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What C. S. Lewis Said About 'Affection'

Affection is defined by the dictionary as ‘a gentle feeling of fondness or liking’. It comes from Middle English, via Old French from Latin affectio(n-), from afficere ‘to influence’.

The Greek word for Affection, ‘storge’ almost rhymes with ‘Corgi’ and means ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring or vice-versa’. In that sense, we can see the two categories of love at work immediately in the Need-love of the child, the puppy, the kitten, and the Gift-love of the mother. As Lewis points out, in his book The Four Loves, though: ‘On the other hand, she must give birth or die. She must give suck or suffer. That way, her Affection too is a Need-love. There is the paradox. It is a Need-love but what it needs is to give. It is a Gift-love but it needs to be needed.’

Affection can also be described as comfort, satisfaction, cosiness. It embraces just about anyone or anything, ignoring all barriers of age, sex, class and education. Animals feel it, as human beings feel it, not just for their own species but for others; we can feel it for objects and places as well as for living things. It has much to do with familiarity; when we feel it, it seems to have been going on for a while, unmarked; it feels as though it has ‘always been there’. Those that we love in this way, we also take for granted. We do not boast of our affections in the same way that we are proud of our romances. Affection is quite, comfortable, private, child-like.

Affection also spreads and embraces the other loves: our romances may start off full of erotic passion, but they bend towards comfort and homeliness more often than not. Friendships often become affectionate - indeed, we may find things attractive in our friends as points of endearment, outside the remit of the original friendship. In this sense, affection is not ‘driven’ in the same way as erotic love: it appears to fulfil itself and does not require energetic pursuit. If we ask the question ‘What will happen next?’ of Affection, the answer would most probably be ‘More of the same, but quietly, please.’

Lewis points to the kiss as an interesting outward sign of both Eros and Affection: ‘To be sure, you may say that the kiss of Affection differs from the kiss of Eros. Yes, but not all kisses between lovers are lovers' kisses.’

Affection is indiscriminate. In fact, as Lewis points out, it can bring together people and things that would otherwise be alienated from one another by their natures:

We may say, and not quite untruly, that we have chosen our friends and the woman we love for their various excellencies - for beauty, frankness, goodness of heart, wit, intelligence, or what not. But it had to be the particular kind of wit, the particular kind of beauty, the particular kind of goodness that we like, and we have our personal tastes in these matters. That is why friends and lovers feel that they were ‘made for one another’. The especial glory of Affection is that it can unite those who most emphatically, even comically, are not; people who, if they had not found themselves put down by fate in the same household or community, would have had nothing to do with each other.

Affection can lead to admiration for a person’s qualities: in seeing someone in an affectionate, close context for a period of time, we may come to appreciate them in other ways. It can lead to an unselfish appreciation of things that we would never otherwise have noticed or had anything to do with. As Lewis says, Affection broadens the mind: ‘of all natural loves it is the most catholic, the least finical, the broadest.’ It introduces us to people, things and experiences that would normally be foreign to us and rejected by us:

In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there’. Made for us? Thank God, no. They are themselves, odder than you could have believed and worth far more than we guessed.

In this way, Affection can act as a bridge, taking us out of ourselves and our Need-loves and showing us other worlds: ‘Affection opens our eyes to goodness we could not have seen, or should not have appreciated without it.’ In fact, Affection begins to look like the highest form of Love that might exist, it is so easy, so natural, so all-encompassing and so common.

The problem with Affection, Lewis believes, is that nearly ‘all the characteristics of this love are ambivalent. They may work for ill as well as for good. By itself, left simply to follow its own bent, it can darken and degrade human life. The debunkers and anti-sentimentalists have not said all the truth about it, but all they have said is true.’

Because anyone can be the object of Affection, there arises an expectation that everyone should be. Because there is nothing that we have to do to deserve our earn Affection, it ‘is often assumed to be provided, ready made, by nature; ‘built-in’, ‘laid-on’, ‘on the house’. We have a right to expect it. If the others do not give it, they are unnatural.

Of course, as human beings, Affection is wired in to our instincts to some degree: we all feel maternal love, most feel paternal love and love for siblings, even when they may anger us in other ways. It’s a ‘given’. The trouble is that, because it’s a given, we can stretch to being the very worst that we can be and still expect to be loved in this way.

The most unlovable parent (or child) may be full of such ravenous love. But it works to their own misery and everyone else's. The situation becomes suffocating. If people are already unlovable a continual demand on their part (as of right) to be loved - their manifest sense of injury, their reproaches, whether loud and clamorous or merely implicit in every look and gesture of resentful self-pity, - produce in us a sense of guilt (they are intended to do so) for a fault we could not have avoided and cannot cease to commit. They seal up the very fountain for which they are thirsty.

