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Birth of Pleasure by Carol Gilligan

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Hardcover with some spotting on dust jacket, Stated First Edition, good Condition, Never Read.

Why do humans experience so much pain before finding pleasure in love? Gilligan, who revolutionized gender studies with her examination of girls’ moral development (In a Different Voice, 1982), offers some tentative answers.

She opens with a quotation, “The power of love upsets the order of things,” and throughout the text considers that disturbing power. There are two roads, one leading to life, the other to death, Moses said after descending from Mt. Sinai; by urging followers to choose life, he said in effect: Choose love. But, Gilligan (Humanities/NYU) wonders, what is the best route to find love? The allusion to Moses is just one of hundreds of allusions, as Gilligan seeks a part of the answer in stories. Adam and Eve at odds with God; Cupid, wounded with his own arrow for love of Psyche; teenager Anne Frank writing in her diary while hiding from the Nazis; the doomed love of Almasy and Katharine in The English Patient—these are among the stories from which Gilligan derives or tests her concepts. In the contemporary world, she tries to understand the life-to-life, generation-to-generation shift from pain to pleasure by entering classrooms to explore the minds of students. In further search of enlightenment, she joins an experienced couples therapist as he meets with his clients, relating their suffering and successes while protecting their privacy with made-up names. Each page here contains rewards, but the text does not hang together well as a cohesive narrative. Gilligan jumps around in time for no obvious reason. She introduces characters real and fictional, drops them for many pages, then picks up their stories again, forcing readers to flip back to the previous reference. Though it’s an intellectual tour de force, it’s organizationally challenged.

Despite structural flaws, a provocative liberal education between covers.