Philosophy professor’s new book has the power to change your life

There is cause to be sad when Notre Dame undergraduates visit the campus bookstore only for “The Shirt” and Einstein’s bagels. Only a few modest shelves are dedicated to the thousands upon thousands of pages Notre Dame faculty members have penned—or typed, more likely—over the years, and they are frequently passed over. Today, however, one new addition stands out.

Visually, it arrests the passerby’s attention with its nude portrait of Venus on a deep red cover. The title—Plato’s Bedroom—then piques the intellectual interest of anyone who’s ever read the Greeks, and finally the subtitle—Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love—seals the deal, because who is not interested in wisdom and love?

The back cover reads, “Plato’s Bedroom is a book for people who want to be better at falling in love and being in love, with all the ecstasies and dangers erotic life can bring.”

Yes, wondering passerby. This scholarly book about Plato’s Symposium and his Phaedrus is essentially a love-for-dummies tour de force.

Have you ever wondered what undercuts your attempts to be vulnerable and open with a romantic partner? Ever been irked at being called “cute,” without being able to explain why? Ever found yourself amazed at how one can turn a blind eye to his lover’s imperfections? Ever doubted the idea that you have one “soulmate” in the universe? Ever been surprised by the strength of your own desire? Read on.

Plato’s Bedroom, the cover continues, is “full of stories thoughtful persons will find to be mirrors of their own erotic selves. Drawing on Greek myth, Plato, Shakespeare, and a wide range of modern literature and movies, the book gets Aphrodite talking with the young lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and lets us listen in on Woody Allen arguing with Othello.”

No, really. O’Connor treats a Canadian film from the ’90s, Exotica, as seriously as the book of Genesis. If for no other reason, Plato’s Bedroom is worth reading to see how scholarship can be attractive when it interacts with various forms of art and lived experience. Its universal appeal is difficult to hyperbolize.

Students might reasonably expect to find this book on the syllabus of their philosophy (or psychology, or film, or theology) courses next semester. Indeed, students in China already have.

For many years, O’Connor has taught a popular philosophy course at Notre Dame called “Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love.” After the university recorded his lectures and uploaded them to the web, they went viral in China, of all places. Plato’s Bedroom is the English version of a book already published in Asia, a book based on the transcriptions of O’Connor’s lectures.

Why is Love is Barefoot Philosophy—as it is titled in Asia—so worth reading?

The esteemed philosophers who reviewed the book called it a “potion against disenchantment,” a masterpiece informed by religious faith as well as “faith in the value of philosophy,” a “joy to read.”

“Plato’s dialogues have found their interpreter for our times,” said one reviewer.

In my opinion, the book is so worth reading because Professor David O’Connor is so worth knowing.

I had the wonderful opportunity this summer of creating the book’s index, so I know it well. O’Connor’s deep voice manages to resonate from every page. If you do not know him, he is a top-rate scholar, an engaging teacher, a wise soul, and a good man.

He is also provocative. What he says about sexuality and procreativity will disturb or unsettle you, whether or not you share his Catholic Weltanschauung—his Catholic worldview and philosophy. But students from all corners of the university continue to seek O’Connor’s mentorship and insight for a reason.

At the end of the summer, I had a conversation with a friend about Plato’s Bedroom. She did not know it was about the book, of course. We were talking about success and relationships and our futures. My friend asked many questions that O’Connor (alongside Plato, Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, and J.R.R. Tolkien) addresses in his book. What’s wrong with pursuing happiness on my own? Why do we have to equate God with others? What’s so special about love anyway?

My friend and I usually talk for hours, but this conversation was particularly long and memorable. We became little philosophers, inspired by the ideas that Plato’s Bedroom placed on the table before us. Speaking only for myself, I left that table with the immense joy that accompanies the personal experience of truth and beauty. But I cannot write a review telling you about that; you will have to read it for yourself.

Professor O’Connor will hold a book signing for Plato’s Bedroom tomorrow, Friday, November 13 in the Hammes Bookstore from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m.

Rebecca Self is a senior living off-campus near the Evil Czech Brewery (try the Sunday brunch!) She can be reached at