The Erotic Phenomenon
Jean-Luc Marion, translated by Stephen E. Lewis
University of Chicago Press, $35, 248 pp.
Erotic love is interesting to almost everyone. We endlessly write and talk about it, delight in it, and worry about it. But we don’t very often think seriously about what it is and what it’s for. We are driven by it and drawn to it, but close, careful analyses of the phenomenon itself are rare even among philosophers and do not come naturally or easily to the rest of us. The result is that we’re conceptually impoverished: we don’t have an analytically precise lexicon for thinking about erotic love, and so we tend toward an uneasy silence about its nature and purposes. When serious questions about eros do surface, we quickly veil them with an appeal to privacy, taste, or freedom.
Jean-Luc Marion says all this with greater eloquence at the beginning of The Erotic Phenomenon, published in French in 2003 and recently in English. The bulk of the book is devoted to the kind of analysis whose lack he identifies. What, Marion asks, does it mean to love and be loved erotically? He approaches this question not as a theologian (although he has written theology) and not as a Catholic (although he is among the most eminent Catholic philosophers at work today). He approaches it as a lover whose thoughts have been formed by the technical vocabulary and methods of phenomenology. He provides an argumentative depiction of what is proper to erotic love as it appears in human experience and action. Because he is a phenomenologist...