Paul A. Bové, Love’s Shadow – Harvard University Press, January 2021
A case for literary critics and other humanists to stop wallowing in their aestheticized helplessness and instead turn to poetry, comedy, and love.
Literary criticism is an agent of despair, and its poster child is Walter Benjamin. Critics have spent decades stewing in his melancholy. What if, instead, we dared to love poetry, to choose comedy over Hamlet’s tragedy, or to pursue romance over Benjamin’s suicide on the edge of France, of Europe, and of civilization itself?
Paul A. Bové challenges young lit critters to throw away their shades and let the sun shine in. Love’s Shadow is his three-step manifesto for a new literary criticism that risks sentimentality and melodrama and eschews self-consciousness. The first step is to choose poetry. There has been since the time of Plato a battle between philosophy and poetry. Philosophy has championed misogyny, while poetry has championed women, like Shakespeare’s Rosalind. Philosophy is ever so stringent; try instead the sober cheerfulness of Wallace Stevens. Bové’s second step is to choose the essay. He praises Benjamin’s great friend and sometime antagonist Theodor Adorno, who gloried in writing essays, not dissertations and treatises. The third step is to choose love. If you want a Baroque hero, make that hero Rembrandt, who brought lovers to life in his paintings.
Putting aside passivity and cynicism would amount to a revolution in literary studies. Bové seeks nothing less, and he has a program for achieving it.
“An intellectual feast of the highest order. Bové’s monumental work is both magisterial and personal. He holds himself and others to the highest standards of poetic and critical excellence. And he writes with a strong sense of righteous indignation about the failures of the academy, the deterioration of intellectual integrity, and the decay of the life of the mind in our market-driven time.”—Cornel West
“A bracing journey into the mind’s powers, this book is a dynamic invitation to think thought through and to imagine otherwise, an uncompromising feat of inquiry, especially necessary in these sodden times. For anyone who believes close reading or literary criticism is dead, Bové’s pages—especially his heady retrieval of poetic making in ‘The Auroras of Autumn’—bear witness to their indelible presence.”—Colin Dayan, author of In the Belly of Her Ghost and Animal Quintet
“Modern criticism, Paul A. Bové suggests, has fallen in love with the ruins of meaning. We all are tempted by this perspective; who could entirely resist the sorrowful vision of Walter Benjamin’s angel, history piling up as mere debris? But there are alternatives, and this book explores in subtle detail the work of those—notably Rembrandt, Shakespeare, Stevens, and Adorno—who can teach us what some alternatives are.”—Michael Wood, author of On Empson and Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much
“Bové’s thinking has brought him to a fundamental insight about poetry and poetics: reality and its pressures cannot constrain humans’ ability to imagine the criteria required to meet their dreams. At once responsive and inventive, Bové’s book makes the case for the creativity and power of imagination that delights in movement of thought. I have not felt as elated by an intellectual experience since first reading Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense.”—Donald E. Pease, author of The New American Exceptionalism