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Against Love by Laura Kipnis
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Against Love

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Against Love by Laura Kipnis
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Sep 14, 2004 | ISBN 9780375719325

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    Sep 14, 2004 | ISBN 9780375719325

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  • Jan 16, 2009 | ISBN 9780307510747

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“Engagingly acerbic … extremely funny…. A deft indictment of the marital ideal, as well as a celebration of the dissent that constitutes adultery, delivered in pointed daggers of prose.” –The New Yorker

“It’s about time someone blew apart our idealistic notions about relationships and love.” –New York Post

“A timely, entertaining cherry bomb of a book…. Smart, witty and withering.” –The Boston Globe

“Wonderfully clever, deliciously written…. Kipnis blends journalistic pizazz and philosophical nerve … Whether you agree or not, Kipnis’ crackling colloquial style keeps Against Love rollicking forward, often hilariously…. It’s hard to imagine even the fiercest champion of wedded bliss not enjoying the provocations of this book.” –Philadelphia Inquirer

“If you think of ‘family values’ as something more, better and different from simply loving the people in your family, avoid this book for fear of apoplexy.” –The Washington Post

“Reading Against Love, I felt invigorated half the time and plunged into the deepest, most morose pit of self-pitying despair the rest of it– in other words, I felt as if I were in love. This seems to have been Kipnis’s aim.” –Salon

“In this ragingly witty yet contemplative look at the discontents of domestic and erotic relationships, Kipnis … 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…. With a razor-sharp intelligence and a gleeful sense of irony, Kipnis dismantles the myths of romance surrounding monogamy.” –Publisher’ s Weekly

“Wittily invigorating…. [Kipnis] possesses the gleeful, viperish wit of a Dorothy Parker and the energetic charisma of a cheerleader. She is dead-on about the everyday exhaustion a relationship can produce.” –Slate

“A person would need a heart of stone not to rejoice at the drubbing [Kipnis] delivers…. Funny and astute … much of the writing is informed and bracing, amplifying ideas about social control derived from Engels, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Weber, Raymond Williams, Foucault and Adam Phillips.” –Chicago Tribune

“[Kipnis is] a talented social satirist.” —Weekly Standard

Against Love is a wonderfully provocative book, daring and incisive, written with verve and no small amount of humor. It raises a thousand questions most of us lack the courage to ask, about domestic life and even the meaning of the human enterprise, while remaining at every instant a delight to read.” –Scott Turow

“Kipnis’ s treatise reads like a brisk, sophisticated novel about the beginning, middle and end of an adulterous affair….[A] bravura book.” –Times Literary Supplement (London)

“This book is trouble … and the worst thing is that Kipnis is so convincing. A vastly entertaining and smart work of social criticism. Kipnis demonstrates her brilliance at the [polemic] form … playing a heretic in the chapel of love. An unsettling and witty deconstruction of love and marriage.” –NPR, Fresh Air

Author Q&A

A conversation with Laura Kipnis

Why would anyone be against love?
Clearly no one can be against love. Love has vast power over us, it shapes us as selves. But every age also defines love differently, which raises the question of how and why our current definitions of coupledom became what they are, also whether they’re workable or sustainable. Do they make people happy? They don’t enjoy a particularly high success rate these days, given current divorce statisticsæeven marriage itself is now in steep decline according to recent census data. But when love fails no one seems to blame love itself, it can only be the individual’s fault. You haven’t “worked hard enough” at your relationship. Clearly the credo that “good relationships take work” isn’t working. The book’s title just reflects the ambivalence and contradiction that pervade the subject.

What’s wrong with working at relationships?
We live in a culture of overwork, which has now managed to pervade private life too. But we work hard enough already, who wants to come home and go to work all over again? Maybe that why a recent Rutgers survey on marriage reports that only 38% of couples describe themselves as happy in their relationships. But if no one can be against love then obviously we’re also incredibly susceptible to whatever social program is promoted in its name, for instance the overwork ethic. The question is what other social and political forms these current ideas about love prop up. How we love isn’t unconnected to larger questions, for example how much social and political freedom we get or demand, or whether a society of compliant worker bees is what we really want to be.

