Cover image for Thinking About Love: Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy Edited by Diane Enns and Antonio Calcagno

Thinking About Love

Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy

Edited by Diane Enns and Antonio Calcagno


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Thinking About Love

Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy

Edited by Diane Enns and Antonio Calcagno

“The contributors—scholars from Canada, Australia, the UK, and the US—offer insightful examinations of love, in its romantic/erotic, kenotic, friendship, and agapic forms. . . . A worthy foray into a topic of universal human experience, this collection will awaken readers to the value of what philosophy today says about love.”


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Does love command an ineffability that remains inaccessible to the philosopher?

Thinking About Love considers the nature and experience of love through the writing of well-known Continental philosophers such as Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Evolving forms of social organization, rapid developments in the field of psychology, and novel variations on relationships demand new approaches to and ways of talking about love. Rather than offering prescriptive claims, this volume explores how one might think about the concept philosophically, without attempting to resolve or alleviate its ambiguities, paradoxes, and limitations. The essays focus on the contradictions and limits of love, manifested in such phenomena as trust, abuse, grief, death, violence, politics, and desire.

An erudite examination of the many facets of love, this book fills a lacuna in the philosophy of this richly complicated topic.

Along with the editors, the contributors are Sophie Bourgault, John Caruana, Christina M. Gschwandtner, Marguerite La Caze, Alphonso Lingis, Christian Lotz, Todd May, Dawne McCance, Dorothea Olkowski, Felix Ó Murchadha, Fiona Utley, and Mélanie Walton.

“The contributors—scholars from Canada, Australia, the UK, and the US—offer insightful examinations of love, in its romantic/erotic, kenotic, friendship, and agapic forms. . . . A worthy foray into a topic of universal human experience, this collection will awaken readers to the value of what philosophy today says about love.”
“This collection opens up an overdue discussion of the intersections of love and thinking within the continental tradition.”
“The editors of this inspiring new collection rightly contend that the question of love is woefully under-treated in contemporary Continental philosophy. This failure has impoverished both philosophy and contemporary life, making this volume a timely and much-needed intervention as well as a cause for gratitude.”

Diane Enns is Associate Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University and the author of Speaking of Freedom and The Violence of Victimhood, the last also published by Penn State.

Antonio Calcagno is Professor of Philosophy at King’s University College at Western University. His most recent book is Contemporary Italian Political Philosophy.



Thinking About Love: An Introduction

Diane Enns and Antonio Calcagno

Part I Human Vulnerability and the Limits of Love

1 Love and Death

Todd May

2 Love’s Limit

Diane Enns

3 The Subject in Crisis: Kristeva on Love, Faith, and Nihilism

John Caruana

Part II Love, Desire, and the Divine

4 The Phenomenon of Kenotic Love in Continental Philosophy of Religion

Christina M. Gschwandtner

5 Love’s Conditions: Passion and the Practice of Philosophy

Felix Ó Murchadha

6 What Can Love Say? Lyotard on Caritas and Eros

Mélanie Walton

7 Finding a Place for Desire in the Life of the Mind: Arendt and Augustine

Antonio Calcagno

Part III Love and Politics

8 Against Essentialist Conceptions of Love: Toward a Social-Material Theory

Christian Lotz

9 Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil on the Significance of Love for Politics

Sophie Bourgault

Part IV The Phenomenological Experience of Love

10 Trust and the Experience of Love

Fiona Utley

11 The Time of Possible and Impossible Reciprocity: Love and Hate in Simone de Beauvoir

Marguerite La Caze

12 Intentionality and the Neuroscience of Love

Dorothea Olkowski

V Love Stories

13 Love Is Blind: Jacques Derrida

Dawne McCance

14 The Babies in Trees

Alphonso Lingis

List of Contributors



Thinking About Love:

