That Four - Letter Word

That Four - Letter Word

As soon as upon a time, the philosophy of love was a superb topic for the man of ideas, like Erich Fromm or C. S. Lewis. In recent years, the topic has been relegated to self-help, a style that many distrust for its propensity to suggest easy solutions the place there are none. Self-help has its uses, however: it neatly undoes the facile ideas of left (we're energyless victims) and proper (we've got total company in our lives) alike, and it offers the calming reassurance that others out there are as messed up as you are.

Now comes the feminist cultural critic Bell Hooks with her new book of essays, ''All About Love,'' written in a didactic style that may merge ethical philosophy with self-help. It's a warm affirmation that love is possible and an assault on the culture of narcissism and link selfishness. ''We yearn to finish the lovelessness that is so pervasive in our society,'' she writes. ''This book tells us easy methods to return to love.''

Her finest points are simple ones. Community -- extended household, inventive or political collaboration, mateship -- is as essential because the couple or the nuclear family; love is an art that entails work, not just the thrill of attraction; desire may rely on illusion, however love comes solely through painful truth-telling; work and money have replaced the values of love and group, and this should be reversed.

In Hooks's view, ladies have little hope of happiness in a brutal culture in which they are blindsided because ''most men use psychological terrorism as a way to subordinate ladies,'' whom they keep around ''to deal with all their needs.'' Males are raised to be ''more concerned about sexual efficiency and sexual satisfaction than whether or not they're capable of giving and receiving love.'' Many men ''will, at times, select to silence a companion with violence somewhat than witness emotional vulnerability'' and ''often flip away from real love and choose relationships in which they can be emotionally withholding when they feel prefer it however still obtain love from someone else.'' Ladies are additionally afraid of intimacy but ''focus more on discovering a accomplice,'' regardless of quality. The result is ''a gendered arrangement in which males are more more likely to get their emotional needs met while women will probably be deprived. . . . Males are given an advantage that neatly coincides with the patriarchal insistence that they are superior and therefore better suited to rule others.'' Males must study generosity and ''the enjoyment that comes from service.''

Hooks contends that she and her lengthy-time period boyfriends have been foiled by ''patriarchal thinking'' and sexist gender roles and never had a chance. She is true that many women and men, homosexual and straight, nonetheless fall into traditional traps, but she does not spend much time on why some dive into them, nor does she consider that such will not be everyone's fate. She takes her expertise, neatly elides her own position in shaping it, universalizes and transliterates her frustrations into pop sociology.

Hooks's ideals for love, her ''new visions,'' sound good, but there is something sterile and summary about them. The inventive methods the mind has to console itself, the fact that relationships don't grant bliss and perfection, the important impossibility of satisfaction, how desire can conquer the will -- to Hooks, these are however cynical delusions that will probably be thrust aside in a courageous new world ready ''to affirm mutual love between free girls 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 is tough to imagine both of them starting a paragraph, as she does, with ''After I first began to speak publicly about my dysfunctional family, my mom was enraged.'' She ends the book as Sleeping Magnificence, awaiting ''the love that is promised'' and talking to angels somewhat than real people. Her book confirms fears about why jargon and prefabricated ideas, together with id politics and self-assist, so typically flatten expertise into cliché. Emotional waters run deep and wide. When one cannot navigate them, it's attainable to take refuge in a shallow, sentimental idealism.