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Table of contents :
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: How to Do Politics with Love
Chapter 3: Singledom in the Future Tense: Lobster, Unicorn, Horse
Chapter 4: Coupling Anyway: Love as Becoming
Chapter 5: The Limits of Love: On Forgiveness
Chapter 6: Conclusion: Towards a Post-Sentimental Concept of Love
The Theory of Love Ideals, Limits, Futures
Timothy Laurie Hannah Stark
The Theory of Love
Timothy Laurie • Hannah Stark
The Theory of Love Ideals, Limits, Futures
Timothy Laurie School of Communication University of Technology Sydney Ultimo, NSW, Australia
Hannah Stark School of Humanities University of Tasmania Hobart, TAS, Australia
ISBN 978-3-030-71554-0 ISBN 978-3-030-71555-7 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7 © The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover pattern © John Rawsterne/patternhead.com This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland
This writing has been completed on the sovereign lands of the Muwinina people and the Gadigal people, and we pay our respects to their elders past, present, and emerging. We would like to thank the University of Tasmania for supporting travel to work collaboratively through a number of schemes including the Visiting Scholars Program and the School of Humanities research support scheme. We would also like to thank Professor Rita Felski, Associate Professor Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen, Associate Professor Camilla Schwartz, and the University of Southern Denmark for funding to present at the “Love etc.” conference in 2019. Tim I would like to thank present and former colleagues at the University of Technology Sydney who have created a wonderful environment in which to teach and research—special mentions to Burcu Cevik-Compiegne, Chrisanthi Giotis, Mehal Krayem, Elaine Laforteza, Tara McLennan, James Meese, Bhuva Narayan, and Luke Robinson. My academic passions may have waned years ago, had it not been for wide-ranging conversations with and encouragement from Gilbert Caluya, Catherine Driscoll, Adam Gall, Liam Grealy, Jessica Kean, Meaghan Morris, Vivien Nara, Helary Ngo, Janice Richardson, and Jon Rubin. A special mention to the everperspicacious Remy Low, who has indulged many long conversations at the woollier ends of philosophy and cultural studies. When I return home to Adelaide with a flurry of work to do, Nicolette and John remain overwhelmingly generous in their hospitality and conversation, and for this I am ever grateful. At home, Lia Betts has been a source of joy and v
inspiration during difficult times. Finally, I am deeply thankful for the companionship of Winnie Liu, who has been an incredibly patient and supportive presence in my life. She has also taught me to rethink the value of words and the importance of history, although I remain a slow learner. Hannah I would like to acknowledge my colleagues in the Humanities at the University of Tasmania, particularly Naomi Milthorpe and Elizabeth Leane who provided feedback on this project and on various book proposals. I’d like to thank Katrina Schlunke whose deep and generous thinking and interlocution has enriched my academic and personal life significantly. I am profoundly grateful to Anne who has patiently supported the many research trips that sit beneath this work, including spending whole school holidays alone with our children so that I could work. As I have been writing this book my life has become richer and more complex through James and Phoebe who, with Anne, have taught me new ways to think about love, care, family, and politics.
1 Introduction 1 2 How to Do Politics with Love 5 3 Singledom in the Future Tense: Lobster, Unicorn, Horse29 4 Coupling Anyway: Love as Becoming45 5 The Limits of Love: On Forgiveness61 6 Conclusion: Towards a Post-Sentimental Concept of Love75 Bibliography
If scholars have anything to contribute to the question of love, it may be to disabuse ourselves of bad love stories. Popular representations of love are, after all, saturated with flimsy clichés. To theorise love might mean to clean up the sloppy thinking of lovesick minds, and to get along with the proper work of finding principles that hold and rules that stick. Conversely, scholarly ruminations about the nature of love—its scope and character, strengths and shortcomings, histories and future—may read as naïve and utopian, or worse, as the infiltration of self-help into academic prose. But when we tell people that we are researching love, the contradictions and inconsistencies of love are not the concerns that come to mind. Instead, people are interested in knowing what makes love so compelling as a force in their lives or the lives of others—indeed, so compelling that we pin our hopes on the flimsy clichés, against all better judgement.1 In this spirit, we heed Rita Felski’s recommendation to “expand our repertoire of critical moods” when engaging in cultural analysis: “Why are we so hyperarticulate about our adversaries”, she writes, “and so excruciatingly tongue-tied about our loves”?2 We think that more imaginative stories need to be told about love. To love with imagination is to lay the groundwork for better modes of collective co-existence, and we benefit from difficult conversations about the connections between our personal attachments and the wider communities for which we strive—or from which we flee. Some stories seek to © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 T. Laurie, H. Stark, The Theory of Love, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7_1
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expose the gap between our inner fantasies about love and the harsh realities of everyday romantic life. We have no quarrel with such stories: the failure of love can provide vital lessons about the role of disappointment and defeat in generating new kinds of political energy. But other stories run roughshod over the quotidian altogether, inviting new ways of living together. We do not pretend to know which stories will best serve political projects to make the world more just, and we cannot promise that explicitly feminist stories will appeal to those who identify as feminists, or that queer love plots will satisfy queer audiences. Stories about love can invite promiscuous identifications, and those that resonate may not offer the best political lessons. But we can at least explore the kinds of worlds that can be imagined through love, elevated by the promise of new ways to affect and be affected by others. The Theory of Love is concerned with practices of love outside and beyond monogamous heterosexual coupledom. In the context of international marriage equality campaigns, love has become a locus of debates around the role of the State in recognising emergent forms of intimacy and sexuality, against a backdrop where many States still enforce punitive laws around homosexuality and so-called sexual morality.3 Although our focus is not on rights-based political demands, this book offers a variety of ethical frames through which to understand changing definitions of love in the context of novel post-nuclear forms of kinship and care. Pushing beyond the false choice between collective action and individual pleasures, we attempt to circumvent the moral schemas that position love either as a supreme metaphysical virtue or as a weak panacea for the ills of capitalist societies. “[It’s] the binary of normative/transgressive that’s unsustainable”, writes Maggie Nelson, “along with the demand that anyone live a life that’s all one thing”.4 We begin by addressing love as a social problem within critical theory. On one hand, love reproduces the existing social order by consolidating and naturalising our attachments to the status quo, and this has been a concern for feminist commentaries on sexual politics. As Kate Millett famously argued in 1970, “romantic love affords a means of emotional manipulation which the male is free to exploit … [and] obscures the realities of female status and the burden of economic dependency”.5 On the other hand, love also belongs to what Michael Warner calls an “antinomian tradition”, negating any rule or law that would seek to constrain it, and prompting desire to roam freely beyond custom and convention.6 Love could be an archetypal symbol of cultural order, or a wild refusal of
that same order. Chapter 2 does not seek to reconcile these approaches, or to replace ordinary speech with a meta-language about love. Instead, we map the doubt and ambivalence generated by this tension within love itself through engagement with contemporary Marxist, psychoanalytic, and feminist philosophy. The three chapters that follow explore three key figures of love: the single person, the couple, and the unlovable Other. Singledom is often understood either as a simple negation of love, without form or substance, or as a transitional period—“recently single”—to be quickly overcome. Drawing together Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Lobster (2015), Lucy Gillespie’s web series Unicornland (2017), and Amy Bonnaffons’ short story “Horse” from her collection The Wrong Heaven (2018), Chap. 3 considers the possibility of singledom as something for which people might strive against the demands of heteronormativity and mononormativity. Chapter 4 turns to the couple as a temporal configuration of love. Paul B. Preciado’s manifesto Testo Junkie (2008) and Maggie Nelson’s novel The Argonauts (2015) present intimate relationships sustained in and through corporeal transformation or “becomings”—gender transition, pregnancy, and ageing. Mapping the intersection of trans and queer theory with the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Chap. 4 also reflects on the limitations of post-identitarian political paradigms. At the limits of love, finally, is the one who cannot be loved. Chapter 5 reflects on possibilities for shared futures with unlovable others, placing Hannah Arendt’s influential rejection of love in politics alongside the strained process of forgiveness in the Belgian film Le Fils (The Son, 2002). The Theory of Love does not explain whether love is good or bad for politics. In some circumstances, love can be catastrophic. We do not defend love from its detractors, nor do we make yet another argument— there are already so many—that love needs some metaphysical guidance from moral philosophy. We have stopped believing those who tell us that some loves are intrinsically more enduring than others, or that some loves are oriented towards better objects than others. This book simply asks for ideas and practices of love to be more imaginative. The routine procession of heterosexual couples needs some time on hiatus, not because couples are bad or insufficiently radical but simply because we need more practice in loving without convention, consecration, or habit. How might love be extended to construct alternative social imaginaries? What kind of world is love capable of making? Could we risk a non-sentimental or post-sentimental concept of love?
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Notes 1. On the value of cliché as a cultural resource and touchstone, see Morris, Meaghan. “Transnational Glamour, National Allure: Community, Change and Cliché in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.” In Storytelling: Critical and Creative Approaches, edited by Jan Shaw, Philippa Kelly and L.E. Semler, pp. 83–113. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 2. Felski, Rita. The Limits of Critique. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015, p. 13. 3. For global perspectives on marriage equality debates, see DeFilippis, Joseph Nicholas, Michael W. Yarbrough, and Angela Jones, eds. Queer Activism after Marriage Equality. London and New York: Routledge, 2018; Altman, Dennis, and Jonathan Symons. Queer Wars: The New Global Polarization over Queer Rights. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2016. 4. Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Minnesota, USA: Graywolf Press, 2015, p. 93. 5. Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. London, UK: Abacus, 1972, p. 37. 6. Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 101.
How to Do Politics with Love
To claim that love could have any meaningful bearing on politics is a hazardous enterprise. A first reason is that love is so often invoked as an unquestionable virtue that its arrival in political discourse risks discouraging fine-grained deliberation over complex values and priorities.1 Put another way, the pro-love camp is so capacious that loud cries for “more love” may simply be heard as populism. Conversely, in the unusual circumstance that a person should be profoundly against love, arguments for love may not make any difference. In the wake of the horrors of World War II, German philosopher Theodor Adorno once remarked that in preaching love, one “already presupposes in those to whom one appeals a character structure different from the one that needs to be changed”.2 A second reason, and it is not trivial, is that love is so frequently debated in social life. Scholarly efforts to organise or govern the notoriously tumultuous meanings attached to love may be simultaneously futile and hubristic. A politics of love, on a cynical view, would be overly subject to the whims and superstition surrounding love as a fickle social object. The third hazard, and this follows from the first and second, is the tenacious perception that love is irrational, and therefore presents an obstacle to the formation of reliable knowledge. As long as love is positioned against reason and understanding, we will be less disposed to talk about experiences or varieties of love, and more inclined to find ways of mitigating its impact on rational discourse. © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 T. Laurie, H. Stark, The Theory of Love, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7_2
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Against these concerns, however, we must consider more pernicious reasons why love has slipped in and out of academic discourse as a serious object of inquiry. From a historical perspective, there has been a perception that love and intimacy are “feminine” concerns belonging primarily to reflections on the human experience, rather than to the study of socio- political structures.3 Love is therefore treated most seriously when employed in an oppositional register (e.g. “love against X” or “love as the solution for X”) that connects to established objects of critical inquiry (e.g. power, democracy). Furthermore, in The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir shows that the perception of love as confused or contradictory may simply be a measure of its expression within complex social situations, wherein those who invest in love may face irreconcilable social demands.4 The essence of love is not arbitrary or irrational; rather, arbitrary and irrational social arrangements place an untenable burden upon the practice of love. We may therefore revisit some of the criticisms of love—as morally populist, socially fickle, and intellectually unreasonable—as missed opportunities to consider the causes and consequences of love having become such a difficult object to think with. This chapter begins with the premise that love has an autonomous capacity to create its own worlds of knowing and thinking, and that correspondingly, there may be social, political, and philosophical problems peculiar to practices of love. Love is capable of invention and cannot therefore be explained away as mystification, false consciousness, or as a rhetorical contrivance. Rather than offering a critical theory of love and placing our faith in the power of defamiliarisation and demystification, our approach is more aligned with what Ghassan Hage calls “alter-politics”, which takes us “outside ourselves precisely to continuously remind us of the actual possibilities of being other to ourselves”.5 Alter-politics seeks to expand the possibilities for a radical imagination around other ways of being or relating, which in turn allows us to reframe our own social or political circumstances. In the spirit of alter-politics, this chapter draws together a range of disciplines—political philosophy, literary studies, queer theory, film studies, and psychoanalysis—to understand how love has become such a wellspring of mystery, wonderment, and concern. We begin with black feminist approaches to “love-politics” that refuse practices of political and intellectual domination, and that thereby point towards new ways of knowing enabled by love. We place love-politics alongside other “ideal models” of love that exclude desires and attachments perceived to be deleterious to the practice of love, including
2 HOW TO DO POLITICS WITH LOVE
anti-capitalist formulations of love as altruistic and beyond calculation. The chapter then considers non-ideal models of love, moving from the Marxist theme of cooperation and commonality to psychoanalytic constructions of love as familial attachment and interminable lack. Finally, the chapter engages with what Lauren Berlant calls the Love Plot: a fantasy that promises intimacy without conflict and relations without difference. Reflecting on feminist and queer theoretical engagements with the strengths and limitations of the Love Plot, we consider the enduring significance of love as an ideal, even when faced with evidence of its potential to fail. In the most holistic conception of the term, love describes an ethos that can guide all possible thoughts and actions. There are no proper places or objects for love, and correspondingly, love enables us to make connections between radically different places and objects. This is because love is an orientation to thinking and doing, rather than being a particular subset of activities observable as love. The basis of this approach to love, for influential black feminist scholar bell hooks, is resistance to domination. In All About Love, hooks follows psychologist M. Scott Peck in defining love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.6 Reflecting on issues around sexism and racism within progressive social movements, hooks argues that “[without] an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or the other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination”.7 Can we provide hospitality to strangers, or make ourselves vulnerable in unfamiliar spaces, without first overcoming our own complexes—pain, fear, self-loathing, resentment? hooks attributes the problem to our constitutive desires in joining progressive causes, noting that “many of us are motivated to move against domination solely when we feel our self-interest directly threatened”.8 In this way, hooks invites us to consider that practices of love may contribute to a greater understanding of the world. In fastening ourselves to political projects without love as an orientation, we may become inattentive to forms of domination outside of what Lawrence Grossberg calls our “mattering maps”.9 Love is the ongoing process of making new things matter and making old things matter in new ways. By presenting love as a foundation for both ethics and epistemology, hooks belongs to a tradition of black feminist theorising around love that Jennifer C. Nash calls “love-politics”. Drawing on Alice Walker, the Combahee River Collective, Patricia Williams, and others, Nash argues
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that love-politics combines the need for self-love, or “training the self in other ways, in ways that extend and challenge the self”, and the need for affective political communities “rooted in a radical ethic of care”.10 In this way, love provides a resource for intellectual discovery, allowing us to remain open to unexpected problems and perspectives, an approach that Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge identify as central to intersectional analysis.11 As Rita Felski puts it, we cannot allow critical consciousness to place us constantly on “guard against the risk of being contaminated and animated by the words we encounter”.12 Healthy self-love equips us to extend ourselves into the world with generosity and openness, and to therefore multiply our encounters with difference.13 The will to domination also extends itself into the world, but through practices of mastery and control. Power seeks platforms from which to speak rather than occasions on which to listen. To reserve a space for listening is to begin the work of love.14 Social identities do not disappear in love-politics because the affects attached to alterity—fear, anxiety, self-doubt—are not equally distributed across the socius. Some bodies are held more accountable for their difference than others; some communities are more exposed to injury and marginalisation; and some people are more often asked to forgive, while others demand forgiveness. For black feminism, Nash suggests, black women have been imagined “as ‘outsiders-within’ who have a particular vantage point on how structures of domination operate to marginalize, constrain, and injure certain bodies”.15 To practice love is to unsettle the epistemic hierarchies that authorise particular kinds of knowledge at the expense of others. Love therefore requires not only an extension of one’s own practices of knowing but also a reorientation towards others as knowers. Domination may lead to the annihilation of love and the reproduction of epistemic hierarchies, but domination is rarely celebrated as a virtue in itself. hooks notes that the most socially acceptable expression of domination in capitalist societies is the desire for accumulation and profit: “The will to sacrifice on behalf of another, always present when there is love, is annihilated by greed”.16 The concept of love as a corrective to self-interest and domination through avarice has become a touchstone for critical theorists and philosophers concerned with the moral effects of capitalism. Popular moral paradigms of compassion, charity, and forgiveness each rely on a conception of love as excluding calculative relationships to others. In Transpositions, Rosi Braidotti situates this theme within a feminist post- structuralist framework:
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Nomadic postsecular spirituality is not a morality of fringe benefits, but rather an ethics of non-profit. It is beyond metaphysical life-insurance politics. It enjoys gratuitous acts of kindness in the mode of a becoming-world of the subject. Joy in giving something away for free—even if you’re not sure of having it; give it for the hell of it, let it go for the love of the world.17
Braidotti links love to “the unavoidable accident of an encounter”,18 but with the following qualification: “Call it falling in love, if you wish, but only if you can rescue the notion from the sentimental banality into which it has sunk in commercial culture”.19 Falling in love has been aligned, at least within most popular culture, with romantic narratives focusing on desire (e.g. love at first sight) or even conquest (e.g. sexual rivalries), and these merely service a narcissistic Ego. The love of the encounter dissolves the Ego altogether: “the disappearance of firm boundaries between self and other, in the love encounter, in intense friendship, in the spiritual experience as in more everyday interpersonal connections, is the necessary premise to the enlargement of one’s fields of perception and capacity to experience”.20 Love as an intense personal or spiritual encounter encourages us to strive beyond the satiation of short-term desires. Alain Badiou elaborates this theme, arguing that as long love is not calculated “as a profitable investment”, it provides opportunities for self-transformation through chance and accident: “[Starting] out from something that is simply an encounter, a trifle, you learn that you can experience the world on the basis of difference and not only in terms of identity”.21 Braidotti and Badiou share with hooks and Nash a conception of love as an epistemological adventure: love is less a sentiment than an orientation to the boundaries of the self, such that one can learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty and to learn from difference. The anti-capitalist conception of love is not without its tensions. Consumer societies have found innumerable ways to market love “in the likeness of other commodities”,22 and perhaps for this reason, Braidotti and Badiou are circumspect about recommending love as a practice that we actively pursue. Rather, they appeal to the modernist themes of rupture, encounter, and contingency. In a recent argument for queer love, David Halperin provides a variation on these modernist themes: Love’s queerness has to do with those features of love that seem to resist sociality, that defy the form of the couple and other kinds of social bonds— such as love’s random vagaries, its weird or unexpected intensities, its obscure objects, uncertain aims, unsystematic pleasures, and nonsensical desires.23
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Halperin does not argue that queer communities have a different mode of loving, but that love itself is incompatible with the forms of identification and institutionalisation central to heterosexual coupledom. In this regard, Halperin shares with Braidotti and Badiou a definition of love that emphasises disorientation, experimentation, and the unsettling of the Ego. The definitions of love discussed so far are ideal models of love. hooks argues for the importance of ideal definitions in order to repair harmful practices that masquerade as love.24 If we cannot adequately name the love that we should be giving and receiving, we cannot make progress in imagining a future world shaped by love rather than by domination. For her part, Nash suggests that love-politics must be future-oriented and is therefore utopian: its practitioners “imagine a world ordered by love”.25 We are sympathetic to this approach because we cannot begin any political or ethical conversation without determining, in some provisional way, a version of the Good to which we aspire. Furthermore, ideal love is not a mere academic contrivance. For many people, a metaphysically assured love is an important structuring element in sustaining hope in the face of isolation, disappointment, or disenfranchisement. In interviews with Bangladeshi women incarcerated in Indian prisons, Rimple Mehta notes that they “resisted my intentions to hear their stories of violence and provided an alternative narrative—on love, as that is what helped them go through their everyday lives”.26 One woman separated from her husband reflects on love (the Bangla term is prem) in the following way: This is true love. You are not being able to sit next to me, not being able to touch me. People outside the jail go out with their boyfriends, but in the case of love in the prison nothing can be said … cannot say anything. It is a simple form of love. Two people just love each other. Their hearts remain attracted to each other.27
Social scientists might be able to explain the circumstances surrounding love, but it may be that this “simple form of love”—an idea about a relation with an Other—has an inescapably existential character. As we discuss in Chap. 5, this ideal form of love has been important for critical reflections on responses to vulnerability and violence. However, we have concerns about restricting the discourse of love to ideal models, even allowing for the importance of ideals in everyday thinking about love and hope. The love of the encounter as described by Braidotti and Badiou provides little guidance for the creation or extension
