Kipnis, Laura

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Kipnis, Laura


Education: San Francisco Art Institute, B.F.A.; Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, M.F.A.


Home—IL. Office—School of Communication, Northwestern University, 1800 Sherman, Rm. 405, Evanston, IL 60201. E-mail[email protected]


Worked previously as a video artist; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, professor of media studies.


Winner of grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Yaddo.


Ecstasy Unlimited: On Sex, Capital, Gender, and Aesthetics, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.

Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Against Love: A Polemic, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Also wrote and produced the videos Ecstasy Unlimited: The Interpenetrations of Sex and Capital, 1985, A Man's Woman, with Channel Four Television, Great Britain, 1988, and Marx: The Video, 1990. Contributor of essays and articles to periodicals, including Slate, Nation, Critical Inquiry, Social Text, Wide Angle, Village Voice, Harper's, and the New York Times Magazine.


Laura Kipnis earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, then went on for her master's degree at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Originally a video artist, she produced several video essays that were screened at such prestigious locations as the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the American Film Institute, and various other venues in Europe, Japan, and Australia. Her primary areas of interest are American politics, the psyche, and the human body, and how these things intersect, with detours into Marx, Freud, love, adultery, scandal, pornography, the avant garde, and their places in society. She serves as a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, sharing her knowledge of video production. From her video work, Kipnis has also gone on to become a writer and an activist, expanding on her earlier interests, with a particular focus on the antimonogamy movement.

In Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, a collection of five connected essays, Kipnis looks at the socially acceptable attitudes toward pornography and what drives them. It is acknowledged that pornography is not something polite people enjoy—or at least not something they admit enjoying—much in the way one refrains from discussing bodily functions in public. Kipnis states that this is an attempt to maintain a social class distinction, with pornography being equated with the low class and the vulgar, and that rejection of porn is essentially a form of snobbery. She examines various types of pornography, as well as the assumptions that are commonly made about both the people who produce the material and its consumers, looking at "fat porn" and "transvestite porn" as well as more traditional forms. She also looks at the differences between imagined violence as part of a fantasy and actual violent behavior, and the ways in which one is incorrectly assumed to lead to the other. Leora Tannenbaum, in a review for the Nation, called the work "a wonderfully insightful book about the elitism that lurks behind antiporn sentiment." A contributor for Publishers Weekly remarked: "Kipnis's individual essays make a stronger case than does her book as a whole," but added that "she is a lively and engaging writer."

Kipnis's next book, Against Love: A Polemic, looks at the institution of marriage and monogamous love in terms of the natural behavior of human beings. Kipnis points out that marriage was originally far more of a business arrangement than anything else, designed to unite family fortunes, ensure the continuation of a family line, and even as a form of barter. Feelings had no place in the contract that was a marriage, beyond those of duty. However, as love came into play and couples chose to marry, it became more and more likely that those feelings of love and lust that brought them together would alter over time, creating miserable marriages and making adultery more likely as people try to recapture the initial feelings of love that their current relationships no longer provide. Stephanie Zacharek, in a review for, remarked: "As intellectual tracts go, Against Love is hugely entertaining. I can't remember the last time a Marxist-leaning academic made laugh out loud, so heartily and so often." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews called Kipnis's book "an intelligent, literate, and allusive take that raises many intriguing questions, even if it doesn't always answer them."

The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability looks at the key points behind the battle between the sexes as Kipnis examines the progress of the women's movement and where she thinks it has gone off course. Carol Haggas, in a review for Booklist, called the book "incisive, engrossing, controversial, and circumspect." Writing in Mother Jones, Julia M. Klein felt the book was "most effective simply as what Kipnis hints it may be: a cleverly convoluted map of her own mental terrain," and a contributor for Publishers Weekly stated: "Though not totally fresh, this fluid, sassy volume is guaranteed to electrify media and cocktail party circuits."



Booklist, August, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Against Love: A Polemic, p. 1934; September 15, 2006, Carol Haggas, review of The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability, p. 9.

Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 2003, David S. Hall, review of Against Love.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Against Love, p. 791; August 1, 2006, review of The Female Thing, p. 768.

Library Journal, August, 2003, Debra Moore, review of Against Love, p. 111; November 1, 2006, Susanne Markgren, review of The Female Thing, p. 131.

Mother Jones, November-December, 2006, Julia M. Klein, review of The Female Thing, p. 94.

Nation, October 14, 1996, Leora Tannenbaum, review of Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, April 22, 1996, review of Bound and Gagged, p. 54; June 30, 2003, review of Against Love, p. 70; September 4, 2006, review of The Female Thing, p. 52.

Weekly Standard, October 2, 2006, review of The Female Thing.


Bookslut, (December 27, 2006), Jessa Crispin, author interview.

Boston Phoenix Online, (December 19-25, 2003), John H. Summers, "Adulterers Unite? Laura Kipnis's Antimonogamy Polemic."

Houston Chronicle Online, (November 24, 2006), Susan Campbell, review of The Female Thing.

New York, (December 26, 2006), Emily Nussbaum, "The Feminine Mistake."

New York Observer Online, (December 27, 2006), Sheelah Kolhatkar, "In Simone's Shoes: Laura Kipnis Lets Loose on Big Ones."

New Yorker Online, (August 4, 2003), Rebecca Mead, "Love's Labors: Monogamy, Marriage, and Other Menaces."

Northwestern University School of Communication Web site, (December 27, 2006), faculty biography.

Ralph, (December 27, 2006), Lolita Lark, review of Bound and Gagged.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), (October 25, 2006), Cathie Beck, review of The Female Thing., (August 13, 2003), Stephanie Zacharek, "Two Isn't Company"; (October 18, 2006), Laura Miller, "Feminism vs. Femininity," review of The Female Thing.

San Francisco Chronicle Online, (August 24, 2003), Selina O'Grady, "Buzz Off, Cupid."

Washington Post Online, (October 27, 2006), Carolyn See, "The Two Faces of Eve," review of The Female Thing. *