About Don Juanism

When I grabbed Camus' book yesterday, I was just looking for a glimpse into his writing, a good inspiration regarding style coming from a timeless essay.

But you know what it is, you open a book randomly on a page, and there you get a message...

Albert Camus in Le Mythe de Sisyphe:

I found this paragraph on Don Juanism. This is a theme that has been following me since I've started studying literature at La Sorbonne in 1999.

I wrote my dissertation in 2001/2 about Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera.
 If dear Kafka was the unluckiest man in the matter of love affairs, fearing his own happiness as one ambitious can sometime dread success or a lonely child or orphan never sustain living within the family he has so longed for, Milan Kundera's writing is full of consideration about men's love.

Maybe that is my quest, to understand why men and women seem to love so differently... And don't seem to manage to bring each other the happiness they feel they deserve...

Recently, the theme has been everywhere around me, both in my personal life and in the work issues I'm writing about.

So let's go deeper in the exploration. As there is no other way in life than understanding and learning and growing... or is there?


"Pourquoi faudrait-il aimer rarement pour aimer beaucoup?"
This is how Camus' paragraph ends...
"Why should we love rarely to love deeply?", Camus asks.

It is indeed a good question.

As women, we tend to believe a love that can last is a deeper, more precious, truer love. It is cultural, I mean. I am a deep admirer of Simone de Beauvoir, so don't get believing I think women HAVE to feel that way, or all do feel that way. I'm talking about the female figure as edicted in our societies.

But this feeling obviously cannot be fulfilled if A. Men are Don Juan looking for more love in many more partners, B. Our society has made commitment repellent. Families don't last anymore. Why even try?

Let's have a deeper look into what modern current Don Juanism can tell us about ourselves.


First, humbly, here is the Wikipedia definition of the notion of Don Juanism:

Don Juanism or Don Juan syndrome is a non-clinical term for the desire, in a man, to have sex with many different female partners. The name derives from the Don Juan of opera and fiction. The term satyriasis is sometimes used as a synonym for Don Juanism. The term has also been referred to as the male equivalent of nymphomania in women. Historian Carol Groneman has demonstrated that these terms no longer apply with any accuracy as psychological or legal categories of psychological disorder.

Now a inch of psychology:

 Psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that Don Juanism was an unconscious desire of a man to seek his mother in every woman he encountered. However, he didn't see the trait as entirely negative; Jung felt that positive aspects of Don Juanism included heroism, perseverance and strength of will.

 Jung argues that related to the mother-complex "are homosexuality and Don Juanism, and sometimes also impotence. In homosexuality, the son's entire heterosexuality is tied to the mother in an unconscious form; in Don Juanism, he unconsciously seeks his mother in every woman he meets... Because of the difference in sex, a son's mother-complex does not appear in pure form. This is the reason why in every masculine mother-complex, side by side with the mother archetype, a significant role is played by the image of the man's sexual counterpart, the anima."

 One of Theodore Millon's five narcissist variations is the amorous narcissist which includes histrionic features. According to Millon, the Don Juan or Casanova of our times is erotic and exhibitionistic.

 Sigmund Freud explored the connections between mother-fixation and a long series of love-attachments in the first of his articles on the 'Psychology of Love', while Otto Rank published an article on the Don Juan gestalt in 1922.

 Otto Fenichel saw Don Juanism as linked to the quest for narcissistic supply, and for proof of achievement (as seen in the number of conquests). He also described what he called the 'Don Juans of Achievement' – people compelled to flee from one achievement to another in an unconscious but never ending quest to overcome an unconscious sense of guilt.

 Sándor Ferenczi stressed the fear of punishment (Hell) in the syndrome, linking it to the Oedipus complex.

 Contemporary psychoanalysis stresses the denial of psychic reality and the avoidance of change implicit in Don Juan's (identificatory) pursuit of multiple females.


Kundera's model of Don Juan in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tomas, remains the most interesting one to me, as he both desires the pursue of women's conquest, almost as battles to be won, and the need for a unique, unearthly, making-you-grow kind of love.

One example in a few quotes:

“Making love with a woman and sleeping with a woman are two separate passions, not merely different but opposite. Love does not make itself felt in the desire for copulation (a desire that extends to an infinite number of women) but in the desire for shared sleep (a desire limited to one woman).” 
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

This quote from Kundera's novel explains the feeling I had as a teenager:

“He suddenly recalled from Plato's Symposium: People were hermaphrodites until God split then in two, and now all the halves wander the world over seeking one another. Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.” 
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness Of Being


But of course, there is much more to understand in this book - and therefore in the mystery of Don Juanism: is it a key to a thrilled life or curse of endless dissatisfaction? Shall we, as women, enter the race of conquest and fulfill our desire to exist as vividly as possible by giving up on the instinct that love has to last?

Here is the core dilemma of the novel:

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?” 
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being

Maybe Tomas has the answer?

As for the female model, Kundera has created two deep and very beautiful characters, Sabina, who can never be tied down and can never stay in one place, and Tereza, fragile and beautiful person who longs for Tomas to be the strength she fears she lacks... In the novelist's world, it seems no woman can, as Tomas, stand in the middle of the two trends...

I'd say it is exactly where I'm trying to stand.

Here is a last quote, though the debate is not closed, I guess we can move forward with food for thoughts...

“The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful ... Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.” 
― Milan KunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being


Please, share your thoughts if you do have any on this topic.


2 commentaires:

  1. Something brought me here.. More than curiosity. I've been reading about this topic for the past year, trying to understand myself. You put it quite well.. .is Don Juanism "a key to a thrilled life or curse of endless dissatisfaction?".

    I'm in that Limbo.. I'm in love, like I've never been. And yet, part of me wants to live the life I've always lived. The question is not whether one can be ever satisfied, but whether not wanting to be satisfied is wrong?. I have experienced shame from friends and partners when I express my truth. People tend to think that the desire to be with multiple women (or men), comes hand by hand with objectification and disrespect. But this is not at all my case and that of many other people who I've talked to about this. I don't watch porn.. I don't lie to women.. I don't degrade with words or actions. So I found it quite relieving to read your words.. and shine fresh light upon this subject.

    Anyways.. I just wanted to share some pointless thoughts and self reflections. I'm on a journey.. A very delicated one.. Feels like a big decision.. To choose from a life of "pleasure and thrill", or a life of monogamy and exclusive intimacy?

    1. Hello Seb, thank you for your sincere and profound comment to my post.

      I'm no expert or therapist but I wrote my dissertation about Milan Kundera in 2000/02, so I gave the topic a long time of thinking... and later I wrote about many men, mainly artists, who felt happier in pursuing love than in stabilising it. I feel I understand them, thus, the thrill of falling into life every time you fall in love... But also, I'm more than type of person who, once she loves, loves deeper and deeper and need to grow with that person and where something unique. How do we reconcile each other and our love is a key topic to ensure people's happiness.
      Are you from the US? I know there the issue of faithfulness is really highly valued, maybe Europe is a bit more open to multiple lovers and what people have come to name polyamory.
      My own personal conclusion is that it is already hard enough to love well and deeply one person, to be truly involved in one relationship, to become better for and through another person... I'm not sure I'll be good enough at trying to love a few at the same time.
      But I wish you to find your "own way home", meaning your own path to your own happiness.
      All the best,