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of love in the world. Ontological ruptures in the lifeworld of the subject cannot be shared with others without a substantive loss of meaning, and such theories can have an almost solipsistic resistance to the study of love as it is ordinarily understood or practised. In All About Love, by contrast, hooks emphasises the importance of purposeful love as foundational to our capacity to extend love outwards, and discusses a diversity of exemplars for viable practices of love.28 However, hooks’ definitions of love are developed through moral reasoning, rather than causal explanation: To return to love, to know perfect love, we surrender the will to power. … We cannot know love if we remain unable to surrender our attachment to power, if any feeling of vulnerability strikes terror in our hearts.29
The will to power is borne of desiring attachments because attachment seeks to control that which it loves. For hooks, practices that become possessive and controlling, or are complicit with abuse, should cease to be called love. But we have not yet considered the possibility of moving from passive attachments to active love. To desire is to become attentive. We may become conscious of the desired object when it changes. We worry about signs that it may disappear, or—and this is a particularly sinister form of desire—when the object displays a volition independent to our own. Such desires may obstruct the practice of love as “nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.30 Nevertheless, the loss of an object of desire may heighten our awareness of the fragility of worldly things beyond our control, and thereby lead us to a greater understanding of our interdependencies on others.31 Thwarted desire can be a lesson in vulnerability and humility. To study love as something more than a moral possibility, we need to understand how certain kinds of attachment may lead to or become intermingled with love. We follow Charles W. Mills’ observation that ideal theories of human behaviour can make those who encounter non-ideal human behaviours feel silenced or excluded from the conversation.32 At the same time, we continue to benefit from hooks’ insight that we need to speak more about feelings of loss or disappointment in relation to love, which may mean reckoning with the harmful aspects of non-ideal loves. To begin thinking about love as potentiality, we consider a theory of love that positions capitalism as a condition for the emergence of a certain kind of love. Marxist philosophers Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt develop an account of what they call “the multitude”, which emerges “out of the
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ontological and social process of productive labour”.33 The multitude is the assembling of differences through concrete relations of interdependency and collaboration, which prepare communities to work with rather than against difference, and that therefore always contain, at least in some sense, “an act of love”.34 For this reason, the multitude does not consolidate a shared identity, nor does it depend on a commitment to a shared ideology. The practical unity of the multitude emerges from cooperation: Co-operation is love that proceeds by making itself common among multiplicities. Consequently, it is the power of love multiplied […] the co- operation of singularities is more productive than any singular existence, because it expresses communally the striving of the multitude of singularities that attempt to endow being with meaning. But this striving would not in turn exist if co-operation were not an amorous force [.]35
The most obvious example of cooperation becoming an amorous force for political purposes is unionisation, although understanding the specific role of love within collective labour practices is a challenging task. Dorothy Cobble notes that interpersonal care within unions can depend on whether emotional care is recognised as valuable form of paid work in itself, especially given the “factory paradigm” that still dominates some labour movements.36 In a study of Overseas Domestic Workers, Arlie Hochschild notes that feelings of love may be manipulated to support divisions of labour that are inequitable or exploitative.37 While Hardt and Negri do not separate love entirely from material circumstances, they are only casually concerned with the practical variability of these circumstances, including the intense forms of alienation and isolation to which many labour practices give rise.38 The multitude remains an ideal model that elaborates upon material conditions but may not be sufficiently accountable to the experiences—or, in the Marxist language, “consciousness”—of people working within those conditions. Despite these shortcomings, the more general notion that political consciousness can be linked to practices of love remains a valuable feature of Hardt and Negri’s work. Even if short-lived, consider the forms of solidarity and mutual support that appeared in Tahrir Square, Egypt, during the Arab Spring (2010–2011), or the practices of play and creativity animating the Occupy Movements (2011–2012). Online political communities may also depend on or give rise to mediated intimacies. Surveying online responses to the destruction of Muslim homes across the world (within
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the broader context of the “War on Terror”), Gilbert Caluya argues that the “circulation of images of Muslim domicide can generate a counterpublic through affective identification”.39 Caluya suggests that this “transnational sense of compassion” around “shared suffering” needs to be understood in ethical terms, rather than as expressions of “suspicious, illogical or nefarious” affiliations to narrow group interests.40 Love can describe this enlarged space of political consciousness not dependent on specific demands or organisational affiliation. As Christopher Dole suggests, we may be concerned “less with the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of revolution(s) than with those forms of relatedness, intimacy, and care that make such events possible, and what these forms of relating and caring have to say about future models of political relatedness”.41 In citing these examples, we must acknowledge that reactionary or fascist organisations— such as white supremacist groups—also develop new ways of cooperating and thereby developing a language of love.42 Returning to hooks, a distinction may be helpful between political love as a will to future power or domination, and love as an emergent ethical sensibility—such as compassion—that abdicates the desire for domination tout court. We have suggested abandoning both the notion that love can appear sui generis, “like a magical object springing up in [one’s] present life without any trace of the history which has caused it”.43 For this same reason, caution is needed around the notion that love lurches into being through specific arrangements of human co-existence, whether participation in workplaces or political discourse. Such an approach may still treat love as an incidental element in the life of the individual as if desire and attachment have no foundational role in our understanding of our selves or our relationships with others. Lauren Berlant has sympathy for Michael Hardt’s attempt to “release the sensorium from capital”, in the sense that affective bonds should not always (or ever) follow the contours of money and exchange. Nevertheless, she questions “What kinds of infrastructures for proximity can develop that will bind us to the world in which we find each other; or bind us to each other and, in such binding, make a world?”.44 Protest movements or co-operative working arrangements may draw on our capacities to love, but this does not mean that participants bring with them the same capacities or understand love in the same way. We therefore turn to psychoanalysis, which claims to provide a genetic explanation of love removed from the ideal model. Instead, psychoanalysis starts with the most formative human experience: being loved.
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We begin life with an oceanic feeling. The boundaries between our bodies and others feel permeable and open: our present sense of the Self is “only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive—indeed, an all- embracing—feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the Ego and the world about it”.45 In the psychoanalytic theatre, the oceanic feeling is supported by the mother whose love is experienced as infinite and indivisible.46 We do not yet realise that people are separate entities who could choose not to love us. But in the formation of the Ego, we learn that love is not infinite, that we can do wrong and can be judged, and that our personhood makes us just one person among many. The ocean tides recede, and the Ego becomes an island. And while our subsequent desires, when sublimated beyond the familial scene, cling to possible objects to fulfil this lack, love describes an enduring need to close the distance between the self and the world, and to love and be loved without experiencing uncertainty and loss. Sigmund Freud can tell a good story about what it means to imagine ourselves in relation to others. We put up defences, we second-guess ourselves, and we lose the ocean. In subsequent reworkings of Freud’s “castration anxiety”, the concept does not describe an actual fear of dismemberment, but rather a structure of prohibition that shapes the emergence of social self. We become aware of our vulnerability and of being regarded by others as vulnerable.47 “The awareness of human separation without reunion by love—is the source of shame”, writes Erich Fromm, and it is “at the same time the source of guilt and anxiety”.48 Negative affects such as hate are therefore not the opposite of love. Rather, having endured formative and troubling experiences of loved objects being withheld, the Ego seeks to reduce the distance between itself and the loved object, and to gain complete mastery over that which is loved. The object could be a person, of course, but also a social movement, an institution, or even a favourite singer. The character of the object matters less than the difference between the object in itself and the unconscious idealisation of the object, which cannot be acknowledged by the subject in love. Unfortunately, this difference catches up with us. The stronger the loving attachment to the object, the more volatile the transformation of this attachment when the object disappoints. No object can sustain indefinitely the investments poured into it, and thus love tends, under certain circumstances, towards the “injury or annihilation of the object”.49 This is the kind of attachment that hooks and Braidotti exclude from their definitions of love, but is nevertheless central to the psychoanalytic account of
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subject formation. While love may begin with a fascinated exploration of new signs belonging to new worlds, the subject in love comes to suspect that they may be just another object in the world of the Other.50 Even when love is reciprocated, the subject fears being replaced: “She could leave me at any moment”, writes Paul B. Preciado, “[love] is magic, evil eye, influence from a distance, tele-endocrinal transmission”.51 Fascination gives way to self-doubt: am I capable of becoming the idealised person that the Other believes me to be? The economy of love is cruel, and desire can always destroy what it builds. We do not love people because we have discovered unexpected and special qualities in them, as much as we feel the need to believe this. We love people because, in the formation of our personhood, we accumulate an existential lack—the love we feel we have lost, the love we fear losing, the love we cannot give. This is one reason why, as hooks suggests, it is “far easier to articulate the pain of love’s absence than to describe its presence and meaning in our lives”.52 Psychoanalysis invites an understanding of love not as a deus ex machina in the plot of life but as a topology of stories that we did not choose and that we can never finish. Judith Butler links this repetition to insecurity embedded within love itself: We are usually fooled by love, find ourselves repeating older scenes in what appears as novel and unprecedented, find ourselves returned to older patterns of self after ecstatic outbursts of love, or one comes to think about one’s ecstasy in new ways, wondering whether this is ecstasy, whether this is love, doubting, doubting.53
Old loves are always folded into new loves. We hope that the newly loved object that will change us, only to realise—sometimes too soon, sometimes too late—that we remain entangled in our own memories and expectations. As a Turkish saying has it, “Love is a journey where one meets oneself”.54 These problems are not limited to romantic love. Reflecting on the institutional trajectories of critical whiteness studies, Fiona Nicoll observes that in order to challenge institutional hierarchies, the “desire for and attachment to ‘my job’ is one of the hardest things to give up both psychologically and materially”.55 Our desiring attachments may not be entirely responsive to our scholarly capacities to understand or reproduce a given social critique. The love of a theoretical manoeuvre, or of practicing intellectual enlightenment—all foldings, unfoldings, refoldings. How can we overcome the trappings of attachment, such that new commitments and passions do not simply restage old dramas?
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In the closing scene to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Clementine Kruczynski and Joel Barish, who met the day before and shared a perfect day of adventure and affection, each receive a mysterious cassette tape. On Clementine’s tape, she hears herself complaining about her sex life with Joel, his lack of professional motivation, and the undesirability of starting a family with him: “do I want my kids to have his creepy little genes?”. Joel on cassette is equally vicious: “that’s Clementine all over. Complete selfishness. Complete and utter disregard for anyone else’s feelings. … She’s like a train wreck, tearing people apart leaving chaos and destruction in her wake.” The viewer knows that the tapes come from interviews during a previous relationship between Clementine and Joel, and that a mysterious company has erased the memories of this relationship. Our protagonists overcome this warning with a brutal honesty that merely intensifies their shared intimacy. “I can’t think of anything I don’t like about you right now”, says Joel, to which Clementine replies: “But you will. You will think of things. And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.” “Okay.” “Okay.” Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind dramatises the contradictions of love identified in Freudian psychoanalysis, playing on traces of a cloudy past that churn with scattered hopes for impossible futures. In resigning themselves to repeat a love that will inevitably fail, Joel and Clementine concoct for themselves a workable fiction about the capacities of love, straining against all the evidence that people change, that desire is fickle, and that love has limits. The return of the repressed, in Freud’s famous formulation, arrives as an indictment of a love that exists both in the past, as a catastrophe that Joel and Clementine cannot remember, and in the future, as a telos for a union destined to unravel in all too predictable ways. Paul B. Preciado captures this sense that love is enabled and haunted by oblivion: [Complete] ignorance of the future was the condition that provided the possibility of continuing to live in the present. Just as it is necessary to forget to keep living, it is necessary not to know the future to wait naively for time to pass. … If there were a precise psychosomatic memory of the previous breakup, no one would fall in love again; nor would we if we knew in advance the exact circumstances of the end of the love we were about to begin having.56
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To love is to meddle with memory in the interests of living well. Love repeats even when it fails, even because it fails, and because it can learn to enjoy failure. Truths do not help in this business of failure. Indeed, psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott expresses concern for people who “are so firmly anchored in objectively perceived reality that they are … out of touch with the subjective world and with the creative approach to fact”.57 Love is a creative approach to fact, perhaps the most creative of them all. Perhaps we have this the wrong way around. Love is not failure itself, but rather provides the conditions through which one is able to risk failure and to risk again. For Jack Halberstam, failure is not a deficit but a correlate of adventure. To confront forces much greater than oneself, one must learn to inhabit failure as a practice, an orientation, a companion.58 Novelty demands failure, and failure demands place to fail into. Maybe that place is love. Rather than asking whether love is good or bad for politics, we might want to ask instead what kinds of love may be adequate to emergent forms of trouble and defeat that we face in our lives—personal, professional, political. For their part, philosophers must be better prepared to admit the possible failure of all ideas about love, and to recognise in this failure that disappointment can still form the basis for new modalities of collective striving. Psychoanalysis unlocks the power of forgetting and the productivity of failure. However, we began with accounts of love motivated by social justice, and in the interests of a “genetic” account of love, we have risked depoliticising our object altogether. We need to orchestrate a rendezvous between love as a resource for engaging political questions, and love as a litany of mistakes endlessly repeated. To begin with, we must contend with two key problems with Freud’s account of love. The first problem is what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call “familialism”, or the construction of the family as a microcosm to explain and remedy wider social problem.59 The emergence of objects of love in the psyche can always be explained as a series of substitutions for originary objects, which leads back to the familial scene as the privileged explanatory frame. But the forces that shape our formative experiences of being loved do not linger at the familial doorstep. As Kimberlé Crenshaw has shown in the North American context, white middle-class households have long involved complex dependencies on working-class domestic care workers, a role disproportionately performed by many African American and Latinx American women.60 To be loved, for some children, has involved some degree of participation in the hierarchy between parents and domestic
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caregivers, as illustrated in the dramatic closing to Todd Solondz’s Storytelling (2001). Arlie Hochschild also suggests that parents who perform such “emotional labour” may themselves have conflicted relationships to love, especially those—such as Overseas Domestic Workers—who spend more time with others’ children than with their own.61 By casting familial love as the exemplar for all others, we treat social and cultural relations as effects of familial arrangements, when the converse is more often true. Furthermore, familialism can be profoundly ethnocentric. By focusing on the bourgeois nuclear family, psychoanalysis has oriented us towards intense intersubjective relationships as the model for love, rather than loving communities or loving social environments. For example, Jessica Kean observes that arrangements of care within extended families in Aboriginal communities are presented by Australian news media as lacking in coherence and sexual fidelity, thereby casting Aboriginal parents as risks to their children.62 The second problem follows from the first. Despite writing often about the influence of mothers and fathers on specific patients, Freud disregards the wider social and political aspects of gendered divisions of labour and invokes the primacy of maternal “love” with sparse discussions of practices of love, or what D.W. Winnicott calls “ordinary devotion”.63 Freud centres male sexual libido and homosocial rivalry as the privileged catalysts of familial psychodynamics, and has only a cursory interest in the activity of mothers within the household. As Nancy Chodorow has argued, children who grow up in patriarchal households may carry into their own intimate relationships patterns of inequality, such as a belief that men can simply be emotionally unavailable, or that women should be held responsible for securing a loving environment and performing domestic labour.64 These criticisms speak to the underlying ambiguity of the “oceanic feeling” within which we began. Does the story about formative love distort or obscure the labour involved in practices of love, which might better be labelled as “care”? If we preserve the insight that childhood provides lessons in love, to what extent are adults able to disentangle these lessons from formative understandings of household arrangements and hierarchies? As bell hooks notes, the assumption that people have already learned “instinctively” how to love from their parents can contribute to a dearth of public conversations about how to love as adults, as well as embarrassment and shame for children coming from households without love.65 In the final section of this chapter, we focus on romantic narratives in popular culture as a dominant resource through which people learn about love. In
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doing so, we hold together psychoanalytic insights around the structures and limitations of fantasy with feminist perspectives on the ways that understandings of love—and the family—can reflect and reproduce ideas about gender. We have so far presented contradictory accounts of love and noted the ways that different models seek to resolve these contradictions. As the most common way of engaging with the ambivalence of love, we tell stories. The Love Plot is the label that Lauren Berlant gives to the romantic storylines that promise perfect but mostly unattainable futures. Such narratives depend on the obstruction of love for love to acquire its proper meaning.66 The Love Plot is less about goals that we can plausibly actualise than about constructing “a world that the unconscious deems worth living in”.67 Filled with spontaneous desires, images of perfection, and at least one “very bad decision”, Love Plots allow us to acknowledge the ambivalence and uncertainty of our inner psychic lives, while retaining some hope for a future where love can be experienced as unbounded and unconflicted. Popular fictions about fantastical romances allow us to “act out certain unconscious or repressed needs, or express in an overt and symbolic fashion certain latent motives which [individuals] must give expression to, but cannot face openly”.68 The Love Plot does not require those who participate to believe that they will actually find true love, but it does provide a way of positioning all other social goods as secondary to the supreme good of romantic destiny. “At first love appeared to offer freedom”, writes Amy Bonnaffons, “it gave me a kind of soaring feeling, the world seemed to belong especially to me”.69 Love Plots also tell us something about public feelings and how they congeal in certain types of narratives. For Lauren Berlant sentimentality is a public feeling which “uses personal stories to tell of structural effects, but in doing so risks thwarting the very attempt to perform rhetorically a scene of pain that must be soothed politically”.70 Sentimentality is a balm to mediate the difficult reality that painful feelings are not evenly distributed within populations. The queer “coming of age” film, Love Simon (2018), hits all of the beats of a conventional teen romantic comedy: secret loves, confused identities, broken and mended friendships, shifting familial dynamics, and true love finally revealed. The story begins when protagonist Simon starts secretly communicating with a mysterious boy at his high school, “Blue”, who has made online confessions about being gay. As the tentative romance develops, Simon’s emails are discovered by another student, Martin, and revealed to the whole school. Having been
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socially ostracised, Simon posts an online message to Blue, asking him to meet him at the school carnival. The day of the carnival, a dejected Simon waits on the Ferris wheel with no sign of Blue, but when he runs out of tickets, Martin buys him one last ride. Blue arrives in the nick of time and is revealed to be school friend Bram. Simon and Blue/Bram kiss on the Ferris wheel as a crowd of students cheer them on. In this euphoric moment, the viewer is invited to join Simon’s peers in feeling the sentimental rush attending a “first love”. But what does this sentimentality cover over? What is the scene of pain that is soothed in this kiss between boys at a school carnival? What happens to the trauma of queer youth and the disenfranchisement of LGBTIQ+ people? What happens to political conflicts and painful feelings in moments of collective sentimental pleasure? The Love Plot is a natural anathema to progressive social movements. To the extent that the Love Plot appeals to personal narcissism and finite self-interest, the cultural obsession with love may risk reducing universal principles to personal preferences and substituting one’s familiar social milieu for more far-reaching ideas of community or society. Politicians know this too. Sentimental love is a virtue more easily sold to voters— wedding snapshots, babies being kissed—than the capacity to govern well. Those seeking to debunk the Love Plot as a mere obfuscation of real social problems need look no further than European history, where the discourse of romantic love emerged “sometime between the beginning and the middle of the twelfth century, first in southern and then in northern France”.71 C.S. Lewis argues that the conventions of love in the European Middle Ages emerged as an elaboration of pre-existing social power relations: Before the coming of courtly love, the relation of vassal and lord, in all its intensity and warmth, already existed; it was a mould into which romantic passion would almost certainly be poured. And if the beloved were also the feudal superior the thing becomes entirely natural and inevitable. The emphasis on courtesy results from the same conditions.72
Romantic love has long been promoted as both eternal and inevitable, and thereby helping to make extant social hierarchies feel natural, harmonious, and beyond contention. Contemporary romance narratives may share with their historical antecedents a tendency to celebrate the power of love to solve social problems, and in doing so, provide apologetics for those problems.
