In Paz’s extensive journey through the history of love in the West, he makes stops in ancient Greece, Alexandria, and Rome, emphasizes the importance of Arabic culture during the so-called Dark Ages, and chronicles the rise and fall of Provencal culture and poetry in the Middle Ages. He finishes his analysis in the modern era, with special praise for Surrealism’s emphasis on exclusive love. He examines the literary and philosophical traditions of each era, sometimes analyzing specific poems in the context of love and eroticism. His survey makes clear the centrality of women’s position in society; as Paz writes, “the history of love is inseparable from the history of the freedom of women.” If a culture prohibited women from being active agents in love, then genuine love could not flourish.
Paz is not merely a cultural historian; he is also a cultural critic. His impression of contemporary culture is fairly bleak. Because he believes there can be no love without a reverence for both the body and the soul, he finds the current situation pitiful: Capitalism has desacralized the body and transformed it into a marketing tool, while the soul (or psyche) has been suppressed or ignored. Without a soulful regard for the body, and an acceptance of the reality of the soul—what gives each person his or her individuality—there can be no love. Paz concludes with a call for a dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and artists that will lead to a renewed sense of love’s importance to human culture.