In his 2005 book, Love's Confusions, C.D.C Reeve offers the reader a view into the world of love and its variegated confusions. Making his course in large part by way of a psychological orientation, Reeve exposes the behaviors, ideas, wishes and desires so often maintained under the appellation of love as misnomers, manifestations of love, or as kinds of superficial symbols that could point to a deeper psychic reservoir of love. However, Reeve's psychological investigation, in some instances, leads us to more urgent and unanswered philosophical questions.
By maintaining his posture in a psychological investigation of love, Reeve is able to pinpoint love's confusions more readily, because what we mistake for love often has its roots in the psyche. These confusions are often found in the world of our multifarious behaviors and emotions. A frivolous, and culturally common confusion of love, sentimentality is shown to be analogous to "what a diet of candy is for the body." But, Reeve allows for the possibility of sentimentality reaching deeper than its superficial home of gushing emotion. "Because it [sentimentality] is, as it were, a clichéd version of the authentic--instead of expressing a deadness within, it can stir up what was slumbering."
Reeve repeatedly refers to and often quotes literary works, philosophical and psychological texts and thinkers, and even film. These citations can serve as points of elucidation, and also serve as a means by which Reeve adeptly avoids pedantry, and the lackluster and arid fields in which the scholar often sets up shop. However, these references occasionally turn into boggy and tiresome recapitulations leaving the reader impatient and searching for the upshot. For example, Reeve spans nearly nine pages recapping two stories successively, with little commentary of his own interspersed. This sort of story re-telling is supposed to aid the task at hand, but only seems to provide a tortuous detour through which the reader must struggle to keep names and plot-lines straight--the bulk of which seems more part of a soap opera than a story worth relaying.
Venturing into such treacherous terrain as self-love, jealousy, the Christian conception of "agape", desire, and sex, Reeve's psychological insights permeate the text. Despite Reeve's ostensible acumen in the field of psychology, the attentive reader may come away unsatisfied due to somewhat commonplace interpretations of these difficult phenomena. The claim that self-love, for example, may be "a matter of becoming one with oneself, of having inner boundaries melt away" might well be the case, or could at least point us in the direction of profundity, if only it were elucidated and given more urgent and serious attention. Otherwise, we seem to be left with nothing more than platitude. Christian love, or agape, also seems to be treated flippantly, and within the framework of our traditional and usual perception of such love--a framework that, at its best, only scratches the surface of the depth of such love, or only cursorily points the way toward that love.
The world of sex, desire, and jealousy that sometimes accompany our love lives (or what appears to be a life of love) receive solid treatment, and give way to some sound insights into the lover's psyche. Ultimately, though, and in spite of them, these insights leave us with greater questions: Who are we in relation to love? What is it about this relationship that allows us to confuse all sorts of manner of emotion and comportment with love? And the most exigent of and what lies before all these questions: What is love in its essence? What is the heartbeat of love? How is it most readily and purely manifested in human existence? Perhaps we cannot answer such questions. Or, it could be that the more carefully and seriously we ask them, the more insights we gain, and that we somehow live our way into the answers. Or maybe Reeve's book could be a starting point for such questions. After all, he does have this to say about the book: "Out of what we chance to love or unlove, or be loved by, the collage of our love story gets patched together. Among these ingredients will be stories of love itself--stories our culture tells us, stories we learn at our mother's knee. Our own love story resembles, in consequence, a commonplace book--a book, in fact, a bit like this one."
© 2007 Jacob Graham
Jacob Graham is a graduate student in the PhD philosophy program at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA