Month: July 2012

Eva Illouz on Why Love Hurts

“The grand ambition of this book is to do to emotions – at least to romantic love – what Marx did to commodities: to show that they are shaped by social relations; that they do not circulate in a free and unconstrained way; that their magic is social; and that they contain and condense the institutions of modernity…

“Men’s and women’s romantic unhappiness contains, stages, and enacts the conundrums of the modern freedom and capacity to exercise choice.” – Eva Illouz

Eva Illouz - Why Love Hurts cover

Few of us are spared the agonies of intimate relationships. They come in many shapes: loving a man or a woman who will not commit to us, being heartbroken when we’re abandoned by a lover, engaging in Sisyphean internet searches, coming back lonely from bars, parties, or blind dates, feeling bored in a relationship that is so much less than we had envisaged – these are only some of the ways in which the search for love is a difficult and often painful experience.

Despite the widespread and almost collective character of these experiences, our culture insists they are the result of faulty or insufficiently mature psyches. For many, the Freudian idea that the family designs the pattern of an individual’s erotic career has been the main explanation for why and how we fail to find or sustain love. Psychoanalysis and popular psychology have succeeded spectacularly in convincing us that individuals bear responsibility for the misery of their romantic and erotic lives. The purpose of this book is to change our way of thinking about what is wrong in modern relationships. The problem is not dysfunctional childhoods or insufficiently self-aware psyches, but rather the institutional forces shaping how we love.

The argument of this book is that the modern romantic experience is shaped by a fundamental transformation in the ecology and architecture of romantic choice. The samples from which men and women choose a partner, the modes of evaluating prospective partners, the very importance of choice and autonomy and what people imagine to be the spectrum of their choices: all these aspects of choice have transformed the very core of the will, how we want a partner, the sense of worth bestowed by relationships, and the organization of desire.

George Miller interviewed Eva Illouz when she visited London this spring. To listen to the complete interview, click here. And to listen to extracts, click on the links below. At the bottom of this post, you will also find a video interview with Eva with additional content.

1. As an introduction to our discussion Eva Illouz compared the courtship manuals of the late nineteenth century and the dating guides of today. What has changed, and why is there a greater element of risk in the modern context? Click here [1:51].

2. “The main effect of psychology has been to privatize problems.” Eva Illouz reflects here on how psychology’s focus on the individual’s problems has overlooked their collective dimension – a deficiency which, she contends, sociology is well placed to remedy by examining the ecology of choice in which men and women operate today. Click here [2:20].

3. “Jane Austen was crucial to me.” Click here to hear about the part literature plays in Eva Illouz’s analysis of what has changed in our emotional landscape: “Literature often codifies implicit assumptions about emotions.” [2:29]Illouz extract 3

4. I asked Eva if she could give an example of how the architecture of choice had changed from Jane Austen’s day. Click here [1:58].

5. “Pre-modern people had these two models – affection and economics – as quite separate, and if they mixed that was [a matter of] great luck.” Eva Illouz explains here how – in her memorable phrase – economics has now come to “penetrate the machine of desire” [3:25].Illouz extract 2

6. We seek validation through our intimate relationships but also prize our autonomy. Why, despite all the strides made by feminism, do the disbenefits of this situation still fall disproportionately on women? Click here [1:11]

7. The Internet offers perhaps the quintessential example of the problems caused by seemingly endless consumer choice in the search for a partner. Click here [1:02].Illouz extract 1

8. “If there is a non-academic ambition to this book, it is to ‘ease the aching’ of love through an understanding of its social underpinnings.” So writes Eva Illouz in the book’s epilogue. In conclusion I asked her to explain how the book might contribute to easing that ache. Click here [2:26].

Eva Illouz introduces Why Love Hurts from George Miller on Vimeo.

Eli Zaretsky: Why America Needs a Left

Eli Zaretsky Why America Needs a LeftThe United States today cries out for a robust, self-respecting, intellectually sophisticated left, yet the very idea of a left appears to have been discredited.

In this brilliant new book, Eli Zaretsky rethinks the idea by examining three key moments in American history: the Civil War, the New Deal and the range of New Left movements in the 1960s and after including the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and gay liberation.

In each period, he argues, the active involvement of the left – especially its critical interaction with mainstream liberalism – proved indispensable. American liberalism, as represented by the Democratic Party, is necessarily spineless and ineffective without a left. Correspondingly, without a strong liberal center, the left becomes sectarian, authoritarian, and worse.

On a recent visit to London, George Miller spoke to Eli Zaretsky about the book. To listen to the complete interview, click here. To listen to extracts from Eli Zaretsky’s answers, click on the links below. And at the bottom, you’ll find a video interview containing different content.

1. Eli Zaretsky’s book contends that the Left has been an enduring radical presence in US history. This runs counter to the prevailing view that America neither had nor needs a Left.

Click here to hear about when the Left has made its presence felt [0:58].

2. “Race defines American history” and, as Eli Zaretsky suggests here, was also critical to the formation of the Left [0:59].

3. Zaretsky argues that the Left has played a key role in times of crisis in US history by emphasizing the vital importance of equality. Click here [1:05].

4. “One thing that distinguishes my approach to the American Left is seeing the discontinuity” – click here to hear more about the Left as an “episodic upsurge” [1:26].

5. In the book, Zaretsky writes: “A proclivity to violence runs very deep in American liberal tradition”. I asked him to say more about its role. Click here [1:22].

6. According to Zaretsky, the New Left was the shortest-lived but the most enduring of the three Lefts he identifies in US history. I asked him to explain this apparent paradox. Click here [1:18].

7. I asked Eli if he was surprised by the fact that – the Occupy movement aside – there had been comparatively little organized response from the Left to the current crisis. Click here [2:11].

8. I went on to ask whether neoliberalism has also played a part in laying claim to what was once counter-cultural and repurposing it to its own ends by commodifying it. Click here [2:01].

9. The book describes the Right as a reaction to the Left. How so? I asked. Click here [1:12].

10. How healthy is the intellectual life of the Left in the US today? Click here [1:34].

11. With a US presidential election on the horizon, I asked Eli Zaretsky how he read the current political landscape. Click here [2:44].

Eli Zaretsky on Why America Needs a Left from George Miller on Vimeo.