Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love [NOOK Book]


Carol Gilligan, whose classic In a Different Voice revolutionized the study of human psychology, now offers a brilliant, provocative book about love. Why is love so often associated with tragedy, she asks. Why are our experiences of pleasure so often shadowed by loss? And can we change these patterns?

Gilligan observes children at play and adult couples in therapy and discovers that the roots of a more hopeful view of love are all around us. ...
See more details below
Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$11.99 price


Carol Gilligan, whose classic In a Different Voice revolutionized the study of human psychology, now offers a brilliant, provocative book about love. Why is love so often associated with tragedy, she asks. Why are our experiences of pleasure so often shadowed by loss? And can we change these patterns?

Gilligan observes children at play and adult couples in therapy and discovers that the roots of a more hopeful view of love are all around us. She finds evidence in new psychological research and traces a path leading from the myth of Psyche and Cupid through Shakespeare’s plays and Freud’s case histories, to Anne Frank’s diaries and contemporary novels. Groundbreaking and immensely readable, The Birth of Pleasure has powerful implications for the way we live and love.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Carol Gilligan loves myths but wonders why in our intimate relationships, we keep reliving only their tragic stories of loss and betrayal. The psychologist and author of In a Different Voice proposes that we search for texts of resistance and renewal, myths that will lead us to a path beyond tragedy, into pleasure.
Library Journal
Called psychology yet drawing on literature from Greek mythology to Shakespeare to Toni Morrison, this book by gender scholar Gilligan considers the path of loveDand pleasureDthrough time. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Why do humans experience so much pain before finding pleasure in love? Gilligan, who revolutionized gender studies with her examination of girls' moral development (In a Different Voice, 1982), offers some tentative answers. She opens with a quotation, "The power of love upsets the order of things," and throughout the text considers that disturbing power. There are two roads, one leading to life, the other to death, Moses said after descending from Mt. Sinai; by urging followers to choose life, he said in effect: Choose love. But, Gilligan (Humanities/NYU) wonders, what is the best route to find love? The allusion to Moses is just one of hundreds of allusions, as Gilligan seeks a part of the answer in stories. Adam and Eve at odds with God; Cupid, wounded with his own arrow for love of Psyche; teenager Anne Frank writing in her diary while hiding from the Nazis; the doomed love of Almasy and Katharine in The English Patient-these are among the stories from which Gilligan derives or tests her concepts. In the contemporary world, she tries to understand the life-to-life, generation-to-generation shift from pain to pleasure by entering classrooms to explore the minds of students. In further search of enlightenment, she joins an experienced couples therapist as he meets with his clients, relating their suffering and successes while protecting their privacy with made-up names. Each page here contains rewards, but the text does not hang together well as a cohesive narrative. Gilligan jumps around in time for no obvious reason. She introduces characters real and fictional, drops them for many pages, then picks up their stories again, forcing readers to flip back to the previous reference. Thoughit's an intellectual tour de force, it's organizationally challenged. Despite structural flaws, a provocative liberal education between covers.
From the Publisher
“Compelling . . . a thrilling new paradigm.” –The Times Literary Supplement

“Here is human connection thoughtfully considered by one of our finest psychological and social observers. This book tells of the ways we seek companionship and love, the ways we affirm others, thereby finding ourselves, our hopes and aspirations.” —Robert Coles

“Gilligan has woven a tapestry of memories, myths and reflections that spirals like a shell and is structured like a dream but at its heart vanishes into the mystery of love . . . no small accomplishment.” —Elle

“[Gilligan] writes lyrically as she weaves myth and literature, interview and memoir.” —The Boston Phoenix

“An elegant and powerful narrative that runs through mythology, memoir and literature.” Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe

“Why has the love story in Western culture long assumed that pleasure leads to death, that love leads to loss? Carol Gilligan, in this brilliantly written book, explores the history of these associations, then traces the roots of an alternate narrative and draws a map to send us on our way. This is a wonderful book!” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“An original and elegant inquiry, a fine weave of vivid case studies of ‘couples in crisis’ and brilliant literary analysis.” —Booklist

