Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 6, September 17, 2003


Against Love: a polemic

Laura Kipnis
2003, Pantheon Books
ISBN 0-375-42189-0
201 pages, $24.00

Click on the cover to buy this book for $16.80

Reviewed by David S. Hall, Ph.D.

"Will all the adulterers in the room please stand up."  So begins this polemic by a skilled writer and media studies professor from Northwestern University. Laura Kipnis has written in this style before, her earlier book, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, has a similar style and quality of voice. She has an intention to over state her case, which is what a polemic is all about.

Don't expect a fair exposition of both sides of the issue, she succeeds is shooting down not a few sacred cows in the literature and cultural history of love. And the real target is our cultural wedlock to wedlock. She asks the unasked questions about why our culture is so blind to the failings of monogamous heterosexual marriage. She points out how we use many parallels between marriage and work, how we must "work" at our relationships ("labor intensive intimacy"), and any relationship that ends in less than death is a failed relationship, much like getting fired at work. She says "How can you not admire a system so effective at swallowing all alternatives to itself that it can make something so abject as 'working for love' sound admirable?"

Yet we insist on seeking love, willing to bend and change ourselves for our beloved, following the dictates of social custom and not really knowing in any conscious sense what those dictates are. She gives nine pages of sample answers to the question "What can't you do because you're in a couple?" Granted, some have been able to negotiate some freedom in some of these areas, and some are happy that our partner is expected to maintain some of these standards, but the overwhelming feeling is one of being held to a contract we never got to read, and cannot argue about. And if we are not willing to hold ourselves to this contract, there are society's "goons" to enforce the rules. After all "a citizenry who fucked in lieu of shopping would soon bring the entire economy grinding to a standstill."

I read this book over one weekend, underlining section after section. Although I have researched and studied alternate forms of relationships for years, I have never before seen the flaws of our social system of love/marriage so well dissected. No wonder so many people are finding "alternate" relationship forms, are cheating on a partner, are logging multiple serial marriages. And after reading this one could wonder why the gay and lesbian communities are so anxious to obtain the "benefits" of marriage.

Using humor and history, Marx, Freud, Weber and others who have identified flaws in our approach to love, Kipnis forces the reader to re-examine what it is we expect from love. She asks the prohibited question, could things be different? Read and ask yourself the same question.

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