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Against Love: A Polemic [Hardcover]

Laura Kipnis
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 36.00 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Aug. 26 2003
“Will all the adulterers in the room please stand up?” So begins Laura Kipnis’s profoundly provocative and waggish inquiry into our never-ending quest for lasting love, and its attendant issues of fidelity and betrayal. In the tradition of social critiques such as Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism, Against Love keenly examines the meaning and cultural significance of adultery, arguing that perhaps the question concerns not only the private dilemma of whether or not to be faithful, but also the purpose of this much vaunted fidelity.

With a novelist’s eye for detail, psychological acuity, and linguistic panache, Kipnis at once humorously and seriously explores the rules and rituals of modern coupledom and domesticity (from the establishment of curfews and whereabouts to actual searches and seizures), even as she deftly analyzes the larger power structures that they serve. She wonders: Might adulterers be regarded not only as sexual renegades but as unwitting social theorists posing essential political questions about the social contract itself? What is the trade-off between personal gratification and the renunciations society demands of us? And is “working at your relationship” just another way of propping up the work ethicæas if we weren’t all overworked enough as it is? If adultery is ultimately a referendum on the sustainability of monogamy, how credible is the basic premise of modern coupledom: that desire for your one and only love can and will persist through a lifetime of togetherness (despite so much evidence to the contrary)?

Against Love offers no easy answers. Rather it intends to engage you in a commonsensical and brave examination of the plight of the modern personality, caught between the vicissitudes of desire and the decrees of social conformity.

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Less against love than against the cultural constraints that leads us to create wrong-headed ideas of love, this is book is the perfect antidote to any lingering social guilt about being happily single. Against Love: A Polemic will both shock and irritate, especially when you find yourself nodding your head in agreement while laughing at another broken taboo. Laura Kipnis (author of Bound and Gagged, Ecstasy Unlimited) clearly enjoyed writing this; she lets her wit run rampage over classic married situations and human emotions with results that include comparing adulterers to freedom fighters (using sharpened spoons to tunnel out from under love's barbed wire fences) and referring to tearful confessions of cheating as "funny little couple rituals." These make it fun, but the iconoclastic beauty is in her questions. How did good relationships come to be considered work instead of play? Why, unlike most of history and many other modern cultures, do Americans assume love and marriage go hand-in-hand? What lead to infidelity committed by public figures becoming a source of outrage? Kipnis doesn't have answers. Although urging us to have more compassion for our own desires, she expects her readers are smart enough to supply their own in response to her ideas. That attitude itself is a treat--if you're prepared to keep up through a complex whirlwind of Freud, Marx, Gingrich, Wollstonecraft, and several generations of pop culture. Jill Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