An Introduction

Diane Enns and Antonio Calcagno

Philosophers have been accused, and rightly so, of not giving love enough consideration. Treatments of love by philosophers throughout history pale in number when considered against all the works of literature, poetry, painting, or film devoted to love in its plethora of forms. How does one write of love philosophically, given the age-old prejudices of Western philosophers against the body, emotions, and the mutability that is their only constant? Reason falters in matters of the heart; for reflections on love we flock to the poets and musicians. Their melodies, the lyricism of their self-contained lines, act like watery conduits, easing the awkwardness of expressing what is deeply felt in words that never seem adequate. But beyond descriptions of the beauty and joy or pain of human attachment, we need understanding. Love is not beyond thinking. We approach the thinking of love through analyses of our own and others’ experiences; in this way reflection on love can transform us.

But there is another reason why philosophers should care about love. Plato rightly saw eros as a motivator: it pushes us, inciting our desire for pleasure, wisdom, knowledge, and virtue, and even for the good. If we accept this insight, thinking about love in all its manifestations—desire, appetite, sexual longing, intimacy, care, and friendship, as well as love’s failure and death—can enrich our understanding of human existence. Love is a fundamental aspect of our being, and its presence or absence in our lives has profound effects. That philosophers on the whole have greater confidence in the power of reason than in the power of love means they have neglected a fertile terrain for exploring and understanding the human condition. In order to address a number of our most vexing philosophical problems, including the relationships between emotion and reason, the self and the other, love and hate, ethics and politics, and our preoccupations with death, trust, intimacy, and sex, we need to think about love.

This book considers these problems from perspectives arising out of the Continental tradition. While there exists a growing philosophical interest in the question of love, mostly on the part of Anglo-American Analytic scholars, Continental approaches to the question of love have not been fully explored. Philosophers in the Analytic tradition, foremost among them Irving Singer, Harry Frankfurt, and Alan Soble, have written extensively on the nature of love and its history, but they do not write in the context of the persistent themes we find in recent Continental philosophy, including critical accounts of subjectivity and selfhood, social relations of production and reproduction, alterity, desire, abjection, ineffability, reversibility, and ambiguity. While several works have recently appeared that are rooted in this latter tradition, notably Jonna Bornemark and Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback’s edited collection Phenomenology of Eros and M. C. Dillon’s Beyond Romance, these texts are exclusively phenomenological treatments of erotic love and therefore more limited in scope. Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Henry, also phenomenologists, and a cohort of contemporary French thinkers have done much to rectify the lack of philosophical interest in love, but their perspectives are informed and constrained by the Catholic tradition. New or relatively recent works by Alain Badiou and Jean-Luc Nancy can be added to the roster, but these are either too prescriptive, as in the former, or obscure, as in the latter. We seek a wider approach to considering love, one that is informed by recent philosophical work but also moves beyond it.

With this in mind, we have brought together scholars and philosophers from a variety of critical perspectives to reflect on a number of contemporary European Continental thinkers, all of whom have much to say on the nature of love. Our contributors consider the writings of Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida, Michel Henry, Jean-François Lyotard, Julia Kristeva, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Simone Weil, among others, and several draw on fiction and film for their analyses. Each of the fourteen essays focuses on a specific question or theme and draws on leading philosophers to help develop the problem or provide a critical response to the questions raised. Our contributors explore various aspects of love, from its paradoxical nature and its connection to hate or the event of death, to the role it plays in ethical comportment and the limit it demands when it encounters violence. With few exceptions we have restricted our texts to principal figures in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Continental philosophy, as it is this body of work that needs more scholarly attention.

The purpose of this collection is to widen the scope of philosophical reflection on love in terms of method and to raise new questions on the nature of love that challenge established views. Literature, film, memoir, social analysis, and personal meditations on love can lead to valuable philosophical insights that provoke further thinking and help us to understand the complexity of human relationships. This complexity is constantly evolving. We believe it is time for fresh perspectives on the nature of love, given new forms of social organization, changes in political and social conventions, and the development of a more robust psychology and new types of love relationships—all of which have been shaped by technology and the collapse of old social norms.