“Here is human connection thoughtfully considered by one of our finest psychological and social observers. This book tells of the ways we seek companionship and love, the ways we affirm others, thereby finding ourselves, our hopes and aspirations.” —Robert Coles

“It does no less than reconfigure what it might mean to love and be loved, a revolutionary act in itself.” —Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues

“An intellectual tour de force . . . . a provocative liberal education between covers.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Carol Gilligan suggests that the acknowledgment of pleasure is a part of our authenticity and essential to truth telling. How refreshing to imagine that authenticity and honesty are as much about feeling good as the opposite.” —Anna Deavere Smith

“[Gilligan’s] mastery of literary sources and her intelligent but nonacademic writing make this an enjoyable, challenging work.” —Publishers Weekly

The Birth of Pleasure is reminiscent of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents—but with one striking difference. Where Freud sees tragedy as inescapable (symbolized for him by the Oedipus myth), Gilligan sees a history of psychologically driven resistance, as manifested in the myth of Psyche and Cupid.” —Psychotherapy Networker

“A revolutionary book that will transform our beliefs about love, pleasure, human possibility, and ourselves. Carol Gilligan is a thinker and prophet of luminous grace, courage, and compassion.” —Catharine Stimpson, University Professor and Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Science, New York University

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400040186
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/3/2002
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 922,819
  • File size: 274 KB

Meet the Author

Carol Gilligan is a psychologist and writer who lives in New York City and in the Berkshires. Her ground-breaking book, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory’ and Women’s Development, has been translated into eighteen languages. With her students, she co-authored and co-edited four books on women’s psychology and girls’ development: Meeting at the Crossroads, Between Voice and Silence, Making Connections, and Women, Girls, and Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance. At Harvard, where she was the first Graham Professor of Gender Studies, her award-winning research led to the founding of the university’s Center on Gender and Education. She is now University Professor at New York University.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

A Radical Geography of Love

Let it be
Like wild flowers,
Suddenly, an imperative of the field...


For years, without knowing why, I have been drawn to maps of the desert, drawn by descriptions of the winds and the wadi--dry watercourses that suddenly fill with rain. I began following an ancient story about love told in North Africa in the second century, written in the coastal city of Carthage, carried into Europe as the winds carry the desert sand, falling like rain into a tradition whose origins lie in the birth of tragedy, coursing through the centuries like an underground stream. Set in the landscape of tragedy, this story leads to the birth of pleasure.

Maybe love is like rain. Sometimes gentle, sometimes torrential, flooding, eroding, quiet, steady, filling the earth, collecting in hidden springs. When it rains, when we love, new life grows. So that to say, as Moses coming down from Sinai said, that there are two roads, one leading to life and one to death, and therefore choose life, is to say in effect: choose love. But what is the way?

I picked up the ancient road map of love at a time when relationships between women and men were changing. The waves of liberation that swept through American society in the second half of the twentieth century, freeing love from many constraints, set in motion a process of transformation. In a historic convergence, the civil rights movement, which galvanized a moral consensus against enslavement, was followed by the anti-war movement and the women's movement, initiating a conversation about freedom that included freedom from long-standing ideals of manhood and womanhood. For a man to be a man, did he have to be a soldier, or at least prepare himself for war? For a woman to be a woman, did she have to be a mother, or at least prepare herself to raise children? Soldiers and mothers were the sacrificial couple, honored by statues in the park, lauded for their willingness to give their lives to others. The gay liberation movement drew people's attention to men's love for men and women's for women and also men's love for women who were not the objects of their sexual desire and women's love for men who were not their economic protectors. In the 1990s, for the first time since suffrage, women's votes elected the president, more women were gaining an economic foothold, and wealth began shifting into the hands of young men who bypassed the usual channels of advancement. The tension between democracy and patriarchy was out in the open.