Why is there so much advice and self-help and therapy required to maintain a relationship?
It just shows how impossible the current private life norms have become to sustain, and perhaps also how ungratifying they are. If love is the new work ethic, then couples therapists are the new plant foremen. But in spite of the massive failure rate, the only way to question the basic premises of love or coupledom seems to be in coded forms like jokesæor perhaps in more private ways of acting out such dilemmas, like adultery. But instead of going to couples therapy we should probably consult stand-up comics for advise.

What do marriage jokes tell us about modern love?
The usual premise of the marriage joke is that domestic life is a police state and spouses each others jailors. The truth in the jokes (jokes have to have an element of truth or they’re not funny) is that domestic coupledom’s basic assumption is that partners are entitled to boss each other around and police each other’s freedom. Everyone knows (as the jokes attest) that coupled life is comprised of nonstop mutual restrictions, not only about sex but about freedom of movement, speech, thought, even basic bodily habits. We adopt the roles of domestic cops to make ourselves feel secure and allay the anxiety associated with losing love. We acquiesce to restrictions because we were all children once, and equate attaining love with compliance to rules. But the real issue is that modern love is founded on a rather shaky premise: that sexual desire is sustainable throughout a lifetime for coupled togetherness, despite much evidence to the contrary. The fearæor knowledgeæthat it’s not causes much anxiety for everyone involved. Nevertheless, restrictions on freedom invariably chafe, and are rather desire-defeating in themselves.

So adultery is a way of rebelling against the restrictions of modern coupledom?
Adultery is basically a referendum on the sustainability of monogamy, which means a referendum on the basic premises of modern coupled life, namely that desire will persist throughout a decades-long relationship. If it doesn’t apparently you’re supposed to either give up sex, or “work harder” at it. Adultery is the collective—if secretiveærebellion against these strictures, but also a backdoor way of experimenting with possibilities for more gratification than what we’re officially allowed, a workshop for wanting “more” that what current social institutions provide. Sex is frequently an idiom for rebellion against convention and authority. If organized social life invariably involves certain tradeoffsæwe trade off gratification for other quantities like stabilityæadultery questions the conditions of these tradeoff. Which makes adulterers are de facto social critics

What’s wrong with monogamy?
It’s not monogamy itself that’s the problem, it’s the police state conditions that people consent to live under to achieve it, and to make sure their partners are in compliance. The problem is being asked to commit to boredom and unmet needs as the supposed price of social stability. The problem is when monogamy isn’t a desire but an enforced compliance system with partners as cops and surveillance experts. But the larger question is really what other forms of renunciation and acquiesce this kind of private life prepares us for.

Why did adultery become such a major political issue throughout the 90s?
It turns out that even our politicians are unable to abide by the morality codes they hawk to the rest of the country, and spent much of the last decade acting out their own dilemmas and dissatisfactions and desires on the national stage, with the citizenry cast as audience. But these aren’t private issues alone: how much gratification society allows us in return for the amount of renunciation it demands is an overarching political question, the basis for the social contract itself. If politician adultery became a social metaphor for broken vows in this period, there was also a lot free-floating anxiety about our national institutions themselves: are they holding up their end of the bargain? Are we, the citizenry, being cheated on? Abandoned? It was, after all, a period of enforced economic restructuring and downsized expectations. Marriage is a longstanding metaphor for citizenship in liberal political theory, and the vow is a crossover language after all: it applies to taking a spouse and to national allegiance. If we spent a decade trying to catch our representatives in infidelity, maybe it wasn’t only their marriage vows at issue, but perhaps we lack a political language for expressing other forms of protest.

Do women and men want different things in love?
These days either partner can play either gender role, masculine or feminine. Whoever waits at home, whoever “has their suspicions,” is the wife. Whoever “wants more freedom” is the guy. The married-male/single-female configuration may still be the most prevalent adultery form but all indications are that female straying is on the rise: all that was required were more opportunities for women to get out of the house.

The style of the book is often rather ironic; the writing frequently switches tone or mocks itself. Why be so tongue-in-cheek if the book intends to make a serious social argument as well as overhaul all prevailing conceptions of love?
The writing is another way of enacting the book’s argument: that playing around and experimenting with new forms and possibilities is something we yearn to do, as much as we’re constrained by the social institutions and mores we’ve been handed. Why not remake things, or at least try, including the usual ways of writing social theory, or including love itself? Why not have more fun? Why not work less and get more? These are the fundamental questions of the book.

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