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Feminist philosophers have been highly attentive to the trappings of the Love Plot. For Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, women too often respond to the constraints and limitations of their circumstances by over- investing in the promise of amorous transcendence. The woman in love “chooses to want her enslavement so ardently that it will seem to her to be the expression of her freedom”, so that “she will exalt as sovereign the one she loves, she will posit him as value and supreme reality: she will efface herself before him. Love becomes a religion for her”.73 What begins as idolatry becomes a denial of self, “abolishing the boundaries that separate her from the beloved”.74 This gives rise to myriad problems: a fetishisation of the other that refuses to recognise their fragility or failings; an internalisation of the abuse or violence enacted by the other; a suspicion of potential rivals and corresponding distrust of other women; and in some cases, a desire to keep the other at a distance, “for beings of flesh and blood would be fatally contrary to their dreams”.75 Although these themes may initially resemble Freud’s commentary on the pathologies of love, de Beauvoir places her analysis on new foundations by passing through a historical and sociological understanding of the situation of the woman in love. The maladies of love do not spring from infantile frustrations endlessly repeated by the unconscious, but from a deeply unjust world for which romantic love provides one of several deeply unsatisfying remedies. In this way, the woman in love mistakes her desire to feel empowered with actual power and agency by projecting onto her oppressed situation the scripts of romantic love. More recently, Laura Kipnis takes up aspects of de Beauvoir’s critique, pitting unsentimental desires and bodily impulses against the spectre of those who “play by the rules” in the vast “wedding- industrial complex”.76 Flirting and cheating become tools for unsettling the bourgeois couple, while romantic love is a thin cypher for the burdens of domestic servitude. Queer theorists have reiterated concerns about romantic ideals of love, both in relation to its perpetuation of homophobic prejudices, and in relation to its narrowing of ethical imaginary. In relation to the former, Gayle Rubin’s influential research on sexual politics has shown that the discourse of “compulsory heterosexuality” participates in a wider field of sexual hierarchies, wherein desire is imagined to be at constant risk of slipping from heterosexual to homosexual, procreative to perverse, private to public.77 For example, conservative lobbies in Australia, the United States, and elsewhere have argued that the expansion of marriage rights to include non- heterosexual couples will lead down a slippery slope towards polyamory
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and polygamy, paedophilia and bestiality.78 However, given the success of same-sex marriage campaigns in some global jurisdictions (although certainly not all),79 there has been a renewal of interest in the social values embedded in monogamy and marriage. David Halperin, for example, argues that the “queerness of love … remains unassimilable to the standard romantic plot and the social institution of marriage”.80 This claim may have some grounding in the histories of some gay and lesbian communities, where diverse sexual practices have been deeply embedded within community organising and political activism. Linnell Secomb points to the important of gay and lesbian ventures beyond the conventional forms of monogamy: [Intimate] relations proliferated in lesbian and gay communities. This intimacy was not only, and perhaps not primarily, located within monogamous couple relationships but often within a complex and intertwining network of erotic-friendship relations often involving ex-partners, casual sexual partners, friendships that become erotic and erotic relations that become friendships (Weeks 1997: 324). These diverse and continually transforming networks provide intimacy, connection, erotic pleasures, care and nurturing undermining the strict rules and boundaries that regulate and determine the limits and relations between family and kinship on the one hand, and public institutions on the other.81
Secomb does not suggest that non-monogamous relationships are intrinsically queer, or that those in monogamous relationships are unable to contribute to queer communities. However, she does point towards the importance of cultural practices that cannot be reduced to the “lack of” or “desire for” romance, monogamy, and marriage. In a more forceful argument for the specificity of queer intimacies and relations, Lee Edelman suggests that “two-as-one intimacy of the couple form” already contains within it heteronormative assumptions about sexual difference,82 and that the normative telos of the romance narrative is towards the reproductive futurity of the (presumed to be) heterosexual home.83 Furthermore, the normative status accorded to the heterosexual nuclear family in popular culture may buttress perceptions that monogamy is superior to polyamory or other relationship structures, and that biological father/mother coupling are superior to other caring arrangements for children (e.g. extended families, foster and adoptive families, rainbow families).84
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These criticisms of romance are compatible with the ideal models of love with which we began. hooks, Nash, Braidotti, and Badiou each position love as means of extending oneself across difference, and thereby embracing that which “is different, is unique, is unrepeatable, unstable and foreign”.85 By contrast, the Love Plot offers a formula: roles to be played out, a finite set of endings, and a clearly demarcated private arena for desire to be satiated. Nevertheless, for Berlant the Love Plot is neither anti-feminist nor queerphobic. The denigration of romance genres in popular culture results, at least in part, from gendered hierarchies of cultural value, and elides the important navigations of identity and desire that romance scenarios make available. We need fantasies to sustain our intimate and social investments, and texts associated with queer popular culture can be as indebted to fantasy and genre-play as so-called straight texts—perhaps even more so, as we will discuss in Chap. 3. For her part, de Beauvoir does not argue that the woman in love is harmed simply by fantasies of love or romance in themselves; rather it is the social situation of its practitioners that can make the pathologies of love so harmful.86 We must therefore remain alive to the possibility that changing social circumstances—economic, political, institutional—may give rise to radically different relationships to love. This chapter has attempted to tease out the conflicting ways that love has been theorised and to think through its place in private and public life. In the next chapters we work through a range of stories about love which push against the established conventions of the Love Plot. We are interested in representations of love that we call post-sentimental that eschew the public feelings which smooth over psychic conflict and leave uninterrogated social problems. If we abandon the sentimental paradigm for telling love stories, what impact will this have on the ways that we live out our loves? What new love stories might we tell?
Notes 1. Warner, The Trouble with Normal, p. 100. 2. Adorno, Theodor W. “Education after Auschwitz.” Translated by Henry W. Pickford. In Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, 191–204. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005, p. 90. 3. See Cancian, Francesca M. “The Feminization of Love.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 11, no. 4 (1986): 692–709.
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4. de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Translated by H.M. Parshley. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1972. 5. Hage, Ghassan. Alter-Politics. Melbourne, Australia: Melbourne University Press, 2020, p. 59. 6. Peck quoted in hooks, bell. All About Love: New Visions. New York: William Morrow and Co. Inc., 2000, p. 4. 7. hooks, bell. Outlaw Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 289. 8. Ibid., p. 290. 9. Grossberg, Lawrence. “Rock, Territorialization and Power.” Cultural Studies 5, no. 3 (1991): p. 364. 10. Nash, Jennifer C. “Practicing Love: Black Feminism, Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality.” Meridians 11, no. 2 (2013), pp. 10–11, 14. 11. Collins, Patricia Hill, and Sirma Bilge. Intersectionality. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2016, p. 203. 12. Felski, The Limits of Critique, p. 12. 13. Nash, “Practicing Love,” p. 11. 14. Dreher, Tanja. “Eavesdropping with Permission: The Politics of Listening for Safer Speaking Spaces.” Borderlands 8, no. 1 (2009), p. 2 15. Nash, Jennifer C. Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019, p. 119. 16. hooks, All About Love, p. 117. 17. Braidotti, Rosi. Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2006, pp. 258–59. 18. Ibid., p. 197 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. 21. Badiou, Alain, and Nicolas Truong. In Praise of Love. Translated by Peter Brush. London: Profile Books, 2012, pp. 16–17. 22. Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003, p. 7. See also Illouz, Eva. Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. 23. Halperin, David M. “Queer Love.” Critical Inquiry 45, no. 2 (2019): p. 419. 24. hooks, All About Love, p. 6. 25. Nash, “Practicing Love,” p. 18. 26. Mehta, Rimple. Women, Mobility and Incarceration: Love and Recasting of Self across the Bangladesh-India Border. London and New York: Routledge, 2018, p. 38. 27. Ibid., p. 127.
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28. See hooks’ commentary on Martin Luther King, Jr. in Outlaw Culture, pp. 290–292. 29. hooks, All About Love, p. 221. 30. Ibid., p. 4. 31. See Rorty, Amelie. “Spinoza on the Pathos of Idolatrous Love and the Hilarity of True Love.” In Feminist Interpretations of Benedict Spinoza, edited by Moira Gatens, 65–85. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. 32. Mills, Charles W. ““Ideal Theory” as Ideology.” Hypatia 20, no. 3 (2005): 165–84. 33. Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Books, 2004, p. 351. 34. Ibid. 35. Ibid. 36. Cobble, Dorothy Sue. “More Intimate Unions.” In Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care, edited by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas and Eileen Bori, 280–95. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010. 37. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. “Love and Gold.” In Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, 15–30. New York Granta Books, 2003. For a critical commentary on Hardt and Negri’s concept of love, see Gregg, Melissa. “The Break-Up: Hardt and Negri’s Politics of Love.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 35, no. 4 (2011): pp. 395–402. 38. On the alienation of the worker in relation to love, see Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. London: Unwin, 1988 . 39. Caluya, Gilbert. “Muslim Domesticities: Home Invasions and Affective Identification.” In Affect in Relation: Families, Places, Technologies, edited by Birgitt Röttger-Rössler and Jan Slaby, 134–52. London and New York: Routledge, 2018, p. 149. 40. Ibid., pp. 148, 149. 41. Dole, Christopher. “Revolution, Occupation, and Love: The 2011 Year in Cultural Anthropology.” American Anthropologist 114, no. 2 (2012): p. 231. 42. See Ahmed, Sara. “In the Name of Love.” borderlands 2, no. 3 (2003). 43. Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Translated by Annette Lavers. St. Albans, UK: Granada, 1973 , p. 125. 44. Berlant, Lauren. “A properly political concept of love: Three approaches in ten pages.” Cultural Anthropology 26, no. 4 (2011), p. 684. 45. Freud, Sigmund. Civilisation and Its Discontents. Translated by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1962 , p. 15.
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46. Farina, Lara. “Missing Something? Queer Desire.” In Clinical Encounters in Sexuality: Psychoanalytic Practice & Queer Theory, edited by Noreen Giffney and Eve Watson, 77–100. New York: punctum books, 2017, p. 84. 47. See Butler, Judith. “Subjection, Resistance, Resignification: Between Freud and Foucault.” In The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection, pp. 83–105. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1997. 48. Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. London: Unwin, 1988 , p. 15. 49. Freud, Sigmund. “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes.” Translated by James Strachey. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud: Volume XIV (1914–1916). London: The Hogarth Press, 1957 , p. 139. 50. See Deleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs: The Complete Text. Translated by Richard Howard. London and New York: Continuum, 2000; de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Translated by H.M. Parshley. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1972, pp. 669–674. 51. Preciado, Paul B. Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. New York City: Feminist Press, 2017, p. 414. 52. hooks, All About Love, p. xxvi. 53. Butler, Judith. “Doubting Love.” In Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two, edited by James Harmon, pp. 62–66. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007, p. 64. 54. The Turkish is “Aşk insanın kendisiyle buluştug ̆u bir yolculuk.” See Aksan, Yeşim, and Dilek Kantar. “No Wellness Feels Better Than This Sickness: Love Metaphors from a Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Metaphor and Symbol 23, no. 4 (2008): p. 264. 55. Nicoll, Fiona. “Beyond White Virtue: Reflections on the First Decade of Critical Race and Whiteness Studies in the Australian Academy.” Critical Race & Whiteness Studies 10, no. 2 (2014), p. 4. Thank you to Elaine Laforteza for pointing to this reference. 56. Preciado, Testo Junkie, p. 133. 57. Winnicott, D. W. Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock Publications, 1989 , p. 67. Emphasis in original. 58. Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011. 59. See Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley, Helen R. Lane and Mark Seem. London: Continuum, 2004. 60. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1, no. 8 (1989): p. 156.
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61. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. “Love and Gold.” In Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, 15–30. New York Granta Books, 2003. 62. Kean, Jessica. “Coming to Terms: Race, Class and Intimacy in Australian Public Culture.” Sexualities 22, no. 7–8 (2019): 1182–96. 63. See King, Lucy. “There Is No Such Thing as a Mother.” Winnicott Studies: The Journal of the Squiggle Foundation 9 (1994): 18–23. 64. Chodorow, Nancy J. The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. 65. bell hooks, All About Love, pp. xxviii, 7–8. 66. Berlant, Lauren. Desire/Love. Brooklyn, NY: Punctum Books, 2012. 67. Ibid. p. 72. 68. Cawelti, John G. “The Concept of Formula in the Study of Popular Literature.” The Journal of Popular Culture 3, no. 3 (1969): p. 390. 69. Bonnaffons, Amy. “Horse.” In The Wrong Heaven, 53–88. Boston, Massachusetts, United States: Little, Brown and Co., 2018, p. 59. 70. Berlant, Lauren. “Poor Eliza.” American Literature 70, no. 3 (1998): p. 641. 71. Bloch, R. Howard. Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991, pp. 8–9. 72. Lewis, C. S. The Allegory of Love. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960, p. 13. 73. de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 653. 74. Ibid., p. 660. 75. Ibid., p. 665. 76. Kipnis, Laura. Against Love: A Polemic. New York: Pantheon, 2003, p. 50. 77. Rubin, Gayle. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” In Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader, 137–81. Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2011, p. 153. 78. See Aviram, Hadar, and Gwendolyn M. Leachman. “The Future of Polyamorous Marriage: Lessons from the Marriage Equality Struggle.” Harvard Journal of Law & Gender 38 (2015): p. 274; Tilley, Cristen, and Nathan Hoad. “‘A Respectful Debate’.” ABC News October 26 (2017). http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-1 0-1 1/ssm-s ame-s ex-m arriagerespectful-debate-ugly-side/8996500. 79. See Altman, Dennis, and Jonathan Symons. Queer Wars: The New Global Polarization over Queer Rights. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2016. 80. Halperin, “Queer Love,” p. 419. 81. Secomb, Linnell. Philosophy and Love: From Plato to Popular Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 136.
