Thursday, April 02, 2015

Romance X: Love Theory, Romance Practice

Romance X: Love Theory, Romance Practice

This Modern Love: representations of romantic love in historical romance

(Jodi McAlister, Macquarie University)

Historical romance is one of the most popular and recognisable sub-genres of the romance novel. The period setting is key to the construction of the romance: historical heroines often find themselves bound by more restrictive social rules than their contemporary sisters, particularly when it comes to appropriate female sexual behaviour.

This rather Foucauldian notion of a repressive society has an interesting effect on the portrayal of romantic love. While historical heroines often break the rules of their own societies, I contend that they regularly follow recommended contemporary patterns for romance, especially when it comes to the relationship between love and sex. The picture of romantic love offered by the historical romance is distinctly modern, despite the effort authors make to create historically accurate backdrops for their novels. In this paper, I will draw on the history of romantic love and several key texts to discuss the ways in which the historical romance regularly portrays romantic love as transhistorical and universal, as well as how this has changed over the genre’s history. I will explore the scripts for love and sex followed by several historical heroines, and will ultimately attempt to draw some conclusions as to the appeal of modern love in a period setting.

Outsmarting the Universe: Precocious Love in John Green’s Fault in Our Stars

(Susan Leary, University of Miami, English Department )

John Green’s 2012 bestselling young adult novel, Fault in Our Stars, introduces teenage cancer patients, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, who fall in love over the shared experience of knowing they are going to die.  There are all the elements of the cloying sweet, love-turned-tragic archetypal romance, yet the intellectual backdrop and smart wit of the characters transforms this love into one that resists such categorization: Hazel and Augustus bond over a deep fascination with Hazel’s favorite book, Imperial Affliction; they correspond sophisticatedly with its sardonic and cerebral author; they speak in metaphor, converse routinely with philosophical language, and kiss passionately in the midst of their touring the Anne Frank House.  Yet, Hazel and Augustus are not standard nerds, nor are they the sympathetically-viewed cancer kids.  Their intelligence in fact protects them from these labels.  The universe, however, is believed to be an ordered system.  As Hazel’s father says: “I believe the universe wants to be noticed.  I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”  Love, cast as an intellectualized experience, is this consciousness.  I call this precocious love because it is a love ahead of its own image; it only approximates love as it contains no elements of the artificiality we read into the idea and potential of it to organize experience.  In this way, Hazel and Augustus succeed in outsmarting the universe as how they feel about one another is archetype-less, lens-less, unqualified, and unprecedented—unprecedented being Augustus’s most frequent descriptor of Hazel.  The universe’s elegance is therefore an illusion of perfect order; even in his eulogy for Hazel, Augustus equates his love for her to “stars he cannot fathom into constellations.”  It is this intellectuality that makes love a simultaneous maker and unmaker of the universe.

Redeeming (M/M) Love: Christian Romance and Erotic Faith in Alex Beecroft's False Colors and Alexis Hall's Glitterland

(Eric Selinger, DePaul University)

As Catherine Roach, Simon May, and other scholars have argued, popular romance culture draws on a long post-Christian tradition of thought about romantic love as a source of transcendent meaning, purpose, and value in life: an “erotic faith,” in Robert Polhemus’s phrase, that true love unites sacred and secular desires, erotic and matrimonial relationships, and, fundamentally, body and soul.  Some queer romance novels engage with this faith tradition in particularly self-conscious and artful ways, whether by asserting the power of “erotic faith” to trump social and Biblical injunctions against same-sex romantic love or by reasserting the value of "erotic faith" in the face of the postmodern intellectual turn that characterises romantic love--especially with a happy ending--as a banal or déclassé ideal.  This presentation will look closely at the ways two m/m romance novels think through ideas about love and erotic faith, often in explicitly theological terms:  Alex Beecroft’s progressive Christian m/m romance, False Colors; and Alexis Hall’s ostensibly secular m/m novel Glitterland, whose self-conscious, self-doubting narrator invokes both Christian tropes and the critical work of Roland Barthes as he struggles to accept his own romantic redemption, at once redeemed by and redeeming love.

The Matter of Romantic Love Matters

(Morgan Klarich, Texas Woman's University)

Romance novels are made up of matter and can become an actant in the reader’s own narrative as they navigate their own fantasy and inter/intra-action with matter. Western philosophies (like materialism) tend to ignore romantic love as an ontologically relevant philosophical space. Romantic love is considered an emotion, and not relevant to the philosophical discourse of classical materialism. However, using new materialism I wish to challenge that and critically interrogate the validity of romantic love’s exclusion in this discourse. Using romance novels as a crucial point in my interrogation, my paper explores the possibility that romantic love is matter, an independent complicated product of physical matters intra-action. Among others, I utilize discourse from new materialists and romance novel scholars. I conclude that the old opinions towards matter cannot apply to the modern way of thinking. There is little room for absolutes when so much is clearly unknown about what matter actually is. Romantic love is that unknown, unseen, and uncharted territory of philosophical discourse that can and will be considered, not only a product of matter, but matter itself.

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