Not merely exegetical, the following essays grapple with the realities of human experience; the materiality and vicissitudes of contemporary love figure prominently. Central to such an endeavor is the self-reflexive question of how to think about love philosophically: is there an ineffability, or conversely, a materiality to love that remains inaccessible to the philosopher? Our contributors are not making prescriptive claims about authentic love, as many philosophers have done; they are thinking about how to think philosophically about love without attempting to resolve or alleviate love’s ambiguities, paradoxes, or limits. This highlighting of some of our best European thinkers and attentiveness to both the thought and experience of love fills a lacuna in the philosophy of love. We trust that the essays gathered here will appeal to a broad audience of readers searching for new insights on timeless questions regarding love.

We have organized the chapters into five parts, grouping essays according to the themes rather than the authors they address. Some are expository while others are more reflective, even personal. We could never pretend to be systematic or comprehensive in our discussions of love; this collection reflects the disparate, perhaps even haphazard, ways in which we move between experience and analysis in our consideration of love, between the body and mind, and between another’s experience of love and our own. Such thinking demands versatility not only in the writer, but in the reader as well. When it comes to thinking about love, philosophy must open its doors to creativity.

<1>I. Human Vulnerability and the Limits of Love

We begin with mortality. In “Love and Death,” Todd May rejects the traditional depiction of love as enduring and even eternal. This view of love stems from Plato and is refined by the Neoplatonists and other religiously oriented thinkers. May risks a wager: what if our mortality, although it makes love temporally finite, lends to love an intensity, a power and affective valence that distinguishes it from other emotions? Through an exploration of diverse phenomena, including aging, friendship, and romantic love, May argues that a reflection on the significance of death to love does not tell us how to conduct a successful long-term romantic relationship but makes us aware of the impact of the limits of our time together. In this way death lends to love an intensity that varies in different kinds of relationships, and it is this intensity that constitutes the nature of love. Our mortality, in fact, is “a cosmic gift to love” even if it is an ambivalent one, since “it takes our loved ones from us but gives them to us all the more while we and they are here.”

Our mortality provides the ultimate limit to love, gifting us with meaning and fulfillment, but in loving, our own limits are revealed. In “Love’s Limit,” Diane Enns reflects on the limits of love with reference to twentieth-century philosophers like Arendt, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre and to writers such as Lorna Crozier and David Grossman. Enns begins by taking a position against the liberal and Christian paradigms that continue to inform our assumptions about romantic love. In the former, the self is presumed autonomous and sovereign, requiring equality and reciprocity to love properly; in the latter, the self is a mere vessel for God’s perfect love, requiring self-sacrifice and denial. Enns argues that there is a limit not to love itself—for love can be experienced as an expansive swell of emotion without limit—but to an individual’s capacity for love. The limit arises when the self permits another to erode or destroy this capacity. This is not a sovereign self with fortified borders that is threatened by the love and need of another, but a self always already in relation to another, affirmed in her existence by the act of loving rather than by being lovable. Loving, Enns suggests, is a gift to both lover and beloved, an unsurpassed affirmation expressed in Augustine’s phrase volo ut sis—I will you to be. Enns interprets this as a passive acceptance of the other’s freedom to be, to act, and to take responsibility for one’s life. But to be capable of love we need to be vulnerable to the other, Enns argues, and this means being open to the risk of suffering and loss, to the vicissitudes of love. Thus the capacity for love is destroyed when vulnerability is crippled.

