cover image The Reddest Rose: Romantic Love from the Ancient Greeks to Reality TV

The Reddest Rose: Romantic Love from the Ancient Greeks to Reality TV

Liv Strömquist, trans. from the Swedish by Melissa Bowers. Fantagraphics, $24.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-68396-459-9

Leonardo DiCaprio’s love life provides a springboard for this sprightly—and annotated—philosophical dive into contemporary and historical conventions of coupling. Tracking the evolution of Western notions of romantic love, Strömquist (Fruit of Knowledge) turns to Beyoncé lyrics, The Little Prince, reality television, and the myth of Theseus and Ariadne, examining each through the lens of critiques by cultural theorists Byung-Chul Han and Eva Illouz. The modern-day search for a compatible partner emerges as a consumer choice, reliant on rational assessments of utility and convenience. Strömquist suggests that late capitalism has eroded the mysterious power of the other, as priorities shifted from giving love to receiving affirmation of one’s own lovability. The arguments are methodical, but Strömquist’s voice is conversational and bright, studded with ironic asides and pop culture references—her cerebral considerations are woven, after all, through retelling DiCaprio’s dating history. (They're also limited to mostly heteronormative examples.) Sketchy, rough-hewn artwork adds to the overall effect being closer to that of punk album liner notes than an academic journal. It’s a nervy application of social theory that makes for an invigorating primer and a jarring riposte to present-day assumptions on dating, attachment, and the nuclear family. (Jan.)