In this ragingly witty yet contemplative look at the discontents of domestic and erotic relationships, Kipnis (Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America) combines portions of the slashing sexual contrarianism of Mailer, the scathing antidomestic wit of early Roseanne Barr and the coolly analytical aesthetics of early Sontag: "Aren't all adulterers amateur collagists? We're scavengers and improvisers, constructing odd assemblages out of detritus and leftovers: a few scraps of time and some dormant emotions...." With a razor-sharp intelligence and a gleeful sense of irony, Kipnis dismantles the myths of romance surrounding monogamy and makes the case for why adultery is a reasonable, often used, escape hatch. Kipnis is often most funny when at her most provocative ("Feel free to take a second to mull this over, or to make a quick call: `Hi hon, just checking in!' "), but even her moments of sarcastic humor can have a sobering effect, as when Kipnis considers the reasons behind the public's obsessive need for reading about real and fictional stories of spousal murders, noting that "perhaps these social pathologies and aberrations of love are the necessary fallout from the social conventions of love." Kipnis is adroit at detailing (sometimes with "notoriously unreliable" sexual self-reporting statistics) how our desire for fidelity is often at odds with basic human needs for personal freedom, and is terrific in dissecting how-or so Kipnis's case goes-"family values" politicians like Newt Gingrich fail miserably to live up to their own rhetoric. In the end, she concludes that adultery and fidelity have to exist side-by-side: "let's face it: purity always flirts with defilement." Kipnis balances her scintillating, on-target observations on straying with an honest sense of compassion for human experience.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Being witty is not enough Feb. 13 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Kipnis comes from the Susan Sontag school of writing and the rules are:
1) Be witty and make clever observations.
2) If you disagree with someone, put them down with snide comments rather good arguments.
3) Don't bother doing any research as being bloated from a diet of popular culture is a good substitute for the collection of facts.
This isn't good enough.
I would have been much more impressed if Kipnis had spent time examining the biology of love. A few pages of what actually goes on in our neurobiologies when we fall for someone would have disillusioned much more than a cynical survey of the results of those neurochemicals firing. Think how Darwin destroyed religious superstition with his research. Instead, Kipnis shows how silly people act and how silly people think who criticize how people act when under the influence of romantic/erotic love.
Love is literally dopey (due to the brain's dopamine). People who waste years of their life looking for love are morons. And Kipnis missed an opportunity to tell it like it is to her mostly female readership.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Laura Kipnis rules March 13 2013
By Dorothyanne Brown TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Okay, this and the wonderful History of Celibacy should be on every woman's bedside table, to be hauled out to read when you are contemplating ditching your latest paramour and returning to your own personal space.
But seriously, this is a wonderful rant about love, to be valued both for the points Kipnis makes and the way she makes them. In a way, this book reminds me of Pema Chodron's instruction to abandon hope, as one can't have hope without despair. Kipnis teases love apart and leaves us looking over the entrails, wondering what ever made us think such an enterprise was worthwhile, and yet, and yet...
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overselling Adultery May 11 2004
Format:Hardcover
This long essay (it hardly lays claim to the stature of book) is delightfully well written, and it mounts a very convincing series of arguments against the institution of marriage and the false ideas about the eternality of love that are associated with it. It is certainly well worth the read.
Unfortunately, Kipnis' argument that adultery is a significant form of political resistance to oppressive social mores is far less successful than her argument against marriage. While there is undoubtedly a political element to cheating (inasmuch as marriage is an inherently social phenomenon), she wildly overstates its subversive power. In fact, it would not be at all difficult to argue that adultery oftentimes prolongs the misery of a bad marriage. One could even argue that cheating simply carries the delusions typically associated with marriage into non-married territory.
People who cheat on their spouses are like the Luddites, the factory workers who attacked the factory machinery instead of the plant owners--their rage is real and valid, but entirely ineffectively directed.
Opposed to marriage? Don't get married, and don't hesitate to tell people why you think marriage is a bad idea. Unhappy in a marriage? Get divorced. But whatever you do, don't try to couch fundamental dishonesty in the rhetoric of righteousness (as Kipnis does here)--we get enough of that from our corporate CEOs and politicians.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Marriage as a Gulag May 26 2004
Format:Hardcover
Marriage, as the basis of family, is by the far the most venerated social institution in the United States. It is where two uniquely attracted people can supposedly fully realize true love. Yet, half of all marriages do not last. That fact coupled with the actual characteristics of surviving marriages leads the author to a rather strong critique of the entire institution.
The author finds that passion and attraction, those things that make courtships so exhilarating and that are considered to be core elements of marriages, disappear rather quickly. Frequently, what remains are relationships bubbling with rancor that have become deadened. All manner of surveillance of the marital partner is used to squash any possibility of infidelity. Large doses of blame are doled out because of perceived failures to attend to, and even anticipate, the psychological and emotional needs of the partner. The reactions are withdrawal, subservience, or hostility. Among the counselor community this state of affairs may need adjustment, but is regarded as basically normal. The author derides the notion that this state of affairs is in any way normal and all that is needed is "hard work" to increase marital harmony.
The author compares the control regime and lowered expectations of marriages with workplace environments and even citizenship. In an era of economic dislocation, the admonition to work harder is hardly liberating. Rebels, meaning those who actually attempt to grasp for more and counter established authority, are dealt with harshly. This is the context in which the author places adultery. When passion suddenly appears, many will take large risks to escape marital suffocation.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Witty and Blunt April 15 2004
By TSmith
Format:Hardcover
A barbed expose of the myths surrounding the sacred cows of marriage and monogamy. I found myself shaking my head in agreement many times while reading this book. I also laughed until tears rolled down my eyes at the long list of things one mustn't do while in a long-term relationship.
The only thing that kept me from giving this book five stars was Kipnis' excessive use of run-on sentences. Otherwise, good job!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this Book!
Kipnis (and any author of polemic writing) has one mission; to stir the pot. Kipnis does so with wonderful audacity and biting sarcasm. Read more
Published on April 3 2004 by Maxwell Mattord
1.0 out of 5 stars Infantilism Amok...
Divorce rates are climbing all the time, and now here comes more advice from the unloved that encourages the very selfishnesses that push people apart in the first place. Read more
Published on March 26 2004 by Lisa Hoffman
1.0 out of 5 stars The Blind 'I'
Authors sometimes are the last ones to understand their own motivations. Richard Rhodes wrote a book ("Making Love") which is supposed to be a paean to love but is... Read more
Published on March 9 2004 by Robert Carlberg
2.0 out of 5 stars The Case Against the Case Against Love
This polemic has an unusual beginning. It starts off with a short preface reminding readers that it is a polemic and as such is likely to be exaggerated and unfair. Swell. Read more
Published on March 4 2004 by pnotley@hotmail.com
5.0 out of 5 stars a thoroughly enjoyable book
Against Love is an extremely interesting work. As the author states, it is a polemic (confrontational argument), not an essay or balanced account of the subject. Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2004 by Jon Norris
4.0 out of 5 stars An Amusing Look at Relationships
Laura Kipnis teaches at Northwestern where my best friend from childhood goes to school. She read the book for one of her classes and has recommended it to every smart sassy woman... Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2004 by Dominique A.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas buried under tiresome prose
After hearing Laura Kipnis interviewed on NPR, I rushed out and bought her book, seeing her message as compelling and incredibly relevant to me, a happily single 25 year-old. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2004 by Jaime
5.0 out of 5 stars Laura Kipnis Is A True Romantic!
I absolutely Loved "Against Love". What bravery, what charisma, moxy and sheer guts it must take to write such a book! Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2004 by Isis
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