Anthony Giddens – The Transformation of Intimacy

Transformation of Intimacy

Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Society, Stanford UP, 1992.

It is an interesting idea that romantic love is a product of modernity – or, at least, was accompanied with the process of modernization. Giddens assumes that romantic love “began to make its presence felt from the late eighteenth century onward” (39)and that it is associated with ‘romance,’ not only as a literature genre of novel but also as a form of storytelling in which self is narrated.  

For Giddens, in the pre-modern era there was no intimacy in love relationship. Romantic love based upon intimacy was impossible in the social environment where “most marriages were contracted, not on the basis of mutual sexual attraction, but economic circumstance”(38). Romantic love is related with the question of intimacy (45). What is intimacy? It is “incompatible with lust, and with earthy sexuality” because “it presumes a psychic communication, a meeting of souls which is reparative in character”(45). It is also related with a “lack,” which is “directly to do with self-identity.” In other words, in order to talk about intimacy, it is prerequisite for us to acknowledge that the self is incomplete being and that love is a communication between the self and the other – both of them are incomplete.

Thus, as Giddens argues, “clear boundaries within a relationship are obviously important for confluent love and the sustaining of intimacy”(94). Sustainment of love, which was enabled in the modern era, is coincident with the emergence of self and its reflexivity. Without the concept of self and its reflexivity, there would not have been love and acknowledgement of other, whether philanthropic or secular. Giddens’ interests in addiction and codependency are parts of his big project to elucidate the nature of self-identity. He tries to show that self-identity is not something which resides independently inside a personality, but lies in setting up the relationship with others, i.e. establishment of boundaries. It is in this point that mutual intimacy is important in building a certain relationship. As the chart of characteristics of additive and intimate relationship (94) shows, intimacy is a necessary element – or the core – of the personal independency, emancipation, and the “democratization of daily life”(95).

Consequently, the problem of intimacy is deeply related with the process of democratization of the private sphere. It is “above all a matter of emotional communication, with others and with the self, in a context of interpersonal equality”(130). As political democracy is concerned with free and equal relations between individuals and “the constitutional limitation of (distributive) power”(186) in the public sphere, intimacy is structurally correspondent to the private sphere. Democratized relationship between men and women, children and parents, and any other pure relationship, is based on “respect for the independent views and personal traits of the other”(189-90).  

However, what remains unresolved to me is about men’s inability to express their feelings (emotions) as well as their drive towards episodic sexuality. Instead of the crude explanation of it, Giddens argues that “many men are unable to construct a narrative of self that allows them to come to terms with an increasingly democratized and reordered sphere of personal life”(117). How does an ability to construct a narrative of self contribute to the development of democratic relations in the personal sphere? I cannot but think of Hegelian odyssey of self (Sprit) in the form of Bildungsroman and of Habermasian idea of woundless communication in the public sphere. 

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