I finished reading Essays in Love by Alain de Botton this morning. I looked the guy up, and found that he wrote the book at the age of 23. While reading the book I felt an oscillation between maturity and immaturity, and I also felt that the author’s awareness of his own immaturity was also something that went up and down. The de Botton who wrote the book must have had a pretty low view of himself, because being in his relationship with a girl named Chloe becomes to himself his only redeeming quality. This happens very quickly, and he finds it extremely difficult to recover from when she falls out of love with him after a year or so of being together.

Now, it’s well known that this kind of intense romantic love is something that never lasts. One hopes that while it’s on the decline, a more genuine, selfless love born out of familiarity develops, so that the romantic coupling can continue when the romantic love has burnt out. de Botton doesn’t talk about this at all. We are left with quite a negative view of romance: there’s this intense romantic love that seems to amount to a kind of worship, and then there’s nothing. Further, de Botton doesn’t even consider the possibility that romantic love might be possible without the worship and the total dependence that he shows in the earlier chapters of the book.

Despite these weaknesses there are some interesting and maybe useful ideas in various chapters of the book, which I’ll now discuss. These are nothing developed, just my personal notes.

The chapter Marxism

The nascent relationship reverberates with the shock of a breakfast-time argument that is de Botton’s reaction to his slowly dawning recognition that Chloe loves him back. de Botton calls this a “Marxist moment” in the relationship, and I must admit that I don’t get the reference.

de Botton says at the end of the chapter that every relationship has its Marxist moment and what then occurs depends on whether self-hatred or self-love win out. If self-hatred wins out, the lover will think that their partner is no longer good enough for them by virtue of liking them back because they are unloveable. This seems smart and I think I might have done it in the past few months, and it might be my why my relationship is currently very unstable.

The chapter The Fear of Happiness

I don’t know about the psysiology here, but it seems to be something certain people in a certain part of France believe. It makes me want to try life out of the city.

Although I was similarly confused, I think I just might be able to explain the Marxism reference in de Botton’s book. I think he’s referring to Groucho Marx, who said “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”, as de Botton describes in the chapter, with the club being an analogy to the relationship with a person he now finds wants him as a member. (I learnt the Groucho Marx quote by chance via Woody Allen movies). Whether or not de Botton chooses to call this ‘Marxism’ for fun because political-Marxism is such a fundamental topic in literature, or whether he simply adopts it as a way of saying “Groucho-Marxism”, not sure. Probably both.


Comment by tom.bw Sat 21 Sep 2019 10:57:48 UTC
Ah, nice, thank you!
Comment by spwhitton Thu 26 Sep 2019 23:02:04 UTC