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69 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A courageous book that should be widely read, March 14, 2002
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This review is from: All About Love: New Visions (Paperback)
There aren't many public discussions of love in America outside of popular culture -- movies, music, books, magazines -- but there should be, because lack of an expansive understanding of and capacity for love is behind much that is wrong in our society. When bell hooks noticed that the world she was living in "was no longer open to love" and that "lovelessness had become the order of the day," she decided to write about it. "I began thinking and writing about love when I heard cynicism instead of hope in the voices of young and old," she says.
The result is a book that's a refreshing change from relationship advice books that completely overlook the cultural context of love -- the ways in which love is difficult for both men and women, but especially for women, in a patriarchal culture; the ways in which a more expansive understanding of love is sorely needed to set things right in a country run by fear. hooks begins by addressing the pervasive confusion about what love is, defining it as M. Scott Peck does: "The will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."
The chapters in which hooks names "the ways we are seduced away from love" read as a litany of soul-corroding cultural norms. There is, most fundamentally, injustice to children in dysfunctional families in a culture where family dysfunction is normalized. Then there's the increasing prevalence of lying in public and private transactions alike, most recently exemplified in the Enron scandal and the priest-pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church. There's the cultural obsession with power and domination instead of a love ethic. (hooks pulls no punches when she states: "An overall cultural embrace of a love ethic would mean that we would all oppose much of the public policy conservatives condone and support.") There's also the vast and unending greed encouraged by a consumerist society. And last but not least, there's our collective fear of and at the same time worship of death. (What else could explain the great popularity of movies saturated with violence, such as "Lord of the Rings"?)
Then there are the chapters where hooks explores the importance of self-love, the reality of divine love, the crucial role played by friendships and communities, the role of romantic love in helping us resolve and transform family-of-origin wounds if approached consciously, the real healing power of true love, and the yearning for love that lies behind the popular fascination with angels. The only topic I found missing from her comprehensive look at love is biophilia, that love of nature named by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson. I'm coming to realize that any concept of intimacy with our particular place on earth is sorely absent from most American lives, imperiling our planet's health as well as our own.
Throughout the book, it's hooks's personal revelations that make what she says credible and that especially strike a chord in me. I found in her a sister spirit. Just my age, she could be describing my relationship history when she describes her own. And herein lies my biggest quibble with the book: wishing to avoid the kind of disappointments in relationships with men I've had in the past, I want to believe that I can find satisfying love with a male, but the many generalizations hooks makes about men in our culture make me wonder. I fear she may be right when she says that "most men feel that they receive love and therefore know what it feels like to be loved; women often feel we are in a constant state of yearning, wanting love but not receiving it" (p. xx).
According to hooks, many, if not most, men under patriarchy tell lies "to avoid confrontation or taking responsibility for inappropriate behavior" (p. 36), "use psychological terrorism as a way to subordinate women" (p. 41), "are especially inclined to see love as something they should receive without expending effort . . . . [and] do not want to do the work that love demands" (p. 114), are usually prevented by sexist thinking from "acknowledging their longing for love or their acceptance of a female as their guide on love's path" (p. 156), "are convinced that their erotic longing indicates who they should, and can, love . . . . [and] tend to be more concerned about sexual performance and sexual satisfaction than whether they are capable of giving and receiving love" (pp. 174, 176), and "choose relationships in which they can be emotionally withholding when they feel like it but still receive love from someone else. . . . [and ultimately] choose power over love" (p. 187). Hmmm. Men, what do you say to this? Can you deny it?
"Profound changes in the way we think and act must take place if we are to create a loving culture," writes hooks. I, for one, would welcome those changes and am working on making them in myself. Despite being marred by unfortunate typos ("Living by a Love Ethnic" [viii], "perfect love casts our fear" [220]), this is a courageous and important book that should be read widely and taken to heart.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 26, 2011 12:34:54 PM PDT
Angela says:
Sorry, I'm not male. But I want to tell you that whether or not you find romantic love in this lifetime, you have cultivated a beautiful voice in the world, and that is worth a lot. I know there are men out there who are capable of appreciating someone with your talents, thoughtfulness, and brilliance; it may just take more time to find one, since we are still living under patriarchy. Men are waking up, though, and as they do, they'll come looking for someone with your sensibilities. In the meantime, you seem to be doing a wonderful job of fostering a rich inner life, and perhaps even loving yourself.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 4, 2012 1:39:24 PM PST
I am male, and a feminist to boot. While maybe more prevalent in men, I think the problems quoted in this review are more equally spread than the wording implies. Lying to avoid responsibility, psychological 'terrorism', and a passive, entitled view of love are common problems in both genders, and I think attributing this predominantly to patriarchy is unfortunately one-dimensional. The confusion with sexual desire/satisfaction with love may still be more (though hardly exclusively) a male habit, but even there the generalizations do little to help the otherwise positive, extremely relevant case Hooks is making. My own experiences have almost exclusively been the opposite (but of course I'm the one reading books like this, so perhaps I am not a particularly representative case. Still, we are out there.)

Posted on Jan 2, 2015 2:07:12 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 5, 2015 12:21:25 AM PST]
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