A Philosopher's Treatise on Love

“My thesis is, in a nutshell, that love is in fact even more profound and basic to our being than most of our talk about it would suggest,” writes the late philosopher Robert Solomon in the preface to “About Love: Reinventing Romance For Our Times” (1988, 1994, 2006).

Solomon, the former Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy and a distinguished teaching professor, passed away in 2007 at the age of 64. But his ideas about life, love, relationships and sex, live on in his books.

“About Love” covers a comprehensive array of questions about the nature of love, including the idealization of love, the joys of sex, love at first sight, the meaning of fidelity and how to make love last.

According to Solomon, love remains such a mystery in part because those who have tried to explain love over the centuries have either sung its praises or reduced it from a grand emotion to a domestic science. He calls these theorists the “foggers” and the “facilitators,” and both have contributed to misunderstandings about love, according to the scholar.

“The Foggers tell us how wonderful love is but they don’t tell us what it is,” Solomon writes. “They often tell us how rare true love is, but they rarely tell us the truth about love—that love is in fact quite ordinary, less than cosmic, not the answer to all of life’s problems and sometimes calmitous.”

On the other hand, the facilitators have oversimplified the nature of love, Solomon argues.

“The Faciliators, by contrast, have turned love into a set of skills—negotiating, expressing your feelings…sharing the housework…” Solomon writes. “While the Foggers make love more mysterious, the Facilitators make thinking about love facile.”

The philosopher provides an antidote to both of these schools of thought in “About Love” by asking the age-old question “What is love?” and offering an answer that goes beyond mere physical attraction or everyday commodity.

Solomon favors a theory of love that dates back to Plato, which imagines love as a union of two souls. How do you define love?

An Interview with Australian Author Peter Carey

Australian novelist Peter Carey lands on campus this spring as the Michener Center’s Residency Award Author. The special residency program brings writers of international acclaim to the center each year for short, intensive seminars.

Carey’s latest book, “His Illegal Self,” is out in paperback from Vintage this month, and like each of his ten novels, it is boldly inventive and tackles new territory.

Whether drawing upon his own experience as an advertising executive-turned-commune dweller in “Bliss,” or re-imagining the life of a Dickens’ character in “Jack Maggs,” Carey never repeats himself. He won the Booker Prize in 1988 for “Oscar and Lucinda,” a lush, improbable 19th-century love story about two obsessive gamblers, and a second Booker followed in 2001 for “True History of the Kelly Gang,” told in the unschooled vernacular of its outlaw narrator Ned Kelly, Australia’s version of Jesse James.

Since 1990, Carey has lived in New York City, where he directs Hunter College’s MFA program in creative writing. On a busman’s holiday here in Austin, Carey will conduct a three-week fiction seminar and give a public reading next week, but he took time to answer a few questions for ShelfLife about his work.

Q: In “His Illegal Self” we see the human toll of violent radicalism as your child protagonist seeks the truth about his parents, who were fugitive 60s radicals. But are you also addressing violent radicalism in our own time?

A: Readers often make this connection, but it was never in my conscious mind. I began the book as an attempt to make art from something I had experienced: an American on the run from the FBI who ends up in a community of hippies in tropical Queensland. The novel moved a long way from its roots.

By the time I had finished, “he” had become two people: a young woman from Boston and a six-year-old New Yorker called Che who thinks the young woman is his mother. It is their lives and loves I am concerned with. The political climate of the time is the water that they swim in. “His illegal Self” is a love story more than anything.

Q: “His Illegal Self.” “Theft: A Love Story.” “My Life as a Fake.” Is it just coincidence that your last three novels focus on the theme of imposture?

A: I have been asked this before and never get more than a B+ for my answer. I view the subjects of these books as over-lapping circles. “My Life as a Fake” is about the power of the imagination, a Frankenstein story, an argument that the lies we tell will come true. “Theft” does involve a fake, of course, and there the circles overlap, but I would think it deals with the lives of those who grow up far from the great centers of culture and their true passion for art (which they, as children in their isolated small towns, never knew existed).

Q: “His Illegal Self” begins in New York, but by page 23 has segued to Australia. After 20 years in New York, do you think you’ll ever make the United States a setting for your work?

