The Paradox of Love

The Paradox of Love

Translated by STEVEN RENDALL
with an afterword by RICHARD GOLSAN
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Paradox of Love
    Book Description:

    The sexual revolution is justly celebrated for the freedoms it brought--birth control, the decriminalization of abortion, the liberalization of divorce, greater equality between the sexes, women's massive entry into the workforce, and more tolerance of homosexuality. But as Pascal Bruckner, one of France's leading writers, argues in this lively and provocative reflection on the contradictions of modern love, our new freedoms have also brought new burdens and rules--without, however, wiping out the old rules, emotions, desires, and arrangements: the couple, marriage, jealousy, the demand for fidelity, the war between constancy and inconstancy. It is no wonder that love, sex, and relationships today are so confusing, so difficult, and so paradoxical.

    Drawing on history, politics, psychology, literature, pop culture, and current events, this book--a best seller in France--exposes and dissects these paradoxes. With his customary brilliance and wit, Bruckner traces the roots of sexual liberation back to the Enlightenment in order to explain love's supreme paradox, epitomized by the 1960s oxymoron of "free love": the tension between freedom, which separates, and love, which attaches. Ashamed that our sex lives fail to live up to such liberated ideals, we have traded neuroses of repression for neuroses of inadequacy, and we overcompensate: "Our parents lied about their morality," Bruckner writes, but "we lie about our immorality."

    Mixing irony and optimism, Bruckner argues that, when it comes to love, we should side neither with the revolutionaries nor the reactionaries. Rather, taking love and ourselves as we are, we should realize that love makes no progress and that its messiness, surprises, and paradoxes are not merely the sources of its pain--but also of its pleasure and glory.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4185-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Paris, early 1970s: On the Left Bank, in the Mouffetard neighborhood, an alternative preschool had opened up. It was founded on the assumption that education should be free of charge, seek the full development of children, and involve the participation of parents. I took my son there every day. Over the months, the project fell apart: The adults hung around on the second floor making love or smoking joints, leaving the kids to themselves. The big kids tormented the little ones until they sobbed, and none of them had their noses or their bottoms wiped. Play equipment and pharmaceuticals regularly...

  4. Part I A Great Dream of Redemption

    • CHAPTER 1 Liberating the Human Heart
      (pp. 9-31)

      In 1860, when as an opponent of Napoleon III he was living in exile on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, Victor Hugo associated freedom of thought with freedom in love in a new way: “One corresponds to the heart, the other to the mind: they are the two sides of freedom of conscience. No one has the right to ask which God I believe in or which woman I love, and the law less than anyone.”¹ Further on in the same text, he protested against bourgeois marriage: “You love a man other than your husband? Well then,...

    • CHAPTER 2 Seduction as a Market
      (pp. 32-56)

      We begin our careers in love without keys or rules, with bits of information picked up here and there. We don’t know the codes of this fabulous universe, and even if we eventually manage to learn them, they immediately change. This period in life (which sometimes continues a very long time) we call adolescence, during which we are dazzled by the beauty of other beings and amazed at our awkwardness in approaching them. For anyone who is not spoiled by the spirit of sorrow, the world is red-hot, a place of endless charms. There is no way to contradict the...

    • CHAPTER 3 I Love You: Weakness and Capture
      (pp. 57-76)

      We know the famous scene in Molière where the “bourgeois gentleman” is learning rhetoric, an art dear to thePrécieusesof his time, and repeats with delight, turning it this way and that, the sentence: “Marquise, vos beaux yeux me font mourir d’amour.” Even when the sentence is reversed, it continues to make sense. In that period, gallantry as an aristocratic code combined three latent defects: obscurity, pretense, and ridiculousness. Eighteenth-century philosophers, and Rousseau first of all, did not fail to subject it to criticism and to oppose to it the imperative of authenticity. However, they failed to imagine that...

  5. Part II Idyll and Discord

    • CHAPTER 4 The Noble Challenge of Marriage for Love
      (pp. 79-99)

      In the nineteenth century, an old lady lying on her deathbed in a chateau in Normandy remembers the brilliant years of her youth. At her side, her granddaughter, her blond hair in braids, is reading her the news in the local papers. Nothing but tragic events involving jealousy, a wife who throws vitriol in the face of her husband’s mistress, a shopgirl who shoots her faithless young lover. The grandmother, who finds these incidents revolting, laments the disappearance of the Old Regime’s gallantry:

      Listen, girl, to an old woman who has seen three generations and who knows a great deal...