Democracy rests on an ideal of equality in which everyone has a voice. Patriarchy, although frequently misinterpreted to mean the oppression of women by men, literally means a hierarchy--a rule of priests--in which the priest, the hieros, is a father. It describes an order of living that elevates fathers, separating fathers from sons (the men from the boys) and placing both sons and women under a father's authority. With the renaissance of women's voices in the late twentieth century, with sons questioning the authority of fathers, especially with respect to war, with the revolution in technology reducing the need for a priesthood by providing direct access to knowledge, the foundations of patriarchy were eroding.

I was searching at the time for a washed-out road. Picking up the voice of pleasure in men's and women's stories about love and also among adolescent girls and young boys, I came to the places where this voice drops off and a tragic story takes over. The tragic story where love leads to loss and pleasure is associated with death was repeated over and over again, in operas, folk songs, the blues, and novels. We were in love with a tragic story of love. It was "our story."

If we have a map showing where pleasure is buried and where the seeds of tragedy are planted, then we can see an order of living that was presumed to be natural or inevitable as a road we have taken and trace alternative routes. Piecing together an ancient love story with the findings of contemporary research, I found myself led into the heart of a mystery and then to a new mapping of love. This book is a record of that journey.

In the mid-1980s, I began a study with women and men whose intimate relationships with one another had reached a point of crisis. People were asking new questions about love, finding their way alone and together across a shifting societal and psychic terrain. More women were speaking openly about their experiences of love, saying what they knew about pleasure. The double standard, or what Freud had called "a double morality," had led to "concealment of the truth, false optimism, self-deception and deception of others" on the part of both women and men. The poet Jorie Graham's questions became everyone's questions:

How far is true
How far into the
can vision go and
still be


A search for truth was uncovering a buried history, revealing the extent to which neither men nor women felt authentic. How had this happened? Where had they split with their souls, their desires, their connection to each other?

Led by an awareness of this disconnection, I began to explore the roots of what seemed a pervasive trauma. Trauma is the shock to the psyche that leads to dissociation: our ability to separate ourselves from parts of ourselves, to create a split within ourselves so that we can know and also not know what we know, feel and yet not feel our feelings. It is our ability, as Freud put it in Studies on Hysteria, to hold parts of our experience not as a secret from others but as a "foreign body" within ourselves.

The foundational stories we tell about Western civilization are stories of trauma. Oedipus is wounded and abandoned by his parents, who drive a stake through his feet (hence the name Oedipus, which means "swollen foot") and give him to a herdsman with instructions to leave the baby on a hillside to die. Saved by the herdsman, Oedipus is fated to kill his father, Laius, and marry his mother, Jocasta--a fate decreed by Apollo as retribution for Laius' having sexually violated a young boy.

The Oresteia, Aeschylus' trilogy about the founding of Athenian democracy, tells a story so horrible it is almost unspeakable. Atreus, the father of Agamemnon (the king who will lead the Greek army to Troy), had a brother Thyestes, who ran off with Atreus' wife. In response to this loss and the blow to male honor it carries, Atreus invites Thyestes to a banquet and serves him his children, cut up and cooked into a stew. Athenian democracy is the civic order created to contain the seemingly endless cycle of violence that follows in the wake of this trauma. The Oresteia links the establishment of democracy with the reinstatement of patriarchy, as Orestes, Agamemnon's son, is acquitted for the crime of killing his mother at the first recorded trial. Athena (born from the head of Zeus) casts the deciding vote in his favor, giving priority to fathers by saying: "The death of a wife who killed her husband is bad, but not so bad as the death of a father and king."

In the Book of Genesis, the trauma is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden; it too leaves a legacy of violence and betrayal. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, murders his brother Abel. In the story of Noah, God brings a flood to wipe out this history and start over, but the residue of trauma returns in Noah's drunkenness and incestuous sexuality. Jacob, with the help of his mother, steals his brother Esau's birthright. And Jacob's son Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, who envy his relationship with his father.

