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Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival Paperback – October 26, 1999
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In November of 1996, Andrew Sullivan wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled "When Plagues End" in which he claimed that then-new treatments for the HIV retrovirus had signaled the end of AIDS. The article drew much criticism from activists and health professionals; in Love Undetectable, Sullivan--who is himself living with HIV--elaborates upon his argument, embellishing and embroidering it with nuance and context to make it at once more personal and universal. His thinking about AIDS leads him to a philosophical contemplation on the "causes" of homosexuality in which he discards all of the negative psychological theories, then rejects genetics as well. In the following essay on the nature of friendship and love, Sullivan finds his voice and true topic--using "friendship" as a lens through which he can wed his autobiographical musings and speculative theories on how we, as mortal humans struggling against time and the body, can make sense of the world.
Always provocative--the chapters on the plague will still rankle those who see AIDS as an ever-present and growing danger--Love Undetectable proves that Sullivan has a voice and a heart that can reach across the borders of experience and politics. --Michael Bronski --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The AIDS plague is over, Sullivan declares in the first of three astute, searching essay-memoirs, arguing we should now view it as a manageable disease. An optimistic view, this, and one that holds only for patients of means. But it's also a diagnosis not without merit, given Sullivan's emphasis on AIDS as a cultural watershed in the gay community. The first essay, some of which was first published in the New York Times Magazine, neatly traces the confusion and ambivalence that have begun to set in as the crisis, one that galvanized a movement, seems to abate. In the second essay, "Virtually Abnormal" (whose title plays off Sullivan's previous book, Virtually Normal), the New Republic senior editor engages the question of etiology, for "where homosexuality comes from" remains for Sullivan a "fascinating" question. This essay reflects Sullivan's tortured efforts to reconcile his Catholic faith with his homosexuality, an issue that also troubled the late Yale historian John Boswell. Like Boswell, Sullivan sees human sexuality almost exclusively in terms of the heterosexual/homosexual binary, and draws the familiar conclusion that gayness is a result of both genetic predisposition and environmental factors, predictably taking heterosexuality as a sort of base line from which one deviates. The best essay by far?though all are engagingly written?is the last, "If Love Were All," which discusses a topic not, according to Sullivan, taken seriously enough since the Middle Ages?friendship. Drawing upon Aristotle, Augustine, Montaigne, Emerson and others, Sullivan finds it, fittingly, to be "the deepest legacy of the plague years." (Oct.) FYI: Sullivan served as editor of the New Republic from 1991 to 1996.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The first essay, entitled "When Plagues End", contains a slightly less optimistic version of an article Sullivan published in 1996 in the New York Times magazine. After depicting the horror of illness and death from AIDS, Sullivan describes the release from impending doom provided by the new anti-viral drugs. He draws on Camus for inspiration. In the second essay, Sullivan turns to the psychologists' views of homosexuality. He does this in response to the recent vocal claims by reparative therapists and "ex-gays". By exploring this issue, Sullivan ventures into the no-man's land between those who want to abolish homosexuality by curing it and those who won't tolerate any mention of pathology in connection with being gay. Although Sullivan seeks a "teleology of homosexuality, to answer the question, `What are homosexuals for?' ", he devotes the essay to presentation of theories of its origin and causes. He concisely summarizes Freud's ideas and those of recent psychotherapists. Sullivan follows Freud's example by not proposing an explanation for the causes of homosexuality. He challenges the gay reader to use the presentation of various theories to spur self-examination.
The third essay deals with the definition of friendship, a relationship whose significance, Sullivan argues, has been lost in modern times. Sullivan brings to us the categories of philia from Aristotle and the pensees of Montaigne, Augustine and Cicero. He describes the tenderness in the friendships between Jesus and his followers. To Sullivan, the modern preoccupation with eros is the greatest threat to friendship. Friends, he opines, give each other breathing room, which lovers do not. Through forging friendships in the face of societal opprobrium and suffering from AIDS, gays present a lesson to society. It is in these friendships, Sullivan proposes, that the gays today can acquire a worthy purpose.
Andrew Sullivan is impelled by his emotional pain and his desire for healthier public and institutional policies towards gays and lesbians. He disciplines his motivation and stays within the boundaries of his arguments. His Waughian prose is poetic; powerful yet restrained. In "Love Undetectable" he has created a precious account of his recent life and thoughts.
In the first essay, "When Plagues End," he discusses his own sexual journey and how becoming HIV-positive reshaped his life. But not only that--Sullivan captures the feelings, moments and memories associated with his romances, spirituality and struggle for identity. It's a keyhole to a side of Sullivan we have never really seen, and it makes his writing more real and persuasive than ever.
"Virtually Abnormal," his second essay, is not as personal, but thoughtfully and persuasively articulated. Here he delves into the most current media debate about gays--the origins of homosexuality and whether it can be changed through psychotherapy. Sullivan presents several theories and arguments, from both sides of the fence (here his writing style does resemble "Virtually Normal"). No matter where he turns, from the "genetic" to the "environmental" theory, we see that each position holds a piece of the truth, and there are no hard answers. Sullivan concludes that even though homosexuality is neither strictly "normal" or "abnormal," we should pay attention to society's reaction toward it, since "its treatment is a critical indicator of the endurance of...liberty in a free society."
Friendship is the topic of "If Love Were All," in which Sullivan challenges us to reconsider and even resurrect the value of friendship. Gay friendships can be a model for straights, he says, since gay men are particularly good at forming lifelong bonds with each other. Sullivan argues that popular culture's notion of love has turned out to be "the great modern enemy of friendship," and we ought not discount the gift of true friendship--where candor and camaraderie are perhaps even more prevalent than in romantic relationships.
Finally, we glimpse into his personal world again, as Sullivan remembers his best friend's death. Sullivan admits that Love Undetectable is "a very Christian book," but not in the sense of fanatical fundamentalism or evangelistic Christianity. He fuses his discussions of spirituality with humanity, reminding us in a powerful way that we participate in our own destinies.
By the end of the book, we craved a fourth essay, perhaps tying the piece together (as he did in Virtually Normal's "What are Homosexuals For?") But he left us with the haunting images of death, life, and friendship, and we're left to wrestle with the meaning of all three.