- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Adulterers: you may now be seated. Will all those in Good Relationships please stand? Thank you, feel free to leave if this is not your story--you for whom long-term coupledom is a source of optimism and renewal, not emotional anesthesia. Though before anyone rushes for the exits, a point of clarification: a "good relationship" would probably include having--and wanting to have--sex with your spouse or spouse-equivalent on something more than a quarterly basis. (Maybe with some variation in choreography?) It would mean inhabiting an emotional realm in which monogamy isn't giving something up (your "freedom," in the vernacular) because such cost-benefit calculations just don't compute. It would mean a domestic sphere in which faithfulness wasn't preemptively secured through routine interrogations ("Who was that on the phone, dear?"), surveillance ("Do you think I didn't notice how much time you spent talking to X at the reception?"), or impromptu search and seizure. A "happy" state of monogamy would be defined as a state you don't have to work at maintaining. After all, doesn't the demand for fidelity beyond the duration of desire feel like work--or work as currently configured for so many of us handmaidens to the global economy: alienated, routinized, deadening, and not something you would choose to do if you actually had a choice in the matter?
Yes, we all know that Good Marriages Take Work: we've been well tutored in the catechism of labor-intensive intimacy. Work, work, work: given all the heavy lifting required, what's the difference between work and "after work" again? Work/home, office/bedroom: are you ever not on the clock? Good relationships may take work, but unfortunately, when it comes to love, trying is always trying too hard: work doesn't work. Erotically speaking, play is what works. Or as psychoanalyst Adam Phillips puts it: "In our erotic life . . . it is no more possible to work at a relationship than it is to will an erection or arrange to have a dream. In fact when you are working at it you know it has gone wrong, that something is already missing."
Yet here we are, toiling away. Somehow--how exactly did this happen?--the work ethic has managed to brown-nose its way into all spheres of human existence. No more play--or playing around--even when off the clock. Of course, the work ethic long ago penetrated the leisure sphere; leisure, once a respite from labor, now takes quite a lot of work itself. (Think about it the next time you find yourself repetitively lifting heavy pieces of metal after work: in other words, "working out.") Being wedded to the work ethic is not exactly a new story; this strain runs deep in middle-class culture: think about it the next time you're lying awake contemplating any of those 4 a.m. raison d'etre questions about your self-worth or social value. ("What have I really accomplished?") But when did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of love--and does this mean that collective bargaining should now replace marriage counseling when negotiating for improved domestic conditions?
When monogamy becomes labor, when desire is organized contractually, with accounts kept and fidelity extracted like labor from employees, with marriage a domestic factory policed by means of rigid shop-floor discipline designed to keep the wives and husbands and domestic partners of the world choke-chained to the status quo machinery--is this really what we mean by a "good relationship"?
Back in the old days, social brooders like Freud liked to imagine that there was a certain basic lack of fit between our deepest instincts and society's requirements of us, which might have left us all a little neurosis-prone, but at least guaranteed some occasional resistance to the more stifling demands of socialization. But in the old days, work itself occasionally provided motives for resistance: the struggle over wages and conditions of course, and even the length of the workday itself. Labor and capital may have eventually struck a temporary truce at the eight-hour day, but look around: it's an advance crumbling as we speak. Givebacks are the name of the game, and not just on the job either: with the demands of labor-intensive intimacy and "working on your relationship," now it's double-shifting for everyone. Or should we just call it vertical integration: the same compulsory overtime and capricious directives, the dress codes and attitude assessments, those dreaded annual performance reviews--and don't forget "achieving orgasm."
But recall that back in the old days the promise of technological progress was actually supposed to be less work rather than more. Now that's an antiquated concept, gone the way of dodo birds and trade unionism. How can you not admire a system so effective at swallowing all alternatives to itself that it can make something as abject as "working for love" sound admirable? Punching in, punching out; trying to wrest love from the bosses when not busily toiling in the mine shafts of domesticity--or is it the other way around? It should come as no surprise, as work sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild reports, that one of the main reasons for the creeping expansion of the official workday is that a large segment of the labor force put in those many extra hours because they're avoiding going home. (Apparently domestic life has become such a chore that staying at the office is more relaxing.)
So when does domestic overwork qualify as a labor violation and where do you file the forms? For guidance on such questions, shall we go straight to the horse's mouth? This, of course, would be Marx, industrial society's poète maudit, so little read yet so vastly reviled, who started so much trouble so long ago by asking a very innocent question: "What is a working day?" For this is the simple query at the heart of Capital (which took three volumes to answer). As we see, Marx's question remains our own to this day: just how long should we have to work before we get to quit and goof around, and still get a living wage? Or more to our point, if private life in post-industrialism means that relationships now take work too, if love is the latest form of alienated labor, would rereading Capital as a marriage manual be the most appropriate response?
What people seem to forget about Marx (too busy blaming him for all those annoying revolutions) is how evocatively he writes about feelings. Like the feeling of overwork. The motif of workers being bled dry keeps cropping up in his funny, mordant prose, punctuated by flurries of over-the-top Gothic metaphors about menacing deadness. The workday is a veritable graveyard, menaced by gruesome creatures and ghouls from the world of the ambulatory dead; overwork produces "stunted monsters," the machinery is a big congealed mass of dead labor, bosses are "blood-sucking vampires," so ravenous to extract more work from the employees to feed their endless werewolf-like hunger for profit, that if no one fought about the length of the workday it would just go on and on, leaving us crippled monstrosities in the process, with more and more alienated labor demanded from our tapped-out bodies until we dropped dead just from exhaustion.
From the Hardcover edition.
|Ch. 1||Love's Labors||11|
|Ch. 2||Domestic Gulags||52|
|Ch. 3||The Art of Love||105|
|Ch. 4||...And the Pursuit of Happiness||143|
Posted October 24, 2011
After you read the first chapter you start to get the sense the writer has nothing else to say, really, but thinks she's clever and witty enough to stretch it into a book. And she's a bit too in love with her own wit. The turns of phrase and puns she likes seem cute and clever at first, then feel tiresome: Like watching a dog and pony show and seeing the dog leap onto the saddle for the fiftieth time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 16, 2005
I loved this book! It's really funny and so easy to relate to. I recommend reading it on a cross country flight. It will keep you laughing and will definitely help to make the time pass quickly going from coast to coast!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 22, 2011
No text was provided for this review.