Affection has many qualities:

The truth behind this is that Affection at its best can say whatever Affection at its best wishes to say, regardless of the rules that govern public courtesy; for Affection at its best wishes neither to wound nor to humiliate nor to domineer. You may address the wife of your bosom as ‘Pig!’ when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well. as her own. You may roar down the story which your father is telling once too often. You may tease and hoax and banter. You can say ‘Shut up. I want to read’. You can do anything in the right tone and at the right moment - the tone and moment which are not intended to, and will not, hurt. The better the Affection the more unerringly it knows which these are (every love has its art of love).

But these can be distorted or taken advantage of by someone who either lacks Affection or misunderstands it. ‘He knows that Affection takes liberties. He is taking liberties. Therefore (he concludes) he is being affectionate. Resent anything and he will say that the defect of love is on your side. He is hurt. He has been misunderstood.’

There is also the matter of jealousy, which, Lewis reminds us, is not only connected with erotic love. Affection tends not to like change, as it depends for its continuance on ‘old ways’ remaining reliable and steady. The separation of a parent from a child when the child grows old enough to leave home; the parting of siblings who have shared an existence together; the leaving behind of ‘old ways’ upon the discovery of something new -all these can lead to heart-breaking jealousy on the part of the other.

The jealousy will probably be expressed by ridicule. The new interest is ‘all silly nonsense’, contemptibly childish (or contemptibly grown-up), or else the deserter is not really interested in it at all - he's showing off, swanking; it's all affectation. Presently the books will be hidden, the scientific specimens destroyed, the radio forcibly switched off the classical programmes. For Affection is the most instinctive, in that sense the most animal, of the loves; its jealousy is proportionately fierce. It snarls and bares its teeth like a dog whose food has been. snatched away. And why would it not? … His world is in ruins.

This jealousy is deep and bitter precisely because it can feel as though the beloved has been stolen, almost forcibly:

Sometimes a curious double jealousy is felt, or rather two inconsistent jealousies which chase each other round in the sufferer's mind. On the one hand ‘This’ is ‘All nonsense, all bloody high-brow nonsense, all canting humbug’. But on the other, ‘Supposing - it can't be, it mustn't be, but just supposing there were something in it?’ Supposing there really were anything in literature, or in Christianity? How if the deserter has really entered a new world which the rest of us never suspected? But, if so, how unfair! Why him? Why was it never opened to us? ‘A chit of a girl - a whipper-snapper of a boy - being shown things that are hidden from their elders?’ And since that is clearly incredible and unendurable, jealousy returns to the hypothesis ‘All nonsense’.

Wherever we see explosive hatred, we can suspect this: that those doing the hating feel excluded from something. The child moving on to higher education, the friend rising in social class, the student becoming the master, all can leave behind the sense of unalterable and eternal loss, shattered love, broken lives.

The Gift-love side of Affection can be just as bad. The task of Affection is to fill the vacuums of those around it, enabling them to eventually become fully grown, independent and no longer needing love. Affection has a heavy task:

It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward. But the instinct, simply in its own nature, has no power to fulfil this law. The instinct desires the good of its object, but not simply; only the good it can itself give. A much higher love - a love which desires the good of the object as such, from whatever source that good comes - must step in and help or tame the instinct before it can make the abdication. And of course it often does. But when it does not, the ravenous need to be needed will gratify itself either by keeping its objects needy or by inventing for them imaginary needs. It will do this all the more ruthlessly because it thinks (in one sense truly) that it is a Gift-love and therefore regards itself as ‘unselfish’.

This doesn’t only happen in families, though families are of course a primary ground for Affection. It can happen in any field of human behaviour. The teacher who only admires or respects his students when he can demonstrate his power to teach the something can be embittered when the students learn more than he, for example. There are other examples:

If you need to be needed and if your family, very properly, decline to need you, a pet is the obvious substitute. You can keep it all its life in need of you. You can keep it permanently infantile, reduce it to permanent invalidism, cut it of from all genuine animal well-being, and compensate for this by creating needs for countless little indulgences which only you can grant. The unfortunate creature thus becomes very useful to the rest of the household; it acts as a sump or drain - you are too busy spoiling a dog’s life to spoil theirs.

Affection might be responsible for the bulk of human love; such scenarios as Lewis paints, in which Affection goes awry, are probably rare. He concludes that:

Affection produces happiness if - and only if - there is common sense and give and take and ‘decency’. In other words, only if something more, and other, than Affection is added. The mere feeling is not enough. You need ‘common sense’, that is, reason. You need ‘give and take’; that is, you need justice, continually stimulating mere Affection when it fades and restraining it when it forgets or would defy the art of love. You need ‘decency’. There is no disguising the fact that this means goodness; patience, self-denial, humility, and the continual intervention of a far higher sort of love than Affection, in itself, can ever be. That is the whole Point. If we try to live by Affection alone, Affection will ‘go bad on us’.

Again, then, we have a love which, if it is given absolute authority, becomes a demon.

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