prefab titles (“Love in the time of coronavirus”)

 

 
The following op-ed was published in last week’s Washington Post:

“Love in the time of coronavirus”

By Galen Guengerich

The Washington Post

March 14, 2020

 

 

The op-ed is thoughtful and well written. The only problem I have with it is the TITLE.

The title alludes to the novel Love in the Time of Cholera (El amor en los tiempos del cólera) by Gabriel García Márquez.

Someone who hasn’t read the novel might suppose that it is about a love affair occurring in desperate times — specially, a time of plague. This is not true.

 

According to a Wikipedia entry:

García Márquez’s main notion is that lovesickness is literally an illness, a disease comparable to cholera. Florentino suffers from this just as he might suffer from any malady. At one point, he conflates his physical pain with his amorous pain when he vomits after eating flowers in order to imbibe Fermina’s scent. In the final chapter, the Captain’s declaration of metaphorical plague is another manifestation of this.

The term cholera as it is used in Spanish, cólera, can also denote passion or human rage and ire in its feminine form. (The English adjective choleric has the same meaning.) Considering this meaning, the title is a pun: cholera as the disease, and cholera as passion, which raises the central question of the book: is love helped or hindered by extreme passion? The two men can be contrasted as the extremes of passion: one having too much, one too little; the central question of which is more conducive to love and happiness becomes the specific, personal choice that Fermina faces through her life. Florentino’s passionate pursuit of nearly countless women stands in contrast to Urbino’s clinical discussion of male anatomy on their wedding night. Urbino’s eradication of cholera in the town takes on the additional symbolic meaning of ridding Fermina’s life of rage, but also the passion. It is this second meaning to the title that manifests itself in Florentino’s hatred for Urbino’s marriage to Fermina, as well as in the social strife and warfare that serves as a backdrop to the entire story.

 

So the analogy is false.

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I’m tired of this kind of headline. It is, a priori, trite.

Well, what about writers who use boiler plate phrases taken from the works of famous writers, such as He doth protest too much (Shakespeare) or It concentrates the mind wonderfully (Samuel Johnson)?

I think this is something different. Yes, he doth protest too much is a shopworn clause. But it means something. It has been found, often, to perfectly fit what someone wants to say. Why? Because of Shakespeare’s genius for expression. Ditto for concentrates the mind wonderfully, which shows Johnson’s genius for aphorism.

Love in the time of cholera does none of these things.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   March 2020

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Since the above referenced Washington Post article appeared, there has been a plague of articles published — in various newspapers and in The Nation — with the same title.

1 thought on “prefab titles (“Love in the time of coronavirus”)

  1. Pete Smith

    This is an interesting post, but I take this somewhat differently. I don’t think that Guengerich means to suggest that Love in the Time of Cholera is about a plague or epidemic; he’s just using a convenient and pretty obvious pun, something that’s done pretty often – and sometimes to great success, such as Ozzy Osbourne’s album “Blizzard of Ozz”. Osbourne clearly wasn’t meaning to suggest that his songs were about a yellow brick road or a lion needing a heart; he was just having fun.

    Like

    Reply

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