Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love

Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love

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by Carol Gilligan
     
 

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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 couplesSee more details below

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

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

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400040186
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/03/2002
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
1,055,005
File size:
0 MB

Read an Excerpt

A Radical Geography of Love

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


--YEHUDA AMICHAI

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
enough?
How far into the
earth
can vision go and
still be

love?


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.

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