"All About Love" and Concrete Things

I finished reading bell hooks’s book All About Love on the R train this morning somewhere underneath Queens Boulevard.  I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I never found myself lost in its pages.  Not really even close.  In fact, it reminded me that speaking about ideas is exceedingly difficult and something that I want to focus on doing well.  I often don’t.

All About Love is hooks’s attempt to redefine what the word “love” means and it’s philosophically fascinating.  The idea, however, is a slippery one and her manner of arguing her point is equally difficult to grasp for any length of time.  She deals mostly in abstractions and uses words with amorphous definitions that begin to fold into each other like the ocean and sky at the horizon after staring too long without my glasses.  For example:

“Our collective fear of death is a disease of the heart.  Love is the only cure.  Many people approach death with despair because they realize they have not lived their lives as they wanted to.  They never found their ‘true selves’ or they never found the love their hearts longed to know.  Sometimes, facing death they offer themselves the love they did not offer for most of their lives.  They give themselves acceptance, the unconditional love that is the core of self-love.”

This passage is ripped from context, to be sure, but it is representative.  Hers is a book ostensibly intended to redefine a term we use to describe an emotion, action, or state of being, but her arguments rest tenuously upon a stack of similar terms to which she devotes considerably less time.  The book redefines “love” but just this brief passage employs as part of its assertion the terms “fear,” “disease,” “despair,” “acceptance,” and (if we include ‘self-love’) the word “love” appears five separate times.

There is no indication of what, precisely, denotes “fear” or how the disease of the heart manifests.  No indication of what that cure actually does.  No description of despair, explanation of how to know when someone has found their ‘true self,’ what that self entails, what the love for which they longed may have looked like, or how acceptance or self-love shows itself in her reader’s life.

There is nothing to tie these ideas to anything concrete.

To be fair, I have a similar problem with most sociological and political writing.  It is frequently short on action and images.  It remains divorced from heat and texture and sound.  I have a hard time finding such writing interesting even when it may be persuasive should I wade through it.