How does mythic love endure in modernity? Exploring romantic love’s cultural structure and structure of feeling

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Jessie Dong Yale University, USA

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In ideal-typical terms, the cultural structure of love can be said to be organised according to the binary categorisations of ‘mythic’ and ‘prosaic-realist’ love. Sociological studies on the culture of love have typically favoured the latter, characterising contemporary love as a product of modern sensibilities that prioritise individual autonomy over loving commitment. And yet, as many empirical studies have shown, mythic love seems to persist. This article theoretically and empirically accounts for the endurance of mythic love by demonstrating how its core promises are reconciled with prosaic-realist love. It elaborates a theoretical model for assessing the attitudes people have towards romantic ideals: ‘structures of feeling’ (Williams, 1961; Illouz, 2012). To investigate romantic structures of feeling, I conducted interviews with participants who watched one of two quintessential cinematic representations of mythic and prosaic-realist love, respectively: The Notebook (2004) and Blue Valentine (2010). I found that mythic love persists as a legitimate cultural model for love through the feeling structures of irony and aspiration. Participants expressed aspiration towards mythic love through surprised faith in the film’s mythic idealism and attributed authenticity to mythic love’s purity, while also integrating prosaic-realist rationales into their assessment of mythic love’s legitimacy. Participants expressed ironic dispositions towards prosaic-realism, finding its core principles to be ‘too real’ and deflationary. These findings point to a need to take myth in romance seriously, by not only recognising its existence but also the cultural mechanisms that reconcile its promises with prosaic-realist alternatives.

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Jessie Dong Yale University, USA

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