Monday, January 26, 2009

Differences between the sexes are both deeply engrained and imaginatively galvanising

Intimate Relations: The Natural History of Desire by Liam Hudson (Author), Bernadine Jacot (Author)

Hudson and Jacot (The Way Men Think, 1992) make a perplexing and incoherent effort to analogize intimacy and art. The authors declare "that psychological differences between the sexes are both deeply engrained and imaginatively galvanising" and "that there exists a parallel between art and intimate relations." Unfortunately, very little that follows has anything to do with these potentially engaging assertions.

For example, they devote two chapters to a "thought experiment" in which they describe several historically important women, including Margaret Mead and Kate Millett. The experiment requires imagining these figures as men, with the assumption that, as such, their stories would not make sense. The experiment fails thoroughly, however, for well-read readers of gender and sexuality literature, possibly because the authors dismiss these fields as postmodern and liberal to the point of irrelevance. Basically, they see men and women as fundamentally different because of early relationships with parents. Based in Freudian thought, they believe that men and women grow up with different complexes, and "wounds," which color future interactions.

The authors are exclusively concerned with "the mutual fascination of individuals who are categorically dissimilar" in terms of biological sex, so although they bill this as a history of desire and intimacy, only heterosexual love is addressed. And many of their characterizations of patterns of loving are rooted in stereotypes and structural inequities, criticisms of which they discard as extremist rhetoric of feminists and other radical groups. In their final analysis, intimacy and art are comparable because they both spring from the imagination, what Hudson and Jacot see as the "mind's central function." But there never emerges a natural history of intimacy at all. What could have been a compelling discussion about the imagination is cluttered with conservative biases and false interpretations of social scientific data. (Kirkus Reviews)

Product Description In their previous book, "The Way Men Think", Liam Hudson and Bernadine Jacot explored the dislocation experienced by all male children as they separate from their mothers and identify with their fathers. This book focuses on the experience of women and the way they relate to men. As they grow up, small girls are not "wounded" like their brothers, but nonetheless acquire a burden (or "incubus") that distorts their perception of intimacy. For reasons intrinsic to their development, the book argues, women will find all heterosexual relationships troubling.

Examining the differences between the minds of men and women, the authors describe the incompatibilities upon which intimacies between the sexes seem so often to founder. They argue that the dissimilarities between men and women are not an obstacle to real intimacy, but its prior condition: intimacy is energising precisely because it joins like to unlike. It is its ambiguity which makes erotic closeness enduringly compelling. Intimate relationships should - like works of art - be understood as exercises of the imagination.

This work offers detailed accounts of the lives of remarkable women - Vera Britain, Kate Millett, Margaret Thatcher and Margaret Mead - showing how the thoughts and feelings of the two sexes are subtly but systematically off-set from one another. It analyzes the resonances between the public and the private in particular works of art, and uses literary texts - from Truman Capote and Doris Lessing to John Milton - to establish a theoretical framework within which the phenomena of intimacy can be considered and men and women begin to understand the lives they share. [4:46 PM]

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