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image: Campus NewsShot of love: Erotikon gives campus a bear hug
As the gradually warming days of late winter invited campus foliage to begin its slow waking process, a different kind of blossoming was being discussed in Swift Hall. Erotikon, a three-day symposium devoted to the discussion of eros-loosely translated from the ancient Greek as "love" or "desire"-drew scholars, students, and non-academics alike to the quads the first weekend in March.

Erotikon was organized in the shadow of Plato's The Symposium, which tells the story of a 5th-century B.C. discussion in Athens. But rather than trying to define eros, the academics, poets, composers, and philosophers in attendance discussed the representations of eros in various academic and artistic endeavors.

"We looked around and saw how many people from different disciplines at Chicago were working on topics related to eros," says Thomas Bartscherer, who, along with fellow Social Thought student Katia Mitova, spent the past year organizing the conference. "The first ten people we asked to participate were excited about it and recommended others. Before we knew it, we had too many people and not enough time."
Chicago faculty and other guests presented papers on topics such as philosophy and vision in the early Roman empire; feminine sexuality in the Kamasutra; and the presence of eros in the works of Marcel Proust, Friedrich Nietzsche, and St. Augustine.

A repeating theme of the conference was taken from Aristophanes's monologue in The Symposium, in which he describes the origin of sexual desire in a race of people who each had four arms, four legs, and two sets of genitalia. When these beings were split in two by lightning, they were doomed for eternity to wander the earth looking for their other half.
For example, when Thomas Gunning, professor in art history and Cinema and Media Studies, discussed the film Vertigo, in which a detective becomes obsessed with replacing his lost love, he described Hitchcock's classic as a modern version of this story, the quest to regain what's been lost.

Laura Letinsky, assistant professor in the Committee on Visual Arts, presented a slide show from her book Venus Inferred, a collection of her photographs of couples-those who had perhaps found their other halves. Erotikon also included poetry readings and a performance of music professor John Eaton's compositions "A Little Love Song" and "A Greek Vision."

More than 500 people attended the conference, which Bartscherer and Mitova recorded on digital video. The University of Chicago Press is considering publishing the lectures.
Jonathan Lear, the John U. Nef distinguished service professor in the Committee on Social Thought, was to have presented a paper that dealt in part with Plato's conception of eros, but at the last minute he was unable to attend-a coincidence not lost on Bartscherer.

"In The Symposium Socrates argues that eros is defined primarily by lack; you only have desire if you lack something," he says. "We missed having Lear on Plato, but perhaps this lack helped to keep desire alive at Erotikon."-C.S.


 APRIL 2001

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