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Modern Views of Sexual Emotion - Gustav Danville

( Originally Published 1957 )

Danville found, among the views current in his time, three different conclusions regarding the "nature and causes" of amorous emotion. According to one it is composed of feelings aroused by describable features and traits of the loved person; it is made of admiration, pride, affection, etc. Others, to explain the peculiarities of sexual attraction, invoked what Danville regarded as "occult" causes such as the "Unconscious," expressing deep racial forces. Finally, there were those who found evidence, in the amorous fixation, of a kind of abnormal mentality; they regarded it as a form of emotional pathology.

All of these proposals are rejected by Danville, for whom l'Amour is neither supernatural nor abnormal. It cannot, more-over, be analyzed. He regards it, at outset, as illustrating the very highest degree of sexual preference. Its opposite is seen where there is little or no discrimination, as when the impulse seeks an outlet with small concern about the choice of object.

At a higher level, choice does enter but is made for common-place (banale) reasons, such as fairly obvious physical or mental traits like beauty or intelligence. Or, the grounds of choice may be various kinds of personal preferences again easily discoverable and commonplace in the attracted person. Occasional preferences of this type deceptively resemble l'Amour, but should not be confused with it.

The true and genuine amorous state is that in which, first of all, sexual choice, or preference, reaches an "absolute" of exclusiveness. Here, moreover, the basis of attraction is no longer apparent, and this absence of an evident motive for preference is one of its outstanding and distinguishing characteristics. It is this that has given rise to the popular notion that the amorous choice is something beyond all reason and logic. Another characteristic is the suddenness with which the amorous fixation may manifest itself. This is illustrated in certain famous classics of the "romantic encounter" in which the initial emotional disturbance is almost traumatic. An example is the novel, Manon Lescaut. Other traits of the "true" fixation, according to Danville, are its dominating, obsessive, and irresistible features. It may at once be recognized, when first it comes, as different in quality from all other feelings; it is hard to describe, and comparisons must be inadequate.

It cannot be analyzed into anything else, he says repeatedly, and it tends to be enduring. Of importance for our interest is the stress on the absence of "commonplace" factors in amorous choice, this being closely related to our earlier discussion of its irrational aspect. Danville tries to explain the love-choice by supposing that a kind of image of the ideal is gradually formed in the mind. This image grows through chance impressions received during the period of maturing of the sexual impulse, and is also influenced by the special character of a person's sexual disposition. This ideal, or model, remains unrealized or latent, however, until awakened by an encounter with an individual with corresponding characteristics. At the moment of such "recognition," image and reality blend together, the love choice is made, and the amorous experience is born. Danville's treatment here is rather brief. The growth of the ideal image is regarded as largely unconscious.

The study places the problem of choice well in the fore-ground of sexual behavior. It is not only, as Danville might say, that the individual himself often cannot tell us what attracts him, but that no one else can discover it, either. That "beauty, grace and wit" may be potent factors of appeal seems less mysterious, since here the world is in agreement, and people under-stand each other. When the grounds cannot be found, when few or none can agree, the absorption is perceived as irrational, or as nonrational. It is an "infatuation," or an eccentricity.

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