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|Volume 11 |Issue 41| October 19, 2012 ||
Writing the Wrong
The Remedy to Love
Laura Kipnis is a social theorist I stumbled upon recently. She wrote a wryly hilarious and exceedingly depressing book called Against Love: A Polemic. Polemic means an aggressive attack or refutation on another's beliefs or opinions. In this case she takes on that most venerable of institutions: marriage. Now I have been married once. The tense (past) of this sentence should give one an indication of how THAT particular social experiment played out, but I worked actively—and still do—not to let divorce break my spirit or render me bitter and jaded. Frankly, I am still too young and perky to not buy into a few romantic notions or give up on true love. Though, I have to admit some romantic notions have been decidedly bludgeoned out of me.
One of these notions is that love—modern, romantic love, that is—is the end all, be all and that it remotely resembles what softly lit Meg Ryan and most Hollywood romantic comedies tell us it does.
At this point, my savvier readers are going, please, Ms Ahmed, we KNOW that. Oh yeah? Then how come you did not expect that the way he chews his food would start to bother you? Because every last thing he did was so utterly cute when he first started smsing sweet nothings to you? I'll tell you why, because love FADES my friends. It's mutable, it shape shifts. It morphs into resignation that her once svelte form is a bit doughier and that his six pack abdominals now resemble one dense mound. It sometimes turns to eye rolling at his lame, much worn jokes or discreet winces at her high pitched, slightly grating laugh at dinner parties. His almost manic insistence on complimenting every young lady's profile picture on facebook that you once thought was warm and friendly is starting to raise the hackles of suspicion in your normally serene mind; because the blinders are off and scales have fallen and your Apollo is starting to look more like his mortal self. To steal from one of my idols, Woody Allen (who REALLY has non-traditional notions of marriage and monogamy), after a certain point, you start to put your beloved UNDER a pedestal.
Kipnis claims that we have essentially all but destroyed love by trying to stuff it into the narrow crevasse of marriage. She harkens back to the time of the ancient Greeks who felt love was so impermanent it was not a viable basis for marriage. Up until the 18th century marriage was more of a business transaction between two parties.
Boy: Hey there, comely wench, you have a goat and I have two cows, what say you? Want to buy the farm?
Girl: (distractedly churning butter) Sure, whatever, why not?
And they lived happily ever after with a lifetime supply of goat cheese. Love did not really come up. Who had time for it? Plus, people were dead by the time they were 35 and so there was less time to grow resentful of one another. Nowadays, people live so long, they have more scope to develop a serious loathing of their spouse and nurture it for upwards of 60 years. That's a whole lotta contempt!
Kipnis says that love is exsanguinated because there are too many rules and limitations in monogamous coupledom. She writes, ““[T]he hidden linguistic universe of companianate couples... rests entirely on one generative phrase: 'Would you please stop doing that” (Kipnis, 735).
She goes on to list the various “cant's” that give a relationship its shape: “You can't leave the house without saying where you're going. You can't be a slob. You can't do less than 50% of the work around the house…you can't gain weight….The specifics don't matter. The operative word is 'can't'. Thus, love is obtained” (pg739).
Kipnis claims that marriage is a social construct meant to keep the masses cowed and down. Both sexes are equally oppressed as parties strive to have vastly different needs met. The modern divorce rate: roughly half of all marriages, gives credence to Kipnis' theory. Yet people keep getting married. What's that all about? Moreover, some of them REMARRY! Men especially. The latter I think, hit middle age and start energetically fearing death and marry much younger women in an effort to trick the Grim Reaper into thinking they are still 32.
Kipnis feels if we liberate love from these impractical, obsolete constructs of marriage and monogamy we just might have a fighting chance to reclaim it, and thus, our individuality.
I do feel Kipnis has a point. I have never felt that coupledom should define a person. Khalil Gibran says, “Let there be spaces in between your togetherness.” Love grows strong in the face of space and freedom. However, she seems very resentful of the undeniable fact that relationships, committed ones, are work, plain and simple and that anything worth having will require blood sweat and tears.
In reading Kipnis' theory, and how she felt that having to work at love or creating boundaries somehow destroyed it, I was suddenly reminded of filmmaker Lars Von Trier's challenge to one of his idols, filmmaker Jorgen Leth who made a short movie Von Trier loved called The Perfect Human. He gave Leth five tasks that called upon him to recreate this film but within severe and sometimes, absurd, restrictions. The first task was to shoot the film in Cuba, but only at 12 frames per shot. Leth fails at the second task, which was to recreate the film in the worst place he could imagine. He chose, funnily enough, the red light district in Mumbai. Von Trier punishes him by telling him he must either re-do the film in any way he chooses, meaning NO obstructions or try to complete task 2. I want you to stop and think about this for a moment. Von Trier felt a suitable punishment was to offer NO obstructions. And Leth actually did not choose that punishment and attempted to redo task 2 instead with its original obstructions.
You know why? Because, in my personal experience, both artistically and overall I have seen that boundaries, obstructions, limitations are OUR FRIENDS. They keep us grounded, creative, and on our toes. Leth felt that not having any obstructions was too hard and that it would not serve him artistically. As a creative person he needed the obstacles. It's the type of thing that reminds us we are alive, and vital. It keeps our synapses firing.
Therefore, love that is not worked for, not active, as my friend Frances says, or structured, will grow lazy and slovenly and sloth like and be absorbed by our fat egos and ennui. It will also undermine our communities and children's lives. It will lead to anarchy, but not the fun kind. And this is precisely what these types of anarchists want, no restrictions or structure or rules. Or order. But not in a good way. It's not about dismantling something unworkable to build something better. If people did not at least endeavour to commit to one another and work cooperatively, then lawlessness would reign. Marriage, however, problematic and cumbersome—and lord knows it is very much those things—and the intentions behind it—strives to keep our lesser natures at bay.
*Kipnis, Laura, Against Love: A Polemic, (2003)