Response to “Bad Romance”

Dear Editors,

It was with some surprise that I learned of Emily Gould’s ad hominem attack on me at nplusonemag.com (“Bad Romance,” November 30).

Her vitriol against my new book, A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the 21st Century, seems based, overwhelmingly and inexplicably, on her reading of its Acknowledgments section.

While declaring that Acknowledgments are out of bounds to reviewers, she proceeds to attack me for using this section of the book to thank and briefly characterize the persons who contributed to it. Such “florid” thanks prove, she asserts, that what only recently looked like a literary polemic ranging in subject matter from Socrates to Sartre is, in fact, a narcissistic autobiography: The lover I most admire, she claims, is myself.

Never mind that the word “I” does not fall until page 275—and that page 275 is the last page of the afterword. Never mind that my acknowledgments spend more time on my infant daughter, literary agent, and college composition teacher than on any lover. But when Emily Gould senses an absence of venom she reaches for her gun.

Gould is the person, after all, who “created a small-scale publishing industry out of mutual abuse” [Nick Denton, Gawker.com. —Ed.] with her own ex-boyfriend, a colleague at Gawker, the celebrity-stalking gossip site for Peeping Toms at which she made her reputation a few years ago. (She slammed her boyfriend on her blog, her boyfriend slammed her in the New York Post, she slammed him back in the New York Times Magazine—you get the picture.) To lose even a few of the thousands of pages of abuse she has publicly heaped on the men in her life, “I’d have to destroy the whole internet,” she has written in the New York Times.

And this woman is calling another woman a narcissist. For using one paragraph—in a career—to thank the persons she has loved. This is “flaunting [my] amorous credentials,” she says. Compared to whom? Ms. Gould—big surprise—is presently at work on a memoir.

Ms. Gould well knows that I’m not the “corduroyed fattish academic” to whom she likens me in the opening of her article. She has realized, no doubt, that I’m one of the very women she describes in an article about hatred between competing “girls” (“What Are Women Fighting About?” More Intelligent Life, web supplement to The Economist, November 2009)—a piece in which she pledges not to hate other women writers anymore. It is a pledge she obviously made too soon.

Had Emily Gould managed to make it past my acknowledgments, she might have seen that A Vindication of Love is not a book that offers “advice” or prescriptions, but a book that proffers provocations, antidotes against prevailing cliché, invitations to risk, to reinvent, to dream outside the box. The stories and the arguments I consider are not models of balance, safety or follow-these-steps pragmatism. They are tales of extremes, of madness, of beauty. “We need not imitate their excesses, but we gain everything from seizing their inspiration.” (Vindication, p. 141)

Probably the most important point of Vindication, however, is that today’s feminism needs to move forward: to move forward by embracing romantic love in a way it has not been able (sometimes for good reason) to embrace it in the past. We cannot go into the second decade of the 21st century—enlightened women and men that we hope we are—renouncing a part of ourselves so central, an instinct so vital, a calling so fierce, a form of courage, creativity and initiative so indispensable to us. “Love can be a form of feminism,” I state at the opening of my book: The unfinished business of feminism is love.

This thesis—in those very words—was, bizarrely enough, the subject of a panel debate hosted in Manhattan by n+1 on the same day that its critic was driven “bonkers” by my book. I was told nothing of this panel. My thesis is unacknowledged in n+1‘s public invitation. This fits, I suppose, with Emily Gould’s modus operandi: trash and dispose.

Cristina Nehring


Editors’ Response:

We’re grateful to Cristina Nehring for her interesting letter, though we dissent from her characterization of the review and our reviewer. For the record, while Nehring’s book is much on people’s minds these days, and two of the panelists spoke about it at length on Monday evening, the phrase “unfinished business [or work] of feminism” appears nowhere in her book, though at one point Nehring writes: “Feminism has brought many good things. It’s brought half the human population the right to be ambitious, the right to be political, the right to be sexually playful. One of the few things feminism has not yet brought womankind—and indeed has helped torpedo—is the right to be romantic.” No question we are thinking on similar tracks.

The language for the title of the panel emerges from Meghan Falvey’s essay, “Woman, the New Social Problem,” which appeared in n+1, Issue 5: “For feminism’s most important unfinished work lies precisely here: in a redefinition of our attitude toward care and care workers, and in securing for them social recognition and material support—full rights of social citizenship, in academic feminist parlance. … In [the meantime], we deploy an absurd logic that forces us to compare the value of incommensurable goods: Do we trade love for success? Children for ambition? Care of others for our responsibility to ourselves? There’s no reason love should be the hook on which to hang the meaning of our lives; but, these days, wanting or having it at all provokes anxiety. Under such circumstances, who wouldn’t look askance at love? What’s it going to cost, after all? Can we possibly afford it?”

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