As soon as upon a time, the philosophy of love was a high-quality topic for the person of concepts, like Erich Fromm or C. S. Lewis. In recent years, the subject has been relegated to self-help, a style that many distrust for its propensity to suggest easy answers the place there are none. Self-help has its uses, however: it neatly undoes the facile concepts of left (we are energyless victims) and proper (we have now total company in our lives) alike, and it gives the calming reassurance that others on the market are as tousled as you are.
Now comes the feminist cultural critic Bell Hooks with her new book of essays, ''All About Love,'' written in a didactic model that would merge moral philosophy with self-help. It is a warm affirmation that love is feasible and an assault on the culture of narcissism and selfishness. ''We yearn to end the lovelessness that is so pervasive in our society,'' she writes. ''This book tells us tips on how to return to love.''
Her best factors are easy ones. Community -- extended family, artistic or political collaboration, mateship -- is as necessary because the couple or the nuclear family; love is an artwork that involves work, not just the fun of attraction; want might rely on illusion, but love comes only by painful fact-telling; work and cash have changed the values of love and group, and this must be reversed.
In Hooks's view, ladies have little hope of happiness in a brutal culture in which they are blindsided because ''most males use psychological terrorism as a strategy to subordinate ladies,'' whom they keep round ''to maintain all their needs.'' Men are raised to be ''more involved about sexual efficiency and sexual satisfaction than whether or not they're capable of giving and receiving love.'' Many men ''will, at occasions, select to silence a partner with violence fairly than witness emotional vulnerability'' and ''often turn away from real love and select relationships in which they are often emotionally withholding once they feel like it but still receive love from somebody else.'' Women are additionally afraid of intimacy but ''focus more on finding a companion,'' regardless of quality. The result is ''a gendered arrangement in which men are more likely to get their emotional needs met while ladies will be deprived. . . . Males are given an advantage that neatly coincides with the patriarchal insistence that they're superior and therefore higher suited to rule others.'' Males need to study generosity and ''the joy that comes from service.''
Hooks contends that she and her lengthy-term boyfriends have been foiled by ''patriarchal thinking'' and sexist gender roles and never had a chance. She is true that many women and men, gay and straight, still fall into traditional traps, but she doesn't spend a lot 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 personal 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 abstract about them. The ingenious ways the mind has to console itself, link the fact that relationships don't grant bliss and perfection, the essential impossibility of satisfaction, how need can conquer the need -- to Hooks, these are however cynical delusions that shall be thrust aside in a brave new world ready ''to affirm mutual love between free ladies and free men.''
Her invocation of master rhetoricians like Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton throws into painful relief the strange Pollyanna high quality of her prose; it is tough to imagine both of them beginning a paragraph, as she does, with ''When I first started to talk publicly about my dysfunctional household, my mother was enraged.'' She ends the book as Sleeping Magnificence, awaiting ''the love that's promised'' and talking to angels relatively than real people. Her book confirms fears about why jargon and prefabricated concepts, including identification politics and self-help, so often flatten expertise into cliché. Emotional waters run deep and wide. When one cannot navigate them, it is attainable to take refuge in a shallow, sentimental idealism.