All About Love: New Visions (bell hooks Love Trilogy)All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

i was pretty intrigued by the notion on the back cover that most of us (here in the scenic US of A, anyway) lead fundamentally loveless lives. i mean, is this not the spawning ground of hollywood? of romance? of what is sneered at as political correctness? of focusing on the family?

it’s no surprise that, looked at as a collection of institutions, the US is not a particularly loving culture. we do better at hating, on the whole: hating the poor, hating people with differently-colored skins, hating people who have the incorrect number of familial relationships, etc etc. but to say that we as individuals are loveless? that’s a pretty shocking statement.

she begins with one deeply intriguing notion: that love should be a verb, not a noun. it’s true, as she says, that we use the word very, very sloppily. you can love your children, and you can love ice cream. those kinds of love are of course not the same thing, and yet we haven’t good words to describe the difference. so hooks starts by using Erich Fromm’s definition of love: “the will to extend oneself for the purpose of extending one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” and: “Love is an act of will–namely, both an intention and an action.” i personally find the use of “spiritual” growth a tad off-putting, not being a spiritual sort. but if i mentally substitute the notion that love is about extending oneself in order to further another’s becoming their best and most whole self, then i can deal.

it’s a pretty significant notion, this way of defining love. it puts the other to the fore, rather than the self. (or, if one is learning to love oneself [a more difficult proposition than it may at first seem], putting one’s true self ahead of others’ expectations, etc etc.) and love as an act, rather than solely an emotion–that alone would cut some serious swaths through most people’s experience of “love.” i mean, how many of us can say that another person truly put us first? not their own needs or desires, not their expectations or their hopes, but just us, as we are? damned few, i imagine.

so the book has value for that one notion alone. but it’s not hook’s notion, it’s Fromm’s. and alas, in this book, hooks’ “new visions” aren’t really new, and don’t offer us a whole lot of new ways to look at the issue of love. most of it, in fact, feels very much to me like a rehash of radical feminist ideas from the 70s and early 80s. they were good ideas then and they’ve not been reified since, but that doesn’t make them new.

for example: in Chapter Three hooks walks us through the damage that lies do in individuals and in wider society. a loving relationship requires truth-telling, ’cause how else are we gonna be loved for ourselves? denying a child’s truth is a way of warping and stunting a child. these are true things, but they’re not new.

maybe some of these ideas will be new to readers who weren’t around or didn’t do their homework in the late 70s/early 80s. could be a pretty radical internal earthquake for them, in fact. but i was hoping for more.