In these foundational stories, a trauma occurs in a triangle composed of two men and a woman. When we focus more closely on what actually happens, we see that a father or a husband's authority is challenged. Oedipus is wounded by his father and mother because he is fated to kill his father; Atreus is betrayed by his wife and his brother; Adam and Eve disobey God. What follows has the cast of tragedy, as if what happens had to happen. The order of the triangle has been challenged (father over son, man over woman), and a man, wounded in his love, responds by unleashing a cycle of violence.

Perhaps patriarchy, by establishing hierarchy in the heart of intimacy, is inherently tragic, and like all trauma survivors, we keep telling the story we need to listen to and understand. At the same time, we look for ways to break what quickly becomes a vicious cycle, searching for "a new truth...[that would] establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness." The quotation is from The Scarlet Letter, where Nathaniel Hawthorne's narrator makes the observation that the new truth must be brought by a woman, echoing a thought that, once spoken, becomes inescapable: the presence of women in a democratic society contains the seeds of transformation--a second coming, a new beginning, a civilization that is not patriarchal. This is the radical geography of love, the wildflower seeded from generation to generation, the messiah perpetually in our midst.

In Greek, the word for "soul" is psyche; it also means "breath" or "life." This ancient word carries the wisdom that we are more than our genetic makeup, more than our life histories, more than our cultural lineage. Whether conceived as a divine spark or as part of the natural wonder of the human being, the soul is the wellspring of our minds and our hearts, our voice and our capacity for resistance. But Psyche is also the name of the young woman in the ancient story about love.

My research has centered on listening for the voice of the psyche as it speaks directly and indirectly, in language and in silence--a voice often hidden in the structure of a sentence. I developed a method to guide this listening, inspired by the early work of Freud and Piaget, by literature and music, and spurred by the challenge of listening to women within a cultural acoustic that distorts their experience. I was drawn by the sound of an unmediated voice, a voice that broke free, a wild voice or what Kristin Linklater, an expert on voice in the theater, has called "the natural voice": the voice that carries rather than covers a person's inner world. I found that in order to hear this voice I had to create a resonance that would encourage the impulse to speak, and also to signal in one way or another my answer to the implicit question that I was asked explicitly one day by a woman who said: "Do you want to know what I think? Or do you want to know what I really think?" I became interested precisely in this doubling of thoughts and feelings and in the conditions under which we will reveal to others and to ourselves what we know.

In the journal he kept on his voyage to the Galapagos Islands, Darwin sketched the variation he saw among finches, collecting the first of the evidence that would lead him to posit the mechanism of natural selection as a way of explaining the origin and the extinction of species. Modifications in the beaks of birds who had migrated to a particular island in the archipelago represented adaptations to the food source of the island, making it possible for them to eat and survive. Species, although considered to be God-given, could arise and disappear through a similar process of evolution.

Adolescent girls became the Galapagos on my journey. With them, I first glimpsed evidence suggesting that what psychologists had taken to be human nature was an adaptation to a particular human landscape. Talking with girls, I heard and experienced sudden shifts between not knowing and knowing, lassitude and intense feeling, a cover story and an under-reality. In girls' intricately layered stories of love and betrayal, I saw evidence pointing to the origin of dissociative processes--splits in consciousness that were familiar to me, that became surprising only when I realized that they occurred in response to a break in relationship that girls experienced with shock. It was like working on a geological fault, the ground of relationship suddenly shifting and girls marking the shifts, registering what was happening, so that in their presence I found it easy to distinguish the experience of relationship (being in sync with another person) from what are often called relationships. As I came back to a knowing I had learned to distance myself from or discredit, I saw girls beginning not to know what they knew. Dissociation was an adaptation to a shocking break in relationship; it was a way of holding a loss often said not to be a loss, a way of holding a love that quickly came to seem incredible.