John Caruana reflects similarly on love’s wounds and limits in chapter 3, “The Subject in Crisis: Kristeva on Love, Faith, and Nihilism.” He writes of a current crisis in subjectivity: an inability to love. To assess this crisis he turns to Julia Kristeva, for whom the subject is given in love. When love is not present or deficient, the incipient psyche falls back on itself, into an autism that inhibits, even forecloses, relations with others. Kristeva is unequivocal in her criticisms of the vacuous and exploitative discourses of love and romance proffered by our present age, which fail to address what she calls “the incredible need to believe,” to have faith in the world and in others. Given this failure, Caruana argues, it should not surprise us that young people are increasingly attempting to heal their tormented psyches through self-harm, in particular self-cutting, a paradigmatic symptom of our age. In the absence of effective and meaningful images and representations, these youth are abandoned to themselves, enacting a desperate ritual in response to abject feelings. Through self-inflicted incisions they struggle to revive their stillborn psyches without recourse to metaphor and idealization. But it is an act as futile as it is tragic, for if they cannot love themselves they are unlikely to establish loving relations with others. Kristeva challenges our contemporary secular age to conceive of alternative narratives and images of love that can foster ongoing psychic renewal and belief in the world again.

<1>II. Love, Desire, and the Divine

In part II we shift our focus to discussions of love and transcendence, whether we speak of a love beyond human capacities, that gestures toward the unsayable, or of the desire that propels us beyond ourselves. We commence with Christina M. Gschwandtner’s discussion of what she calls an unprecedented and surprising emphasis on love in a particular current of French thought. In “The Phenomenon of Kenotic Love in Continental Philosophy of Religion,” she argues that in this body of work we find a fairly monolithic and extreme picture of love as kenotic abandon, entailing intense self-sacrifice, total abnegation, and complete devotion to the other. This approach is particularly evident in Jean-Luc Marion, who has written most extensively on the question of love, and whose assumptions and analyses are reiterated by other writers even on the rare occasions when they criticize him or diverge from his account. Kenotic love is grounded in claims about the relation between God and the human soul (as agape), limiting love to the traditional image of a male initiator of love and a female respondent coming together in a heterosexual coupling. Gschwandtner argues that this kenotic version of love is too extreme and does not ultimately depict how love is actually experienced in concrete situations. For example, while heterosexual eros is the most common pattern for love in the Western Christian tradition, it is not clear that this is an adequate pattern for all loves, like parental love, homosexual love, friendship, or love for an animal, a home, or a garden. Love is not only sexual and it is not always kenotic in this intense degree. This does not mean we should entirely reject accounts of kenotic love, Gschwandtner concludes. If it is described more narrowly as a particular religious phenomenon of agape, kenotic love provides a meaningful account of religious experience and of religious identity in phenomenological terms, and in that sense provides important insights into the meaning and patterns of religious experiences of love.

To be in love is to be a self and to be a self is to be overtaken with passion, that is, ruled by an alterity that is both within and transcends the self. In chapter 5 of this volume, “Love’s Conditions: Passion and the Practice of Philosophy,” Felix Ó Murchadha understands love as the self giving itself to this alterity, trusting in a passionate feeling that always remains partly opaque but also conscious of possible destruction. The will to love and to be loved does not then begin with itself, but is a response to that which entices and allures it. There is a tension, however, between this alterity and the philosophical project of self-understanding. Self-knowledge, responsible selfhood, and self-legislating reason—informed by Stoic reflections on the self—all cluster around the formation of a self capable of philosophical reflection and are rooted in an ascetic discipline of control, perhaps even the elimination, of the passions. The philosophical impulse to sovereignty and autonomy forgets the source of self-responsibility, which is not in the self but in the place from which the self emerges, the between space of being in love. But such an autonomous, sovereign, and apathetic being cannot love, Ó Murchadha points out. And while Christianity’s account of love as agape critiques this philosophical position, it ultimately fares no better. To think love philosophically, Ó Murchadha concludes, is to begin in and with passion, to begin as already in love. It is to practice philosophy otherwise, beyond the Stoic-Skeptic inheritance that continues to inform the ascetics of philosophical reflection.

In chapter 6, “What Can Love Say? Lyotard on Caritas and Eros,” Mélanie Walton’s point of departure is Jean-Luc Marion’s claim that philosophers no longer have the words to speak of love. Referring to Jean-François Lyotard’s concept of the differend, she argues that it is in the face of the impossibility of full and complete capture of knowledge that we are called most urgently to try anyway. When it comes to the experience of human love, we must keep in mind that while narratives are the clearest indicators of the truths we live by, these narratives do not capture the meaning of the event itself; their identification as narratives does not then give us the power to break the veils of construction and access some true wisdom beneath them.

