Solomon, Robert C. About Love: Reinventing Romance for Our Times. Lanham, Maryland: Madison Books, 2001.
Robert C. Solomon was the Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Philosophy and Business at University of Texas at Austin whose untimely passing caused me great sorrow. Solomon was one of the few philosophers who would write about love. I must confess that I have read many works by Solomon becoming a great admirer of his writings and even interacted with him a few times at conferences. So, I am far from a neutral observer and even though I have never claimed to be unbiased in my ramblings on some of the books I have been reading, I think this goes further. There is something about being familiar with a person’s works that changes how you view them. This is true of my readings of Aristotle and Nietzsche. When I am reading About Love I have a background in Solomon’s thoughts where answers (or even questions) that others may be wanting in this book occur to me because they have been explored in his other works. Also, I have a sense of what he is writing about that may be unclear to a person who is reading his works for the first time. I do not think that being familiar with his works is better. I remember when I went to see Ani DiFranco having never heard her music before, it is like your first kiss with a person not knowing what to expect or how it may change your life. Yet, having that familiarity provides appreciation because of the intellectual background to the work. I may forgive a misstep here and there or recognize the value of his discussion about emotion. Why this long introduction, well in part, because it is akin to About Love. Solomon writes about the problem we face when thinking about love. There may be nothing like the rushes of the beginning of love that first kiss, embrace, and sex. All those little things you learn about the person. Yet, Solomon suggests there is something about love in which two people build a life together. What I would suggest is that it is like traveling down a path together. Oh, you may get sidetracked, loose your way, or even stop but so long as you have that future together in mind there is hope. In fact, Solomon suggest one the conditions of love is to have that idea of future.
Solomon’s book on love is more of a long essay about love and emotion. He has written on emotions before so does not delve into a lengthy general discussion on this topic. However, he does give one of his main points that “Emotions are not feeling, even when emotions are bound up with feelings” (78). Solomon does not see emotions as opposite of rational thought. Emotions are part of rational thinking. I am not sure if he would put it quite this way but from his works and meeting him, Solomon suggests that our emotions have reason behind them, be they good or poor reasons. However, there is nothing bad about emotions because they are very much part of being human. As he writes, “The emotion itself is a form of intelligence, a set of judgments, a way of seeing the world” (78). So that love is like all emotions, which as Solomon writes “is a product of the will” (78). This is where you can see the influence of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer on Solomon.
So then what is love? Well for Solomon, “Love at its best is a convergence—a synergism—of many desires, some of them sexual, others ethical, many of them straightforwardly practical, more than a few of them romantic and fantastic” (94). These are themes he follows throughout the book. However, it is his chapter on the idea of “Falling in Love” where I think he is at his best. Falling in love is a choice. This is where I think many readers will stand up and say no, that falling in love happens, perhaps by fate or chemistry but not by choice. However I am in line with Solomon on this matter. Now part of the problem is with what love is. So that the process of falling in love should not be confused with just the beginning where feelings, sexual urges, and fantasy all co-mingle but it is not the same as love, only a start that often falls away or never gets the chance to really develop. The beginning may be a great time filled with breathtaking heights; however, there are choices we have to make even before getting there. Part of this is how we think of love about first sight. If love at first sight were always true then we may see fate handing us love but often love at first sight fails us. Although we often remember only the times love at first sight was more successful, forgetting those short times in which we thought that person was “the one.” There is more to falling in love with how society, biology, and our own choices influence those beginnings even if we do not always understand them. These ideas are covered on his chapter on “Identity and Love.”
I think his own words will do better than my own on this, where Solomon says, “Of course the self can be determined only against a background of ‘givens’ that are beyond dispute-from the time and place where we were born to the fate and circumstance of our bodies, our looks, our talents and opportunities” (200). This is not to say that we are simple the sum of background facts. “We are never simple passive victims; we are always the coauthors of our own personalities” (200). Then finely he writes about making love last. This was the shorter part of the book and lacked the insight of the rest. Perhaps the topic is just too hard or needs a book of its own, maybe I was just not in the place for it. For reading a book only once means that I miss many points and ideas because I was not in the right time and place for all the ideas.
Like I have said, I enjoy Solomon’s writings and this book in particular. Yet there were some things I would have liked to see included. There is neither an index nor a bibliography, both of which I would have liked to have had. Footnotes would have been helpful (I made some of my own in my copy) but I understand that this is a popular work and not intended for scholars. These are small distractions and are of a minor concern to a truly great book. Let me leave you with one last passage from Solomon, one that I kept coming back to, where he writes, “Ultimately, there is only one reason for love. That one grand reason, which was seen so clearly by the ancient but has gotten lost in the modern stress on individual autonomy, is ‘because we bring out the best in each other’” (155).