Review: Laura Kipnis on COVID: ‘Love in the Time of Contagion’

on the shelf

Love in the Time of Contagion: Diagnosis

By Laura Kepnes
Pantheon: 224 pages, $26

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Not surprisingly, the most powerful chapter in Laura Kepnes’ new book, Love in a Time of Contagion, is Vile Bodies: Sexual Difference and Its Discontents.

In the past 10 years, a critic has written about the fallout from #MeToo and the “massive turn of feminism.” After her article on accusations of sexual harassment made against Northwestern University professor Peter Ludlow appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kepnes was the subject of a Title IX investigation. She was acquitted, but when her latest book, Unwelcome Developments: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, was published in 2017, one of Ludlow’s accusers sued Kepnes and her publisher, HarperCollins.

It makes perfect sense that Kipnis would like to influence #MeToo, but what does #MeToo have to do with the COVID-19 pandemic? The two often attack the same host: Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault and contracted COVID in prison in March 2020, while Donald Trump, who has also been accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment and assault, assured the country that the virus wasn’t a huge problem. (The then-President Trump contracted COVID in October 2020.)

It has been said, says Kepnes, “The body of a leader is indicative of the dilemmas of a nation.” How terrifying! But for Kepnes, it’s not just about gross men, but rather our disgust with heterosexual intercourse. Kipnis writes: “The fact that women find men disgusting is a recent achievement.”

She continues, “It makes me wonder, to what extent has women’s increased financial independence, including the choice to live without a man or to choose homosexuality in any of its flavours, have made men seem more aggressive and disgusting these days, including their jokes and tempering flair?” To put the question in terms More inclusive, can the opposite sex survive gender parity?”

I appreciate the provocation. There is something cheerful about the idea that women no longer have to put up with strong men if they are ugly. But shouldn’t the goal be for men to cede power over women, no matter what they look like? Also: “Choose” anomaly?

There is a lot to break down in the Vile Bodies chapter: Discussion BDE; the breakdown of Anthony Weiner and Jeffrey Tobin; Adjusting behavior outside the office (“Is treating the workforce more humane when there is no “off the clock?”); Asia Argento and “sexually vitriolic” behaviors such as “hints, caresses, banter, and “stolen kisses.”).

“For many women, especially in terms of gender persuasion, it is these in-between areas that make life worth living,” Kepnes writes.

It may be so for Kepnes and some of her friends, but to say to many women”Especially of gender persuasion” — the reader, this writer spit out her coffee.

This passage is a fine example of where Kepnes can take a step forward and back again: an accusation of capitalism’s blanket interference in our lives, quickly followed by the assertion that similar transgression, in the form of unwarranted sexual intrusions, “makes life worth living.” .”

Other book chapters – “Love and Extinction”; “Love on the Rocks”, on dependence in relationships and alcohol; and “Love and Mayhem,” about the difference between Kipnis’ experiences and those of her student Zelda, “queer, Black, and very online”—feels hollow, especially compared to the liveliness with which Kipnis attacks the giant finger-wiggling sexual misconduct.

Amusing the intent of the majority of this book, which is to investigate how the pandemic has affected our relationships, is a big question, especially when Kipnis excludes the experience of parents, caregivers, and those who have experienced a heavy toll: the loss of ability, of loved ones and their health. Although it’s bloated[s] Marx” – “We do not make love under the conditions we choose, we make love under the conditions we inherit” – her book misses the opportunity to talk about how the lack of sexual desire may reflect the truths revealed by the pandemic: the crisis of work and care is of shocking proportions.

The book begins by saying, “If you’re reading this, you recently survived a massive global extinction event, congratulations.” On another but not entirely unrelated topic, how is your love life? Ultimately, I’m not convinced that solitude (whether it’s a partner or not) has had a huge impact on our understanding of love. Kepnes’ questions about monogamy, and especially heterosexuality, seem to be worth asking. It was there before – and during the pandemic. Hopefully, by the end of all this, we won’t be so exhausted to keep asking them questions.

Can we have a heterosexual without a heterosexual? Kipnis asks. I think the answer is a resounding yes, especially if we ever hope to dismantle the harsh economic structures that have reasserted themselves during a generational health emergency, forcing women to leave their jobs and the working class to sacrifice their own safety.

Kipnis concludes the book with a collection of anecdotes I read online during the pandemic: the miserable, the bored, and the excited who air their grievances in a time of contagion. One person wrote, “Our relationship requires a more social village than I realized.” “One person is not enough for me.” I wonder what might be enough, or at least closer to it—we ask ourselves, Kepnes wrote, “Do we feel good?” – is the place to start.

Ferry’s latest book is Silent Cities: New York.

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