between “courtly love” and eroticism… especially through the writings of Marie-Henri Beyle (more commonly known as Stendhal). Belknap ends the essay thinking through how we might find some common ground between the diametrically opposed roles of “the lover” and “the pickup artist.”
When Sex is Easy, Love Becomes Difficult: Cultivate Eroticism
The pickup artist, Belknap contends, does not own the evolutionary nature of humans that they exploit. Just because seductive manipulation is morally reprehensible, does not mean that there are not lessons to be learned for the authentic lover. In a world where sex has become so easy, maintaining love has become difficult. Passion burns where you stoke the fire.
“One prepares for intoxication; but one is nevertheless intoxicated. One yields carefully; but one nevertheless yields. This precarious mixture of the active and the passive is the middle ground between a yearning hopeless love and a ribald pickup artistry. It is love mediated through art, and artistry of love.” (29-30)
“The pleasure and duty of restraint belong just as much to love as they do to mere seduction. …The antidote is rather to have the best of both worlds, love and eroticism. In an important sense, ‘the game’ belongs to the lover much more even than it belongs to the pickup artists, because with the lover the game is redeemed and heightened. The lover’s eroticism is always subject to a greater end, an end greater than himself: it is flirtation in the service of commitment…” (30-31)
We are accustomed to hearing the phrase, “The grass is greener where you water it.” I have to admit that I was unsettled when reading the cold, crudeness of the pickup artist as an art form. I was even more disturbed by making the connection between this genre of intentional manipulation and the most important relationship in my life. But Belknap’s piece gave me permission to apply the above platitude that we all instinctively sense to be true. Certainly, lover’s do grow apart. But just as often – and perhaps the greater fear is that more often – lovers are neglected.
Personally, I do not think I take eroticism seriously. There are probably more reasons for why that is so than I am capable of admitting to myself. Still, that does not change the fact that the most beautiful, most important person in my life is a homo sapien. And our species would not exist without its primal desires for sex: hunt, isolate, fuck. Despite living in an interconnected world where distance and separation have disappeared, we are still a race that desire the pursuit and desire to be pursued. We can blame the current historical moment for the challenges it brings to maintaining decades long romance: longer lifespans, internet pornography, et cetera… but the desire for desire remains deeply lodged within.
How do we create an environment where eroticism can thrive longterm? How do we create a space where we can “conjur[e] up walls and limits out of thin air to replace the ones we have lost”?