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82. Berlant, Desire/Love, p. 6. 83. Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham, USA: Duke University Press, 2004. 84. See Kean, Jessica. “A Stunning Plurality: Unravelling Hetero- and Mononormativities through HBO’s Big Love.” Sexualities 18, no. 5/6 (2015): 698–713; Weston, Kath. Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. 85. Badiou and Truong, In Praise of Love, p. 98. 86. See Kean, Jessica. “Misreading Nonmonogamy in Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay.” Hypatia 33, no. 1 (2018): 128–43.
Singledom in the Future Tense: Lobster, Unicorn, Horse
The couple is the dominant paradigm of romantic love. For Andrea Long Chu, the Other that constructs my gender is the possibility of the intersubjective other of an intimate relationship. “What makes gender”, she writes, “is the fact that it expresses, in every case, the desires of another”.1 To feel masculine or feminine can mean, for many people, being felt to be masculine or feminine in the context of a couple. Sara Ahmed notes that heterosexual coupledom is also promoted as the cultural exemplar of happiness.2 If heterosexuals work hard on coupling and they still are not happy, the solution is not to reject coupledom. They simply need to start coupling better: new techniques, new rituals, new partners—coupledom should be able to deliver, even if it hasn’t yet. This does not mean coupledom is accepted as an ideal without scrutiny. Many political struggles have been fought over the social conventions around coupledom, whether in the context of legal reforms around marital rape—themselves often framed by the desire to regard marital relations as “loving, mutually supportive, and harmonious, rather than loathsome, abusive, and conflict ridden”3—or in the contexts of changing cultural meanings and hierarchies attached to weddings.4 In the context of countries with newly won marriage equality rights (e.g. Australia, Ecuador, Germany, Malta, Taiwan), the meanings of the couple have been reworked through what Kate McNicholas Smith and Imogen Tyler call a “post-queer” politics.5 But while the couple may become the new palimpsest on which the history of queer politics will be © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 T. Laurie, H. Stark, The Theory of Love, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7_3
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written, the single person risks becoming a ghostly figure, a metonym for missed opportunities and unmoored desire. To value singledom is surely to miss out on the triumphs of the historical moment, insofar as efforts to “mainstream” queer identities focus on monogamous, married couples.6 Could singledom be anything more than the abject territory from which queer newlyweds have been emancipated? The social meanings around singledom are difficult to map, for reasons closely related to the definitional crisis around celibacy described by Elizabeth Abbott: [Celibacy] is inextricably linked to how societies define sexuality and how this definition finds concrete expression in their family structures, social standards, and laws. Outside these specific contexts, celibacy is nothing more than not having sex, which tells us precisely nothing about how billions of humans have experienced it, chosen it, worked within it, rejected it, been coerced into it, and converted to or away from it.7
The control of women’s bodies in many cultural and historical contexts has depended on strong cultural meanings attached to celibacy, including traditions intended to govern how, when, and with whom women express their sexuality.8 For its part, singledom continues to be presented as a transitional and undesirable life stage in many contexts, and sociological research points towards the internalisation of stigma among people without romantic partners.9 The liberal valuation of choice in intimate relationships also tends to mask a variety of economic pressures that incentivise monogamous coupledom. But the shared experiences of single women— celibate, windowed, or otherwise unattached—have also become the basis of political self-organising. In Nepal, the stigma attached to widows of husbands lost to the Maoist Conflict (1996–2006) led to a collective social movement to transform the meanings of the “white sari” and to improve the dire economic circumstances of ageing single women.10 In mainland China, the pressure on women to be married by their late 20s has been fuelled by a stigmatising State discourse on so-called leftover women (the pejorative term is shèngnǚ), which has now given rise to new kinds of solidarity between feminist and LGBTIQ+ activists seeking to diversify the forms of “acceptable” intimate and family life.11 For these reasons, singledom may be particularly interesting for thinking through the scope and purposes of LGBTIQ+ politics. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick notes, gay and lesbian studies have a tradition of “valuing
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nonprocreative forms of creativity and pleasure; a history of being suspicious of the tendentious functioning of open secrets; and a politically urgent tropism toward the gaily and, if necessary, the defiantly explicit”.12 Sedgwick is not writing about singles, but about masturbation; nevertheless, the social stigma attached to masturbation contributes to mononormativity or the discourse that establishes the happy couple as the telos of human relationality.13 In recognising the possibility of singledom as a source of political identity or queer agitation, we do not wish to romanticise the célibataire as the final frontier for transgressive loves. Jill Reynolds and Margaret Wetherell make a salient observation about the care needed in advocating for or against single life: Trouble may now be arising from the highly idealized repertoires of singleness and the relative lack of discursive routes available to women to celebrate their single identity. If one avows a strongly positive view of singleness then this makes the desire to move out of the category troublesome to express. What seems difficult to hold together in the current discursive climate is a positive construction of the category “single” with the desire for a relationship. One seems to obviate the other. The positive constructions of the idealized repertoires seem to render the desire for relationship difficult to admit.14
We need to tell stories that affirm the social worth and lovability of people who are single, but this does not mean that the “idealized repertoires” of singleness necessarily contribute to the wellbeing of singles. Space is needed for stories about loneliness and isolation too—both within and outside of intimate relationships. We do want to argue, however, that the social meanings given to love are shaped by what Reynolds and Wetherell call the “interpretative repertoires” available for imagining life outside of the couple form, and that the “unhappy single” forms a limit-horizon against which such imaginings take place.15 Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015), Lucy Gillespie’s Unicornland (2017), and Amy Bonnaffons’ “Horse” (2018) each interrogate the social goods that coupledom is commonly believed to offer, and allow for careful reflections on those desires and frustrations that we overlook when taking coupledom as the exemplar of love. What is monogamy? It must surely mean being in a relationship with one person, not two or three. From the ancient Greek mono (single) and
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gamos (marriage), possibly by way of the seventeenth-century monogamie in French, the English term “monogamy” once had the narrow meaning of single marriage across a lifetime. As options for divorce expanded, so too did the breadth of the term, such that despite many people not being in relationships, there exists what Jessica Kean describes as “a generic and pervasive cultural tendency to take monogamy for granted as normal, natural, and right”.16 But something peculiar happens here. While polyamory, for its part, has become a source of (somewhat contested) social identification, the figure of the monogamist is harder to pin down.17 Who is the ideal monogamist? Is a monogamist a person who believes that an exclusive relationship with a single other person will bring supreme happiness and fulfilment? Not at all. Some monogamists are profoundly unhappy in their relationships, but they become no less monogamist for this fact. Some spend little or no time at all with their significant other and prefer the company of friends. Some monogamists dream of solitude. These variations do not matter because monogamy is not an erotic desire, a sexual orientation, or a relationship to the Good life. Monogamous coupledom is a regulatory ideal that sustains beliefs about what people should do, rather than a reliable description of what people are doing.18 Monogamy is less an identity than a limit-horizon against the moral transgression of cheating, which has acquired a range of strong cultural and political connotations.19 From the viewpoint of love, however, monogamy is most interesting as an entirely unsentimental means for demonstrating love: romance, rituals, poetic speech acts, and intimate relations can all be added on. Would monogamy stripped entirely of sentiment still be recognisable as love? This is the question asked by Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster (2015). Adopting a range of satirical and deadpan devices, The Lobster explores the limits of monogamy as an enforceable social norm, and in doing so, reflects on the concomitant norms that shape the lives of single people. The Lobster is divided into two narrative sequences that present two sharply contrasting ways that singledom can be regulated. The first is a country Hotel designed to secure relationships for those identified by obscure State surveillance mechanisms as single. Into the Hotel the film follows David, and his sole companion, a Border Collie called Bob, who we discover had previously been David’s human brother. If David cannot find a partner among the Hotel guests after 45 days, he will be taken to the Transformation Room and turned into a non-human animal. David chooses his own animal, the lobster, because they “live for over 100
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years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their life”. David also “likes the sea very much”. Most guests do not want to be transformed into non-humans. To find a partner, guests search for common traits with other guests, such as a shared limp, a shared nosebleed, or short- sightedness. Much of the humour in The Lobster derives from the arbitrariness of love founded on arbitrary resemblances, and for this reason the film has attracted comparisons to reality television dating programmes.20 While The Lobster can be read as a satirical indictment of coupledom, the Hotel does not draw on sentimental understandings of romance and true love. Instead, it uses rewards and punishments to construct coupledom as a calculable social good, including socialising at dances and participating in theatrical plays about the hazards of single life. If a potential partner is found, the prospective couple would, as the Hotel Manager informs guests, be granted access to “a double room with a larger wardrobe and a larger bathroom. They will be allowed to use the group sports facilities and to eat together in the restaurant.” Coupledom does not come naturally in the world of The Lobster. Hetero-intimacy must be taught. The Hotel punishes any desires or activities that can be construed as belonging to single life. David is told by the Hotel Manager that life is easier “when there are two of things”, and by way of demonstration, one of his hands is cuffed behind his back for a 24-hour period. Masturbation is punished because solitary pleasures work against the imperative to couple. One guest, the Lisping Man, is confronted by the Hotel Manager at breakfast: Hotel Manager: Were you looking at a photograph while you were masturbating? Lisping Man: Yes. Hotel Manager: What did the photograph show? Lisping Man: A naked woman on a horse in the country. …. Hotel Manager: If I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t be ogling the naked woman but the horse. I’m sure that horse used to be a weak and cowardly man, just like you.
The Lisping Man’s hand is placed in a toaster and burned. In the Hotel, David embarks on an ill-fated relationship with the Cruel- Hearted Woman, having realised that “it is more difficult to pretend that you do have feelings when you don’t, than to pretend you don’t have
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feelings when you do”. His task is to demonstrate the possession of a shared trait: in this case, the Cruel-Hearted Woman’s sadistic disregard for others’ wellbeing. Their first conversation is about the inconvenience of the noise emitted by a dying woman who has leapt from a hotel window. Later, the Cruel-Hearted Woman pretends to choke on an olive, and David is able to feign nonchalance. It is only when she kicks Bob (the dog, former brother) to death that David fails the test of compulsory coupling and forces the Cruel-Hearted Woman into the unspeakable torments of the Transformation Room. It is due to his failed efforts at coupling, rather than his violence towards the Cruel-Hearted Woman per se, that David is forced to then leave the Hotel. Queer cultural criticism provides some useful tools for identifying the object(s) of critique in The Lobster. As noted in Chap. 2, much contemporary LGBTIQ+ activism in Anglophone contexts has been organised around marriage equality rights, and differences have emerged between those who would like to expand the social ideal of the monogamous couple to include non-heterosexuals, and those who see queer activism as perfectly poised to subvert the perceived social benefits of coupling.21 In this context, the Hotel sequence in The Lobster can be read either as a parody of monogamous courtship rituals that belong to bygone eras far removed from the liberal, choice-oriented worlds of savvy modern viewers, or as an indictment of heteronormativity tout court. Hanging in the balance, as Jessica Kean has observed, is the status of monogamous coupling vis-à-vis heteronormativity.22 Does the latter imply the former? Could there be a mononormativity independent of heteronorms? We notice in passing that the Hotel accommodates same-sex couples. Does this make the Hotel any better—or, indeed, any worse? The Lobster supplies answers to these questions through an abrupt narrative turn. After a failed romance with the Cruel-Hearted Woman, David flees the confines of the Hotel to join a band of Loners, who live as outlaws in order to pursue singledom. Unfortunately, the Loners share much in common with the Hotel, and the authoritarian Loner Leader employs violent methods to enforce a prohibition on coupling. Loners accused of flirting have their mouths cut in the “red kiss”, although the film’s narrator fears the “red intercourse” even more: “I have never seen it happen, but it’s not difficult to imagine what it means. Oh my God, I am so afraid of it.” Despite these deterrents, David becomes embroiled in a Forest romance with another Loner, the Shortsighted Woman, due in part to their shared vision impairment. The only opportunity for David and the
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Shortsighted Woman to publicly express their love comes when they go to the city, where coupling is mandatory and uniformed officers patrol for any non-conforming singles. Visiting the Loner Leader’s married parents, David and the Shortsighted Woman fabricate a perfect picture of coupledom: David: The only problem with the job is that I don’t have enough time for my wife and kids. We have four beautiful, healthy children. … But even if we’d never had children, I’d never dream of leaving my wife. Even if it was just the two of us, on our own, we’d go on trips, we’d go to Portofino in Italy or to a Greek island for the summer and so our relationship would be as intense as it was at the start. I love her so much I could die for her.
