Marriage, Motherhood and the Philosophical Mind

Partial reprint from my other blog.

I am hoping I could generate some input regarding a person’s intense need for philosophical inquiry and making room for a personal life.

What I’m referring to is the endless struggle between feeding the intellectual needs and, being a social animal, the emotional needs for connection.   I do NOT want to make this a feminist issue, because I think this is an issue impacting both males and females.  I think there is value in both viewpoints. But I am a woman AND a mother AND have a philosophical mind.

In Nietzsche’s book, On the Genealogy of Morals, in the third essay, he writes:

Every animal—therefore the philosophical animal, too— instinctively strives for an optimum of favorable conditions under which it can expend all its strength and achieve its maximal feeling of power; every animal abhors, just as instinctively and with a subtlety of discernment that is “higher than all reason,” every kind of intrusion or hindrance that obstructs or could obstruct this path to the optimum (I am not speaking of its path to happiness, but its path to power, to action, to the most powerful activity, and in most cases actually its path to unhappiness). Thus the philosopher abhors marriage, together with that which might persuade to it—marriage being a hindrance and calamity on his path to the optimum. What great philosopher hitherto has been married? Heraclitus, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer—they were not; more, one cannot even imagine them married. A married philosopher belongs in comedy, that is my proposition—and as for that exception, Socrates—the malicious Socrates, it would seem, married ironically, just to demonstrate this proposition.

Apparently, according to Nietzsche, the philosopher is married to his work, not to a woman, who would detract from his serious contemplations. Did he take a lover, or was he celibate?

I wondered about this until I read he was entangled for a bit with Lou Andreas Salome, a Russian-born psychoanalyst…who at one point asked Nietzsche and Paul Ree to live in a manage a trois, proposing the idea to live in an academic commune, more for intellectual purposes than for sexual ones, in the spring of 1882. They lived this way until October of 1882, when Nietzsche had a falling out with both of them, when Salome believed that Nietzsche was desperately in love with her. This little known tidbit had been the subject of a fictional account by Irvin Yalom called “When Nietzsche Wept” (which is quite a wonderful story…but I digress).

I can relate to Nietzsche’s sentiment. As an intelligent, introspective and quasi-philosophical married woman and sometimes wanna-be (published and paid) writer, I find myself conflicted and sometimes even irritated over having interruptions to my thought processes by ordinary things like dishes, child care and being requested to snuggle with my husband when I want to think or write.

It’s, in some regards, terribly selfish, but it’s true. Writers, philosophers, poets, artists, and their ilk are often married more to their idea(l)s which can makes it very difficult to make room for people on a long-term basis. Sure, there is some satisfaction to be had, but there is a constant tug in two directions – the more tranquil (read: boring) existence of domestic “bliss” and the siren call of the creative/thinking life.

[And I wonder…does it have to be either/or…can it not be both?]

Then here is an alternative view…as put forth by Bertrand Russell:

He is considered to be one of the founders of analytical philosophy and he received the Nobel Prize in literature, and co-wrote Prinicipia Mathematica. Unlike Nietzsche, he was married, what…4 times? See what he has to say about the relationship of love in HIS intellectual life:

At the age of 84, Russell added a five-paragraph prologue to a new publication of his autobiography, giving a summary of the work and his life, titled WHAT I HAVE LIVED FOR.

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

So perhaps intellectualism CAN co-exist comfortably with marriage. [Of course, I’m aware that for Russell, being a man, this is ‘easier’ to accomplish because he has had wives to take care of domestic affairs…]


About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Irvin Yalom, Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Philosophy, Uncategorized, When Nietzsche Wept. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Marriage, Motherhood and the Philosophical Mind

  1. Pingback: When philosophy and love don't mix | The Sprightly Writer

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