Love and Friendship

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Allan Bloom’s central thesis in this posthumously published analysis of eros in literature is that contemporary life is eros-impoverished, and that we might recover some of the richness of love and friendship by rereading the classics. Best known for THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND, which criticized the liberal culture mavens and deplored the current general disintegration of values, Bloom was co-director of the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry at the University of Chicago at the time of his death in 1992.

Bloom begins LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP by considering the notions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the subject of eros. He traces Rousseau’s influence on writers who followed him, and then turns to the romantic and platonic relationships in Shakespeare’s plays, focusing on Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, Falstaff and Prince Hal, and others. He next discusses Plato’s SYMPOSIUM and the notions of love and friendship it expresses, concluding with some general reflections on the meaning of love and commitment.

The readings of Shakespeare are insightful and provocative; Bloom’s lens does throw new areas and even new lines into focus. Centering on eros as the driving force behind ROMEO AND JULIET, for instance, prompts a reinterpretation of the roles of the minor characters. Bloom’s perspective is clearly masculine, however; the women he discusses seem unreal and mythologized, more objects than subjects, and he does not seem to have any understanding of friendship among women. Still, the book as a whole presents an interesting argument and an overview of literature in the light of a clearly defined thesis.