That Four - Letter Word

That Four - Letter Word

Once upon a time, the philosophy of love was a positive subject for the man of ideas, like Erich Fromm or C. S. Lewis. In recent years, the subject has been relegated to self-assist, a style that many distrust for its propensity to suggest simple answers where there are none. Self-assist has its uses, nevertheless: it neatly undoes the facile ideas of left (we're energyless victims) and right (we have total company in our lives) alike, and it supplies the calming reassurance that others on the market are as tousled as you are.

Now comes the feminist cultural critic bell hooks books Hooks along with her new book of essays, ''All About Love,'' written in a didactic model that would merge moral philosophy with self-help. It is a warm affirmation that love is feasible and an attack on the tradition of narcissism and selfishness. ''We yearn to finish the lovelessness that is so pervasive in our society,'' she writes. ''This book tells us the right way to return to love.''

Her greatest points are easy ones. Community -- prolonged household, inventive or political collaboration, associateship -- is as necessary as the couple or the nuclear family; love is an artwork that includes work, not just the joys of attraction; want may depend on phantasm, however love comes solely by means of painful fact-telling; work and money have replaced the values of affection and group, and this must be reversed.

In Hooks's view, girls have little hope of happiness in a brutal culture in which they're blindsided because ''most men use psychological terrorism as a way to subordinate ladies,'' whom they keep around ''to take care of all their needs.'' Men are raised to be ''more concerned about sexual efficiency and sexual satisfaction than whether they are capable of giving and receiving love.'' Many men ''will, at times, choose to silence a accomplice with violence slightly than witness emotional vulnerability'' and ''often flip away from real love and choose relationships in which they are often emotionally withholding after they really feel prefer it however still obtain love from somebody else.'' Women are also afraid of intimacy but ''focus more on discovering a companion,'' regardless of quality. The result's ''a gendered arrangement in which males are more likely to get their emotional needs met while women will be deprived. . . . Men are given an advantage that neatly coincides with the patriarchal insistence that they are superior and due to this fact better suited to rule others.'' Males need to study generosity and ''the joy that comes from service.''

Hooks contends that she and her two long-term boyfriends have been foiled by ''patriarchal thinking'' and sexist gender roles and by no means had a chance. She is correct that many women and men, gay and straight, nonetheless fall into traditional traps, however she does not spend a lot time on why some dive into them, nor does she consider that such shouldn't be everybody's fate. She takes her expertise, neatly elides her own function in shaping it, universalizes and transliterates her frustrations into pop sociology.

Hooks's beliefs for love, her ''new visions,'' sound good, however there may be something sterile and summary about them. The ingenious methods the mind has to console itself, the fact that relationships do not grant bliss and perfection, the essential impossibility of satisfaction, how want can conquer the need -- to Hooks, these are but cynical delusions that will likely be thrust aside in a courageous new world ready ''to affirm mutual love between free ladies and free men.''

Her invocation of master rhetoricians like Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton throws into painful aid the strange Pollyanna quality of her prose; it's tough to imagine either of them beginning a paragraph, as she does, with ''Once I first started to talk publicly about my dysfunctional household, my mom was enraged.'' She ends the book as Sleeping Beauty, awaiting ''the love that is promised'' and chatting with angels moderately than real people. Her book confirms fears about why jargon and prefabricated concepts, together with identification politics and self-help, so usually flatten experience into cliché. Emotional waters run deep and wide. When one cannot navigate them, it is doable to take refuge in a shallow, sentimental idealism.