A: The book I’m finishing is set in Paris, Devon and New York. The story takes place in the late 18th and early 19th century. It asks how we got to be living in a democracy marked by crookedness and cronyism, and wonders who might have predicted the great dumb culture of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Carey will read from his work at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, Feb. 12 in the Avaya Auditorium (ACES 2.302). The reading is free and open to the public.

Law Professor to Discuss "The Preemption War" at BookPeople

University of Texas law professor Tom McGarity will be at BookPeople this Saturday, Feb. 7, at 3 p.m. to discuss and sign his latest book, “The Preemption War: When Federal Bureaucracies Trump Local Juries” (Yale University Press, 2008).

McGarity, a regulatory law expert, says most consumers would be surprised to learn that the doors to the local courthouses are in jeopardy of being closed to them if they have been injured by a defective product, sickened by contaminated food, or disabled by an inadequately tested drug or medical device.

“The ones responsible for this injustice are not our local judges or legislators. They are faceless bureaucrats in the federal regulatory agencies who are supposed to be protecting us, but in recent years have been more concerned with protecting the industries they regulate,” McGarity said.

At the book signing, McGarity will explain how this has happened and what the Obama administration and Congress can do about it.

Professor Evaluates Israel's Struggle Against Terrorism

Four years ago, Associate Professor of Government Ami Pedahzur investigated the use of human bombs in terrorist attacks around the world in the 2005 book “Suicide Terrorism” (Polity).

Now, after a decade of studying terrorism, he turns his attention to Israel’s battle in “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism” (Columbia University Press, 2009).

In the book, Pedahzur argues that Israel’s counterrorism policy has not been successsful. To learn why, read the Austin American-Statesman’s interview with Pedahzur in the Jan. 18 story “UT expert questions Israel’s big stick.”

Pedahzur is a frequent commentator on global terrorism issues. For his insight about the recent attacks in India, check out the opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times, “From Munich to Mumbai.”

The Mystery of the "Victorian Blood Book"

One of the more unusual items in the Evelyn Waugh collection at the Harry Ransom Center is a book known as the “Victorian Blood Book.”

The oblong decoupage book features more than 40 pages of carefully cut-out and assembled engravings from books, all embellished with hand-colored drops of blood and religious commentaries (see inset). The emphasis throughout is on images of the crucifixion, birds and snakes, all dripping with blood.

Learn more about this odd and rather grotesque precursor to modern-day scrapbooks in the “Insider’s Perspective” story from the February issue of the Ransom Center’s eNews.

David Mamet to Discuss "The Spanish Prisoner" in Harry Ransom Lecture

In the second Harry Ransom Lecture of 2009, playwright, writer and film director David Mamet joins UT President William Powers Jr. for a conversation about “The Spanish Prisoner” (1997) and a screening of the film.

The event takes place at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 5 at the Texas Union Theatre. Seating is free but limited. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Mamet’s papers are housed at the Ransom Center and will be available for research later this spring. In the meantime, check out this gallery of items from the collection. Or, listen to an audio slideshow from Mamet’s 2008 visit.

The Harry Ransom Lectures honor former University of Texas Chancellor Harry Huntt Ransom and highlight the Ransom Center’s vital role in the university’s intellectual and cultural life. The program brings internationally renowned writers, artists, and scholars to Austin for a public event and conversations with University students. Learn more about other speakers in the series.

Poetry on the Plaza: The Rossetti Circle

The Harry Ransom Center presents the first Poetry on the Plaza event of the spring, “The Rossetti Circle,” at noon, tomorrow, Feb. 4.

Poet, painter and designer Dante Gabriel Rossetti was at the heart of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English poets and artists who sought to reform the arts and looked for inspiration in nature. In 1861, they “discovered” Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the “Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám,” a series of four-line poems by 11th-century Persian poet and astronomer Omar Khayyám, and set it on a path to popularity in the Western world.

Join readers Katharine Beutner, English graduate student and author of the forthcoming novel, “Alcestis;” Betty Sue Flowers, director of the LBJ Library and Museum; Carol MacKay, professor of English; and Molly Schwartzburg, curator of British and American Literature at the Ransom Center.

Enjoy listening to works by Rossetti and his circle, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti and William Morris, and follow the remarkable path of FitzGerald’s translation in the new HRC exhibit “The Persian Sensation: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the West.”

What's on Your Nightstand, Jim Magnuson?

Since 1993, James Magnuson has directed UT’s Michener Center for Writers, an interdisciplinary MFA program now ranked among the top five creative writing programs in the country.

