An examination of romantic love and relationships through the lens of existential philosophy.
For those who have and have not studied the philosophers examined here—Stirner, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, and De Beauvoir—Cleary’s analysis plays two roles equally well. It both introduces the central ideas and investigates them for something more specific, namely, what these existentialists thought about romantic love. What romantic advice, for instance, would Nietzsche offer to a contemporary relationship? Cleary smartly breaks down the fundamentals of existentialism into categories that then seem applicable to romantic relationships: creating unions between individuals, looking for meaning, choices, freedom, and authenticity, etc. As she progresses from one philosopher to the next, Cleary covers everything from passion to marriage as an institution to relationships as masochism, finding specific references and drawing from other topics such as the philosophers’ personal romances and their musings on other relationships found in literature. Combining these more relatable elements with traditional analysis and her clear prose results in a serious, well-researched piece of scholarship that also provides enjoyable inroads to a new understanding of these dense philosophies. Although some of her conclusions might feel like a stretch, it’s still exhilarating to see her arrive at certain proclamations: e.g., “the most fulfilling and satisfying existence can be achieved only through leaping into romantic loving because it is enriching and enables individuals to engage more intensely in the world.” Throughout, Cleary writes with the same joyful appreciation for existentialism as the late Dr. Robert Solomon—an expert whom Cleary often cites. For both Solomon and Cleary, the existentialists were far from the gloomy, nihilist figures often presented in pop culture. Instead, they were serious, tremendous thinkers constructing new and progressive ways for others to better grapple with the human condition. As such, Cleary’s illuminating work offers a wealth of new considerations readers can strive to apply to their own lives.
An excellent academic work that will enlighten readers looking for personal meaning in masterpieces of the existential movement.