All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

While there were certainly many pearls of wisdom scattered in bell hooks’ essays on love, I found many of the observations and conclusions she makes to be simplistic and at times even presumptions. Within these 13 chapters, bell hooks interrogates love (what does it mean to love someone? how does love look?) against the backdrop of her contemporary America. In a capitalistic society that promotes consumerism and individualism, where does love fit?
I did find the first few chapters to be insightful and relevant: hooks writes about the false ideas of love promoted by the media, which either present us with an idealized vision of familiar and romantic love or romanticize abusive dynamics and patterns of behavior. She writes at length about how within many families children are subjected to confusing notions and versions of love: from abusive parents telling their children that they are abusing them because they love them or treating them as property/things. Here she also touches on lying, why and how we lie, how we teach children not to lie but we lie ourselves, or how women may choose to lie in order to navigate patriarchal structures. I did find some of what she wrote on lying to be a bit …not quite sanctimonious but her understanding of the act of lying seemed a bit sanitized, in that there wasn’t much room for nuance. Sure, the dichotomy between lies and truth can be very black and white, but I do believe that truth telling should not always triumph over lying and that lying isn’t always inherently wrong/bad.
hooks writes about self-love, differentiating this practice from the narcissism and self-centeredness we associate with it. She also writes about consumerism, faith, honesty, and loss. hooks attempts to clarify the multivalent nature of love and why we find it so difficult to talk about it.

Sadly, we then have essays that pretty much killed my initial enthusiasm for hooks’ writing. I understand that these relatively short essays don’t allow for much depth but I found hooks’ exploration of class, consumerism, and status as well as her take on unequal power dynamics simplistic at best…from implying that Nicole Simpson was responsible for her own murder because she was unwilling to quit her “superficially glamorous lifestyle” to viewing the Clinton–Lewinsky affair as wholly consensual and saying that Lewinsky “prostituted” herself to the media. The way she wrote about people who are in relationships with addicts or abusive individuals or whose children are involved in criminal activities also struck me as shallow and moralistic. The disappointment and later on anger that I felt at hooks’ misreadings and generalizations of these dynamics and situations made me wish I’d never picked up this book in the first place. I may not know what love is but I know that I am not keen on hooks’ definitions of love.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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