A playwright and novelist (“Money Mountain,” “Ghost Dancing,” “Windfall,” “Hounds of Winter”), Magnuson also has written for ABC and NBC series television.

Reading could become an occupational hazard for someone faced with plowing through 700-plus manuscripts for MFA admissions each spring, not to mention staying current on dozens of authors who visit the center annually, and the work-in-progress of his own graduate students.

Check out a few selections from Magnuson’s crowded nightstand, and what he had to say about them, after the jump.

“On Chesil Beach” (Nan Talese, 2007) by Ian McEwan

This is a writer at the top of his game. The last four or five books have been magnificent. The fumblings and misunderstandings of a repressed young couple on their wedding night could have become material for farce. In “Chesil Beach,” McEwan turns it into something both tragic and resonant.

“True History of the Kelly Gang” (Vintage, 2001) by Peter Carey, two-time Booker Award winner

Not just one of the greatest novels written without a comma, but one of the greatest novels of our time. Someone has said of Ned Kelly that he was not so much Australia’s Jesse James as he was its Thomas Jefferson. The book purports to be Kelly’s autobiography and the voice that Carey creates for his illiterate narrator is a wonder. The book reads like the wind. Charles Dickens, say hello to Cormac McCarthy.

“How Fiction Works” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) by James Wood

A small gem of a book by a leading critic on the art of fiction. I read it in a night. A couple of things I walked away with that I will now use as my own opinions: first person isn’t as different from third as you think and metaphor is always mixed; that’s the point. Wood seems to have read everything and I loved the quotes he takes from other writers.

“The Savage Detectives” (Picador, 2008) by Roberto Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer

Who could have guessed that a slangy novel about young, pretentious avant-garde poets in Mexico City could be so moving? But Bolano captures the world of youthful artistic ambition beautifully. These teen-age poets tear into one another’s work, hit on girls, steal books, have grand thoughts, but the author makes us care for them. The book keeps opening up, turning eventually into the search for a lost surrealist poet in the Sonoran Desert. This book is able to wed the detective novel with post-modern fracturing of identities in a remarkable, mind-bending way.

PBS Airs "The Polio Crusade" Based on Professor's Book

Tune in to your local PBS station next Monday for an in-depth look at one of the biggest public health crises of the 20th century.

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) will air “The Polio Crusade,” a one-hour television documentary based in part on History Professor David Oshinsky’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, at 8 p.m. (CST) Feb. 2.

Oshinsky won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in history for “Polio: An American Story” (Oxford University Press, 2005) which details America’s obsession with the disease.

“The Polio Crusade,” produced by the PBS history series “American Experience,” chronicles the 20th-century effort to eradicate polio and includes interviews with historians, scientists, polio survivors and Julius Youngner, the only surviving scientist from the research team that developed the Salk vaccine.

Learn more about Oshinsky’s book in the feature “More Than a March of Dimes.”

Professor Discusses the Economic Crisis and the Road Ahead

Last August, LBJ School of Public Affairs Professor James K. Galbraith’s prescient book “The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too” was published by Free Press.

Less than a month later, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG stunned a nation already reeling from the government takeover of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Galbraith, who will discuss his book tonight in an event co-sponsored by the College of Communication Senior Fellows honors program and the LBJ School, answered a few questions for ShelfLife about his book, the ongoing financial crisis, his opinion on the Obama stimulus plan, and what we can expect for the future.

Q: In light of economic developments that have arisen since the publication of “The Predator State,” what do you think you got right?

A: Basically everything. I basically called the crisis and the cause of the crisis quite accurately. Not to say that it was by any means accidental. I was quite prepared for the crisis and saw it coming.

Q: What are your thoughts on President Obama’s proposed stimulus plan?

A: I think the bill should pass and it should pass quickly. However, people shouldn’t look to it to solve the crisis by itself. I think it would be a good step taken in short order by Congress, but we are going to need a much deeper faction on a broader scale to solve this problem.

Q: If you were to write a sequel to “The Predator State,” what would the central themes be?

A: I think it probably will be the great crisis we are experiencing now and the dismal science of economists and their professional definitions of economics. Also, I want to answer the question of why they were all so totally out to lunch when all of this was taking place.

Galbraith will discuss his book and the current economic outlook tonight at 7 p.m. at the Thompson Conference Center. Visit the calendar for more information.