On later discovery of the illicit relationship, the Loner Leader blinds the Shortsighted Woman, and without their shared common trait, her relationship with David falters. The film ends with David standing in a restaurant bathroom with a steak knife to his eye, seemingly prepared to repair his relationship by self-inflicting a shareable trait. But even this love story between David and the Shortsighted Woman, a seemingly spontaneous transgression of social rules, is grounded only in a shareable trait and one utilitarian calculation: David needs someone to rub ointment on his back. Beginning as a satire of monogamy and a vindication of singledom, The Lobster becomes more circumspect. Across the Hotel and the Forest, the problem may not be compulsory coupling per se, but rather that our societies can be overly dependent on conventions around intimacy as markers of social belonging. We assemble vast social machinery to generate the right kinds of intimacies, while public culture and public spaces become less desirable and less liveable. In desiring that others desire the way that we do (and vice versa), we become overly confident that political consensus could be secured by finding the right desire, with the right people, for the right things. And in this respect, the Loners are no better than Hotel management. “Unicorn” is a colloquial term used mostly to describe bisexual women interested in joining swinging couples and are labelled as such for their perceived rarity.23 The web series Unicornland is both a story about finding sexual pleasure and a story about the social relationships that enable or preclude sexual pleasures. Annie is a recent divorcee exploring opportunities for polyamorous intimacy, and through a series of vignettes we follow her into liaisons with different couples. For director Lucy Gillespie, the
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“ethos of sex-positivity and the open relationship scene is that honesty and communication is the peak, pinnacle, most important thing”.24 The programme disrupts the narrative cliché that singleness is valuable only as a stepping stone to becoming “a complete and well-rounded person” for re-entering “the dating game”. In this context, Unicornland presents a counterpoint to The Lobster by showing that the variety of non-monogamies is more complex than the crude opposition between singledom and coupledom. Sometimes, Annie finds a sense of community and commonality, without in any way expecting or wanting to discover a “true love”. At other times, Annie feels emotionally alone while in a couple or in a group. In Episode 5 “Role Play”, Annie joins couple Gina and Julio. Gina wants to use role play to work through a prior sexual assault, but this leads to a comedy of miscommunication. Gina wants Annie and Julio to follow a hackneyed softcore porn script in which Gina will “walk in” on her cheating boyfriend, and this will then lead to a passionate threesome. Annie goes off-script entirely. She doesn’t believe Gina’s lines—or rather, doesn’t believe that Gina believes them. But Annie’s going off-script seems to generate a new script, a new set of roles. Rather than settling on one best possible fantasy, the episode ends with the camera panning across Julio, watching TV on the bed, and Gina, combing Annie’s wet hair in the bath. Maybe this was the fantasy all along—the failure of the role play becomes a more compelling and risky opportunity for intimacy than the proposed scenario itself. As we suggested in Chap. 2, failure can become a way of loving. But the serialisation of Unicornland points to a slightly different analysis. By Episode 5, the viewer is trained not to expect that Annie will experience a breakthrough by forming enduring connections; indeed, there is no sense that Annie will pursue a shared life with Gina and Julio, or that the secret behind the inauthentic role play is an opportunity for authentic love. Unicornland refuses a telos of sex which would demand that physical intimacy be counterbalanced by the future promise of monogamy. The credibility of the unicorn becomes a problem for Episode 6, “Woulda Coulda”. Annie wakes up in bed with Samara and Kim: “can we keep her?” asks Samara, to which Kim replies affectionately, “she has potential”. We soon cut to a street at night, Samara and Kim walking as a couple, Annie comfortably on the side. A man roughly pushes between the couple, leading to an altercation with Kim and a flurry of homophobic remarks from the stranger. The tensest moment, however, is when Kim confronts Annie afterwards, accusing the latter of shying away from the
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conflict. “You have some kind of problem with me?”, asks Annie. “Kim’s jealous”, replies Samara, “straight girls get all of the fun but none of the consequences”. Annie is not straight—she does sleep with women—but that isn’t quite Samara’s point. It may be that she is contributing to what has been termed “bi-erasure”, by positioning Annie’s sexual liaison with women as variable, relative to the presumed constant of heterosexuality.25 (Certainly, Unicornland invites Annie to be read merely as a lapsed heterosexual. In Episode 1, “Should Have Been Me”, she makes an ill-timed reference to her “ex” when visiting her first couple, Julianne and Ethan, and as the latter fall into bickering, Annie leaves with the parting joust: “I didn’t get out of a bad marriage to join yours”.) Perhaps Kim and Samara are right. Annie is a straight person coping with “getting out” of a heterosexual couple, rather than a queer person who was once in a relationship with a man. But in the context of the homophobic street encounter, Annie is not presumed straight solely due to the either/or logic of bi-erasure. Rather, she becomes straight because she has no queer relationship to defend from the homophobe. We need to recognise here that queer legibility in public does not depend on being in a couple, and that homophobic street harassment exists on a direct continuum with heterosexist harassment that Annie would surely have experienced. Nevertheless, it matters that as a single woman, Annie does not have to negotiate homophobia directed at queer couples as couples. And this means, for Kim and Samara, Annie becomes straight. Unicornland does not arbitrate between different claims to queer identity. We do not need to decide whether Kim and Samara are correct in their passing assessment of Annie, or to know whether Annie will see Gina and Julio again to get the role play “right”. More important is the peculiar portrait of singledom that emerges, haunted by a modified logic of closeting.26 Coupledom has speech acts proper to its inauguration—“I love you”, “I do”. Everyday singledom, by contrast, has no proper speech acts, and outside the specific social worlds of celibacy, no rituals to authenticate the feeling that one may prefer this existence. Unicornland is both a celebration of sex positivity and polyamory as a practice of self-care, and a gently critical reflection on the persistence of attachments to the couple form in otherwise progressive social environments. The Lobster and Unicornland present accounts of singledom in society. They are stories about the social mediation of intimacy, such that our self- understanding—whether as single, coupled, polyamorous, or otherwise— passes by way of extant social roles, expectations, and hierarchies. The
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figure of singledom in Amy Bonnaffons’ short story “Horse”, published in her collection The Wrong Heaven (2018), presents a radical refusal of social mediation tout court. The narrative concerns two women who, through different means, find pathways beyond the choice between coupledom and singledom. “We are in this together—at least for now”, Cass tells Serena.27 “Horse” opens with the two housemates’ morning ritual: meeting in the kitchen to plunge needles into each other’s buttocks. Serena takes hormones as part of her in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, while Cass’ injections will, through a process called Equinification, turn her into a horse.28 A high- performing graduate student in English, Serena had eventually left the circuit of casualised teaching work in the academy for a high school, albeit with residual professional anxiety. Cass reads Serena’s desire for motherhood as a way of relinquishing self-control: Even in rare moments of rage, or grief, or drunkenness, she seemed exquisitely self-controlled. … Now, though, she’d begun to grow blurry. This was what she wanted, to blur and smudge her own outlines: but she wanted pregnancy, not anxiety or disappointment, to be the cause.29
Although feeling terrified and, as the pregnancy progresses, increasingly alone, Serena tells Cass that her desire for motherhood is “not an idea, it’s a physical need”.30 Cass, on the other hand, is transforming into a horse because she wants to be “utterly free” and to “do away with constraints entirely”.31 Successfully transformed horses reside at the “Atalanta ranch”, separated entirely from familial, social, and human affiliations. “No credit cards, no fad diets, no existential questions, no more boring meetings or family dinners.” Or at least, this is what a corporate pamphlet on Equinification tells us. Becoming a mother and becoming a horse are established in “Horse” as parallel transformations. The pamphlet reminds us that becoming a horse is just a “steeper, more obvious transformation than the one you would undergo anyway, as a human female becoming a human female—always animal, always becoming”.32 In this way, “Horse” participates in the common zoomorphism of maternity, but maternity is also positioned as a site of the “wildness” that Cass seeks. On contemplating the twins in Serena’s womb, Cass wonders “Perhaps her transformation was even stranger, even wilder, than mine”.33 The process of becoming a horse, like pregnancy, is gendered. The pamphlets muse that the transformation works on women
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not men because women “want it to”.34 To become a horse is to escape the trappings of intimate life: At first love appeared to offer freedom; it gave me a soaring feeling, the world seemed to belong especially to me. But every long-term arrangement made a mockery of that initial flight: each shared domestic situation became a sadistically nurtured garden of resentment, each nonmonogamous configuration required a volume of careful politics—of unceasing demands disguised as negotiations. […] But single life didn’t offer the kind of freedom I wanted, either, with its stale routines, its clumsy infrequent sex. What I wanted was something not offered by human existence at all: the wild unfettered life of the body.35
Becoming a horse may be read as a political act, insofar as Cass rejects society as it is currently organised. But to be a horse is to opt out of both sexual citizenship and political life. “Horse” does not present an alternative to coupledom or a vision of community. The pamphlets on Equinification make this clear: “No political allegiances or disappointments, no responsibility to anyone but yourself”,36 and later: “when you become a horse, you will not care about sisterhood or equality, and if you did you would have no way of working toward these goals”.37 The Atalanta ranch is a place to abandon feelings of anger, boredom, and frustration that have no existing social outlet. These negative affects are presented by Bonnaffons as a reasonable response to the place of women within patriarchy, but this theme is introduced only indirectly. Boredom is the first reason Cass gives for becoming a horse. She is restless, both with couples and with singledom. But boredom gives way to a deep, deep rage. Half-way through the transformation, Cass sleeps with a “floppy-haired graduate student”, and when he reaches out to touch her new hoof, she kicks him in the face. “The sight of his bloody face”, Cass tells us, “only increased my rage, tinged it with contempt for his weakness”.38 Hurrying home, Cass loses the awkward feeling in her hooves: “I was using them as they were meant to be used. I was cantering”.39 This rage reaches a climax when Cass destroys a room filled with Serena’s baby accessories. Rather than this expressing an animal passion—becoming more and more “horse”—Cass recognises that the anger had been “entirely human”.40 The shift from ennui to rage can be read as a feminist project of articulating political feelings that women are otherwise expected to repress, as both Sara Ahmed and Angela McRobbie have suggested in other contexts.41 We could add that rage disrupts the procession of joyous
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affects that are expected to attend pregnancy. Furthermore, in a world that constantly encroaches on the bodily autonomy of women, the desire to build healthy and non-violent social attachments can easily become a desire to reimagine society tout court. Cathy from the ranch tour has “endured nearly every tried-and-true form of female trauma: abuse, rape, abortion, endometriosis, hysterectomy”.42 Cathy tells Cass that “I want a different body, with a clean slate”.43 Rather than attachment and autonomy existing in opposition, we can understand these terms as interdependent. To create space for relationships genuinely free from harm, one may need to make a sudden break away from everyday social arrangements and routines in a manner that is read—often incorrectly—as anti-social.44 Cass and Serena complete their transformations. Baby equipment in tatters, the housemates’ final phone call is “brief, halting, awkward”.45 But from Atalanta ranch, Cass now imagines a future moment in which the two will come face-to-face. This future is tentative: “Somewhere soon …”, “Maybe …”, “Perhaps …”.46 At this imagined moment, Serena does not try to ride Cass the horse, but rather places her hand on Cass’ horse- forehead. The story concludes: There are touches like bridles you can kick away, and then there are touches that startle you into temporary submission, like the universe catching its breath: body against stunned body, mind against bright mind. A sudden snare of recognition. Wildness regarding itself.47
We can use the word “love” to describe this projected moment. Rather than love being a possessive or controlling attachment, as the Freudian tradition has often presented it, love here moves across the unknowns: between species, between bodies that change into something other, and between bodies that may not be entirely knowable to each other—or in this case, not knowable anymore. This is a future in which boundaries no longer matter, whether these be the boundaries between the radically different life paths pursued by Cass and Serena, or the boundaries between bodies that have become unfamiliar but still demand an ethics of recognition. Or rather, some boundaries do matter: to work at all, the Atalanta ranch must segregate from human society. But these boundaries can be redrawn to serve a future society that does not take the couple or the family as its most indispensable building block. “Horse” has no Love Plot. One woman decides to become a mother “totally alone” and the other decides to pursue something stranger and
3 SINGLEDOM IN THE FUTURE TENSE: LOBSTER, UNICORN, HORSE
less human.48 While the narrative concludes with a tender, albeit provisional, scene of love, this vision remains a fantasy projection. “Horse” does not present any easy symmetry or comparison between the two worlds it traverses—human intimacies, and the Atalanta ranch. We do not, for example, discover whether horses have their own hierarchies or injustices. The story promises only deferred utopias; that is, worlds that people can agree would be worth living in, as distinct from the worlds that people are currently capable of building. Lobster, unicorn, horse. Why would non-humans be the exemplars of singledom? They know nothing of romance, of marriage vows, or of love. But perhaps this misses the point. David does not become a lobster and his unexpected romantic discovery may end in misery. To complete her transformation, Cass ceases to be a writer and becomes instead a grazer, and we never meet—yet alone have an opportunity to idealise—Cass the horse. On one possible reading, the non-human becomes a placeholder for the impossibility of singledom as a way of life, Unicornisms. But perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. Try being a lobster, a horse, or a unicorn—whatever allows you to imagine possibilities for a sudden, radical change. To be able to think oneself outside society is profoundly cathartic. Cass’ horse ranch is a place she can go to vent, and finally abandon feelings of anger and frustration that have no existing social outlet. Our purpose here has not been to prove that singledom is a transgression. Singledom can contain traces that lead back to the couple—recently single, still single—and for many people, these traces are important components of the way that singledom is lived. Nevertheless, by enlarging our imagination for singledom as an object of desire, we can better understand the diffuse work of love outside of recycled relations between Self and Other. Although singledom may be a cause of lovelessness, so too can coupledom. Telling complex stories about singledom is one way to open questions around social practices of love, without supposing that such questions already have an answer.
Notes 1. Chu, Andrea Long. Females: A Concern. London and New York: Verso, 2019, p. 36. 2. Ahmed, Sara. “Queer Feelings.” In The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 144–67. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.
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3. Hasday, Jill Elaine. “Contest and Consent: A Legal History of Marital Rape.” California Law Review 88 (2000): p. 1499. 4. See Mbunyuza-Memani, Lindani. “Wedding Reality TV Bites Black: Subordinating Ethnic Weddings in the South African Black Culture.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 42, no. 1 (2018): 26–47. 5. McNicholas Smith, Kate, and Imogen Tyler. “Lesbian Brides: Post-Queer Popular Culture.” Feminist Media Studies 17, no. 3 (2017): 315–31. 6. See Bao, Hongwei. “‘Shanghai Is Burning’: Extravaganza, Transgender Representation and Transnational Cinema.” Global Media and China 3, no. 4 (2018): p. 242; Thomas, Amy, Hannah McCann, and Geraldine Fela. “‘In This House We Believe in Fairness and Kindness’: PostLiberation Politics in Australia’s Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey.” Sexualities (2019): 1–22; Dreher, Tanja. “The ‘Uncanny Doubles’ of Queer Politics: Sexual Citizenship in the Era of Same-Sex Marriage Victories.” Sexualities 20, no. 1–2 (2017): 176–95. 7. Abbott, Elizabeth. A History of Celibacy. New York: Scribner, 1999, p. 425. 8. Ibid., pp. 425–426. 9. For example, Wilkinson, Eleanor. “The Romantic Imaginary: Compulsory Coupledom and Single Existence.” In Sexualities: Past Reflections, Future Directions, edited by Sally Hines and Yvette Taylor, 130–45. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; Budgeon, Shelley. “Couple Culture and the Production of Singleness.” Sexualities 11, no. 3 (2008): 301–25. 10. Yadav, Punam. “White Sari—Transforming Widowhood in Nepal.” Gender, Technology and Development 20, no. 1 (2016): 1–24. 11. Fincher, Leta Hong. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. London: Zed Books, 2016. 12. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofksy. “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl.” In Tendencies, 109–28. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993, p. 111. 13. See Kean, Jessica. “A Stunning Plurality: Unravelling Hetero- and Mononormativities through HBO’s Big Love.” Sexualities 18, no. 5/6 (2015): 698–713. This stigma is also attached to “asexuality”, or to those who “do not experience sexual desire and are not distressed by this supposed ‘lack’”. See Cerankowski, Karli June, and Megan Milks. “New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice.” Feminist Studies 36, no. 3 (2010): p. 651. 14. Reynolds, Jill, and Margaret Wetherell. “The Discursive Climate of Singleness: The Consequences for Women’s Negotiation of a Single Identity.” Feminism & Psychology 13, no. 4 (2003): pp. 505–506. 15. Ibid. 16. Kean, Jessica. “Misreading Nonmonogamy in Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay.” Hypatia 33, no. 1 (2018): p. 128.
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17. See Kean, Jessica. “A Stunning Plurality: Unravelling Hetero- and Mononormativities through HBO’s Big Love.” Sexualities 18, no. 5/6 (2015): 698–713. 18. Bersani, Leo. “Against Monogamy.” In Is the Rectum a Grave? And Other Essays, 85–101. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 92. 19. See Kipnis, Laura. Against Love: A Polemic. New York: Pantheon, 2003, pp. 143–201. 20. For example, Plante, Chris. “The Lobster Is Like a Reality Dating Show Reimagined as Art House Cinema.” The Verge September 30, no. https:// www.theverge.com/2015/9/30/9423283/the-lobster-review-fantastic- fest (2015). https://www.theverge.com/2015/9/30/9423283/ the-lobster-review-fantastic-fest. 21. See Daum, Courtenay W. “Marriage Equality Assimilationist Victory or Pluralist Defeat?”. In LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader, edited by Marla Brettschneider, Susan Burgess and Christine Keating, 353–73. New York: New York University Press, 2017. 22. Kean, “A Stunning Plurality.” 23. Griffiths, Heather, and Todd S. Frobish. “Virtual Deviance: Swinging and Swapping in an on-Line Network.” Deviant Behavior 34, no. 11 (2013): p. 888. 24. Gaynor, Emily. “Unicornland Creator Lucy Gillespie on Her Queer Sex Positive Web Series.” Out April 6 (2017). https://www.out.com/entertainment/2017/4/06/unicornland-c reator-l ucy-g illespie-h er-q ueersex-positive-web-series. 25. Gonzalez, Kirsten A., Johanna L. Ramirez, and M. Paz Galupo. ““I Was and Still Am”: Narratives of Bisexual Marking in the #Stillbisexual Campaign.” Sexuality & Culture 21, no. 2 (2017): 493–515. 26. Hardie, Melissa Jane. “The Closet Remediated: Inside Lindsay Lohan.” Australian Humanities Review 48 (2010). 27. Bonnaffons, Amy. “Horse.” In The Wrong Heaven, 53–88. Boston, Massachusetts, United States: Little, Brown and Co., 2018. 28. Ibid., p. 56. 29. Ibid., p. 55. 30. Ibid., p. 57. 31. Ibid., p. 59. 32. Ibid., p. 86. 33. Ibid., p. 78. 34. Ibid., p. 60. 35. Ibid., p. 59. 36. Ibid., p. 54. 37. Ibid., p. 71.
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38. Ibid., p. 73. 39. Ibid. 40. Ibid., p. 83. 41. See McRobbie, Angela. “Illegible Rage: Post-Feminist Disorders.” In The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change, pp. 94–123. London: Sage, 2008; Ahmed, Sara. “Killing Joy: Feminism and the History of Happiness.” Signs 35, no. 3 (2010): 571–94. 42. Bonnaffons, “Horse,” p. 62. 43. Ibid. 44. On the problematic of the “anti-social” in queer theory, see Halberstam, Jack. “The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Studies.” Graduate Journal of Social Science 5, no. 2 (2008): 140–56. 45. Bonnaffons, “Horse,” p. 87. 46. Ibid. 47. Bonnaffons, “Horse,” p. 88. 48. Ibid., p. 77.
Coupling Anyway: Love as Becoming
“When you pick a partner, you pick a story”, the psychotherapist Ester Perel tells us in her popular podcast, “Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel”.1 Listeners are invited into sessions of couples coached by Perel to find new ways of relating. The couples comprise a diversity of social groups, including a lesbian couple raising their two children, adoptive parents, unfaithful spouses, and couples grappling with gender transition, childhood trauma, or illness. Many struggle to sustain optimism in the ideal of the couple form against the dismal reality of their everyday intimacies (or lack thereof). One couple of 17 years discuss feelings of conflict between their deep emotional connection and the pressures of modern life. The couple also identify as queer and discuss the man’s transition from butch to transman. During one session, the man tells the woman: I know that, like, my eyesight is going and you’re a little blurrier when you get close but I want to have those moments where I can look into your eyes again and we’re not in a hurry and I can see things and I can tell you what I see and you’re interested. … I want to feel like I am the most important thing to you and, like when you’re with me everything just disappears and it’s just me and you and maybe us and those are the three, the three in the room.
