Laura Kipnis

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Laura Kipnis

Works Cited

Laura Kipnis. “Adultery.” Critical Inquiry 21.2 (1998): 289-327.


In “Adultery,” Laura Kipnis writes about the different societal views of adultery. The essay discusses Marx, Freud and Foucault, and also focuses on the impact that psychoanalysis has on adultery, as well as how this therapy tries to analyze adultery. Other aspects, such as the role of the state, are discussed as well.

The State, Suspicions, & Marriage as Work

Laura Kipnis, professor and critic, discusses the topic of adultery in many different aspects of social construction. A particular realm she focuses on strongly is within the role of the state. Ultimately, if a man or woman performs an act of adultery on his or her mate (normally married), then not only is he or she betraying the person, but is also betraying the law by going against what is considered to be socially acceptable. An interesting side point made clear in the text was that if your spouse is suspicious of you cheating, then that suspicion almost becomes an addiction for him or her. If they find nothing, they still continue to pursue in the search, using it almost as a sense of “security” (301). Kipnis continues to further discuss the mind of an adulterer, in a sense, and mentions that upon the act of cheating, the person involved cannot control his or her actions and cannot differentiate between right versus wrong—and is thus caught into a flood and whirlwind of inexplicable emotions.

Kipnis also talks about marriage as either happy or unhappy, the unhappy one directly related to work. Surplus work (work that is outside of your normal work hours) begins to become more popular, almost a way to escape from the married life at home. When the surplus work shift ends, the domestic life at home is not much different—tiring, exhausting, and not necessarily blissful. This particular lifestyle gives the individual all the more reason to want “out” and go in search of a lover to fulfill the passionate needs that seem to be lacking at home.

Viewpoints & Psychological Aspects

Further into the text, Kipnis poses the viewpoint of adultery as a question. She says, “What we learn will depend on whether we regard adultery as a relatively contained cultural practice, taking, in other words, an aestheticist position (“adultery for adultery’s sake”), or whether, like theorists of a political avant-garde, we see its violations of convention echoing through wider social contexts” (311). Here, she really tries to make the two different aspects quite clear, stating that the reasoning behind adultery is basically what we make of it. The author also uses examples of Freud and psychoanalysis throughout the text, explaining that if your love affair opens a part of you, then psychotherapy comes in and attempts to link your current situation to your past or childhood, looking for some sort of explanation to justify your actions. According to one psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips, “Adultery is at heart a drama about to change. It’s a way of trying to invent a world, and a way of knowing something about what we may want: by definition, then, a political form” (314). What he means by this is that we, in part, use adultery to secretly show the world our passionate desires. This relates to Foucault’s theory on sexuality and how we are never talking about it, yet it is always lingering through discourse.

Exploring Further With Edna

Although long, this was a thoroughly enjoyable essay because it provided so many different viewpoints on what adultery actually is and how it can be understood not just as an “act of passion,” but as a form of rebellious choice to go against social norms and letting go of any inhibitions one might have, despite how society may view or judge the individual. Edna can also been seen as a prime example as a woman who gives in to the act of adultery, not necessarily paying heed if it was okay or not. She essentially awakens from her husband and children’s’ grasp and control over her. Kipnis describes Edna perfectly when she writes; “In adultery, the most conventional people in the world suddenly experience emotional free fall: unbounded intimacy outside contract, law and property relations” (322). Edna ultimately goes against the “law” and breaks free from the fact that she was beheld as property to Mr. Pontellier, which was common at the time for women to hold that standard. However, she does not want to conform so she essentially makes herself independent and apart from the rest of society.--Lora 19:24, 27 May 2008 (EDT)

See Also:

  • Gayle Rubin's article "Thinking Sex" for another approach to reading intimacy, relationships, and power.
  • Michel Foucault on a gendered history of friendship and the world-making potential of friendship as a "way of life."
  • Audre Lorde on the uses of the "erotic" or sexuality for achieving personal, interpersonal, and political forms of agency.