With the help of Lyotard’s The Confession of Augustine, Walton elaborates two notions of love, eros and caritas, and argues that the former succeeds better than the latter in speaking of that which we cannot, of that surplus of meaning that is just out of our grasp of the event. The failure of caritas rests in its becoming an overly constrictive, circular, and universalizing narrative that prohibits the indeterminacy of the occurrence. Caritas possesses its object; it avoids any exception by its creation of the narrative whose form authorizes every past, present, and future possibility as already denominated as an instance of God’s love. Eros is markedly different, Walton suggests. In eros, the having is only as a not-having; eros has only longing, it is a lack but paradoxically not a lack, because it is pure materiality. Walton concludes that it is eros that succeeds best to speak of that inaccessible excess because it fails to do so, yet it tries, again and again.

In “Finding a Place for Desire in the Life of the Mind: Arendt and Augustine,” Antonio Calcagno argues that a more robust understanding of desire must play a role in the life of the mind as Hannah Arendt describes it, and it must do so primarily as a motivator, an experience that is not of our own generation, but which moves us to desire to think, judge, and will. Arendt’s most sustained treatment of desire or appetite (appetitus), what is often translated as “craving,” can be found in her doctoral dissertation, now published as Love and Saint Augustine. Like Augustine, Arendt associates desire with the appetites of the body; it is understood as an inferior kind of love that largely confines oneself to one’s own ego interests. Ultimately, desire, craving, or appetite is redeemed, indeed transformed, through social interactions or an encounter with God, or so, at least, this is the way Arendt reads Augustine: appetite yields to agape.

If we read Augustine closely, with some distance from Arendt’s fruitful reading, he never fully makes the Neoplatonic distinction between matter and spirit (nous). The human person is a unity of body and soul. Whereas Arendt separates bodily desire from the traditional faculties of the soul, Augustine, through an encounter with God, allows desire itself to be transformed: it can move us to the good, which is God, away from our own self-interest. This does not mean, however, that one ceases to struggle with bodily and spiritual desires, the struggle between the earthly and heavenly cities; rather, the encounter with God and the gift of grace need not reduce desire simply to one’s own needs, one’s own bodily needs. The encounter opens up desire to a larger possibility of objects. Love, then, is a desire for not only our own selves, but also others, the world, and God. If Augustine is right, and we extend the dialogue between Arendt and Augustine, one that continued throughout all of Arendt’s own life, then perhaps we can find a place for desire as a love that can motivate the faculties of the mind, which Arendt found crucial for the promise of a new politics founded on exceptional words and deeds.

<1>III. Love and Politics

From discussions of kenosis, differends, and the motivating push of desire, we turn in part III to the social and political context of human love, its profound materiality. In chapter 8, “Against Essentialist Conceptions of Love: Toward a Social-Material Theory,” Christian Lotz provides a critique of the religious, romantic, anthropological, or legal conceptions of love that reduce love to an ontological or ethical base from which all other elements of society emerge. He develops instead an understanding of love as the sensual form of being social; that is, love is tied to a social form, dependent on the categorial system of reproduction within which love concretely exists under existing relations of production. From this vantage point, sensual life is as complex as the social world and cannot be abstracted from it. Love must remain tied to real individuals and grasped in its specific, categorial form. As Marx states in The Holy Family, love “cannot be construed a priori, because its development is a real one which takes place in the world of the senses and between real individuals.” To outline this conception of love, Lotz first reflects on love in pre-Marxian terms, as Marx’s break with essentialist conceptions of love depends on his critique of Feuerbach. He then reconstructs Marx’s early philosophy of love as a philosophy of sensuality, expanding this position by taking the “standpoint of reproduction” (Althusser) into account. Lotz concludes with a discussion of Antonio Negri’s and Alain Badiou’s philosophies of love, which he argues provide a regressive position in recent political philosophy and a relevant contrast with the social-material theory of love Lotz provides in this chapter.

