Love and Risk

| 9/17/2009 2:39:38 PM

Love and RiskMany of the most revered love stories involve people taking huge risks and enduring pain and suffering in the name of love. It makes for nice stories, but it’s not a blueprint for enduring love, according to renowned law and philosophy professor Martha Nussbaum in The New Republic. In a review of the new book A Vindication of Love, Nussbaum writes that people probably should take more risks, but love is not increased by the pain and suffering that lovers are forced to endure.

“It is certainly possible that in America in our own era we are seeing a rising tide of risk aversion,” Nussbaum writes. Students seem more calculating in matters of the heart than they were in the 1960s and 70s. In that sense, Nussbaum believes that, “one should be willing to incur risk for the sake of a deep and valuable love.” At the same time, a person shouldn’t move from risk-aversion directly into the grandiose, “crashingly obvious” expressions of love that are so often intertwined with expressions of pain and suffering. Nussbaum writes, “The idea that love is improved by suffering and loss is an adolescent view,” and one best left to Romeo and Juliet.

Source: The New Republic 

Cara N.
9/18/2009 2:43:58 AM

This wonderfully learned, wonderfully exuberant defense of love looks simultaneously at how we live in the contemporary world and how great lovers have behaved in the past. Sadly, for all our freedom of choice and opportunity, we moderns finish a distant second (or fourth, or fifth) place. Taking on the received wisdom of the decades following the sexual and feminist revolutions of the 60s, Nehring draws from her deep reading of the classics to argue for the qualities usually seen as threats to a desirable relationship: inequality, transgression, long distance, aggression, among others. Although all this stuff mother warned you about can easily turn a couple into wrecks like Sid and Nancy rather than the idealized lovers Nehring lingers on, we forget at our peril how human nature craves risk and obstacle to confront and overcome. In its humanity and range of reference--Nehring is equally at home among the writers of antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the modern periods--this book reminds me of Ocavio Paz's splendid The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism, on the same subject. But where Paz's book reflects on love after a long lifetime of experience, Nehring's plunges in with the spirit of youth and an appetite for more life, more experience. Although one does occasionally wish for a more vigilant editor--figures such as "the famous French novelist of the nineteenth century, Stendhal" and "the Greek philosopher, Plato" stumble into the book before finding surer footing in Nehring's larger arguments--the author's deep, personal engagement with her material makes this volume a compelling read. To read more:

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