“Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love,”Susan Sontag wrote in her diary. “There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love,” philosopher Erich Fromm asserted in his 1956 masterwork on the art of loving and what is keeping us from mastering it. The great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn went as far as admonishing that “to love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.” “The many vexations and perturbations that torture the soul of the passionate lover,” cautioned a 17th-century treatise on lovesickness, “bring about greater harms to men than all the other affections of the mind.” Keats, once afflicted by love, was ready to die for it.
But if the mystery of love is so impenetrable and the gauntlet through it so rife with peril, how is it that we saunter into it so blindly and so clumsily yet so irrepressibly full of hope? Why, if the risks are so great and the rewards so uncertain, do we love at all?
That’s what philosopher Skye Cleary, author of Existentialism and Romantic Love(public library), explores in this wonderful animated inquiry into how thinkers as wide-ranging as the Buddha, Plato, Bertrand Russell, and Simone de Beauvoir shaped the modern ideal of romantic love, how its fundamental flaws render us exasperated by falling perpetually short of that ideal, and what we might be able to do about revising this model.