Friday, June 7, 2019

Book Review: 'In Search of Pure Lust: A Memoir' by Lise Weil

‘My whole life I have loved women.’

Canadian author Lise Weil founded TRIVIA: A JOURNAL OF IDEAS, an award-winning radical feminist literary and political magazine, in 1982, which she edited for nine years. She was also editor of its online relaunch of this important periodical from 2004 to 2011. Lise founded the online journal Dark Matter: Women Witnessing in 2014. Weil’s short fiction, essays, reviews, literary nonfiction, and translations have been published widely in journals in both Canada and the US. Her collection of Mary Meigs’s writings on aging, BEYOND RECALL (2005), was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in biography in 2006. Weil teaches in the Individualized Master’s program in Goddard College’s Graduate Institute. She lives in Montreal. 

Lise’s memoir is at once a richly journalistic history of the 1970s and 1980’s sexual revolution and a profoundly touching poetic homage to a period of time that allowed her to rise out of obscurity emotionally and become the extraordinary woman she is. One comes away from the experience of reading this book with a sense of joy and exhilaration that aspects of gender identification are finally becoming embraced by the public. Watch television, see films such as A FANTASTIC WOMAN, DISOBEDIENCE, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL etc, and note that at last we are able to restore personal rights of gender identity.

The superb synopsis of this book serve the content well – ‘When Lise Weil came out in 1976, she came out into a land that was all on fire. Lesbian desire was the pulsing center of an entire way of life, a culture, a movement. The air throbbed with possibility. At the center of In Search of Pure Lust is Weil’s immersion in this culture, this movement: the grand experiment of lesbian feminism of the ’70s and ’80s. She and the women around her lived in a state of heightened erotic intensity that was, she believed, the source of their most vital knowledge. Desire was their guiding light. But after fifteen years of torrid but ultimately failed relationships that tended to mirror the tumultuous political currents swirling around her, she had to admit that desire was also a conduit for childhood wounds. It reared its head when she was feeling wary, estranged― abused, even. It flagged when she was fondest and most trusting. And it tended to trump love, over and over again. In the mid-’80s, when a friend asked Weil to accompany her on a Zen retreat, she was desperate enough to say yes. Her first day of sitting zazen was mostly hell―but smitten with the (female) roshi, she stuck with it, later returning for sesshin after sesshin. A period of difficult self-examination ensued and, over a period of years, she began to learn an altogether different approach to desire. Ultimately, what her search for pure lust uncovered is something that looks a lot like love.’

But for the joy of celebration and education, read this wonderful book, share it with those you love, and read it again. This is a winner! 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.