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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy

The Paradox of Love

Pascal Bruckner

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Paradox of Love

Title: The Paradox of Love
Author: Pascal Bruckner
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 229 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Paradox of Love - US
The Paradox of Love - UK
The Paradox of Love - Canada
Le paradoxe amoureux - Canada
The Paradox of Love - India
Le paradoxe amoureux - France
La paradoja del amor - España
  • French title: Le paradoxe amoureux
  • Translated by Steven Rendall
  • With an Afterword by Richard Golsan

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Our Assessment:


See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 7/11/2009 Jean Sévillia
Financial Times . 10/2/2012 Christopher Bray
Wall Street Journal . 10/3/2012 Kenneth Minogue

  From the Reviews:
  • "Inutile de chercher une cohérence là où il n'y en a pas. Deux livres coexistent dans ce Paradoxe amoureux, que chacun pourra tirer dans son sens." - Jean Sévillia, Le Figaro

  • "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." - Christopher Bray, Financial Times

  • "(A) brilliant account of the sexual muddles of our time." - Kenneth Minogue, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       I hesitated before putting any commentary about this book here, tempted to ignore it entirely, or just offer a 'review-overview' -- the basic information, and links to the other reviews. But it's the other reviews that led me to pick The Paradox of Love up, and leave me also feeling duty-bound to offer my two cents, as, for example, Robert Fulford called it "exhilarating", Kenneth Minogue says it's "brilliant" in the Wall Street Journal , and in the Financial Times Christopher Bray gushed:

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.
       Yes, it's this sort of thing that led me to have a look. But I found the damn thing so irritating that I didn't feel I could (or wanted to) do it justice.
       Frustratingly, it's not as if there isn't anything here. Bruckner has some points and observations of interest -- but the presentation is annoying, and the arguments so poorly made -- if at all: Bruckner is a man of the grand (and generally entirely unsupported) statement (which is, of course, what I found most irritating).
       Also: I didn't see what the other reviewers saw, and felt it's worth trying to explain why. So don't consider this a 'review', but rather a few observations and comments on a disappointing book.
       First off, it's worth noting that in their unbridled enthusiasm some of the reviewers twist Bruckner's own observations around a bit. The most prominent example is Bray's observation that:
We no longer refer to our "girlfriend" or our "husband", preferring to talk of "partners", as if they might one day be merged or even taken over, and yet we kid ourselves we have banished the idea of marriage as a business contract.
       He doesn't note that he some of that is a quote from Bruckner, which in turn is an indirect but attributed quote from Musil, and that the observation refers not to a new or post-1968 phenomenon (as Bray implies) but rather a century-old one. Bruckner wrote:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Robert Musil already noted the importance that the word partner has acquired as a substitute for husband and wife: it designated a contractual relationship that can be dissolved by mutual consent.
       (Bray is on stronger ground in noting the idea of marriage-as-a-business-contract, something that Bruckner underplays: it's almost always been a marriage contract, with different cultures having different concepts of the business side of things, from dowries to dissolution.)
       Bruckner takes as his axis the 'revolution' of May, 1968 -- finding, however, that for all the free sex and free love it apparently allowed, the human condition turns out to be a more complicated one after all. So, for example:
Today, we are all, men and women, subjected to a contradictory requirement: to love passionately, and if possible to be loved, while at the same time remaining autonomous -- to be free but to be cared for, with the hope
       This and the attendant dichotomies of love-'n'-sex in the modern age could make for a potentially interesting book. Or, in Bruckner's hands, not.
       The big problem with how Bruckner presents his material and thoughts is that he likes to talk in absolutes and all-encompassing generalities. There's his annoying habit of including one and all in his grand theories: it's we this and we that -- but an author (and especially a would-be philosopher) has to be on much firmer ground before he can get away with that.
       Some generalizations are merely annoying -- you imagine that, with a bit of explanation there's something plausible there:
     There are two kinds of love: exclusive, which is more common and unites two persons, and the multiple, which is rarer and brings together in a single impulse a large group of individuals.
       (Sure, most people would probably argue there are a whole lot more 'kinds' of love, but maybe there's something to be said for cleaving it into just these two basic halves. But he's got to explain why .....)
       More often, he offers head-scratching absolutes with no supporting evidence or explanation whatsoever, blank statements that feel ... pretty blank:
     It is true that violence against women increases as their independence increases
       Or, for example:
Man has a sexual organ; woman is her sexual organ. To present her sexual organ as woman herself is to go astray. A century after Freud, many people still cling to this archaic prejudice. That explains everything.
       It's an interesting idea -- but that explains everything ? Seriously ?
       Similarly, Bruckner offers an anecdote of an aged actor who calls down to his wife from the second-floor window, telling her to come up quickly, because he has an erection. She says he should come down, but he tells her "it won't survive the trip" -- and Bruckner insists:
     This anecdote is symptomatic. It proves, contrary to our prejudices, that men are the weaker sex.
       Symptomatic the anecdote may be, but it proves nothing -- beyond that French would-be philosophers apparently have peculiar ideas of what constitutes and should be presented as 'proof' of anything .....
       And, so, while The Paradox of Love, presents some interesting ideas about love and sex in our times (specifically in the post-1968 times) it does not present them well. A grossly simplified picture of American-style sexual policing and attitudes -- ridicule-worthy though these are -- merely adds to the impression that Bruckner is, if not a lazy thinker, certainly a lazy researcher and writer, pleased with his broad brushstrokes -- as long as they sound good (which, in this translation, they often don't -- consider just the quotes in this review).
       But don't necessarily take my word for it: check out those other, far more enthusiastic reviews, by readers who saw this thing very differently than I did (and who are clearly not annoyed by a literary and intellectual style and approach that drove me nuts).

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 March 2012

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The Paradox of Love: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Pascal Bruckner was born in 1948.

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