"Ourself behind ourself concealed / Should startle most," Emily Dickinson wrote, conveying the startling discovery of a hidden self. "I hid myself within myself...and quietly wrote down all my joys, sorrows and contempt in my diary." This is Anne Frank. In The Land of Look Behind, in the section "Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise," in a passage called "Obsolete Geography," Michelle Cliff, the Jamaican-born poet, associates her twelve-year-old discovery of pleasure (the taste of mangoes, the feel of water, the stirring of longing within her body) with watching a pig's throat being cut: "as her cries cease, mine begin."

"If I were to say what I was feeling and thinking, no one would want to be with me, my voice would be too loud," seventeen-year-old Iris says, half to me and half to herself. And then looking straight at me, she adds with an edge of defiance, "But you have to have relationships." "Yes," I agree. We had been listening to the honest, outspoken voices of younger girls. "But if you are not saying what you are feeling and thinking, then where are you in these relationships?" It is my question for girls and women; it is my question for myself. Iris sees the paradox in what she is saying: she has given up relationship in order to have relationships, muting her voice and concealing herself so that "she" could be with other people. Her pleasure in these relationships is compromised by her awareness of having sacrificed herself, or pleasure takes on a different meaning, referring to bodily sensations that have become divorced from or a stand-in for the pleasure of being a soul in a body living in connection with others.

In suggesting an analogy to Darwin's work on natural selection and positing dissociation as a psychic mechanism that serves an adaptive function on a cultural level, I also noticed a difference. The self that girls and women conceal, like the voice they mute or the identity they are taught to despise, is a vital, curious, pleasure-loving soul that also has adaptive value. Dissociation is a brilliant although costly way of ensuring this soul's survival. If dissociation is also the psychic mechanism that allows survival in patriarchy, an adaptation to the splits in relationship among and between men and women, the soul in its affinity to life and to love will resist this adaptation.

From the Hardcover edition.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction 3
I A Radical Geography of Love 13
II Regions of Light 65
III The Birth of Pleasure 159
Psyche and Cupid: A Summary of the Myth 233
Acknowledgments 236
A Note on Sources 240
Bibliography 242
Index 253
Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Carol Gilligan, author of The Birth of Pleasure
Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

A: Writing this book was a personal journey for me. After I wrote In a Different Voice, I remember thinking that there was a conversation under the conversation, and it had to do with love. All those concepts—self, morality, development—they were standing in a field, and the ground they were standing on was love. I wanted to write about love.  I began to collect things—the myth of Psyche and Cupid, couples in crisis, girls, novels—and move them around. A friend who is a sculptor composes some of her work with pieces you can move around, and as I assembled the pieces of this book, experimenting with different angles of composition, I felt I was coming to see into love. As I listened to people's stories about love and heard certain themes over and over again, I realized that if I could capture what I was hearing, there was a story to tell that would make sense of experiences that seemed baffling or mysterious.
Q: In a Different Voice, published in 1982, proved to be a bestseller and a major influence. How has your life and work changed since the publication of that book? Did the reaction to the book surprise you?

A: At the time I wrote the book, we had moved to a new house and with my children, I planted a large organic garden. I remember finishing the book and wanting to plant it in my garden, to shelter it from the world. I never imagined the response. I thought most people would not want to hear what I was saying, and I saw how easily it could be misconstrued. I did notanticipate being joined in the way I have been by so many people, including people whose lives, at least on the surface, seem so different from mine. In a Different Voice shows how including women's voices changes the human conversation, makes it more expansive, more real in certain ways, and that's not only for women; enlarging the conversation and changing the resonance can also encourage men to say things that they know but may have felt they couldn't speak about.
Did it change my life? Sure. It gave me a network of friends all over the world; I felt my perceptions were understood. It encouraged me to go further and to continue taking risks in my work.
Q: How do you see your work within the trajectory of feminist thought? What have been the key developments for women between In a Different Voice and The Birth of Pleasure?

