Deliberately provocative arguments, by cultural critic Kipnis (Bound and Gagged, 1996, etc.) wittily demonstrates that love might not be such a many-splendored thing.
The tone’s light, even playful, but the thesis is fundamentally serious. In four long chapters, Kipnis (Media Studies/Northwestern Univ.) chronicles all those aspects of love that society values—its promises of stability, transformation, and personal fulfillment—then argues that perhaps love is more complex, more limiting than conventional wisdom has it. In “Love’s Labors,” she criticizes the current belief that love, like weight control, is something individuals have to work at. This attitude, usually favored by therapists, changes what is essentially erotic play into another chore, the author contends: Why, if love is so normal, does it require so much propaganda, from movies to magazines? “Domestic Gulags” riffs on the limitations that commitment and couples impose, everything from circumscribed television watching to food choices. The pain caused by such love-related lapses as infidelity, guilt, and deception is the subject of “The Art of Love,” in which Kipnis notes the “pothole-ridden intimacy systems” that “refuse to acknowledge their own contradictions” and hence encourage damaging self-deceptions and emotional burdens. Drawing on the recent revelations of adultery in high places from the White House to New York City’s mayoral mansion, she observes in “…And The Pursuit of Happiness” that this widespread fooling around suggests we all want more than we have. “Adultery,” Kipnis observes, “whatever its inherent problems . . . is at least a reliable way of proving to ourselves that we’re not quite in the ground quite yet.” All of which leaves love reeling on the ropes, though not quite down and out.
An intelligent, literate, and allusive take that raises many intriguing questions, even if it doesn't always answer them.