Writings: The Politics of Love

The Politics of Love

“People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept, but a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude. The modern concept of love is almost exclusively limited to the bourgeois couple and the claustrophobic confines of the nuclear family. Love has become a strictly private affair. We need a more generous and more unrestrained conception of love.”

*Quote from Michael Hardt, ’Multitude’.Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire is a book by post-Marxist philosophers Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, published in 2004. It is the second installment of a “trilogy” also comprising Empire (2000) and Commonwealth (2009).

Michael Hardt is a professor of English at Duke University. His recent writings deal primarily with the political, legal, economic and social aspects of globalization, and he is a key figure in cultural theory and anthropology. In his books ‘Empire’ (2000) and ‘Multitude’ (2004), written in collaboration with Antonio Negri, he has analyzed the functioning of our current global power structure and the possible democratic alternatives to that structure.

In an interview by Leonard Schwartz, published in Interval(le)s II.2-III.1 2008 / 2009 and titled ’A Conversation with Michael Hardt on the Politics of Love’, Schwartz begins the discussion by quoting the passage above from Hardt’s book ’Multitude’ :

Michael Hardt’s comment, when asked to elaborate on this quote is:

“In part it starts with a recognition that in certain political actions, in certain political demonstrations – the really good ones – you do have a feeling of something really like love. And so, it’s partly a way of trying to theorize that recognition of this feeling of… let’s call it a ’collective transformation’ that one experiences in certain kinds of political action. And therefore, to think about love, love which I do understand to be precisely a transformative power, something in which we come out different. And to try to think of it as a political concept.”

So, is it possible for us to become politically and socially engaged in the shaping of our future societies while at the same time focusing on trying to push our individual careers forward in an ever-increasing battle with all the other creative people out there struggling to survive? We definitely seem to have reached a point now where we’re all faced with having to choose what kind of future we want to create – do we choose isolation or participation, loneliness or social connectedness? Assuming that there is in fact still time to influence our future with regards to these social concerns it has to be a real choice that we make, a real choice with real consequences.

“Posing love in relation to the power of money can help us construct a properly political concept of love. We lack such a political concept of love, in my view, and our contemporary political vocabulary suffers from its absence. A political concept of love would, at the minimum, reorient our political discourses and practices in two important ways. First, it would challenge conventional conceptions that separate the logic of political interests from our affective lives and opposes political reason to the passions. A political concept of love would have to deploy at once reason and passion. Second, love is a motor of both transformation and duration or continuity. We lose ourselves in love and open the possibility of a new world, but at the same time love constitutes powerful bonds that last.”

*Quote from Michael Hardt’s text ’For Love or Money’ published in ’Cultural Anthropology’, Vol. 26, issue 4, 2011 by the American Anthropological Association.

The sense of human solidarity

Etel Adnan is a Lebanese-American poet, essayist, and visual artist. In her essay titled The Cost for Love We Are Not Willing to Pay that was printed in the catalogue for the Documenta 13 exhibition in Kassel she writes about the current ecological catastrophes sweeping across our planet and the lack of love for Nature and our community that has left us stranded in a present with little hope as far as the future survival of our species is concerned.

“More and more people behave as if they ignore Nature, dislike it, or even despise it. We wouldn’t have the ecological catastrophe in which we live if it were otherwise. …

On the symbolic level, it’s absolutely true that we’ve lost interest in our nomadic planet. The most advanced research in the world nowadays concerns either the infinitely small (the field of the atom) or astronomy. Mankind is already exploring the sustainability of life on other planets… technology is totally at the service of abstract science and its involvement with non-imaginable matters. Planet Earth is old news. It’s the house we are discarding. We definitely don’t love her. We almost believe we don’t need her. Because the price for the love that will save her would reach an almost impossible level. It would require that we change radically our ways of life, that we give up many of our comforts, our toys, our gadgets, and above all our political and religious mythologies. We would have to create a new world (not a Brave New World!). We’re not ready to do all that.”

*Quote from Etel Adnan’s ’The Cost for Love We Are Not Willing to Pay’

According to Etel Adnan the state of being in love is a transformative state resembling that of the politically unstable climate with waves of discomfort, instability and riots leading up to a revolution. It is an almost irrational awakening, susceptible to all winds and influences, and it can easily cause fear and terror or become obsessive. So, when thinking about this kind of instability and radical change in relation to politics it is important to notice the way we’ve made such an effort in our culture these days to avoid the upheaval of falling in love and getting close to other human beings without the safety of the screen divider between us. We seem to be OD’ing on the intensity and constant stress caused by the hours spent in front of our Macs and our online “presence”, and it leaves very little room for any added intensity, emotionally or whatsoever.

