European literature and theory of the twentieth century have been intensely preoccupied with questions of 'Desire', whereas 'love' has increasingly represented a fractured and strange, if not actually suspect, proposal: this is a prime symptom of an age of deep cultural mutation and uncertainty. Paul Gifford's book allows this considerable contemporary phenomenon to be observed steadily and whole, with strategic understanding of its origins, nature and meaning. Gifford paints a clear and coherent picture of the evolution of erotic ideas and their imaginary and formal expressions in modern French writing. He first retraces the formative matrix of French tradition by engaging with five classic sources: Plato's Symposium, the Song of Songs, the myth of Genesis, the tension between Greek Eros and Christian Agape and the repercussions of Nietzsche's declaration of the 'death of God'. Modern variations on these perennial problematics are then pursued in ten chapters devoted to Proust, Valéry, Claudel, Breton, Bataille, Duras, Barthes, Irigarary, Emmanuel, Kristeva. Literary and theoretical perspectives are perfectly blended in his study of these attempts at 'deciphering Eros'. The book will appeal not only to students of French literature, but to all those interested in the cultural upheavals of the twentieth century.
'Professor Gifford … does justice to the diversity, subtlety and complexity of the treatment of his theme in the greatest creative literature and thought of the century… . His book is a perfect blend of literary and theoretical considerations, very often quite novel. It will satisfy readers who are, and who are not, allergic to recent 'French theory'… . It should appeal not only to students of French literature but to all those who are interested in the cultural upheavals of the twentieth century.' René Girard, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University (Academy FranÃ§ais) ’A short review of Gifford's book cannot do justice to such a complex work. Gifford's precise, informed, detailed, and at times lyrical reading takes us readers through a fascinating literary and theoretical journey…’ Modern Language Review ’… a thought-provoking book written in clear and engaging manner. It will be of interest to all those interested in French or in cultural studies.’ Rocky Mountain Review
Contents: Author's note on translation of quoted material; Introduction. First Series: Origins, Recognitions: Plato's Symposium: the transcending enigma of Eros; Nuptial splendour: the song of songs; Shadow upon splendour: Genesis, transgression and the West. Second Series: Love as Cultural Construct: Mappings: Eros and Agape; Love in French literary tradition: the Troubadours to Rousseau; The crisis of Eros and the 'death of God'. Third Series: Deconstructing Romantic Transcendence: Mappings: Eros under suspicion; Marcel Proust: the idolatries of Eros; Paul Valéry: Eros unveiled and the re-imagining of love; Paul Claudel: transgression and promise. Fourth Series: The Immanent Beyond: Mappings: libido liberated and love sublime; André Breton's starry castle; Georges Bataille: the erotic abyss; Marguerite Duras: the haunting. Fifth Series: The Postmodern Symposium: Mappings: Eros 'post-everything'; Roland Barthes: amorous discourse and its subject; Luce Irigaray: lifting the curse of Genesis. Sixth Series: Agape Remembered?: Mappings: 'post-Christian' memory of Agape; Pierre Emmanuel: 'car enfin je vous aime!'; Julia Kristeva: re-telling the love story. Conclusion: remembering the past, negotiating the future; Select bibliography; Index.