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 T. Laurie, H. Stark, The Theory of Love, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7_4
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This couple add an Us to the dyad of You and Me. This Us is a world unto itself. Pillow talk, quiet rituals, in-jokes unfunny to outsiders—there is something profoundly solipsistic about many (if not most) couples. For Perel’s couple, the Us feels most acute when the outside disappears. We might imagine Thelma and Louise driving off a cliff, suspended in mid-air, beholden to neither past nor future. To be the absolute world for someone and to have this reciprocated—how could this not contain a destructive element, a will to sever all attachments? What other choice do we have? This is a chapter about the couple as a temporal configuration of love. There are many ways that people express intimacy, devotion, attachment, and generosity, but few are so consistently narrated in terms of durability as the couple in love. The couple seeks to preserve the essence of the relation against the changing character of its elements: the eternal Us has a greater reality than either You or Me. Furthermore, the idealisation of romantic love as mysterious and predestined allows for the abdication of agency—love is a happening, an event, a miracle. We saw in Chap. 2 that the philosophers Rosi Braidotti and Alain Badiou conceive love in terms of an unexpected encounter, a theme also found in Zygmunt Bauman: Each [love] is born for the first time, or born again, wherever it enters, always spouting from nowhere, from the darkness of non-being without past or future. Each one, each time, begins from the beginning, laying bare the superfluity of past plots and the vanity of all future plotting.2
Love is something that happens to us, we need only submit to the encounter. Such love cannot be destroyed because, as Bauman suggests, it has no chronological past or future. There must be other ways to tell the story of the couple in love. A truly timeless love could only be an exclusively metaphysical notion, unable to mix with the clutter of the world. Could there be another kind of love, one capable of embracing the clutter? In the fragmentary memoir No Archive Will Restore You (2018), Julietta Singh imagines herself as part of the lineage of women who have been intimate with her trans partner S: The woman S loved before me have known his body in various states of masculinity. It is a body that has morphed over time in ways that have shifted organically and been surgically and chemically transformed. And he has known each of us as becoming-bodies too.3
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Singh writes for the future unknown woman who will find traces of Singh in S’s romantic past, and for this future unknown woman, Singh feels love. The couple becomes a node of resonance with the couples that came before and the couples yet to come, each refracted through practices of love in the present. This is not the chronological time of romance, which begins with love “born for the first time” and ends with the tragedy of the break-up. Instead, this is what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call aeonic time, which “continually divides that which transpires into an already- there that is at the same time not-yet-here, a simultaneous too-late and too-early, a something that is both going to happen and has just happened”.4 Singh describes a possible relation to an unknown Other who may displace her, but with the knowledge that she, too, has been this unknown Other to women who came before. A couple is a bloc of time that unfolds across many people and many desires. We inherit gifts from others, and we may pass these gifts on. This chapter carves a path beyond the dominant figure of the couple as a hermetic institution fortified against the ravages of time. Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts each offer, in different ways, stories about transformation inside a couple—changes to bodies, changes to relationships, changes to desire. By foregrounding the social relationships that shape transgender experiences, these autobiographical (and/or autotheoretical) works reflect on the ways that we can become “something other” for ourselves and for the Other. In focusing on these examples, we do not suggest that transgender and non-binary identities are essentially more changeable or transient than other bodies. Indeed, Nelson and Preciado take care to show that, inasmuch as subjectivity always involves processes of change and uncertainty, embodied transformations can provide unexpected opportunities for solidarity across social identities. However, we do recognise that certain bodies (and couples) are called upon far more often to prove their capacities for longevity, durability, and narratability. To this extent, we follow Jack Halberstam in exploring “a model of queerness that is not simply about what kinds of bodies have sex with what kinds of bodies, but about different life narratives, alternative ways of being in relation to others, and new practices of occupying space”.5 The couples in Testo Junkie and The Argonauts do not pine for a Queer Love Plot, but instead embrace alternative ways of becoming entangled with others in projects of self-transformation.
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Testo Junkie is part theoretical manifesto and part autobiographical tour de force, combining historical accounts of sexual prosthetics and gender- forming technologies with personal experimentation in the use of black- market testosterone gel. “This book is not a memoir”, opens Preciado, it is “a testosterone-based, voluntary intoxication protocol, which concerns the body and affects of BP.6 A body-essay. Fiction, actually.”7 The text opens with the death of Preciado’s friend GD (the novelist Guillaume Dustan), and subsequent sections are written as a grief-stricken second- person address to GD. The book alternates between academic polemics and autobiographical accounts of the author’s sexual experiences—in particular, his affair with VD (Virginie Despentes, the director of French film Baise-moi). It is through his relationship with both VD and GD that Preciado enacts what he calls “becoming T”.8 Preciado begins using testosterone on the day of GD’s death—“I do it to avenge your death”—and it is as a reaction to this death that he calls VD and they begin their liaison: “You’re the one who pushes me to dial her number.”9 Sexed bodily differences do not provide anchors or origins for gender identity in Testo Junkie. Preciado is positioned as female, masculine, genderfluid, heterosexual, lesbian, and as a “gay guy”, and comments that across this diversity, “None of the sexes that I embody possess any ontological density, and yet there is no other way of being a body: dispossessed from the start”.10 Preciado challenges the conventional split between sex as a fixed biological reality and gender as the social production of meanings around sexed differences. Testo Junkie works by way of parallelisms (to borrow from Spinoza),11 where neither ideas nor bodies take precedence in the causal circuits of desire and love; or, as Moira Gatens puts it, “a particular extensive organization of bodies will be paralleled by certain intensive powers and capacities”.12 Preciado articulates this theme through a language borrowed from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: It’s not a matter of going from woman to man, from man to woman, but of contaminating the molecular bases of the production of sexual difference, with the understanding that these two states of being, male and female, exist only as “political fictions”, as somatic effects of the technical process of normalization. It’s a matter of intervening intentionally in this process of production in order to end up with viable forms of incorporated gender, to produce a new sexual and affective platform. … T is only a threshold, a molecular door, a becoming between multiplicities.13
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Preciado draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s distinction between molarity, “characterised by rigid segmentarity [and] fixed political identities”, and molecularity, which “develops transitory in-progress segmentations that endlessly open processes of becoming”.14 Although the molar articulation of male and female as “political fictions” can be critiqued as trans- exclusionary or ciscentric, this does not mean that practices of experimentation with these fictions ceases to have real effects, either in the realm of ideas or in the modification of bodies. Rather, Preciado explores the powers of biotechnologies, prosthesis, pharmacology, sexual practices, and pornography in enabling diverse transitions across genders, intimacies, and social attachments. Preciado to GD, Preciado to VD, VD to GD (posthumously), Preciado to T, VD to T: a non-hierarchical series of connections between people and objects promising a wild movement away from fixed identities. What do transitions and connections have to do with love? Bodies do not just hang around, waiting to produce political “meanings” for others to interpret. Embodiment only means things to people because we do things with people. Love is one way of doing-with, a verb rather than a noun, and bell hooks may be right: “we would all love better if we used it as a verb”.15 Love enables the body to become something for a situation, just as eating or cycling allow the body to become something different again. Preciado describes love “as a map of connections (movements, discharges, reflexes, convulsions, tremors) that for a certain time regulate the production of affects”.16 There is no corporeal essence that precedes these encounters, these choices, these loves: I take turns imagining myself with and without a cock, and the two images keep following each other like a game on a seesaw. But I know that the moment I get undressed, she’ll see only one of these bodies. Being reduced to one fixed image frightens me. I keep my clothes on a few minutes more, so I can enjoy the double option a little longer. When I get undressed, she won’t know whether or not I have an erection. For me, an erection is an obvious fact, to the same extent in a body without a cock as in a body with one.17
The double option may read like the mind/body parallelism in crisis: will the author adjust to the reality of a body “without a cock”? But this is the wrong question. The meanings around the body are produced through practice, accommodating all kinds of contradiction or incoherence. “She
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loves breasts, and I love cocks”, writes Preciado, “but she’s what I’m looking for. And I’m what she’s looking for.”18 Testo Junkie develops a post-sentimental concept of love. In the Platonic tradition, metaphysical love is distinguished from and elevated above pleasant sensations or the satiation of desire. Preciado drags love away from the piety of metaphysical discourse. We cannot simply tell people how to love because we need to first know who is doing the loving. As bodies are modified by prostheses, so too is love modified, augmented, and extended: Love is always a cybernetics of addiction. Ending up with an addiction to someone, for someone, making someone the object of the addiction, or becoming addicted to a third substance for someone. To her, to me, to testosterone. Testosterone and I. She and I. She or the testosterone. She = the testosterone. Producing or consuming testosterone. Stopping testosterone for her. Absorbing her testosterone.19
There is no ephemeral, spiritual core to protect love against the clutter of worldly objects. Love can always survive what Plato and Freud had considered debasement: “Love … transforms us into addicted, cybernetic animals”.20 In more recent work, Preciado rails against love for its capacity to naturalise social conventions: “It’s a kind of government technology of bodies, a politics to control desire, its goal is to capture the power to act and take pleasure from two living machines in order to put them at the service of social reproduction”.21 But this changed attitude does not alter Preciado’s original approach to love. If illicit drugs sustain a relationship, love is drugs. If a relationship revolves around bowls of ramen, love is soy and miso and noodles. Against the theorists of anti-commercial love that we discussed in Chap. 2, Preciado narrates love in happy co-existence with the debris of capitalism. Scalar differences converge in the practice of love: “love of being, carnal love, urban love, earthly love, geological love, animal love, interspecies love”.22 And if love falters, there is a faltering across bodies and minds, a faltering in parallel: When she rejects me, I feel a rise in estrogen and realize that I could cry at any moment. But I hold back, to keep from seeming like an idiot in love. Under my skin, the monster of the female cultural program is awakening: my body has been trained to produce the affects of a woman, suffer like a woman, love like a woman. Testosterone isn’t enough to modify this sensory filter. Fuck Beauvoir. Fuck feminism. Fuck love.23
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Idiocy, suffering, monstrosity. Preciado is not lapsing into gender essentialism, but rather acknowledging that embodied pasts can insist themselves, wildly and unpredictably, on embodied presents and futures. Stumbling into aeonic time, the body is caught between the already-here and the not-yet-here. This is equally true for the mind. Love is as love does as love was as love will be.24 Testo Junkie is a key intertext for a 2016 memoir by Maggie Nelson. The Argonauts recounts the author’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge and places in parallel two embodied transformations: Harry’s gender transition and Nelson’s pregnancy. The title is taken from a passage by Roland Barthes that Maggie gives to Harry: “the subject who utters the phrase ‘I love you’ is like ‘the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name’”.25 Nelson connects the figure of the Argo to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s use of the term “queer” which, she writes, designates “molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip”.26 The shifting parts of the memoir include step-parenting, work arrangements, marriage, conception, and the birth and infancy of their child Iggy. Nelson also explores ideas about genderqueer family-making by way of A.L. Steiner’s photographic installation Puppies and Babies (2012), which assembles personal photos of pets, lovers, friends, and children, and explores modes of caretaking as something “detachable from—and attachable to—any gender, any sentient being”.27 Furthermore, The Argonauts showcases a range of (apparently) heterosexual family structures that are built on non-biological kinship ties. Maggie is raised by a stepfather and then becomes the stepmother of Harry’s first son, and Harry is adopted and will become the non-biological parent of two children. In this way, The Argonauts tells a careful story about networks of queer and non-binary relationships in a North American political climate where the viability of such relationships is constantly called into question. The female body is capacious throughout The Argonauts. The vagina is capacious because it can accommodate the baby’s head (“it feels big but I feel big enough”) and because fisting leaves the author feeling “invincible and ample”.28 When the couple watch the queer art-porn film Community Action Centre, Harry is left perplexed with the absence of cock: “the category of women should be capacious enough to include it”.29 Perhaps most importantly, Nelson explores the capaciousness of her own pregnant body, which becomes a node for politics, art, film, literature, psychology, and philosophy. She navigates her way through books on step-parenting and child development, and re-evaluates claims made by critical theorists
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on the Child (Lee Edelman) and on non-heterosexual parenting (Julia Kristeva, Jean Baudrillard). In doing so, Nelson reorients some of the dominant language within North American queer theory. For example, influential queer theorist Leo Bersani offers gay male barebacking as a privileged example of the pleasures of jouissance. In coming closer to death, the Ego is shattered: “Male homosexuality advertises the risk of the sexual itself as a risk of self-dismissal, of losing sight of the self, and in doing so it proposes and dangerously represents jouissance as a model of ascesis”.30 Nelson wonders how the maternal body can be located in relation to the scene of jouissance. Do pregnant women ever risk self-dismissal? Is the “shattering” of the self in psychoanalysis something that pregnant women should want? Perhaps. Nelson turns here to Susan Fraiman’s figure of “sodomitical maternity”, which embraces “non-normative, nonprocreative sexuality” and “sexuality in excess of the dutifully instrumental”.31 In doing so, Nelson reflects on the mother’s experience of pregnancy and birth as a kind of shattering of the self, referencing both Mary Oppen’s feeling of “being a nothing on the delivery table” and Alice Notley’s verse: “he is born and I am undone—feel as if I will/never be’, was never born.//Two years later I obliterate myself again/having another child … for two years’, there’s no me here.”32 Pregnancy for Maggie is presented as syntactically homologous to Harry’s trans experience as a “butch on T”.33 As Maggie tries to “puff up” her uterine lining, Harry’s uterus shrivels through the effects of hormone replacement therapy (51). In relation to Harry’s top-surgery, Nelson describes 2011 as the “summer of our changing bodies” (79), and later, as “undergoing transformations beside each other” (83). Parallel changes to the body shape the conditions by which Maggie and Harry desire, love, and, indeed, think. In this context, the public legibility of Harry and Maggie’s relationship as queer becomes increasingly complex: Our last night at the Sheraton, we have dinner at the astoundingly overpriced ‘casual Mexican’ restaurant on the premises, Dos Caminos. You pass as a guy; I, as pregnant. Our waiter cheerfully tells us about his family, expresses delight in ours. On the surface, it may have seemed as though your body was becoming more and more ‘male’, mine more and more ‘female’. But that’s not how it felt on the inside. On the inside, we were two human animals undergoing transformations beside each other, bearing each other loose witness. In other words, we were ageing.34
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These two changing bodies open onto a wide variety of possible “heuristics” through which Harry and Maggie could be read in public. Harry is misgendered when interpellated either as a cisgendered man or as a cisgendered woman. Such gender-based misrecognition can diminish the presence of non-binary gender identities as a social optic, even when gender diversity exists in clear abundance.35 Commitments to the social meanings attached to particular kinds of coupling allow certain differences to be dissolved: lovers mistaken for friends, genderfucking mistaken for dress- ups, difference mistaken for more of the same. But the waiter seems to be expressing something else: conviviality, sociality, joy. The Argonauts leads away from the question of how best to represent an identity or critique an identity, and towards the types of social relationships that make space for genuine uncertainty, including those awkward moments that happen “on the surface”. Constructing analogies between maternal bodies and transgender bodies, themselves not mutually exclusive categories, can be a risky move. For one thing to be analogised to another, we tend to make each thing more wholly a type than what might otherwise feel appropriate. This risks making one life perceptible by erasing the specific traits of another. But The Argonauts does try to unsettle assumptions about what makes a trans experience and a maternal experience different, and seeks to vocalise embodied empathies, knots of doubt, and ambivalence, that can attend both pregnancy and transition. This is what the Argo offers: a ship that produces a semblance of continuity, of having the same name, and of being composed in the same way, but only through a constant reorganisation and replacement of parts. In The Argonauts, Nelson works through the tension between access to recognition and to rights—to participate in marriage, to access reproductive technologies, to make a family—and a more complex project of queer world-making. Certainly, Nelson re- inscribes aspects of homonormative family life.36 The couple make a living as an artist and a writer/academic, and they have access to medical services for transition and pregnancy, as well as a new baby that was “deeply, doggedly, wildly” wanted.37 However, The Argonauts also utilises love to create narrative possibilities for trans characters which represents a trans body as desirable and loveable, rather than as what Cael M. Keegan calls the “classical motif” of the tragic or melancholic trans body.38 Nelson steers a path for the Argo that does not sink into the whirlpools of domestic bliss, of one-true-loves, or of maternity as a realisation of biological destiny. If Nelson is successful in this venture, it is because The Argonauts retains a
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generosity when navigating moments of complicity with the social conventions of heteronormativity. In doing so, The Argonauts attempts to move away from either/or political antagonisms, and instead holds out the utopian possibility of both/and: parent AND sex radical, maternal body AND the shattering of the self, radically queer AND ostensibly heteronormative. The book does not simply avoid these traps of convention, but instead moves carefully around and through them, finding alternative ways to be held and beheld, to love and be loved. In his most recent book, An Apartment on Uranus, Paul B. Preciado asks questions about the timing of love: “Is there something, a space, between the couple and its break-up? … To love beyond the crisis, not as a couple? How can counter-rituals be created? By taking a chance on another performative utterance, who will we become?”39 We suggested at the beginning of this chapter that the couple is frequently idealised as a ballast against time. Love becomes the metaphysical aid for thwarting change, contingency, and accident. By narrating intimate relationships alongside significant bodily changes, Preciado and Nelson find ways to express love not as a metaphysical ideal, but as an imminent capability that shifts, extends, transforms, and evolves alongside the affects of the body, which include the material connections required to support different kinds of embodiment. An ethological love, so to speak. In this context, we want to close by reassessing the concepts from Deleuze and Guattari that link together discussions of transitions in Testo Junkie and The Argonauts. Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus is an important touchstone for queer theory,40 and for both Nelson and Preciado, the concept of “becomings” provides an important resource for theorising transition and transformation: “A line of becoming is not defined by points that it connects, or by points that compose it; on the contrary, it passes between points, it comes up through the middle. … A line of becoming has only a middle.”41 For Deleuze and Guattari, becoming is a creative process that invents something new, almost like a work of art or imagination. “Trans* bodies”, writes Jack Halberstam, who also draws on Deleuze and Guattari, “represent the art of becoming, the necessity of imagining, and the fleshy insistence of transitivity”.42 Becomings cannot be inscribed into the grand procession of historical events without losing their essential restlessness— consider the consecration and stagnation of surrealism or beat literature or punk. From a sociological viewpoint, becomings do not belong to either the ideas or strivings of individuals, or to a bounded collective unity, such as communities, cultures, or nations. Becomings have their own cycles and
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rhythms that hold together seemingly discontinuous elements: “A season, a winter, a summer, an hour, a date have a perfect individuality lacking nothing, even though this individuality is different from that of a thing or a subject”.43 Drawing on Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet’s Dialogues, Nelson offers the figure of the nuptial to describe her relationship with Harry: “Nuptials are the opposite of a couple. There are no longer binary machines: question-answer, masculine-feminine, man-animal etc.”44 In this respect, the philosophy of Deleuze and his collaborators provides a way to talk about the specific arrangements of intimacy and care that may sustain couples, without reducing coupledom to the binary male-female or Self-Other. Becomings have often been idealised as comfortable entries to an existing library of radical terms, such as resistance, subversion, and transgression. But whatever the initial utility of idealising becomings in this way, such approaches have now been exhausted. Becomings take place whether or not we will them, and whether or not they are good. There are no special souls that change more than others, and great thinkers or artists have no special purchase on becomings. For their part, Deleuze and Guattari question the belief that “a little suppleness is enough to make things ‘better’”, or that molecular changes are more emancipatory than molar ones, for capitalism has its own “microfascisms” and its own “management of petty fears, a permanent molecular insecurity”.45 That Deleuze and Guattari are often misread on this point is due, at least in part, to their own cavalier rhetoric. “We are statistically or molarly heterosexual”, they write in Anti-Oedipus (1972), “but personally homosexual, without knowing it or being fully aware of it, and finally we are transsexual in an elemental, molecular sense”.46 Preciado criticises this claim for positioning “homosexual” and “transsexual” as nodes of leisurely affiliation—gratifying, perhaps, for two philosophers who were publicly heterosexual and cisgendered—rather than considering the conditions for social visibility for these groups across public and private spaces in the 1970s.47 Molecularity becomes a way of talking about gender and sexual identities without needing to engage the politics of identification or the specific processes that “fix” identities in place. Critical commentaries on transgender and non-binary gender politics have also pointed to the limitations of “becoming”. Using Deleuze to conceptualise “becoming trans”, Jasbir Puar has evoked trans embodiment as a movement away from dominant forms of signification, instead framing trans as a nonteleological “motion” or “continuum of
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intensity”.48 This does not mean that new forms of gender-based social meanings are immune from new kinds of injustice or inequality. “The revolution is not molecular”, writes Puar, “rather, movement resides in the interstitial shuttling—‘the ruptural moment in which to intervene’— between intensive multiplicity and its most likely recapture”.49 As a dominant mode of recapture, Puar refers to the ways that trans bodies become caught up in neoliberal logics of privatised health care.50 Commenting on issues facing transwomen globally, R.W. Connell points to the impacts of neoliberal health care regimes: Middle-class women with property and steady incomes can fund international travel and private treatment far more easily than can working-class women, migrant women, young women, or women who lose their jobs because of transition. Class and global inequality, rather than patriarchal gatekeeping, has become the crucial filter.51
While becoming-molecular provides a tool for understanding disturbances in the boundaries between gender-based identity categories, we may follow Puar and Connell in questioning the utility of becomings as a rhetoric that smooths over the specific needs of transgender communities themselves. Nelson and Preciado are also attentive to these concerns, and by placing trans experiences alongside maternity (Nelson) and the histories of pharmaceuticals (Preciado), these authors invite complex conversations about the material and institutional networks required to support new kinds of bodies, relationships, and arrangements of care. We have separated stories about singles from stories about couples, but this was a mistake. What looks from one viewpoint like an individual or a couple may look, on another view, like a swarm, a congregation, a plain mess. What matters is the way that relations assemble, and the movements generated through such assembly. The concept of “becoming” has been useful to start thinking about the ways that couples become embroiled in worlds that change, and conversely, about ways that what seems to be a couple may simply be a hot mess of other people, other histories, and other futures. That isn’t a bad thing. Love may produce a sense of consistency between things and over time, but it does not eradicate the mess. Love does not need couples to make connections: it needs creativity to trace paths besides, around, and beyond the couple. All mixed up, all failing at something, all exhausted by the couple. But coupling anyway.