Considering further the practical implications of theories of love is Sophie Bourgault’s chapter, “Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil on the Significance of Love for Politics.” In recent decades much scholarly attention has been paid to the role of love in politics. Martha Nussbaum, among others, has made a powerful case for the importance of empathy and compassion in politics. But compassion is certainly not without its critics. Many feminists have objected to a celebration of political compassion and of “caring,” and numerous political theorists have raised red flags about compassion’s excessive sentimentality and its possible perversion into a politics of pity. Bourgault sheds new light on this debate by turning to two twentieth-century political philosophers whose work appears to capture the two most extreme positions that could be taken in this debate, Arendt and Weil. In The Human Condition Arendt suggests that love was a great antipolitical force, and in On Revolution she blames compassion for the failure of almost all revolutionary projects. The contrast with Weil could not be starker. Weil wrote several essays that argue that social justice and good citizenship are impossible without love.

Bourgault considers these dissimilar positions, paying particular attention to the ties between political compassion, speechlessness, and bodily needs. She suggests that Weil’s and Arendt’s distinct positions on compassion are highly dependent on the former’s Platonist and the latter’s phenomenological standpoints on things political. Despite their divergent views, Bourgault concludes that both philosophers agree that solutions to modern ills should include “sober” kinds of love (e.g., philia). Nevertheless, a positive outlook on love need not entail a progressive politics. In fact, Bourgault argues, Arendt and Weil were both wary of efforts aimed at translating love into generous welfare state measures and both worried about the large bureaucratic apparatus that accompanies such measures.

<1>IV. The Phenomenological Experience of Love

Part IV brings us to the rich terrain of phenomenology and back to the body’s individual experience of love. We begin this section with Fiona Utley’s essay “Trust and the Experience of Love,” which mines the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to show that love must not be understood as a purely spiritual phenomenon; rather, essential to love is a fundamental comportment that is grounded in trust. She explores how trust unfolds as a lived experience, from the body and habituation, to the psyche and ultimately extending through to the spirit, where one encounters acts of willing and motivation, which are fundamental for love. The unique observation of this chapter is Utley’s cogent point that although Merleau-Ponty does not have a sustained view of love, his disparate writings on the subject demonstrate some consistency. She concludes that we do not remain in the heightened phase of falling in love; rather, our lives settle as new sedimentations occur, building new worlds of shared intimacy from our affective opening onto depth. A metamorphosis occurs out of depth and its reversibility of dimensions through entanglement, and I am altered, you are altered. We become, as Merleau-Ponty suggests, “two in one Being,” and this one being creates a new world.

The human experience of love in its most concrete manifestations is further highlighted in Marguerite La Caze’s essay “The Time of Possible and Impossible Reciprocity: Love and Hate in Simone de Beauvoir.” This chapter explores how interpreters of Simone de Beauvoir look at her intriguing readings of love and desire in The Second Sex. La Caze brings Beauvoir’s view of love from that text into relation with her descriptions of hate and vengefulness in her early essay “An Eye for an Eye.” She demonstrates how Beauvoir’s position differs in The Second Sex and in other texts from that of the essay and argues that we must distinguish these emotional reactions of outrage from reciprocal loving relations.

La Caze writes that “An Eye for an Eye,” written amid the postwar purge, clarifies for us why vengefulness is “almost bound to be disappointed.” For Beauvoir the extremes of the crimes of the Nazis and the collaborators taught anger and hate to people in a way they had not before experienced. Although this experience was thought to promise a corresponding joy when the worst criminals were punished, disappointment resulted instead. Ultimately, while these particular negative affects are both ethical and understandable, according to Beauvoir they cannot be satisfied or resolved. She sets out to comprehend why this need for a restored reciprocity in the light of such crimes usually cannot be fulfilled. Both private revenge and state punishment fail to bring about the perpetrator’s recognition of what they have done, of their own ambiguous existence or an acknowledgment of the victim’s perspective. Here, writes La Caze, Beauvoir parallels this impossible reciprocity with that of love. In other texts, however, Beauvoir suggests that reciprocity in love may be possible. Indeed, it would be if women were not oppressed, she argues in The Second Sex. In exploring the two accounts of love and hate, La Caze not only offers readers a challenging view of reciprocity and its connection to time, but also a reading of the relationship between love and hate.

