Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why I Didn't like "Eat Pray Love"

While I agree that it's good to be comfortable with internal change, and to overcome spiritual disorder, I felt like Gilbert went about it selfishly. She didn't examine the failure of her marriage much in the book, and I thought that while she had a noble intention of not airing her husband's dirty laundry, the reader is left to put the pieces together--and it's not a pretty picture. Clues like, she gave up her life with her husband to eat organic peaches in the sunlight point to a shallow interpretation of the good things in life.

I'm happy for her that she was able to eat good food in Italy, to have spiritual enlightenment in an ashram, and to have sex in Indonesia, but she seemed to make idols of these things, or rather, her persistant self-seeking became the idol and these events various forms of idolatry.

There was no indication that a person could find fulfillment within the context of vocation, where there happen to be strings attached--as in relationships with a spouse or children.

There was no indication that serving others is as much a spiritual practice as gazing at the stars, in fact the one instance in which she raised money for the lady in Indonesia became an opportunity to point out how helping people bites you in the butt.

She gives the impression that following your bliss is the key to life, when it has never been my experience that good food, good sex, and even spiritual mountaintops provide lasting happiness. What's left after the mountaintop, is fidelity--fidelity in relationships even when it is not reciprocated, fidelity in prayer even when there seems to to be no fruit, and mostly moderation in the food department. Maybe that sounds ascetic and unfun--but it is the reality of most human beings, who don't have the resources for a year of naval gazing in exotic places.

The self-search can be undertaken anywhere, in any context--and ultimately the outcome will be an introduction to the same inadequate human being you left at the start of the search. I think that you get somewhere when the search is truly a God-search and contemplation of a God-man who is entirely separate from the self, but at the same time dwells in the self when invited.

The author could never entirely separate her god from her own ego. She talks about a divine love, and feeling loved, but she never went to the next step where the beneficiary of that love responds in kind by striving to love and adore the Creator. Instead she used that freely given love as affirmation for her behavior. Even in the ashram, her prayer was a quest for floaty feelings rather than an act of adoration, thanks and praise.

Authentic love is demonstrated through self-sacrifice for the beloved. And God gives us opportunities to show our love to him by loving the people he puts in our lives. Therefore, the quietness and dailiness of my life at home with my children becomes an act of worship to God.

There is a specific vocation to consider the world one's home, its people one's children (ex, Mother Theresa (not exclusively)). But my choice to be a mother, and a Catholic mother of many children, necessarily requires the rejection of other experiences, other loves--and I don't think that this sacrifice is exclusive to my Catholicity either.

The book gives the impression that happiness is found in the wholesale rejection of one's first mistaken choices, in order to join the world search-- and that's an ugly lie which this author made pretty by being a charming, funny and engaging narrator.

It didn't really help that I was reading Eat Pray Love alongside Wendell Berry's Art of the Commonplace--which as the title suggests is an ode to hard work and local communities and economies, among other things. It's hard to believe Liz Gilbert, when Wendell Berry is whispering in my other ear how the pursuit of leisure as a vocation of the few leads to the mass prostitution of human dignity for industrialization of the global economy. An argument for another day.



14 comments:

Elizabeth said...

you're always going to be my friend! you have learned the art of critique, i slept through that process obviously. keep your critiques of books, i'll even take random observations, 'cause you write real good betty (did you hear my southern twang in there?)

Pedge said...

Betty,
I couldn't have said it better myself. No truly, I couldn't have. Your gift for the written word is obvious. Can you see my greeness? Keep it coming sister, Pedge

Rachel said...

Too bad we couldn't publish the Elizabeth, Rachel, Kate, and Emily discussion about the book. Note to self, "bring tape recorder to 2 AM family talks."

'becca said...

i read it a couple of years ago and enjoyed her story. i read it sitting out in the sun probably sipping a gin and tonic w/ extra lime or inside eating crusty bread and pasta or maybe i read it while I was in a downward dog posture. OR maybe I read it doing all of those things and more. It was read with a much less critical (not a bad critical) eye and much more fluff.

Jus said...

I must admit - I never finished the book. The description was great and colorful but I had a hard time feeling attached to her as a person. I just could not identify with her or her desire to "find herself" without much regard for those around her beyond being an observer. I suppose in some ways I find the entire idea of "finding" oneself to be self centered in a way that would keep me from ever being my best self......