    • CHAPTER 5 Fluctuating Loyalties
      (pp. 100-120)

      In a commune in California, sometime in the 1960s, about forty boys and girls gathered in accord with the principles of the strictest sexual communism: forming an established couple was prohibited, partners were to be rotated, and preference based on aesthetic or cultural criteria was rejected. At the end of a year, some of the members who were obese or ugly found that they were being refused access to other members’ bedrooms and started wandering about on the veranda during the evening, begging for a bed and repeating: who wants me?

      There is no stronger argument for traditional marriage than...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Pleasures and Servitudes of Living Together
      (pp. 121-138)

      For the past few years, a strange ceremony has been performed in Paris, on Montmartre’s Place des Abbesses. During this ceremony, which takes place during the grape harvest, young couples come to register with an official their “non-demande-en-mariage,” that is, their refusal to marry, and to say, as in the Georges Brassens song, “I have the honor of not asking your hand in marriage.” There is no ceremony beautiful enough for us, these new-model fiancés seem to be saying, but it is still an official whom they ask to sanction their refusal of an official commitment. They want the symbol...

  6. Part III The Carnal Wonder

    • CHAPTER 7 Is There a Sexual Revolution?
      (pp. 141-160)

      In August 1993, the magazineElleoffered a test for the summer: are you a slut? What is astonishing about this is not merely the crudeness of the question, but also the enthusiasm of the replies: every single one of the editors and journalists working for this famous weekly responded in the affirmative, taking pride in being a bitch, an initiate like no other, the equivalent of a sign of nobility in erotic games.¹ Turning the insult around in this way shows us, were it necessary, that we have moved into another world. Formerly hidden, people’s sex lives are now...

    • CHAPTER 8 Toward a Bankruptcy of Eros?
      (pp. 161-180)

      A few years ago, I ran into an old friend with whom I used to go out. A little maliciously, she said: “I hope you, too, are finished with sex? It was good for the 1980s. Today it’s totally without interest.” I stupidly protested. This remark had caught me off guard. For many people, the libido is far from being a marvelous drive, and is instead a terrible source of concern that contradicts the modern dream of the dispassionate individual. To desire is still to suffer, as Buddhists would say, because it is to aspire to something one does not...

  7. Part IV The Ideology of Love

    • CHAPTER 9 Persecution in the Name of Love: Christianity and Communism
      (pp. 183-201)

      In the sixteenth century, in Saragossa, Spain, a rabbi is languishing in a dungeon where he has been tortured by the Holy Office to make him deny his faith. A Dominican friar, the third Grand Inquisitor of Spain, followed by a skilled torturer and two assistants, comes in tears to announce that his “brotherly correction is over”: the next day he is to be burned at the stake along with forty other heretics, and he must commend his soul to God. Shortly after this visit, the prisoner notices that the door of his cell is not locked; hardly daring to...

    • CHAPTER 10 Marcel Proust’s Slippers
      (pp. 202-217)

      It is an extraordinary scene; it occurred in 1917 and has been commented upon many times. The young Emmanuel Berl visits Marcel Proust, whom he admires more than anyone, in order to tell him about a marvelous event. Sylvia, the young woman he [Berl] loves, and from whom he has not heard for four years, has replied positively to a letter in which he asked her to marry him. The young Berl is dying to prove to Proust that his pessimism regarding human nature is mistaken, that there are “souls in harmony.”¹ But the novelist, for whom love is only...

  8. EPILOGUE Don’t Be Ashamed!
    (pp. 218-220)

    The same obsession haunts the liberators of desire and the defenders of good morals: that of curing. For the former, the feeling of its taboos; for the latter, the society of hedonism. But our passions continue to rebel against the progressive vulgate that admonishes and against the backward-looking vulgate that castigates; they unfurl, heedless of whether they are moral or in conformity with the movement of history. The conquests made by feminism will not be reversed, but neither will we move beyond love at first sight, the couple, fidelity. Love is not sick, it is exactly what it should be,...

  9. AFTERWORD Pascal Bruckner’s Paradoxes
    (pp. 221-230)
    Richard J. Golsan

    The Paradox of Loveconstitutes the central and most ambitious of three recent works by Pascal Bruckner devoted to the subject of love in its many and varied manifestations in contemporary European and Western culture. The other two works are a short novel published in 2007 titledMon petit mari(My Little Husband), a contemporary fable dealing with the pitfalls of marriage and parenthood, and a brief essay published in 2010,Le mariage d’amour a-t-il échoué?(Has the Marriage of Love Failed?).

    In writing about love, Bruckner is of course taking on a vast subject that has been exhaustively discussed...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 231-256)
  11. Index
    (pp. 257-266)