Against Love – a book review

I wrote this for my own book blog, but I thought it might be good to include here and follows, in some ways, my previous discussion here of monogamy/love/sex in recent popular culture.

Yes, I’m a slacker when it comes to reading.  Blame it on a cold that led to meds that led to the inability to focus which led to a reintroduction to television which led to slow-going.  I should have flown through Laura Kipnis’ eminently readable (for the most part) self-proclaimed “polemic.”  And finally I did.  Kipnis is clear from page one that she is writing a polemic and thus wastes no time showing the “love is all around” side of her topic that we’ve come to expect at least since the Troggs.  She asks:

Modern love may be a company town – it may even come with company housing (also known as “domesticity”) – but are we such social marionettes that we automatically buy all usual stories, no questions asked?

It comes as no surprise, that she thinks it’s time we ask those questions.  As shown in the quote, Kipnis focuses much of her discussion on the ways that love and commerce/work have become inextricably intertwined, noting the slippage between, for example, marriage counseling and a call to increase job productivity (“if you just work harder . . . “).  Adultery, in her account, makes sense because of the staleness that sets in within long-term monogamous couples.  Cheating becomes an act of resistance that threatens not just this marriage but all marriages, and if we start to question the institution of marriage, than what next?  Kipnis’ account of adultery also probes the ways in which it leads to triangulated desire and intimacy between all three points of the triangle (the lovers, the cuckolded).  Lest the reader think adultery is truly an out and a way to find happiness, she reminds us that if the lovers start a new life together, they can easily fall into the same traps of boredom, and that if the lovers part, they return to their marriage missing the thing they had truly found in the affair – a sexier version of themselves.

Love isn’t really what’s on the table here – Kipnis, I would argue, is talking about the way love is used.  She isn’t interested in really exploring the depths of desire and fantasy, that doesn’t suit the highly readable non-academic tone she’s adopted.  I would have liked a greater probing of the ways in which adultery moves the lovers because her revelations in this area were some of the most intriguing.  Her final chapter falls into a rather familiar discussion of a post-Clintonian obsession with political love lives – perhaps at the time of writing (and original publication in a magazine) this was all a bit fresher, but I was a bit disappointed that this was where she took her discussion.

No matter where she goes, however, Kipnis offers a hilarious read.  She has a knack for perfectly turned metaphors and analogies, and laugh out loud bon mots.  My favorite is her brief attack on sociobiologists

“[We’re] social creatures after all – despite all those enlightening studies of sexual behavior in bonobos and red-winged blackbirds claiming to offer important insights into the nuances of human coupling . . . When sociobiologists start shitting in their backyards with dinner guests in the vicinity, maybe their arguments about innateness over culture will seem more persuasive . . .

Anyone who blends New Yorker cartoon captions, calls Freud “uber-dad” and speculates on Marcuse’s love life is okay in my book.  I wasn’t completely sold on Kipnis’ read of love, and her conclusion suggests she remains conflicted herself (and her discussion of domestic violence seems a bit too clinical for my liking) but it’s still a jaunty fun read.

Originally published here at Read ‘Em, Don’t Weep.

3 thoughts on “Against Love – a book review

  1. I dig it!

  2. I agree – nice. I always find it a bit strange when an author calls their own work a “polemic.” If it was, you wouldn’t have to declare it.

  3. I think Kipnis does that here so it’s clear from the outset that she’s not even going to give lip service to the opposing viewpoint and she has a very clear reason why not – she wants you to know she’s aware of her book’s status as a polemic. I feel like often polemics are accidental, i.e. the author believes they are writing something “fair and balanced” but she is upfront about the biased nature of the work which I found refreshing. Also, calling it a polemic is part of her political project. She defines a polemic as “the prose equivalent of a small explosive placed under your E-Z-Boy lounger. It won’t injure you (well not severely); it’s just supposed to shake things up a rattle a few convictions.” I think she calls it a polemic from the outset so she can discuss why she’s writing against such a “just so” concept like love.

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