Dorothea Olkowski’s point of departure in “Intentionality and the Neuroscience of Love” is the failure of Irving Singer to provide a workable ontology to serve as the framework for the modern ideas of love that he puts forth. She takes on the leading philosophical view of love espoused by Singer but also frames the question of love in terms of neuroscience. Olkowski’s task is to address this failure and take up the challenge of developing an ontological framework for love, one that correlates the ontology with scientific accounts of the physiology and neurophysiology of love. To this end she asks whether love is an emotion, and if it is, how shall we define emotion? Is an emotion a product of sensation or something correlated with intentions? For if emotions are sensations and not intentional, then any notion of lasting love is an illusion. Love may be romantic or familial, passionate or convivial, sexual or Platonic, sadistic or generous; whatever form it takes, we will have to go back to the same questions Singer asked: Is love something learned, is it an instinct, is it a creative act, or is it something else altogether that we have not yet examined and may not even understand?

To respond to this line of questioning Olkowski walks us through the ideas of David Hume on the passions, then turns to the accounts of intentionality found in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s work on perception and in Walter J. Freeman’s on neuroscience. Finally, Olkowski takes up the fictional account of love between the protagonists of Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 to show us how such intentionality might function.

<1>V. Love Stories

Continental philosophy often appeals to literature and stories to make certain points about an experience or an event. We close our collection with two meditative essays that discuss the nature of love within the framework of stories. Both draw from the work of philosophers, but they also show how philosophical reflection and analysis can be carried out in different forms of expression.

In chapter 13, “Love Is Blind: Jacques Derrida,” Dawne McCance provides a Derridean-inspired meditation on her own views of love. She invokes memory to show how her experience of love, in particular the love of her father, is transformed in time and by looking back at it through the lens of the present. This chapter, however, is not only a timely meditation on “filial love”; McCance also acts as a sage who guides us through Derrida’s own writings on love. She exposes and ponders different Derridean claims about the nature of love, including its power to individuate but also obscure and hide, mindful of the fact that Derrida himself was always reluctant to speak about the nature of love, or his own experience of love. A dynamic parallel is established between the author’s own reflections on love and how it is treated and discussed by Derrida.

In our final chapter we return to the themes of death, life, and love. Alphonso Lingis meditates on the experience of love in nature and the love of nature. “The Babies in Trees” begins with a description of these experiences while traveling. He finds in nature a powerful experience of life, a life that is not uniquely his own but to which he feels intimately linked. He expresses the feelings of awe and amazement at belonging to the greater experience of life that he uncovers in nature. But nature not only displays the magnitude and power of life, it also bespeaks a kind of unique intimacy and love, which Lingis says lies within the very structure of nature itself. Our bodies, fundamental expressions and parts of nature, experience the intimacy between love and life as it is witnessed in nature as a whole, but also love and death. “Love comes over us,” Lingis writes; “it is a force of nature in us” that elicits a demand to care and nurture. He uses the example of the relations between mothers and children, turning at the end of his essay to the Toraja people’s custom of burying in the trunks of trees their stillborn or infants who die before cutting their first tooth. In this way, the trees continue the love and nourishment of the parents. “In love we are attached to a singular life,” Lingis states, but also “to a vast beyond and future that opens before that life.”

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Our wish for readers is that this volume of essays not only illuminates provocative insights on love generated by a number of major figures in Continental philosophy but also stimulates further thinking about the nature of love and its implications for the human condition.

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