A: There are two main trajectories of feminism—equality feminism and difference feminism, although actually when you think about it they are more like two steps in a dance. Equality feminism is pretty much summed up by the statement "Women's Rights are Human Rights." Seems self-evident to me. Once you agree that women are human, you get into the questions of difference feminism which are at the center of my work. What difference does it make when women enter arenas of the human world from which they were previously excluded? What do women add, what new perceptions, experiences, insights and knowledge do they bring? It's one thing to say to women, you can come into my house, you can come into every room of my house, but it's still my house. It's another to say, let's redesign the house.

I think the key development for women over the past twenty years has been that more and more women have become aware of the need to redesign the house. Certainly more women have entered men's houses, and then discovered that the structure requires them to do what men traditionally have done. One could say that women in this sense have become obsolete, like dinosaurs, since women or at least some women can be like men, but this only points to another key development during this time which has been that the old images and meanings of manhood and womanhood are themselves becoming obsolete. This is very hopeful because it means that the structures that have accommodated and promulgated patriarchy are changing.
Q: How has your research shaped this book? What about your students? Have they played a part in the development of your studies?

A: This book is personal research; it's a record of a personal journey of coming to know. While I draw on my past academic research, this is in no way a research monograph. When I draw examples from my research with girls or boys or my work with couples, my intention is to show something I came to see which shifted my thinking.

All of my academic research has been collaborative, and students have been outstanding collaborators, bringing fresh perceptions, new questions, and taking me into worlds I otherwise might not have seen. In laying out the frame for The Birth of Pleasure, an essential piece was the work with young boys that I did with Judy Chu, a graduate student. It was Chu's relationships with the boys, her insights, and the evidence of her research that made the analogy with the adolescent girls persuasive to me. Also, the "I poems" in the book which serve as sonograms of the psyche are part of a research method that my graduate students and I developed over many years, and specifically, the discovery that the first-person voice when followed through a passage often falls into a poetic cadence was the contribution of Elizabeth Debold, one of the key members of the Harvard Project. The five books reporting the research of the Harvard Project on Women's Psychology and Girls' Development were co-authored or co-edited with my students, and each collaborator now heads her own research team.
Q: What is the link between love and patriarchy as it plays out in The Birth of Pleasure?

A: There is a line at the end of Saki's "The Storyteller," where a man who has been telling a story to two unruly children on a train sums up the moral of his tale by saying, "You can't have pigs and flowers." It's a bit of a stretch and not to be taken literally, but this pretty much sums up the relationship between love and patriarchy. You can't have love and patriarchy. Love means opening yourself to another and taking the other into yourself; it means being vulnerable to other people's wants and needs; it means delighting in another person, tasting the joy of being together, weathering, exploring, embracing the difficult times; and perhaps most of all, it means being willing to change.  You'd have to be crazy in a hierarchy to leave yourself open in this way, whether you're the bottom or the top, which is why in so many relationships where people are struggling to open themselves to one another or to be vulnerable to one another, invariably they can't, and that's why these relationships are in trouble.
Q: How does the myth of Psyche and Cupid relate to the tensions and difficulties of relationships between men and women in our society?

A: The myth of Psyche and Cupid comes from Apuleius' novel, Metamorphoses, where it is presented as "an old wife's tale," told to a young woman who has been kidnapped and taken into the forest on the eve of her seemingly-perfect marriage. It's a cautionary tale about love, and I read it as a map of resistance, showing how to get out of a tragic story, like the Oedipus story, or all those stories in operas and country westerns and plays and novels where love leads to loss and pleasure to death.
It's a strikingly contemporary tale in the sense of speaking so directly to tensions and difficulties which continue to beset men and women, such as the dangers of becoming an object, the need for women to say what they know about love—to break taboos on seeing and speaking about what they know, what happens when a man can't show his love, the need for equality in love relationships, and perhaps most radically, if a woman finds herself forced to choose between staying with her husband and risking her child and herself or, to quote Hamlet, taking arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them, the better choice is to take arms and a lamp to look at the situation. What Psyche discovers in looking at her lover under the light is that the stories she was told about love and marriage are not true. The old wife's tale counters air-brushed images of love and marriage by making it clear that the labor of love which leads to the birth of pleasure is a long and difficult labor.
Q: Your work counseling couples. What do you hope to achieve through this project? What did you learn from the couples that you worked with?

