Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

On the Bridge: Class and the Chronotope of Modern Romance in an American Love Story

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

On the Bridge: Class and the Chronotope of Modern Romance in an American Love Story

Article excerpt

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A happy love... [is] the same thing as as...amor fati, love of one's own social destiny, which brings together socially compatible partners by way of a free choice that is unpredictable and arbitrary in appearance only.

- Pierre Bourdieu (1976:140)

In Distinction, Bourdieu (1984) sought to demonstrate how, on the one hand, culture, society, and economy are mutually constituted, and how, on the other, stratification is reproduced through taken-for-granted practices. By way of doing so, his major claim was that aesthetic taste in France during the 1960s could neither be explained nor understood subjectively in isolation from class differences-the horizontal and vertical world of dominance and prestige in which taste is a kind of capital and by which it is habitually shaped. More than simply distinguishing between ranked binaries of what is beautiful and what is not, or what is legitimate and what is less so, he viewed aesthetic tastes as status-based phenomena-thus Bourdieu's famous adage: "taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier" (1984:6). Outstanding, although ignored, love is among the many preferences that Bourdieu correlated with class (see, e.g., Holt 1997). Love, he avowed, is not subject-centered, but is rather the work of class endogamy. Society leaves its mark on lovers through emotions they misunderstand as personal. For Bourdieu, Pascal was right: the heart is obscure, but its obscurity arises from a mystification. The heart, so he argued, is a social organ, as well as a self-evident one.

Relying on Bourdieu's view of subject, practice, and society, I interpret a single falling-in-love narrative-a single love story-in this article. That is to say, the claims I make about love, taste, and class, as well as about how to analyze the narrative, are not positivist, but indicative and provocative-more methodological than definitive. To begin, I discuss cultural anthropologists' work on romance in the US by way of contrasting it with the interpretive framework I then introduce. I then try to respond to methodological concerns that using small-scale qualitative data might raise. In the fine-grained, line-by-line exegesis of the young man's story to which I next turn, class appears to inform the aesthetic tastes the couple discloses to each other, imbue their mutual attraction, and shape the aesthetics of time, space, and agency during their romance. Having thus indicated a comprehensive relationship between society and the heart in the story-although this claim cannot be expanded on the basis of a sample of one- I conclude that in this case, at least, reifications of love misrecognize and reproduce class-based relations through a voluntaristic ideology of North American individualism. Moreover, I also assert that the approach I introduce for the study of romance discourse and society seems methodologically useful.

A Cognitive Model of Romance

Cultural anthropologists have done a lot of interesting comparative work on love,1 and have composed compelling and credible ethnographies on romance in various parts of the non-Western world;2 however, very little research has been done on North America (Lindholm 1998). Perhaps the one exception to this generalization is a series of projects by a group of cognitive anthropologists for whom the meaning of romantic love is guided by an independent psychological variable they call a "cultural model" that North Americans take for granted when becoming romantically involved.3 Using interviews that Holland and Eisenhart (1990) conducted with young, middle-class women in a southern college (see also Holland and Skinner 1987, Holland 1992), they argued that the model valued good looks, sexuality, exclusivity, and, inevitably, individualism. Or, as they put it:

An attractive man.. .and.. .woman.. .are attracted to one another. The man learns and appreciates the woman's qualities and uniqueness as a person. …

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