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Preciado and Nelson offer stories about couples that sprawl over the edges of the dyad, but not necessarily to enact a queer political programme. Behind every programme, something much less orderly lies: old and new family structures, old and new ways of doing masculinity and femininity, old and new loves. To criticise the concept of “becoming”, in this context, is not to affirm the importance of fixed identities, but to invite a conversation about the social and institutional structures required to sustain the connected lives that make queer politicking possible.
Notes 1. Perel, “Episode 6: There’s You There’s Me and There’s Us,” Where should we begin? 2017. 2. Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003, pp. 2–3. 3. Singh, Julietta. No Archive Will Restore You. New York: punctum books, 2018, p. 92. 4. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p. 262. 5. Halberstam, Jack. Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2018, p. 87. 6. BP indicates the author’s prior name. 7. Preciado, Paul B. Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. New York City: Feminist Press, 2017, p. 11 8. Ibid., p. 130. 9. Ibid., pp. 15, 16. 10. Ibid., pp. 130, 134. 11. Spinoza, Benedict de. “The Ethics.” Translated by Edwin Curley. In A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works, 85–265. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 119. 12. Gatens, Moira. Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality. London and New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 149. 13. Preciado, Testo Junkie, pp. 142–143, emphasis in original. 14. Preciado, Paul B. Countersexual Manifesto. Translated by Kevin Gerry Dunn. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018, p. 142; Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 197. 15. hooks, bell. All About Love: New Visions. New York: William Morrow and Co. Inc., 2000, p. 4. 16. Preciado, Testo Junkie, p. 400. 17. Ibid., p. 88.
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18. Ibid., p. 87. 19. Ibid., p. 401. 20. Ibid., p. 400. 21. Preciado, An Apartment on Uranus, p. 108. 22. Preciado, Testo Junkie, p. 254. 23. Ibid., p. 329. 24. See Peck in hooks, All About Love, p. 4. 25. Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts. Minnesota, USA: Graywolf Press, 2015, p. 5. 26. Ibid., p. 29. 27. Ibid., p. 72. 28. Ibid., pp. 133, 86 29. Ibid., p. 63. 30. Bersani, Leo. “Is the Rectum a Grave?”. October 43 (1987): p. 222. 31. Fraiman quoted in Nelson, The Argonauts, p. 69. 32. Notley quoted ibid., p. 45. 33. Ibid., p. 53. 34. Nelson, The Argonauts, p. 83. 35. See Stone, Sandy. “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.” In The Transgender Studies Reader, edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, 221–35. Routledge: London and New York, 2006. 36. On homonormativity, see Dhaenens, Frederik. “How Queer Is ‘Pink’ programming? On the Representational Politics of an Identity-Based Film Program at Film Fest Gent.” Sexualities 21, 5–6 (2017): 793–808. 37. Nelson, The Argonauts, p. 177. 38. Keegan, Cael M. “Moving Bodies: Sympathetic Migrations in Transgender Narrativity.” Genders, no. 57 (2013). 39. Preciado, Paul B. An Apartment on Uranus, p. 90. 40. See Stark, Hannah. Feminist Theory after Deleuze. London: Bloomsbury, 2016; Nigianni, Chrysanthi, and Merl Storr, eds. Deleuze and Queer Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. 41. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 239. Emphasis in original. 42. Halberstam, Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2018, p. 136. 43. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 261. 44. Nelson, The Argonauts, p. 7. 45. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 215. 46. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983, p. 70. 47. Preciado, Countersexual Manifesto, pp. 141–160.
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48. Puar, Jasbir K. The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017, p. 52. 49. Ibid., p. 61. 50. See also Halberstam, Trans*, p. 53. 51. Connell, R.W. “Transsexual Women and Feminist Thought: Toward New Understanding and New Politics.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 37, no. 4 (2012): p. 869.
The Limits of Love: On Forgiveness
Love must be an act of freedom—it cannot be compelled. To the passive affects that work through us unconsciously and involuntarily, we may give the names attachment or desire. But in the Spinozist philosophical tradition, at least, active love cannot result from motivations hidden from us. We do not love sugar just because we crave it, and we do not love passing exams because they bring us success or glory. These are passive forms of love because we submit ourselves to forces beyond our adequate knowledge—our metabolisms, regimes of social status. In her reading of Spinoza’s Ethics, Amelie Rorty argues that passive love “generates a desire to control” and thereby becomes entangled with a variety of affects counter to love: “Since passive love is ambivalent, mingled with hate and envy, disdain, and fear, the behaviour that expresses it will be erratic, each moment undermining the next”.1 In contrast to passive love, active love emerges from adequate ideas about the causes that act upon us. In the examples above, we can learn about biology or learn about social power relations, and emancipate ourselves from these passive forms by recognising that these desires do not originate within us and do not express our freedom. In thus forming adequate knowledge of ourselves, we can choose to love as a practise of giving to others as an affirmation of our common interests, without the expectation of reward or reciprocity.2 As we discussed in Chap. 2, bell hooks also argues for an ideal model of love as an affirmation of freedom that excludes the will to power because the latter © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 T. Laurie, H. Stark, The Theory of Love, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7_5
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entraps us within cycles of domination that we cannot control, including those that undermine our capacities for self-love.3 How do we recognise the difference between active and passive forms of love? As philosophers of love will readily acknowledge, the passive form of love is rarely acknowledged to be passive by its practitioners. This problem is familiar to those interested in public displays of love and compassion for political purposes. In the case of debates about refugee rights in Australia, for example, love has been invoked through what Gilbert Caluya calls “differential compassion”: Insofar as intimacy is tied to senses of closeness and identification as well as ideas of morality and love, it is deployed by anti-refugee and pro-refugee advocates to cultivate certain affects (antipathy or sympathy, feelings of distance or belonging) by appealing to notions of strangeness vs commonality, victims versus perpetrators, moral similitude versus moral incompatibility, and corresponding values versus incommensurable ones.4
Although commonly regarded as a virtue, compassion can become subservient to passive affects and desires, including the desire to regard one’s own community as inherently more virtuous than others.5 The poet Omar Sakr comments on this differential compassion in relation to the political rationalisation of retributive violence: There is an unquestionable solemnity to the deceased, and even more to those tragically taken, and it is too often wielded by the callous to justify ever more violence. Those who sermonise about abortion, but care nothing for starving or orphaned children; who demand we think of the kids killed in Western-based terrorist attacks, but will stand silent as young refugees of war are turned back at the border or unjustly detained; how quickly they are in arms over corpses.6
Caluya and Sakr point towards a tension in the activation of love for political purposes. We conceive of ourselves as loving and therefore, perhaps narcissistically, as having “pure intentions”.7 In this way, we too easily absolve ourselves from the work of understanding our own situation and capacities vis-à-vis forms of injustice, and from properly interrogating the causes of the (perceived) violence threatening that which we claim to love. We need to consider love not as a commitment to those who win our favour, but as a radical obligation to a future shared with those whom we love and those we deem unlovable. Judith Butler articulates this challenge
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in global terms: “since we do not choose with whom to cohabit the earth … we have to honour those obligations to preserve the lives of those we may not love, those we may never love, do not know, and did not choose”.8 Drawing on the histories of black feminist thought, Jennifer C. Nash argues that the source of such a radically expansive love must be a recognition of shared vulnerability, one that demands a capacity to witness alternative histories and memories: [My] survival and thriving depend on yours. If our survivals are mutually dependent, we are, then, mutually vulnerable, as our thriving requires our coexistence. To act in love, with love, is to recognize this mutual vulnerability as something that must be not eschewed but rather embraced, as a necessary positionality to the project of social justice. … Witnessing describes black feminist theory’s investment in a rich and political counterhistory, one that draws on memory—personal, collective, or embodied—to demand an ethical reckoning with past and present.9
Approaching Spinozist themes from within the alternative intellectual genealogy of black feminist thought, Nash reiterates the importance of love not simply as a display of compassion or kindness (which can easily be co-opted in the ways described above), but as a deepening of self- knowledge, such that our own vulnerabilities and interdependencies become resources for consolidating our obligations to others. In this chapter, we explore notions of relationality and alterity from the viewpoint of intolerable violence, and consider the act of forgiveness as a key linchpin for the “ethical reckoning with past and present”. Along the way, the figure of the unlovable person provides an opportunity to reflect on the wider role of sentimentality in the practice of love. Does the act of forgiveness depend on feelings of love from the one who forgives, or from the one who is forgiven? Can we practise forgiveness without some expectation of recognition or reward? We answer these questions by engaging the work of Hannah Arendt, a political philosopher primarily concerned with the rigour and durability of social relations. In particular, we consider how the subtle distinctions between modalities of love in Arendt’s Love and Saint Augustine can complicate the possible meanings surrounding her oft-quoted claim, in The Human Condition, that love “is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical human forces”.10 We follow these discussions to the problematic of forgiveness, which Arendt frames as a necessity for acting upon the future,
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rather than in the sentimental terms of compassion. Finally, reading the Belgian film Le Fils (The Son, 2002) against the backdrop of Rey Chow’s commentary on Miryang (Secret Sunshine, 2007), we consider the tension between love and forgiveness in relation to those who cannot be loved. In The Human Condition, first published in 1958, Arendt argues that the public can mean one of two, closely related things. First, publics can be that which we make in common. “Only the existence of a public realm” writes Arendt, “and the world’s subsequent transformation into a community of things which gathers men together and relates them to each other depends entirely on permanence”.11 The public cannot be a fickle construction that topples with every crisis, only to spring up somewhere else. Publics must be constructed, nurtured, and rejuvenated. Second, we may also consider the practise of making public through communication with others: Each time we talk about things that can be experienced only in privacy or intimacy, we bring them out into a sphere where they will assume a kind of reality which, their intensity notwithstanding, they never could have had before. The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and ourselves [.]12
Reality is not something given to the senses nor is it permanently out-of- reach. Reality is a collective discursive project, the most reliable source of our humanity. “For the world is not humane just because it is made by human beings”, writes Arendt, “and it does not become humane just because the human voice sounds in it, but only when it has become the object of discourse”.13 Love threatens both the common and the communicable. First, our intimate lives “lead an uncertain, shadowy kind of existence unless and until they are transformed, deprivatized and deindividualized, as it were, into a shape to fit them for public appearance”.14 Love does not communicate well. Due to its “inherent worldlessness”, Arendt insists that “love can only become false and perverted when it is used for political purposes such as the change or salvation of the world”.15 Words, ideas, or concepts with inherently obscure meanings erode the reality-making work that public life is meant to perform. This leads to Arendt’s well-known conclusion that love “is not only apolitical but antipolitical, perhaps the most powerful of all antipolitical human forces”.16 Michael Warner takes up this theme in his commentary on marriage equality campaigns, noting that
5 THE LIMITS OF LOVE: ON FORGIVENESS
love is often presented as “beyond criticism and beyond the judgments of the law”.17 Warner’s concern is not that love and marriage are quite different things (although he notes this too), but that the rhetorical reification of love naturalises the couple as the proper unit of political enfranchisement for queer communities, making it “an increasingly powerful way of distracting citizens from the real, conflicted, and unequal conditions governing their lives … [and reinforcing] the privilege of those who already find it easiest to imagine their lives as private”.18 In keeping with Arendt, Hardt argues that invocation of love is a political manoeuvre that is uniquely hostile to a reflexive examination of its own political character: Where law adjudicates conflict and competing claims, love speaks an inner truth, in a space where there is no conflict, no politics. It is the human heart, not ideology. Its intentions are pure. It has no unconscious.19
In Chap. 2 we considered queer critical perspectives on monogamous coupledom, and we will not revisit these here. Warner’s original contribution is not his argument against marriage equality, but his claim that in order to make argument on either side of marriage debates, we need to be able to interrogate love itself as a social and political value. Following Arendt, Warner identifies in the discourse of love a unique hostility to public political deliberation. Arendt’s second criticism is that love is detrimental to the commons because love lacks the consistency, evenness, and tenacity demanded by a universal ethical frame, which must include unlovable Others within its remit. This theme dovetails with Benedict de Spinoza’s much earlier criticism of the passions, in which he points to the inconstancy of affective attachments to perishable things and passing experiences; or in his own memorable phrasing, “he who unites with corruptible things is always miserable”.20 These two criticisms of love in The Human Condition proceed from a definition of love as a modality of the sentiments, and therefore as attached to persons or things. But this hardly does justice to the term, and elsewhere Arendt makes a more subtle distinction between two kinds of love. In her doctoral thesis entitled “On the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine: Attempt at a philosophical interpretation” (1929), posthumously published as Love and Saint Augustine, Arendt examines this theme through a distinction made by Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo between cupiditas, or the love that clings to the objects of the
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world, and caritas, or the love that “seeks eternity and the absolute future”.21 The person driven by cupiditas desires having things of the world, and “in having the world he desires to become part and parcel of it”.22 Cupiditas tends towards the preservation and control of its objects, precisely because it “makes me dependent upon things that, in principle, are beyond my control”.23 As we noted in Chap. 4, we may become frustrated when objects of love change: this is because we do not realise that it is only our relation to the object, not the object itself, which can remain constant. Cupiditas is doomed to perish alongside its worldly objects, and it therefore gives rise to a fear born of dependence on external things.24 The love of eternal things is called caritas. To desire the eternal is to desire that which came before us and will outlive us: it is to be oriented towards an “absolute future”. If cupiditas turns the individual “into a denizen of this world”, then caritas “makes him live in the absolute future where he will be denizen of the world-to-come”.25 For this reason, caritas gives rise to a distinct experience of freedom: The freedom of caritas is a future freedom. Its freedom on earth consists in anticipating a future belonging for which love as desire is the mediator. The sign of caritas on earth is fearlessness, whereas the curse of cupiditas is fear- fear of not obtaining what is desired and fear of losing it once it is obtained.26
This distinction caritas and cupiditas may be criticised as a moral elevation of the metaphysical over the physical, the ideal over the material, the contemplative over the active, and dreamy utopias over the mess of the present. In other words, caritas is a metaphysical expression of hope. In keeping with her broader understanding that purely metaphysical notions are politically meaningless, Arendt argues that hope in the form of caritas cannot simply be a projection of an empty fiction, a speculative “if only”. On Arendt’s reading of Augustine, “I can only seek that thing of whose existence I have some kind of knowledge”. Caritas must be prompted by something in experience, and that which can be imagined and hoped for, but is not present to the senses, must belong to our past.27 For Arendt, memory allows us to act on the past with a view to future transformations: “The triumph of memory is that in presenting the past and thus depriving it, in a sense, of its bygone quality, memory transforms the past into a future possibility”.28 To love the not-yet is to establish a creative relationship to the has-been.
