Laura Kipnis offers a thinking person’s guide to sexual politics in contemporary America, combining the analysis of an academic critic with the verve of a trade writer. In Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (Grove, 1996; Duke University Press, 1999), she turns customary thinking about pornography around to look at the class politics running through judgments about it. And in Against Love: A Polemic (Pantheon, 2003), she examines marriage, adultery and other cornerstones of our culture, and how they entwine with work.
Kipnis began as an avant-garde videographer, producing Your Money or Your Life (1982), Ecstasy Unlimited: The Interpenetration of Sex and Capital (1985), A Man’s Woman (1988) and Marx: The Video (1990). Through the 1990s, she turned more to nonfiction, publishing in mainstream magazines, including Harper’s, the Village Voice and The New York Times Magazine, as well as in academic journals such as Critical Inquiry. Her first book, Ecstasy Unlimited: On Sex, Capital, Gender, and Aesthetics (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), includes essays on feminism and postmodernism as well as three videoscripts. Bound and Gagged continues Kipnis’s examination of gender and sexuality, as does Against Love, which draws on a 1998 essay, “Adultery,” from Critical Inquiry. Since the time of this interview, she has gone on to publish The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability (Pantheon, 2006), How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior (Metropolitan, 2010) and Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation (Metropolitan, 2014).
Kipnis attended the San Francisco Art Institute (BFA, 1978) and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (MFA, 1982). Since 1991 she has taught in the Radio, Television and Film Department at Northwestern University.
This interview took place on May 9th, 2003 in New York City. It was conducted and edited by Jeffrey J. Williams and transcribed by Laura Rotunno.
Jeffrey Williams: I just read the proofs of Against Love last week and it’s a tour de force. You write with a lot of brio. I can see how it’s consistent with your earlier work, like Ecstasy Unlimited and Bound and Gagged, in that it takes up sexuality, domesticity and politics, but it’s a departure in its style. Bound and Gagged is a trade book and certainly written in a more compelling way than most academic books, but Against Love is a kind of rollercoaster, almost like an extended stand-up performance. How does it connect with your earlier work?