HOW MANY TODAY BELIEVE in “true” love? In exclusive love? In lifelong commitment? In love as the “ever-fixed mark” of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116”? Contra the Bard, one suspects most feel that love is precisely that — “Time’s fool.” In a time in which politicians’ scandals and fictional depictions of sadomasochism can boast the attention of millions, there would seem, to the cynically minded, little sense in trying to revive a topic that survives only in novels from centuries past and their cinematic adaptations. After the death of God in the nineteenth century, the death of beauty in the twentieth century (what Arthur Danto has called “kalliphobia”), are we ready, now, for the death of love, too?
The French have been relatively less prudish on the topic (readers will insert their own joke here). In the twentieth century, the phenomenological tradition, in particular, yielded extensive reflection on the topic by the likes of Levinas, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Derrida. Another important current in modern French intellectual thought, psychoanalysis, inspired influential writings by Barthes, Lacan, Irigaray, and Cixous. More recently, contemporary French philosophers such as Badiou, Marion, and Onfray have also ensured that love, too, would have its place in the front windows of Parisian bookstores.
However, the Anglo-Saxon tradition also has much to be proud of. Work by Iris Murdoch, Irving Singer, Robert Solomon, and Martha Nussbaum, to name a few, has made it such that love is no longer a taboo in philosophical environments wherein, by some lights, disciplinary norms enforce excessive strictures. By now, someone looking to work on love in an “analytic” setting has at her disposal an intimidating bibliography of recent writing on intention, commitment, autonomy, reasons, and the emotions.
In the postscript to his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco cheekily defined “the postmodern attitude” as that of a man who cannot directly tell his partner “I love you madly,” because they are both aware that those words were written by Barbara Cartland. The best he can do is to say, “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.” Though the name “Barbara Cartland” is likely to leave many scratching their heads and heading off to Wikipedia, the point Eco makes is still intelligible to us nowadays. Love in postmodern times, Eco suggests, is just another act of citation, the genuineness of which rests on the acknowledgment of its lack of originality.
What we find in Troy Jollimore’s Love’s Vision is a thoroughly untimely reflection upon a time-honored (and time-honed) topic that holds out hope against such an attitude, encouraging instead a view of love that leaves room for morality, rationality, and truth, while largely conceding the fraught nature of each one of these terms.
Plato would not know what to do with Troy Jollimore. Not only is he both a philosopher and a poet (whose striking debut Tom Thomson in Purgatory won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2006), he is also the author of a new theory of love that presents serious challenges to, among others, the one Plato so beautifully presented in his Symposium almost two and a half millennia ago. To be clear, Jollimore’s love is not the amor platonicus given its para...read more