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.
"The novelist and philosopher Pascal Bruckner's Paradox of Love is a brilliant account of the sexual muddles of our time."--Wall Street Journal
"Here to help clear things up is Pascal Bruckner, a French thinker who has mercifully never fallen for the post-structuralist poppycock that convoluted prose signifies complexity of thought. The Paradox of Love is in many ways a deconstructive take on our ideas of romance and desire and obsession, yet you will seek in vain in its succession of suave pensées for a sentence that does not immediately make sense. Derrida's obfuscation and Foucault's obscurantism can have you shouting at the walls. Spend a few minutes in Bruckner's company, though, and you want to read him out loud. Which means that the reviewer's temptation is to do nothing but quote. A few pages in, I realised I'd be better off underlining what I didn't want to commit to memory, lest the book become a web of scrawls and scribbles. 'The couple is a little principality that votes its own laws and is constantly in danger of falling into despotism or anarchy.' Whoa! And after a sentence like that you get another just like it: 'Lovers are simultaneously sovereigns, diplomats, parliament, and people, all by themselves.' In a book bursting apart with ideas, it feels almost fatuous to suggest that Bruckner has a thesis--but he has, and it is that the sexual revolution was no such thing. Far from liberating us, he argues, 'the accursed parenthesis of the 1960s' did no more than usher us into new jails--jails in which we are both prisoner and guard."--Christopher Bray, Financial Times
Table of Contents:
Part I: A Great Dream of Redemption 7
Chapter 1: Liberating the Human Heart 9
Chapter 2: Seduction as a Market 32
Chapter 3: I Love You: Weakness and Capture 57
Part II: Idyll and Discord 77
Chapter 4: The Noble Challenge of Marriage for Love 79
Chapter 5: Fluctuating Loyalties 100
Chapter 6: The Pleasures and Servitudes of Living Together 121
Part III: The Carnal Wonder 139
Chapter 7: Is There a Sexual Revolution? 141
Chapter 8: Toward a Bankruptcy of Eros? 161
Part IV: The Ideology of Love 181
Chapter 9: Persecution in the Name of Love: Christianity and Communism 183
Chapter 10: Marcel Proust’s Slippers 202
Epilogue: Don’t Be Ashamed! 218
Afterword: Pascal Bruckner’s Paradoxes 221
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Pascal Bruckner: