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The Human Nature Review Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 507-508 ( 2 November )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/gilligan.html

Book Review

The Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love 
by Carol Gilligan
Chatto & Windus, London, 2002. 253 pages

Reviewed by Roy Sugarman PhD, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist, Glenside Campus/RAH, Clinical Lecturer, Dept of Psychiatry, Adelaide University, P O Box 17, Fullarton SA 5063, Australia.

It is no surprise that Carol Gilligan writes from the same publishing stable as Susan Faludi. I first encountered her work while writing my master’s dissertation on Freud, Feminism and Family therapy. Both became my heroes, my favourite authors. It is ironic that two feminists would come to be the only writers who stir my own voice.

Faludi, in her last work, “Stiffed” spoke for male voices that couldn’t be heard, there is no ‘Masculinist’ movement, there is no vehicle for the male voice in patriarchy, for years thought to stifle female development in the service of a male-value dominated world.

Countless women would find no educational goals set by parents, all given up to their brother’s, expected to be breadwinners, such vilification would follow my mother to her grave, after driving her to work at 13.

Patriarchal value systems have much to answer for, but in whose voice?

Gilligan moves on from her previous work In a different voice (1982), where she pointed out that the Oedipal resolution did not lead to a lower imperfect morality, but merely to a different moral ‘voice’ for girls growing up in the Freudian world. In this work, Gilligan traces the human voice as life in a world dominated by patriarchal values stifles it in a form of dissociation, robbing girls of their voice. She does this by utilising the literature of Anne Franks, the Greek tragedies, Psyche and Cupid, and others, juxtaposing it with the voices of young girls, and marriages in trouble. Using Gilligan’s words, (page 161), patriarchy drains pleasure because patriarchy leads us to cover vulnerability. The symptoms of this loss of ‘voice’ are similar to dissociation, living life ‘as if’, a feeling of alienation, from which only the sensation of pleasure allows for associative relationship with ourselves, a reuniting of cognition and emotions.

A young teenager, followed by Gilligan for five years, writes that at age 13 she is no longer stupid, meaning now she is no longer honest about her emotions. It has to be heartbreaking stuff for any parent bringing up young girls to watch, but necessary reading for any parent, let alone us shrinks.

Or as Gilligan puts it: “ It is also true that men’s histories frequently chronicle a sacrifice of relationship made earlier in childhood, often in the name of love and for the sake of manhood. We know this story; it is the quest story, the hero with a thousand faces. It is the quintessential story of patriarchy, the story of men’s initiation into the battle between the good and the bad guys.” (Page 162)

So, like Faludi, Gilligan investigates the choices made between being in relationship and having a relationship, between living in synchrony with another person and fitting oneself into a form, in paradox after paradox of moving forward, but sustaining loss.

Like the face we had before we were born, Gilligan searches in the writings of young girls and troubled couples for the world before dissociation.

If the agent of enculturation is a mix between our visual and verbal working memories, then that is the object of Gilligan’s study.

In order to understand her, I sat and wrote of my own life before dissociation, and found to my astonishment a world encompassing 87 pages of Word. I had to rewrite it, much as Anne Frank did, to remove the Voice from the pages, make it look as if there were another party watching these words emerge, to avoid the exposure to myself, become a distant and divorced shrink watching me divulging all the abysses of loss that allowed for my mature development.

But that is the effect of Gilligan and her ilk, if there is such an ilk. Immersed in their narrative is the appeal to oneself at all times, as she becomes self-reflective, so does her reader. After all, all therapy is self-therapy, all evaluation of the watched changes the watcher forever, and this is what good writing does, hopefully. More importantly, Gilligan alerts us to the realisation that along with us, our families and others were enduring similar loss, registering the loss I was experiencing too, as it all went wrong for the heroes of my story.

Insight for men is hard, we only do this in the test world of success in business, sport, academia, not in our relationships with others, and insight in this case may mean turning Hegel on his head in turn.

Alvin Gouldner writes that any theory must do repressive work to maintain itself, any system or person can only amount to something on condition it forgoes alternatives and not be something else. Sacrifice and loss are built into the stories enumerated by Gilligan, facing the anomalies and paradoxes of culture. We have to draw lines and separate ourselves from our theoretical enemies (Gouldner again). But we then face the problem of fidelity to our own past. As Whitehead suggested, we have to discover what we see, not just look at it.

The loss of the voice, says Gilligan, is “yanked” into the Oedipal story, so dangerous for us to abandon patriarchy for love, democracy, and pleasure.

Gilligan reminds us of how powerful the voice is. As Freud’s father awaits burial, he is now ordered in a dream to close the eyes of the corpse, as Oedipus closes his eyes, blinding himself. So the wounded son becomes Psyche’s lover, and so the story becomes the “polestar” of democracy, the road, not royal, to freedom, equality between male and woman, the conditions for the birth of pleasure; the Oedipus tragedy becomes the lodestar of patriarchy (page 228).

You must read the book, and close it with a sigh, left restless to write in your own voice. Once having read it, you have done the Whitehead thing, you can no longer read it, you have discovered it, and now hear the voice in every tiny child/woman you meet, and get close enough to, or so it seems.

The loss of innocence or honesty, the deals we must make to move into adulthood, the dilemma of the cognitive/rational/emotional Armageddon is well integrated into a stunning book, written in Gilligan’s calm, emotionally relevant style, and available to anyone who is prepared to feel.


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© Roy Sugarman.

Citation

Sugarman, R. (2002). Review of The Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love by Carol Gilligan. Human Nature Review. 2: 507-508.

 
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