A: I began my work with couples by interviewing men and women whose intimate relationships with one another had reached a point of crisis. I continued this work with Terrence Real, a couples therapist, and we saw couples together, offering counseling in exchange for their participation in our project. What I learned from the couples was that even in the midst of crisis, you can pick up the voice of pleasure, and if you follow this voice, it will lead back to a time before loss or trauma made it seem too risky or dangerous to love. By listening for the voice of pleasure as well as the signs of loss and trauma, we found ways of moving in the face of what otherwise often seemed a hopeless impasse.
I also discovered that my work with adolescent girls and young boys was an invaluable guide in the couples work, because it tuned my ear to an emotional openness in men that was quickly covered and to an honest voice in women that seemed too dangerous to express. Terry Real's ability to speak with men lovingly and truthfully opened the couples work to a kind of candor that made it possible to work very quickly because it broke the collusion that occurs in couples therapy when a therapist and a woman tacitly align to protect the vulnerability of a man. When this happens, a series of issues manifest in the couple but rooted in patriarchy never get addressed.
Q: In The Birth of Pleasure you write, "The resistance story is a psychological story set in a historical and political landscape, and both love and the soul need to be placed in a cultural framework. Then we can see why we have loved tragic stories of love…" Why, do you think love relationships in our society are so often haunted by loss and pain? Is there a way to get around this trauma within the confines of a patriarchal society?

A: One of the questions that led me to write this book is why is it so hard to resist a tragic love story, or to put it differently, why are we so drawn to tragic stories of love, where pleasure is Act I in a play that ends badly? I found myself asking what is so dangerous about pleasure and what stake do we have in the tragic ending? These questions took me into a history of loss and separation that I saw playing itself out among the young boys and the adolescent girls in my studies. They would come to a place where loss seemed inescapable, where it seemed impossible for them to stay open and present in their relationships. I observed boys around the ages of four and five beginning to cover their emotions and girls at adolescence beginning not to say what they were really thinking and feeling. I have always been grateful to the woman in one of my early studies who asked me: "Do you want to know what I think, or do you want to know what I really think?"
If the only way we can maintain relationships is by not showing what we are feeling or not saying what we are really thinking, then we end up giving up relationships for the sake of having relationships. The absurdity of this, when you think about it, is countered by the fact that we often accept it as inevitable. And I think this is one reason why many people are unhappy in love, because what is said to be love often feels like constraint.
Love relationships in our society are shadowed by the legacy of a loss that has its roots in childhood. Because this loss is often experienced as a loss of voice and connected with a feeling of being unable to speak or to say what is happening, it bears the hallmarks of trauma. One way to get around this trauma within the confines of a patriarchal society is to break this silence. The fact that more women and men are now speaking openly about what is happening or has happened in their intimate relationships is one clear sign that we are moving out of patriarchy.
Q: You explain, "To hear tragic love as a story immediately suggests the existence of other stories and also the possibility of new stories." What is this new possibility? What comes next in relationships between men and women?

