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Nearly 100 pages into her memoir In Search of Pure Lust, Lise Weil quotes Adrienne Rich: “I choose to love this time for once with all my intelligence.” This approach to loving seems to be the exact conceit of Weil’s intimate memoir. Frequent references to H.D., Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly–as well as run-ins in with Audre Lorde–work to create a robust, and sometimes surprising, portrait of the second wave feminist movement. Throughout In Search of Pure Lust, Weil is driven by this intellectual, all-in loving. In her many relationships, Weil lusts for woman not only as partners and lovers, but as poets, scholars, and visionaries.
Born into an elegant family, and awed by her bookish father, Weil was instilled with an early appreciation for artistry and culture. Her father was Jewish, Harvard-educated, “mustachioed, [and] rarely in anything but his Brooks Brothers suit and tie.” He was also unfaithful, sometimes using his daughter to help him woo mistresses in his personal library, including Weil’s married school teacher. Weil’s mother, on the other hand, was frequently written off as a “a Nordic beauty” without class or culture. In Pure Lust, Weil revisits her childhood devotion to her father. What does it mean, Weil seems to wonder, to learn to love women from a man like my father?
By 1976, Weil was learning to love women in her own way. All of Weil’s relationships are colorful, traumatic, and taciturn. There is an earnestness to Pure Lust; the same natal excitement Weil brings to her new lovers and friends is the same she brings to the women’s movement. In 1982, Weil founded the award-winning radical feminist magazine Trivia: Voices of Feminism, which was relaunched online from 2001-2011. “Trivia,” Weil explains, is a reference to Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology. Trivia, She Whose Face Points in Three Directions, was a goddess whose significance was slowly made “trivial” over time. As a journal, Trivia “reclaim[ed] the word by making it the title of a journal of serious thought by and for women.” Later, Trivia became an important forum for discussions of pornography and S/M during the Sex Wars. It’s fascinating to see the Sex Wars play out on the small stage and through Weil’s memories. Her personal stake in these conversations make the personal very political for Weil.
There is a wonderful, insider’s excitement while reading In Search of Pure Lust. Feminism feels intimate, interconnected when Weil rents out Mary Daly’s rural Massachusetts home, or lunches with Sinister Wisdom editors Harriet Ellenberger and Catherine Nicholson. It is a pleasure to read. However, a more jarring part of Weil’s lesbian geography is her judgement of other feminist practices–mostly disability or woman of color-centered–as guerilla-like and out of hand. While attending a conference, Weil remembers a discussion with her colleagues:
I go on to talk about the caucuses. An orgy of identity politics, I call them. The oppression model gone berserk. Everyone whining, sparring, jockeying for position. Yes, the skier needs to recognize the cripple, I say, invoking Adrienne Rich and her poem. But does she need to cripple herself in the process…I really need to know, minus the sarcasm, the exasperation: is there a way for a person of privilege like me to make amends without apologizing myself out of existence?
Sometimes, Weil’s treatment of other feminisms, and other women, feels harsh and myopic. But In Search of Pure Lust, Weil leans into the contradictions, achievements, and shortcoming of her remarkable feminist awakening.
In Search of Pure Lust
By Lise Weil
She Writes Press
Paperback, 9781631523854, 376 pp.