Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Against Love

Yes, I was able to get a lot of reading done while I was in LA. I thought this book, Against Love: A Polemic, would be amusing to read along with Dancing in the Dark, which gets a little gooey at times. A "polemic" is basically a rant. This means that the author, Laura Kipnis, doesn't need to present evidence for her case, and doesn't feel obliged to follow much of a structure. This made it difficult to really get a handle on what she's trying to prove. However, it doesn't seem to be love that Kipnis is against, but marriage and monogamy. She seems to view adultery as a metaphor for revolution, which I remain skeptical about. If you're not into monogamy, wouldn't something like polyamory, or just staying single and having sex with whomever you wanted, be a better solution than adultery?

Anyway, there were two parts of the book I really liked. One was a long, very funny list of things you're not allowed to do when you're married, such as wearing cowboy hats and playing computer solitaire. The other was a comparison between our culture's capitalist work ethic and our relationship ethic. Kipnis talks about love as a social management tool: "If without love we're losers and our lives bereft, how susceptible we'll also be to any social program promoted in its name" (26). She quotes Marx to show the similarities between "working at relationships" when all the joy is gone from them, and working hard for little reward in corporate America. Maybe it's because I can't seem to talk about work without thinking to myself, "Oh God, I totally sound like Karl Marx right now", but I think there's some truth to this. (Perhaps it's also my love of comparing disparate concepts.) Our work life can't be separated from the rest of our lives, try as we might. And is capitalism really the greatest set-up for healthy relationships? Kipnis and I would say no. But what is? The problems presented in Against Love are obvious, but the solutions remain evasive.

Even I can relate to the interplay of unsatisfying work and unsatisfied desires. When I was 16, I worked a boring, thankless, minimum-wage job at a bookstore that was close to going out of business. I developed a not-too-small crush on a co-worker, a 20-year-old man we'll call Tony. I remember standing at the cash registers and watching Tony walk by. Suddenly, all was silent and I could only hear the beating of my heart. That sounds cheesy, but it's exactly as I remember it. Also, it bears mentioning that I hadn't "liked someone this way" since the 5th grade. Looking back, I can't remember any desirable attributes that Tony had. I remember what he looked like, but it wasn't anything that impressive. At the time, I remember wondering what I would think if Tony, for example, asked me out. My honest answer to myself? "I would be horrified." Maybe the age difference was a little sketchy. But it was probably because I was asexual and had no real interest in the guy beyond a desperate need to pass the hours.

I also found one footnote in Against Love that sort of relates to asexuality. Kipnis writes: "...a 1999 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that more that [sic] 43 percent of women and 31 percent of men regularly have no interest in sex, can't have orgasms, or have some other sexual impediment (80)." To be clear, there's no evidence that asexual people can't have orgasms. It's the lack of interest that, well, interests me. Kipnis is obviously using these numbers to show how dysfunctional we are today. But to me, it proves that a lack of interest in sex is, for lack of a better word, normal. It makes sense that peoples' sex drives would go through phases of high and low. Kipnis implies that without monogamy and marriage restraining our desires, that we would all want to have tons of sex all the time. But somehow, I doubt that.


Queers United said...

I thought of you tonight. One of my friends, has no concept of asexuality, but when they talk about dating/sexuality I get the sense they might be asexual, so I have been gently bringing the subject up with her. Tonight, I sat down with her and told her that she should check out and that what she has been telling me sounds like asexuality, and we had a long convo about what that means. I was thinking, I wish Ily was here, she could articulate this well. Is there any super basic source on asexuality? This is someone who is a virgin, comes from a more religious background and has very little understanding of sexuality altogether.

Ily said...

Hee, I'm flattered you thought that...although I think I'm better at writing than speaking. But, if I can draw some diagrams, I'm golden. I think AVEN is probably the best place for info-- that or Wikipedia, where the article on asexuality is quite good. AVEN does have a very long FAQ, but I don't think it's that difficult to understand.