An interview with James Kuzner
To me, the very existence of Love Stories is baffling. It is an English class, taught every fall semester, that studies ambitious novels and tries to capture the vagaries of love. The class aspires to provide a structural means of thinking of love, yet the very essence of love resists structure. To me, love is restless, messy, and trite.
I took Love Stories my first semester at Brown. I’m now in my sixth semester. With a more critical eye, I realized the reason for the class’s overwhelmingly popularity is due to Professor James Kuzner. He not only represents the spirit of the class; without him, there would be no class. Kuzner, an earnest man, wears a suit and tie every class without fail, and often speaks about his children, who are named after the Shakespeare characters Edith and Celia of As You Like It. He seems to epitomize the clean-cut nature of the class—kind and often unassuming.
Regardless, Kuzner is a notable presence among Brown students because he dares to even speak about love in an academic setting. He critically examines the books while allowing sentiment to run through the room. It’s the consideration that feelings aren’t actually undesirable, but human. In this way, the mere existence of Love Stories combats the tired cynicism that’s in vogue.
In an email exchange, Professor Kuzner shared his thoughts on love, his class, and his image.
- What made you think to teach a class called Love Stories? What did you hope to accomplish with the class?
I taught “Love Stories” because no one taught it to me. Between the ages of 18-29 I broke three hearts, and I thought “There has to be a better way.” As it turns out, there is. As a young person, I based my ideas about love on movies like Titanic and music like that of Boyz II Men—if I was being more realistic, I would have based them on The Princess Bride—and while these things have their place, I had no idea really that love could be an art or a discipline. It is both, and it needs to be both. You need a class for it. That’s what Love Stories tries to offer: a structured way to think through the most important thing in everyone’s life.
- Because you teach Love Stories, do you find that students talk to you about their love lives? If so, is that uncomfortable? Do you enjoy it?
Every semester there will be a few students who come to me with questions about their love lives. I’m not a trained counselor, but it doesn’t bother me at all. Everyone is hurting, in different ways and at different times, and again, I wish I had had an “old head” to counsel me when I was younger. I think it comes with the territory, but I try to focus more on asking questions than on giving answers, because I’m never really inside someone else’s situation.
- Are you aware of the image that you hold as a professor on love and Shakespeare? (For example, there was a Brown Bears Admirers post that said, “Merry Christmas only to James Kuzner”.)
I was not aware of that post. I do get the occasional singing Valentine or embarrassing student evaluation, but I know it’s all a joke. I’d be shocked if anyone actually romanticized me. What’s there to romanticize?
- What do you think of hookup culture? Or dating apps such as Tinder? Is it possible to find love in that environment?
It’s possible to find love—or possible for love to find you—in any environment. You never know when love will come around and surprise you. So, sure, I don’t see any problem with hookup culture or dating apps. I also think it’s fine if people aren’t looking for love or even aren’t interested in romantic love and would rather focus their erotic energies elsewhere. Everyone must love something—so if it isn’t romance, it’ll be friendship, or weightlifting, or whatever. I do worry that hookup culture might raise the rate of heartache, and that I find that worrisome.
- Your favorite Shakespeare play and why.
I don’t have a favorite, but if I had to choose, I’d choose Coriolanus. Maybe that’s just because some of my favorite actors (Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hiddleston) have played him. I love how uncompromising he is.
- What Valentine’s day means to you. Any plans.
Though I believe in true love, and know for sure that I have found the love of my life, Valentine’s Day has never meant anything to me and never will. It is a fake parasite that feeds on love and makes relationships worse.
- How’re the daughters doing?
The daughters are doing great. Edith, the older one, has announced her marriage to Blinky (the six-eyed troll voiced by Kelsey Grammer in Trollhunters). Celia’s favorite thing to say to us before bed is “I love you, that’s all I can say.” That’s all she needs to say.