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Love, Qualified, posted May 5, 2007 at 01:23 PM

Sometimes when reading the newspaper, one stumbles over a phrase and asks himself, "Why would the writer write this?" In his review of the film "Away From Her"in The New York Times, A.O. Scott offered an unusual wording, a qualifying of love, that had this effect on me. In the article Scott's speaking about the book by Alice Munro's on which the movie is based. He says:

There is, in Ms. Munro’s mature work, a flinty wisdom about heterosexual love, a skepticism about romantic ideals that does not altogether deny their power or necessity. Ms. Polley, rather remarkably for someone still in her 20s, shows an intuitive grasp of this wisdom and a welcome, unsentimental interest in the puzzles and pleasures of a long, imperfect marriage.

"Flinty wisdom about heterosexual love." Does he mean that Munro doesn't offer any wisdom about homosexual love? Or if she does that said wisdom isn't "flinty"? Does he mean that any wisdom about heterosexual love would necessary be different from homosexual love? Or does he mean Munro's particular gift is in the heterosexual love wisdom department?

I'm less interested in this as a gay man than I am as a writer. I can't quite get my head around what's going on culturally in this sentence. In a review of a film that is clearly about a man and a woman, why would such a qualifier be needed?

Perhaps the answer lies in Munro's writing, with which I am not familiar. Or perhaps A.O. Scott has a particular insight into homosexual love and when he reads Munro's descriptions of it he wrinkles his nose--"Nope, no wisdom here." I doubt this (his wikipedia profile says he lives with his wife and kids).

Perhaps what Scott means is not "heterosexual" love, but "marital" love. After all, the couple in the story are married, and have been married for a long time. Not even the most enduring gay marriages, after all, can compete with this, as gay marriage as an institution has only been around since Denmark first started marrying gay couples in 1989 (neither Ms. Munro nor Mr. Scott is Danish). I wonder what William Safire (of the New York Times Magazine's "On Language") would make of it. No doubt he'd say something about the political correctness of qualifying the word love, now that that other love dares to speak it's name.

Anyway, now that I've thought about it as a writer, let me offer my opinion as a gay man: I love this sentence! It's interesting to me to further qualify romantic love as heterosexual in the most mainstream of newspapers. As if heterosexual love were some exotic new-fangled brand of love that you'll probably hear about someday soon if your teenage kids are corrupt enough and get caught doing it. Heterosexuals have made such a mess of love--Divorce! Domestic violence! Bad interior decorating!--I say, let the wisdom flow, Ms. Munro--the world needs it.


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