Last weekend, while traveling, I read a biography of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Mary Lukas and Ellen Lukas. It reads much like one would expect from a biography written by journalists in 1977: a lot of chronology, some of it not particularly interesting, and some sympathy. I've been dipping into "The Human Phenomenon" (formerly known as "The Phenomenon of Man") in a new translation, and finding it very insightful. Unfortunately, that kind of book is impossible to read in short bursts (for me at least!), so I have trouble making progress.
I learned two surprising things about the good Father from the biography. The first is his apparent failure to learn anything from China about humanity, after having spent so many years there. He observed the lack of interest in spiritual matters of ordinary Chinese people, and found it alien and disconcerting. The almost self-annihilating spiritual drive of many Hindus in India, in contrast, gave him a reference point against which he could argue: it said (according to him) that "matter is bad," whereas he said "matter is good." It didn't seem to occur to Teilhard to try to account for a cultural disinterest in "spiritualization" in his views on human development.
The second thing I learned was that Teilhard also had something to say about noncorporeal "sex magick," a topic which I've discussed on this blog before. The biographers considered Teilhard's work "The Evolution of Chastity" as mainly a reflection on his personal situation with Lucile Swan -- a woman with whom he carried on a long-term platonic relationship. What's interesting about the work is that he comes to many of the same conclusions as did Charles Williams and other male authors: from the male perspective, heterosexual expression should or will evolve away from the physical and towards the spiritual.
As I read this passage in the biography, it occurred to me that Teilhard, along with other male authors who had expressed these views, was making an implicit assumption of causality. We observe this: Men often experience "the feminine" as diffuse, rather than strongly individuated. These authors seem to associate diffuseness with abstraction, and like Plato, abstraction with moral elevation. By abstracting one's relationships, they seem to say, one can reach upwards towards "das Ewig-Weibliche," or "Yin," or whatever one chooses to call the Platonic form of Womanhood. They seem to neglect another explanation of the above observation: men could experience the feminine as diffuse, simply because the human male tends towards polygamy or polyamory. Men -- perhaps some more than others -- must consciously choose to make their experience of Womanhood concrete and singular.
It's interesting that men like Charles Williams and Teilhard felt how they did for women who were outside lawful monogamous bounds: CW, for one not his wife (Phyllis Jones), and Teilhard, despite his vow of celibacy, for an arguably spoiled dilettante artist with a childish fascination for the mysterious French Jesuit. Were CW and Teilhard projecting their diffuse desires onto their metaphysics? I shouldn't speculate into their motives, and I should also point out that both relationships were resolved with moral uprightness. Fr. Teilhard also was close friends with Lucile Swan at times when he had little support and needed a lot of friendship and love. Rather than judging these men harshly, we should look into the phenomenon itself and try to understand why they saw the direction of causality pointing one way instead of another.