Books

Hermione’s Feminist Book Club: All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

So I’m still blogging per Hermione Granger’s feminist book club (and yes, I’m still calling it that) after skipping February because I’d already read The Color Purple–too long ago to blog about it, but too recently to get much out of rereading. I was super psyched for March’s book: All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I was expecting her to show up sooner or later as she and E.W. are apparently friends on social media, and I’d heard so many good things about her that I was really excited to finally read her work. But I was surprised and, if I’ll be honest, a little overwhelmed when I saw the book’s summary…
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All About Love isn’t feminist theory in the traditional sense, though bell hooks is, unsurprisingly, very much writing from an intersectional feminist perspective. True to its title, this book deals with love: our need for it, our lack of it, and our misunderstanding of it. hooks’ central thesis is, essentially, a radical challenge to our conventional understanding of love as a mysterious, undefinable, unconscious feeling: rather, she argues that it would be far more useful to think of love as a verb, a conscious action and choice to “extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Thinking of love in this way, it is not affection or emotional attachment. hooks then goes on to apply this definition of love to examine the damaging effects of lovelessness across the family, romantic relationships, the workplace, and society at large, as manifested by rampant abuse, lack of self-love, consumerism, the lust for power, and a cultural obsession with death. After an astonishing first chapter deconstructing the knee-jerk refusal to define, let alone understand, love, the book closes with a chapter titled “Destiny: When Angels Speak of Love”, acknowledging the existence of a mysterious dimension beyond our consciousness in spirituality, which in its truest, most healing form is the highest incarnation of love.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been as overwhelmed by a book as this one. The astounding opening chapter “Clarity: Give Love Words” completely threw me for a tailspin–though I do have my “romantic” side, as I’ve noted in Peony in Love (a book I recently and thoroughly enjoyed that also explores the nature of love, but which seems almost conventional in its outlook compared to the radical breakaway from usual understanding in All About Love), I’ve struggled a lot with the exact same problem that hooks identifies: cynicism stemming from intense longing for love. As she would put it, I’m tremendously capable of cathexis, or forming emotional bonds, but am afraid of “love”, which “is as love does.”

Make no mistake: this is a challenging book. It’s more nuanced than my condensation of it gives it credit for, and at times it was difficult for me to distinguish nuance from what seemed like conflicting thought. (I also have some lingering misgivings, such as my opposition to purely psychoanalytical, rather than biological, discussion of drug addiction on principle.) But All About Love laid bare not only my preconceived notions, but also my vulnerabilities in a way that was almost luminous. And wow, did it make me think.

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