Book review on Love…

As a contrast to the last couple posts, here is a review done in 2012 on All About Love…(published in Metapsychology Reviews)

Appignanesi, L. (2011) All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Several years ago, while reading a review of a then new book by Peter Ackroyd, I was struck by the wording used to describe London. Having lived in London for many years, I thought of the city as vibrantly alive, certainly one with personality, psychological spirit and flavor.  The review described London as a living organism.  The reviewer emphasized that London “…can be located nowhere in particular… its circumference is everywhere.”  This particular wording persisted in my memory.

In reading Appignanesi’s All About Love, I kept coming back to those words and that idea  of something alive, perhaps growing, sometimes decaying, at other times quietly subsisting.  That is, love, in a similar way, might be brilliant, lustful, subtle, or alternatively, be quite crepuscular in nature – amorphous – yet often in the background as twilight may sometimes be experienced.  Perceiving love as an organism allows one the freedom to dissect that body, as Appignanesi not only suggests in her using the word anatomy in her title, but also does brilliantly throughout the book – dissecting the anatomy of that unruly emotion.

Through her analysis, Appignanesi uses literature, history, and film to illustrate – to enlighten our understanding of the intensity of our desires and emotions, of our ambivalence and our conflicts – as we grapple with our own individual stories of love.  The book begins with a personal perspective highlighting her experiences as a child, as a teen, and as an adult. The book moves on to a detailed and incredibly thorough – and thoughtful contemporary examination of love.  Using psychoanalytic insights, developmental concepts, scientific findings and research for support, she plays with how love as a living organism has been captured throughout history in our philosophical investigations, in our literature, and even in our therapeutic attempts to right peoples’ lives.

From this personal perspective and the explanation of her interest in the subject, Appignanesi goes on to anatomize our first loves in youth, our love in marriage. She dissects the emotions involved in ‘triangles’ and families,  and finishes by looking at friendship, the latter being something on which Montaigne had much to say. Montaigne’s observations are used throughout the book to illustrate the historical perspective on how this emotion is experienced, and to draw some generalizations that have relevance in contemporary views – be those generalizations drawn from psychological and sociological research, or developmental theory.   More specifically, Appignanesi immerses us into the dynamics of this emotion.

To do this, individual stories are the medium.  That is, how do we ‘live’ love; how do we come to not only experience love in our daily lives, but begin to ‘know’ love – as Forster attempted to show us in Howard’s End, or Cavell in his philosophical writings on reciprocity in a relationship?  Freud noted for us that, “Side by side with the exigencies of life, love is the great educator.”  This education – this ‘work’ as Rilke put it, is expressed, “For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”  Thus, the conviction of E.M. Forster in ‘only connect’ demonstrates the direction of our desire to be connected in love with another – and to have what Stendhal suggests: “Half – the most beautiful half – of life is hidden from him who has not loved passionately.”  This ‘crystallization,’ of love, as Stendhal wrote of it, is yet another way to depict the transformative quality that Appignanesi wants to illustrate through the use of literary, film, and psychological references.

The historical elements of understanding love – its anatomy – are also emphasized in this work. She does this in a penetrating fashion, keeping one’s attention drawn to the ancients, the classical elements, and yet drawing these together with our contemporary perspectives in our current literature, in the medium of film and how this absorbed within our culture, that is, within our cultural understanding of love and its mishaps.  Appignanesi also characterizes how Freud wanted to convey that sense of cure through love – a conception that has been detailed now in so many theoretical and clinical viewpoints in the psychological literature.

Appignanesi has given us a sophisticated and an extraordinarily well textured analysis – one that will expand our perspectives on this organism we designate ‘love’.  Concluding with a comment by Rilke, the essence of the book’s message may be conveyed: “It is not enough for two people to find each other, it is also very important that they find each other at the right moment and hold deep, quiet festivals in which their desires merge so that they can fight as one against storm.  Before two people can experience unhappiness together, they have to have been blissful together and possess a sacred memory of that time, which evokes a kindred smile on their lips and a kindred longing in their souls.”

Rudy Oldeschulte trained in psychoanalysis with Anna Freud and her colleagues in London, and in law at DePaul University. He now has a clinical practice of psychotherapy, supervision and teaching.




Filed under psychoanalytic psychotherapy/counseling, Reviews, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Book review on Love…

  1. “The reviewer emphasized that London ‘…can be located nowhere in particular… its circumference is everywhere.’”

    That is a really interesting way of seeing things. I guess it can be applied to a lot of different things. Thanks for relating it to love.

    • Good morning. Though I relate it to love in the review, the book on London is brilliant…Long read, but the kind one can dip into and out of easily (not how I’d describe love, but the book on London, yes).

  2. Pingback: Book review on Love… | MadeleineMaya

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