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all about love by bell hooks

Feminist writer bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions is a passionate exploration of how we do and appeal to how we should love. What does love mean? Is it a feeling or an action? Why are younger generations so cynical about love, focused only on their own progress in society? How can we heal from our heartbreak and scepticism, individually as well as culturally?

In eleven concise and fast-paced chapters, hooks explains how we love and why that is based in our childhood and reminds us that loving enables compassion and forgiveness and can thus heal divides – in our personal lives or in the wider society. Her investigation starts on the observation that many shy away from offering a proper definition for love. According to hooks, love is a verb, it shows itself in our actions and behaviours towards others, rather than being a passive emotion that we “fall” into almost accidentally. This distanced, passive relationship we pretend to have with love, seems to be at the origin of a cultural struggle to trust in and find it. If love is created through our actions there are certain ingredients essential to its flourishing: hooks lists care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, trust and honest communication. Where these are lacking you cannot speak of love. This leads her to the perhaps challenging notion that love and (any form of) abuse can never coexist. Who neglects and mistreats cannot claim to do so in the name of love. In turn this suggests, that we can choose freely who and how we love. Rather than falling in love, we decide how to act towards others – in whatever relationship we might be with them.

This understanding of loving form the core of a love ethic that bell hooks establishes and recommends. If we chose to act lovingly, we can overcome many issues we face as societies. However, rather than love, selfishness and narcissism has ruled our behaviour under capitalism. More involved with advancing our own lives according to certain predetermined milestones and career ladders, we forget that it is community which makes us strong as humans. hooks asks us to give our all in relationships and to see our own well-being as directly connected to that of those around us.

All About Love: New Visions contains some fascinating insights and analyses. Especially the understanding of love as a verb resonates with me and my view of the world. Her writing is powerful and flows easily through her philosophical investigations. As a reader you can feel how urgently she seeks to make decisive statements. This is convincing at times but occasionally runs the risk of sounding preachy – leaving no space for arguments. Many of her observations are heart-breaking in the weight of their truth and in my opinion much of this book truly should be taken to heart as a guide of how to interact with others and ourselves. At times, however, arguments were oversimplified or lacked the concreteness she announced as her aim in writing this book. Towards the end, it became a little too religious for my taste and at a certain point hooks seemed to be repeating herself, rather than offering new arguments. Still, overall I find All About Love: New Visions to be wonderfully executed, filled with views that, even if they cannot convince you, provide great food for thought.

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