The Paradox of Love

The Paradox of Love

The Paradox of Love

The Paradox of Love


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.


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 disappeared. The few fathers and mothers who actually performed their assigned tasks at the school started withdrawing their children and putting them back in schools run by “the bourgeois capitalist state.” The alternative preschool had become a shambles and, after a few final quarrels, closed its doors.

Shortly afterward, I went to Christiana, a free commune in Copenhagen, Denmark: At a dinner in this sentimental kolkhoz, attended by a few dozen strapping fellows who looked like Christ and their female companions, all with long blond hair, adorable little boys and girls danced on the table, shouted, fought, trampled on the food, and threw cheese, mashed potatoes, and ham at each other amid their impassive parents, who were too busy puffing on their pot . . .

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