whence do you love
April 30, 2006 6:00 PM   Subscribe

what are some good theoretical works on the concepts of love, monogamy, and so forth?

i'm pretty familiar with butlerian/queer theory critiques of marriage, state-santified practices, etc (ie Warner). also i know a lot of the writing on kinship rituals, family structuring and state institutions. but where are the meditations on love itself? is love with another person (monogamy as sanctioned by authority or not) a modern Western construction? does it have a geneology? what kind of purpose does it serve, or (reading newer anthropological tropes) how does it situate critiques of society, humanity, and/or culture? anthropological works most valued, but sociological studies, philosophical works (as long as they refrain mostly from an analytic epistemology), psychological/psychoanalytical writing, and fiction and poetry are welcome.
posted by yonation to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have nothing that would qualify as anything by lay science, but there are a number of books that I have read that presumably have bibliographical references.

The Sex Contract - Helen E. Fisher
Why We Love - Helen Fisher
A Natural History of Love - Helen Fisher

The Evolution of Desire - David Buss

The Sociobiology Debate - A. L. Caplan
The Territorial Imperative - Ardrey

These don't per se deal with the exact issues you are seeking, most are somwhat dated, but they all have elements that might at least tangential and some might be slightly useful.

Fascinating topic and I hope you get a lot of answers.
posted by FauxScot at 6:26 PM on April 30, 2006

Scott McLemee, übercritic, discusses two books on love here: Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse and Harry Frankfurt's The Reasons of Love.

Frankfurt is, of course, an analytic philosopher (though not an epistemologist); I don't see why you'd reject that out of hand, though.
posted by kenko at 6:38 PM on April 30, 2006

Kierkegaard. Pretty much anything, but you might start with Either/Or. This may be from a less contemporary/critical vantage than you seem to be looking for, but I think it's pretty wonderful.
posted by TonyRobots at 6:46 PM on April 30, 2006

The Symposium and, I believe, the Phaedrus are your go-to Platonic dialogues for love.
posted by kenko at 6:59 PM on April 30, 2006

The Art of Loving: an enquiry into nature of love - Erich Fromm.

This is an old book, written by a male. It has its resulting perspective singularities and outdatedness, and reads like a Freudian dissection of various relationships, but I found its departure from current ideas informative, and when still relavant, rather comprehensive.

Also, have you thought about searching through Amazon.com's 'search similar by category' or 'customers who bought this also bought..", etc.?
posted by MD06 at 7:15 PM on April 30, 2006

I should clarify (esp. with regards to kenko's point) that I am defintely looking for something more modern. I don't reject analytic philosophers out of hand (i should have been clearer, k) but I admit to having a poststructuralist bias and as such am looking for something in that vein. the barthes book looks interesting and i'll definitely check out Frankfurt, but please keep the answers coming!
posted by yonation at 7:16 PM on April 30, 2006

Stephanie Coontz' very well-reviewed 2005 book Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage should be right up your alley. It traces the evolution of marriage up to the very recent development of marrying for love. Chapter One, which you can read at her site, is actually called "The Radical Idea of Marrying For Love."
posted by mediareport at 7:35 PM on April 30, 2006

I can highly recommend "On Love" by Alain de Botton. It's a novel, but the author is a modern philosopher, and his ruminations about love and relationships are very insightful. It's kind of anti-romance, but definitely worth a read.
posted by DannyUKNYC at 8:37 PM on April 30, 2006

Against Love by Laura Kipnis
posted by cushie at 8:48 PM on April 30, 2006

bell hooks, All About Love. Which is great and which pointed me to Fromm's The Art of Loving which is turning out to be pretty great (I'm reading it now, see). If you can get past his essentialist mother love/father love stuff and ignore the one parenthetical sentence on the "homosexual deviation" there's lots of good food for thought for someone exploring alternative understandings of love.
posted by drewbeck at 9:16 PM on April 30, 2006

drewbeck, can you talk a little more about the fromm book?
posted by yonation at 9:51 PM on April 30, 2006

yonation, I think so. This'll be scattered; I'm tired and haven't finished the book yet! Is there anything in particular you want to know?

The book has been helpful for me in navigating some pitfalls of traditional/romantic ways of loving. The primary thesis of the book is that love is an art/skill/faculty (he's careful to not say that love is not a feeling); loving is something you learn to do by mastering the theory and the practice. He writes that there is an "assumption that the problem of love is the problem of an object, not the problem of a faculty" so the problem of love is finding the right person to love/be loved by. In his formulation love is fundamentally active.

He goes into detail about different kinds of love—parent/child, "brotherly," erotic, self, and the love of god—to great effect. He finds a lot of fault in capitalism, which sounds about right to me. He's not a big fan of Freud though recognizes the utility of some of his work, which also sounds about right to me.

The book is generally well-grounded but periodically has a touch of a flaky, hippie thing going on. It's definitely not anthropological, genealogical, or psychological. Fromm is concerned with exploring new ways of understanding and living love and not with explaining how things are—because of that the book might be more self-help than you're looking for, but I'd encourage you to not let that turn you away. Also it's a short book.

I'm curious to know what you want this for. Do you have some thesis you're trying to flesh out or just feeling like you have holes in your knowledge?
posted by drewbeck at 1:10 AM on May 1, 2006

Another vote for Alain de Botton's Essays In Love. There's an extract here if you want to get a feel for it.
posted by greycap at 4:26 AM on May 1, 2006

How about Easton and Lizst's 'The Ethical Slut' for a counterveiling viewpoint?
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 5:51 AM on May 1, 2006

I add another vote for Plato's Symposium.
posted by jrb223 at 8:21 AM on May 1, 2006

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