John Lennon said: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

These days you might say that life is what happens to you while your mind is preoccupied with maintaining your hyper-real presence online and your body has gone numb.

The key question is: How can we be expected to bear the added intensity of an emotional and existential upheaval resembling that of falling in love when dealing with political, social or ecological states of emergency? Where can we find the time, the energy and the will to throw ourselves into the turmoil and the chaos of becoming actively engaged in our communities and assuming more responsibility for our fellow human beings? Etel Adnan’s answer is this >

“… What must be done? Most urgently, we ought to find the sense of human solidarity without which no society is coherent. On November 5, 1873, Tolstoy wrote in his diary: ’Love is disturbing.’ Yes, political activism is a way of love, and it’s explosive, and it can lead to great upheavals. But what if we do not take those risks, what if we’re determined to maintain the present state of affairs, playing it (only apparently) safe? The answer is simple: by not paying the price for what it takes to change the world, the world will change in its own way, will change anyway, will escape the possibility we possess to direct it along roads we deem beneficial, and the price will end up being much higher, and it will be too late! The problem – to make things worse – is universal.”

My answer would be the same: “Most urgently, we ought to find the sense of human solidarity without which no society is coherent” – and I would add: because at this point in time finding our way back to this sense of solidarity is the only meaningful thing to do.

“Love always acts like an earthquake. It strongly affects not only lovers but also those who watch it happen.”

*Quotes from Etel Adnan’s ’The Cost for Love We Are Not Willing to Pay’

Love is awakening. Love is fierce. Love is a voyage into the unknown. Love takes priority and re-arranges our values and our lives. It begins with a softness or tenderness, not dissimilar to an allergic reaction, or a hypersensitive response to our surroundings that causes a disruption to our balance and our sense of calm and content. Suddenly the world seems different or lacking, and we are gradually convinced that the only way we can satisfy the nervous longing in our mind and body is by re-accessing the world through another human being. We are beginning to understand that we need the eyes of another in order to see ourselves clearly, and for reasons unknown to us seeing things clearly has become the most important thing in the world.

Love begins this way… The presence of another being calls your senses to attention.

Sharing the world – Approaching the Other

“Before wanting to approach the other, it is advisable to wonder about oneself and one’s own manner of dwelling. It is important to have a view of one’s own faithfulness to that which is proper to one. And often it will be necessary to turn back on our path in order to question ourselves about where we are already situated. If we are not dwelling where we ought to dwell, being what or who we are, we are not prepared for an encounter with the other. We are only able to impose on the other our alienation, misunderstanding, or ignorance. Opening a threshold in order to approach the other requires that we dwell where we can and should be.”

*Luce Irigaray: ’Sharing the World’ p. 7-8.

It is in our action upon things, in our interaction with other human beings, and in our work that our existence becomes meaningful. Our biggest mistake these days is to think that work is the only existential constant we have to cling to, because if we work only for ourselves, with no sense of responsibility, no sense of community, or history, or culture, or nature, with no future in mind – if we forget about our natural need to be part of a community and share our lives with other living beings, as opposed to our simulated friends online, then it is all for nothing. Our work will be forgotten, swept away by the wind like castles in the sand. And we will most likely be alone when it happens because we’ve become post-social creatures in our constant battle for power, money, eternal youth and success.

Even if it seems like we’re already balancing on a knife’s edge and that the smallest amount of added stress or responsibility might push us into the abyss, we simply have to find a way to remember the importance of love and not shy away from it when an opening presents itself. At first it might seem like we’re being held back or sidetracked by the intensity of emotion, but when we gradually start to feel the expansion in our lives, from really engaging with our living surroundings and connecting with others, it will make us forget the initial fear we felt. Society itself / the institution suspects the potential intensity of love and represses it with all its might. It considers love to be a potential subversive revolution in the making, on a small and personal scale or a large, community-driven scale, it doesn’t matter. How could we not be afraid?

“Nearness to the other, or better with the other, appears in the possibility of elaborating a common world with him, or her, a world which will not destroy the world proper to each one. This common world is always in becoming.”

*Luce Irigaray: ’Sharing the World’ p. 8.