Emily said...

Reading Elizabeth Gilbert parallel Wendell Berry says it all. Don't waste calories on Eat Pray Love; devour and savor everything Berry.

Kaighla said...

i loved that book. passionately. keep in mind i read it after a particularly painful, deep, enlightening-through-much-suffering experience in india.

i just want to point out one thing: liz never said she's a christian, in any manner, that i recall. so we cannot critique her spiritual experience with a christian lens. its not fair. its like a buddhist critiquing your blog, as a catholic. he doesnt see the world like you do, so he cant judge your perspective

Anonymous said...

Two points: First, your reaction to this book is odd to me, being that a friend of mine (non-religious, single, childless and a hard-core feminist - not that one can't be a feminist and Catholic at the same time) had the same reaction. Indulgent, fairy tale and spoiled is how I recall her putting it. I think what my friend and you both find is that undirected dithering through life - from one sparkley feel-good experience to another, has fault and can lead to no lasting happiness or accomplishment. Genuine happiness - at least the American definition - requires effort and fidelity (to a cause, religion, relationship or whatever end). Second: I liked the book. I read it toward the end of my singlehood just before I got married. It was a nice bookend to my own time of selfishness and (what I perceived to be) it's ups and downs. Despite the "downs," I highly value having experienced that selfishness. It makes me more happy and secure in the committments I have found today. Perhaps Gilbert had never been truly selfish and deeply needed it. Perhaps this will enable her to pursue what I would perceive to be a more genuine happiness in the future.

Betty Duffy said...

Anonymous, just found your comment here. Thanks for weighing in.

First point: I have no problem sharing certain opinions with feminists. I've written a couple of posts here about where exactly I part company with mainstream feminist concerns--typically with issues of sexuality. But I'm heartened that people with such different perspectives can come to a similar conclusion. Even if only on a fluff memoir.

Second point: I think you may be on to something in that the experience of a certain amount of selfishness allow us ultimately to give ourselves more freely. I certainly had my moment and still do struggle with giving in to those desires.

effulgent7 said...

Well, I agree with your thoughts on Gilbert's comments on marriage. I am interested in re-reading the book based on your comments- I think that my situation at the time had a lot to do with how much I loved the book- I was single, depressed, and not Catholic- and my own opinions on marriage have changed radically since that time since I am now married, happy, and Catholic. Interesting topic!

Claire said...

I think you are right on about Eat Pray Love. Those are Exactly the conclusions I came to in reading it, as well.
The only thing I would add is that her so-called search for meaning was funded by a book advance. It was for profit, basically, which makes the whole enterprise suspect, to say the least.

Marie said...

Fascinating.
You know, the neighbor who loved this book and thought I would? My judgment of her life from the outside -- she was trying to be a very good middle class modern fit wife and mother. I think maybe she felt a false dichotomy, either be a martinette for her creepy, controlling husband and put on the perfect front, or run off to Indonesia and have sex with strangers. So, I'm thinking having someone paint the whole dump your husband and sex with strangers thing as a spiritually uplifting and noble thing to do had an appeal to her. Maybe it even had a use for her. But I hope folks who read this book find there are alternatives to the whole straightjacket conventionality/free-spirited joy categories.
At least, I think, I get it now. I really have not been able to figure out why this book is so big.
Interesting note on the money angle, by the way. Guess that's nice work if you can get it. . .

Erin said...

I could not agree more with your assessment. Through the enticing and engaging "fluff" lies a person who hasn't been able to go beyond filling her own superficial needs. She never makes it beyond that level of faith or trust where she can...well, fully GIVE, sacrifice or move beyond self. But, a part of me also felt genuinely sorry for her because I do think she is really wanting a true faith. I think she's just looking in wrong places or else her limitations ( fear, mistrust, etc.) prevent her from moving past a certain point. I guess I saw her as someone just beginning a journey and hoping she might "make it there" one day. But yeah, overall the books reads as somewhat of a "ME fest" of ego-filling in all its various incarnations. Thanks for your thought-provoking and eloquent review.

Seraphic Spouse said...

Yes, I do see your point about sticking to relationships, and I too wondered a bit if EG doesn't stress too much the 'physicality' of her mystical experiences in India--there's a lot of 'whoosh' going on there, and not very Teresa of Avilesque, though she certainly cites St. T.