A: I think we are currently witnessing the endgame of patriarchy, which makes this a very volatile time and also one that calls for creativity. I remember looking at a front-page photograph of the millennial celebration at the United Nations; the heads of most countries were there and with the exception of two or three women, they were all older men. It was a very vivid reminder that we are still living in patriarchy, but there are also many signs of change. In the U.S., for example, most families no longer fit the model of the nuclear family; love relationships are taking a variety of forms. The workplace also is changing; corporations and organizations experimenting with non-hierarchical forms of leadership and management are discovering that these changes can heighten productivity. We know now that girls' education and women's literacy are among the best predictors of economic growth in developing countries as well as of population control. And while it is true that a disproportionate number of women are living in poverty and we continue to tolerate high levels of violence among men, it is also true that many constraints on relationships between men and women are being lifted as more women gain economic independence and more men realize the costs of adhering to traditional norms of masculinity.
What comes next for relationships between men and women? If we don't turn back from the changes initiated by the liberation movements of the mid-twentieth century, what comes next is the birth of pleasure. This is where the future lies. But it is important to say that by pleasure I don't mean titillation or hedonism as it's commonly understood; I mean our capacity for delight, for joy.  Once feminism is understood not as a battle between the sexes but a move to free both women and men from constraints that have limited their capacity to love and live fully, it becomes clear that feminism is one of the great liberation movements in human history.
Q: You use many sources—from Freud, Michael Ondaatje, and Toni Morrison to dialogues of couples in crisis to ancient myths. How did you select these examples and was it difficult to bring them all together to tell one coherent story?

A: I cast a wide net, drawing in Anne Frank and Proust, Shakespeare and popular songs, Emily Dickinson and Arundhati Roy because I felt it was important to draw evidence from the stories of our culture. We are living the struggle between love and patriarchy in the novels we read and the dreams we dream as well as in our daily lives. I wanted to include writers living in different times and places, and I was particularly drawn to post-colonial writers who are chronicling the move out of colonization. Knowing what you know is a central theme in my book, and I chose to tell an ancient love story along with a range of contemporary love stories as a way of showing how widespread this knowing of love is and also for how long it has been in our midst.
In drawing from my research, I highlight moments that led me to new insights in an effort to make it clear how I came to see what I saw and also to give readers a chance to see for themselves. Where I include my own dreams and memories, it is because they served for me as a kind of epiphany—sudden moments of illumination that occurred in the course of this journey.
The challenge I faced in writing the book led me to create a form that could hold the sensations of love and pleasure and the associative nature of psychological discovery while also making clear the logic or connections that bring the various parts together to form a coherent whole. I often thought of orchestration where a composer uses different instruments to carry the parts of a piece and then explores and develops their relation to one another through counterpoint and harmony. I found it an exciting and difficult challenge, and the journey of writing this book became one of personal transformation, leading me away from the conventions of academic writing and into something that felt much freer and also more embracing of the story I set out to tell.
Q: Jane Fonda has recently given Harvard University the funds to launch the Harvard Center on Gender and Education in your honor. What sorts of plans are in the works for this center, and will you be involved in its development?

A: I admire Jane Fonda for her willingness to put herself on the line and devote her resources to what she believes in. Her generous gift will change the landscape of Harvard, and the plans for the new center are very exciting. The map of development I lay out in this book provides the inspiration for the Center. The initial project, led by Dr. Janie Ward, is an alliance with educators in elementary schools and high schools with the goal of addressing risks to children's resiliency that are associated with gender.
The Center will be international in scope, and as part of its mandate, the Graduate School of Education will collaborate with at least two other divisions of Harvard in undertaking joint research and scholarly projects. Jane Fonda's gift makes it possible to build on the gifts of four other women whose vision led to the creation of Harvard's first chair in Gender Studies. The program their generosity initiated will now grow considerably as a result of this new funding, bringing scholars from all over the world and supporting the work of research fellows and graduate students.
Personally, it is a great honor and deeply gratifying to me, in that work I started with my students at Harvard will continue and become a permanent part of the university's research and teaching mission. I have a great investment in the flourishing of this center. Jane knew of my plan to move to New York to become University Professor at NYU, and we agreed that my continuing involvement with the Center will take the form of serving as chair of the advisory committee.
From the Hardcover edition.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2006

    The book is brilliant!

    I have read a lot books on love and psychology, but I have not seen such a master in language and research as Carol Gilligan, the book is a must read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)