Sessily's Reviews > Against Love: A Polemic

Against Love by Laura Kipnis
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's review
Sep 09, 2009

bookshelves: own
Read in September, 2009

What “Against Love” is not: a work of sociology, a scientific exploration of marriage, an indictment of every marriage/partnership in the U.S. (especially your marriage), a work in which the author believes every word she says. It’s right there on the cover (“a polemic”), in the Reader Advisory, and in the last few pages: “[Polemics:] overstate the case…Polemics aren’t necessarily unconflicted (nor are the polemiscists); rhetoric and sentiment aren’t always identical twins. Thus, please read on in a conflicted and contradictory spirit. Such is the nature of our subject.” So, I’ll set aside the obvious criticism which isn’t really a criticism: she over-reaches.

Kipnis questions the way we, as a culture, talk and act about monogamy/marriage: what are our expectations, and what do the “experts” tell us we should do. She takes on the role of a three year old asking why, and never being satisfied with the explanation. She draws on Foucault and Marx to examine how our views of marriage fit into a capitalist society; she examines dissatisfaction and asks what are we trying to achieve with marriage, anyway? And she spends a lot of time talking about adultery. She doesn’t reach any conclusions about marriage, other than it should be questioned, we should all sit back and wonder at why we get married, and, more importantly, why our society is so invested in marriage as the be-all and end-all (marriage solves poverty! If we let gay men and women marry society will fall apart!).

My first criticism is how much time she spends talking about adultery. After awhile I just wanted to sit her down and say “I get it, you’re saying adultery is so prevalent in part because people are dissatisfied with marriage, now can we move on?” But alas, she did not move on for many more pages. I also would have been interested in a more in-depth discussion of jealousy and distrust as it plays out in our national conception of marriage. It’s in there, but not discussed with nearly the number of pages as she devotes to the adulterers. I was much more satisfied with the book when she discussed how our conception of marriage has come to be all about “work,” and her later exploration of marriage and the political sphere.

A more nit-picky criticism is that I found her writing occasionally difficult to read. She phrases sentences so that I had to read the sentence to the end once to figure out what she was driving at, and then read it again to figure out how the end goal reflected on the first half of the sentence. This happened less often in the latter part of the book.

Overall, a fun read, and it made me want to go back and finish Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, to see how the historical exploration of marriage lines up with Kipnis’ provocations. And also to see if Coontz has more information about nineteenth century marriage critiques (and attempts at living without marriage) which Kipnis touches on for one or two pages.

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