Title: all about love: new visions
Author: bell hooks
My Edition: Harper Perennial
I had no idea what to expect when I picked up all about love: new visions. I had never heard of bell hooks before. I knew from a cursory search of the internet that she was a writer and that she was a feminist, which immediately made me like her – writer and feminist are qualities that speak to my soul. BUT Emma Watson was reading her so hey, might as well listen to the voice of my feminist generation.
I can’t say I enjoyed the writing itself, though not for any particular reason. I didn’t find myself exclaiming over turns of phrase or seamless transition from information to anecdote and back again. In fact, I found myself jarred by a particularly convoluted sentence more than once. The book just didn’t seem to flow for me in any coherent way.
But the message. I felt the message down to my bones.
Some context: for the first time since Christmas, my entire family gathered this past weekend. The occasion wasn’t a happy one – we had a funeral to attend. But during the forty-eight or so hours I spent in close quarters with my aunts and uncles and cousins and others, I found myself thinking about what bell hooks had to say about love. I watched the different dynamics that occurred between generations in my family. I watched how parents treated children and how adult children treated parents. I made notes. I put questions to myself regarding the situations I didn’t directly participate in: would I have scolded a child for that behavior? Did I know how to explain death to an eight-year-old? For that matter, could I council my own mother in her grief?
The vast majority of my hypothetical questions led me on thought trails that ultimately ended in intention. Sure, a parent had restricted a child in a way I might not agree with. But (ignoring the fact that I haven’t raised any of my own children, and can thus only imagine the constant flux of emotion involved), I knew that every member of my family acted in ways that they thought would produce the best possible child and later, the best possible adult. And I knew that each and every member of my family acted with love, no matter how occluded the love became when commingled with societal restrictions and traditional punishments.
And therein lies my favorite part of bell hooks’s message, as well as my biggest problem – love can change all of our behaviors. Love, as intention, can make the best out of grief, out of family, out of a parent chastising a child. But here I stray from the message. bell hooks believes love can’t exist along with dishonesty or anger or any number of negative emotions – and I believe life just ain’t that simple.
So yes, I want the love bell hooks professes exists. I think I’ve even had snapshots of it before, in friendships and in moments and with family. But humans are far too complex to eradicate the negative feelings that come with the good. I’m pretty sure the entire plot of Inside Out was about that very fact. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t temper our poor attitudes, or learn to manage them, or do our absolute darndest to overflow with so much love that the negativity can’t get out. I personally don’t want a relationship, romantic or otherwise, as riddled with control/power dynamics as previous ones I’ve been in. I want to live the love ethic! I want the good I know can come by believing in everyone’s inherent ability to improve. And maybe I’m too harsh a critic by complaining bell hooks is ignoring the complexity of human personality when she insists love conquers all. I just think her narrative misses the practical side of the world by a wide margin.
But, in the interest of practicing the love ethic starting right this very minute – I’m happy to forgive and let her try again.
I thoroughly appreciate whenever any author (or speaker, or politician, or layperson on the street…) acknowledges the harm patriarchy does to both women and men. bell hooks navigated that territory very well.
I read the grief chapter the night before my grandfather’s funeral, and I truly believe it had an immediate, clear purpose in my life. That’s a little miracle if there ever was one.
Finally, I love when I find new authors (or friends!) who treat spirituality as a blending of beliefs rather than claiming you have to practice your religion in the manner identical to person XYZ. Whatever your religious background of book of choice, humans are interpretive creatures – which means there is NO ONE on this ENTIRE PLANET that agrees with you identically. Hooray for bell hooks being so calm and put together in her own beliefs. It translated quite well to this particular reader.