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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
than 500 people attended the conference, which Bartscherer and
Mitova recorded on digital video. The University of Chicago Press
is considering publishing the lectures.
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.
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.