5 THE LIMITS OF LOVE: ON FORGIVENESS
The challenge for caritas is to be able to forgive. The enduring wrongs of the past conflict with our capacities—or willingness—to extend love into the future: “Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever”.29 Forgiveness stages new futures through a thorough reckoning with the past, without which the past would haunt interminably as unfinished business. Most importantly, forgiveness involves the novelty of the relation created between the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. Unlike either retribution, which is merely reaction and expresses no consideration for the future, or forgetting, which evacuates our capacity for self-knowledge and precludes future transformation, forgiving is “the only reaction that acts in an unexpected way and thus retains … something of the original character of action”.30 For this reason, the act of forgiveness must be communicable to the public realm. Private feelings of forgiveness towards the perpetrators of horror are meaningless unless the causes and consequences of this horror are worked through in the public realm, and thereby constructing a world for which such horror would not be repeated. Finally, if one person is infinitely forgiving and endlessly charitable to another, this relation has no meaning whatsoever as a relation, because the one who forgives has become indifferent to the other. To do the work of forgiveness is to make present the transgressions of the one who is forgiven, while preserving their distinctness as the one responsible. We can now see that although caritas requires the capacity to forgive, forgiveness does not require the capacity to love. Arendt insists in The Human Condition that love collapses the “in-between which relates us to and separates us from others”, thereby disallowing the establishment of a viable political relationship through forgiveness.31 By reading against Love and Saint Augustine, we can read this passage as a criticism of cupiditas as the form of love that prevents forgiveness because it collapses into sentiment and attachment. The case of caritas is not so clear: it does not require any sentimental feelings about the character of the other, and does not collapse the boundaries between the self and others: “[I] do not love my neighbour in the concrete and worldly encounter with him. … I love something in him, that is, the very thing which, of himself, he is not.”32 Forgiveness may be the exemplary instance whereby an enemy is loved for what they could become, rather than for what they are. But can we forgive without sentimentality? If we expect forgiveness to express a relation
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between ourselves and others, does this not open up the possibility that caritas, or indifference to the character of the other, may be contaminated by cupiditas, or forms of attachment to specific persons and sentiments? Rey Chow takes up these questions from Arendt in her commentary on South Korean film Miryang (Secret Sunshine, 2007), which stages some of the most challenging transfigurations of love in recent cinematic memory. The narrative follows Shin-ae Lee, whose son Jun is kidnapped, held for ransom, and eventually murdered by his school teacher, Park Do-Seob. The film suggests opportunities for hope and recovery for Shin-ae, including the friendship with her ever-suffering admirer Kim Jong-chan, and her increasing involvement in a local Christian group. Equipped with her newfound Christian love, Shin-ae visits Do-Seob in prison to offer him forgiveness, only to discover that he has also “accepted God into his heart”, thus believing that God has absolved him of his sins. This is devastating for Shin-ae. The remainder of Secret Sunshine tracks her tumultuous rejection of the church, and her struggle to envisage a future in which her own capacity to forgive has been absolved of meaning. Chow asks why Do-Seob’s own act of self-forgiving would cause such a problem for Shin-ae: what aspect of forgiveness makes this encounter so intolerable? In Chow’s reading of Christian theology, forgiveness involves a moral hierarchy between the forgiver and the one forgiven. For this reason, forgiveness is presented as an act of love that not only remains inseparable from hierarchy but actually requires it. Chow identifies this as a tension for Christian morality, and her reasoning is worth quoting at length: by dramatizing the moral hierarchy involved in forgiveness as nothing more than a psychological supposition premised on the desire for empowerment and superiority over the adversary—in a nutshell, the desire to win—Secret Sunshine has put its finger on what is perhaps the most ideologically charged aspect of the Christian enterprise. If the moral hierarchy involved in forgiveness is not really about the human becoming divine or the divine speaking/ acting/passing through the human, as [Jacques] Derrida advocates, but is simply another variety of human competition for power and domination over others, then the harmony, mutuality, and spirit of sharing that is said to connect ‘he who gives’ and ‘he who takes’ forgiveness would also seem overstated.33
Chow is sceptical of forgiveness as an infinite virtue because the moral hierarchy required by the public act of forgiving undermines the notion
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that the pardon is freely offered. There is some expectation, however minimal, that the one forgiven “plays their part” in this moral drama. Do-Seob seems unaware of the role he is required to play. The problem is not, however, that Shin-ae needs to be more magnanimous. For Arendt, the forgiven as an infinite virtue—all is forgiven!—merely indicates indifference towards the one being forgiven. Boundless charity fails to do the work that the act of forgiving is intended to perform, which is to hold specific persons accountable for specific actions, in order that these actions not be repeated. At stake is the capacity of those who have been wounded to imagine a future where love is again possible. These are also the stakes for the Belgian film The Son. Released in 2002 by Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Son maps a difficult relationship between forgiveness and retribution. The film does not present these polarities simply as a choice: the protagonist, Olivier, is not able to weigh up options through reflection and contemplation. Nevertheless, the final act of forgiveness is one that Olivier must own and bear. Our interest here is in the specific role of love in making this act possible. The Son follows Olivier, a carpentry teacher at a rehabilitation centre in a working-class suburb, who has been asked to apprentice a new student, Francis. Olivier has an unsettling interest in Francis, watching him through windows and following him after work. Accepting the boy into his class, Olivier teaches Francis to carry wood, climb ladders, and make a simple box in which to carry his things. This pedagogical relationship progresses through instruction, emulation, correction, further instruction, and so on. However, a tense conversation between Olivier and his ex-wife Magali reveals that Francis had strangled and killed the couple’s son while stealing a car stereo, and that he had spent the last five years in Fraipont, a juvenile facility. The remaining scenes of The Son hang on the ambiguity of Olivier’s motivations in accepting Francis as an apprentice: is his intention to seek retribution, or is this an attempt to progress towards forgiveness? The final sequence of The Son finds Olivier and Francis taking a weekend trip to a lumber yard. On the way, Francis asks Olivier if he will become his guardian, “because you teach me my job”. They also discuss the reasons for Francis’ incarceration in a jagged and abrupt series of exchanges. The conversation offers no sentimental relief: Olivier is unable to extract a statement of remorse from Francis, and Francis is unable to recognise the overtones of the inquiry. Finally, in the carpentry storehouse, Olivier reveals that he is the father of the boy that Francis had murdered. Francis
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runs into the woods, but after catching him and pinning him down, Olivier returns to the trailer and finishes loading the wood. Francis quietly joins him. They tie the wood with the tarpaulin and ropes, securing it to the trailer, and the film ends. The Son is an anti-sentimental and anti-didactic film about a subject matter most commonly marked by melancholy, hate, and resentment. Much of the film is dedicated to the routinised manual labour of carpentry tuition. The film opens with a banging hammer and a block of wood moving through a planer, as Olivier’s back comes into focus. The soundtrack is dominated by the diegetic sounds of woodworking: sawing, hammering, wood falling on wood, working feet and hands. When Francis and Olivier meet by chance outside of the workplace one night, they spend their time measuring distances with a ruler that Olivier has given to Francis. Francis’ face is often immobile and without affect, except for sudden crises: a challenging task, for example, leaves him scrunched into a foetal position in the middle of the workshop. However, Francis soon starts to emulate Olivier, carrying the same box for his things, cleaning the dust off his uniform, and ordering the same apple turnover from the road- side cafe. Linking these repetitions within The Son to its ending, Robert Pippin points towards the physicality of a reconciliation that eschews verbal rapprochement: [There] is the hint of a mode of mutual understanding that has nothing to do with punctuated moments of insight into the other but is the result of a variety of longer term, complex diachronic development and interactions. … (Eating together, playing a Foosball table game together, working together on Francis’s carpenter’s box, helping the boy carry his load and much else.)34
The Son humanises Francis through labour. In the banality of his daily labours, Francis reveals the minutiae of his being. Nail, measure, carry, wait, fumble, repeat. In the conceptual language offered by Hardt and Negri and discussed in Chap. 2, the “social and ontological processes of labour” enable a co-operative form of “love … that proceeds by making itself common among multiplicities”.35 Olivier and Francis share work, share exhaustion, and share mistakes. These activities allow for a co- presence that does not depend on recognition or identification, agreement or disagreement, or any nameable register of affect or sentiment. One problem with Hardt and Negri’s approach, however, is that an emphasis on ontological processes cannot easily account for the longevity of
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wrongdoings inherited from the past. Commonality can explain how co- operative relations are formed without sentiment, but only if our starting point is a social tabula rasa. We cannot so easily explain how Francis and Olivier can avoid repeating the traumas of the past. We draw from the past to build futures, and this means placing both Francis and Olivier back at the scene of violence. How is this violence forgiven, and does it require love? First, at the level of the drives, there is an intensification of attention that does not correspond directly to positive or negative feelings. Intensity is not an evaluation or a thought “about” a thing: it is a reorientation of the body towards the multiple signs of the thing, its movements and affects. The question for the viewer, “who is Francis?”, has already been surpassed for Olivier by another, “how is Francis?”. Whatever its initial motive, curiosity has the capacity to generate new things. Curiosity is creative. Some theological traditions have suggested that “love as attention requires the preservation of the distinctness of the other”.36 In a variation on this theme, Gilles Deleuze suggests that love requires becoming sensitive to “a possible world unknown to us”, and thereby trying “to explicate, to develop these unknown worlds which remain enveloped within the beloved”.37 The reverse may also be true: the explication of the distinctness of the other, with careful attention, may be a precondition to love. Second, in orienting his attention, Olivier establishes a relation to Francis that preserves a strong separation between them. In fact, it may be that caritas, unlike cupiditas, benefits from detachment. On the way to the carpentry storehouse, Olivier and Francis stop at a café and Olivier buys himself an apple turnover. When the cashier indicates an option for the two to pay together, Olivier immediately declines, leaving (a relatively impoverished) Francis to buy his own turnover. This could be interpreted as Olivier enacting petty retribution against Francis, but Arendt’s account of forgiveness suggests an alternative reading. Placing the one who forgives in relation to the one forgiven requires the demarcation of a boundary between the two. The boundary allows for a co-presence that preserves the possibility for an act of forgiveness, one that is foreclosed neither by acts of vengeance nor by false gestures of friendship. The Son could also have positioned Olivier as a generous, Christ-like figure, prepared to forgive even the gravest sins, and such religious connotations—especially in conjunction with carpentry—were deliberately avoided by the Dardenne brothers.38 Instead, Olivier actively refuses to be magnanimous, but this does not make him unforgiving. Quite the opposite. As the smallest of acts, Olivier’s refusal to pay for an apple turnover
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solves the problem posed by Rey Chow in her reading of Secret Sunshine. Chow suggests that it is a mistake for Shin-ae to visit the peaceful and contented Do-Seob in prison because the act of forgiveness in the Christian tradition cannot tolerate disruptions to the structure of superiority and inferiority. Once forgiveness becomes affected by the changeable sentiments of the one being forgiven, the person who forgives slips into “an unending series of human transactions in which one-upmanship is always possible but never permanent”.39 Similarly, for Olivier to purchase an apple turnover for Francis, he would have to witness Francis expressing gratitude or even joy, thereby placing them within an economy of gifts and rewards. The apple turnover is a sign: this wound will not be healed by sentiment, or by affection, or by familiarity. The wound will be healed because Francis is a person with a future, and that future is carpentry. For Olivier to teach carpentry—no more, no less—is a practice of love, and the austerity of the tuition preserves Olivier’s capacity to “love something in him, that is, the very thing which, of himself, he is not”.40 This is not an infinite love, a charitable love, or a sentimental love. The wrongs of the enemy provide the grounds for forgiveness, and to forgive is to hope for a future in which love again becomes possible.
Notes 1. Rorty, Amelie. “Spinoza on the Pathos of Idolatrous Love and the Hilarity of True Love.” In Feminist Interpretations of Benedict Spinoza, edited by Moira Gatens, 65–85. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009, p. 84. 2. Ibid. See also Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. London: Unwin, 1988 , p. 25. 3. hooks, bell. All About Love: New Visions. New York: William Morrow and Co. Inc., 2000. 4. Caluya, Gilbert. “Intimate Borders: Refugee Im/Mobility in Australia’s Border Security Regime.” Cultural Studies 33, no. 6 (2019): p. 967 5. On the construction of virtuous communities in debates about refugees, see Allen, A. Molly, and Ron Hoenig. “The Shadow Other: Representations of the Manus Island Riots in Two Australian Newspapers.” Australian Journalism Review 40, no. 1 (2018): 109–24. 6. Sakr, Omar. “The Uncomplicated Dead: Reflections on Grief and Empathy in the Internet Age.” October 16 (2017). 7. See Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 100.
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8. Butler, Judith. “Precarious Life, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Cohabitation.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 26, no. 2 (2012): p. 150. 9. Nash, Jennifer C. Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019, p. 116. 10. Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Second ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998, 242. 11. Ibid., p. 55. 12. Ibid., p. 50. 13. Ibid., p. 24. 14. Ibid., p. 50. 15. Ibid., p. 51. 16. Ibid., p. 242. 17. Warner, The Trouble with Normal, p. 100. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Spinoza, Benedict de. “Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being.” Edited and Translated by Edwin Curley. In The Collected Works of Spinoza: Volume 1, pp. 46–156. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985, pp. 106–07. 21. Arendt, Hannah. Love and Saint Augustine. Edited by Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 17. 22. Ibid., p. 21. 23. Ibid., p. 20. 24. Ibid., p. 23. 25. Ibid., p. 19. 26. Ibid., p. 35. 27. Ibid., p. 46. 28. Ibid., p. 48. 29. Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 237. 30. Ibid. p. 241. 31. Ibid. p. 242. 32. Arendt, Love and Saint Augustine, p. 95. 33. Chow, Rey. “‘I Insist on the Christian Dimension’: On Forgiveness… and the Outside of the Human.” differences 20, no. 2–3 (2009): p. 235. 34. Pippin, Robert. “Psychology Degree Zero? The Representation of Action in the Films of the Dardenne Brothers.” Critical Inquiry 41, no. 4 (2015): p. 782. 35. Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Books, 2004, p. 351. 36. Neoh, Joshua. Law, Love and Freedom: From the Sacred to the Secular. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019, p. 65.
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37. Deleuze, Gilles. Proust and Signs: The Complete Text. Translated by Richard Howard. London and New York: Continuum, 2000, pp. 6–7. Emphasis in original. 38. Cardullo, Bert. “The Cinema of Resistance: An Interview with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.” Studies in European Cinema 7, no. 3 (2010): p. 184. 39. Ibid., p. 229. 40. Arendt, Love and Saint Augustine, p. 95.
Conclusion: Towards a Post-Sentimental Concept of Love
“Love is finding the biggest puddles”, reads a caption for an illustration of a man walking four children and a dog to school on a wet day. Elsewhere, two women watch children perform a play, and underneath is written “Love is watching from the front row”.1 This is Love Makes a Family, an Australian picture book for children by Sophie Beer, populated by single parents, same-sex parents, older parents, mixed-race families, and parents raising non-biological children, among others. These characters are held together in relations of love formed neither through the spectacles of romance nor through the sentiments attached to so-called blood ties, but instead by routinised and mundane activities. In The Argonauts, Nelson makes much of D.W. Winnicott’s concept of “ordinary devotion”, the ordinary acts of care that meet a child’s needs (25). Love Makes a Family can be read as a testament to Winnicott’s concept, in which value is placed on the knowledge and practices developed by mothers in their everyday care of infants: “you have knowledge, simply because you are specialists in the particular matter of the care of your own children. It cannot be taught.”2 Love Makes a Family maps this intersection between ordinary devotion and tacit knowledge, or between feelings about and knowing how to. While many social relationships involve ordinary acts of kindness and generosity, Lucy King notes that such acts are rarely sustained. Altruism as a momentary choice needs to be distinguished from ordinary devotion as the condition of possibility for a relationship to endure. The mundane © The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 T. Laurie, H. Stark, The Theory of Love, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7_6
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pragmatics of care over a sustained period constitutes the most ordinary and extraordinary acts of devotion. Love as ordinary care is love becoming imperceptible—love without closure, without rituals, without ceremony. Love as big puddles rather than big symbols. The Theory of Love has attempted to avoid the grand narratives of sentimental love, to think instead about love as a political concept that binds people to others and builds worlds. We have gathered stories that push us to find political resources in a range of bonds that connect us to partners, children, strangers, and enemies. Love has been a vehicle for transformation, pragmatics of care, and a place to fail. A post-sentimental concept of love holds together these attachments. This book began with the belief that if we argue for a new politics of love, we must sit with our doubt and place love under scrutiny, rather than advocating for or against any special kind of love. Always in mixtures, always in the middle of things, always caught up with its outsides—love is not a Newtonian force, but a composition or assembly of many forces, many accidents, and many worlds. We hope to have made some small contribution to understanding the diversity of worlds that provide the conditions for love, and to have acknowledged the vacillations and ambivalences that have marked both scholarship on love and the stories we tell each other—and ourselves—about love. We hold to the hope that the diverse practices of love that already exist, and, if we look closely enough, can already be found in our love stories, will point us in the direction of new ways of being (and failing) in common.
Notes 1. Beer, Sophie. Love Makes a Family. Richmond, Victoria: Little Hare Books, 2018. 2. King, Lucy. “There Is No Such Thing as a Mother.” Winnicott Studies: the Journal of the Squiggle Foundation 9 (1994): p. 19.
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A Affect, 2, 8, 14, 39, 40, 48–50, 54, 61, 62, 70, 71 Ahmed, Sara, 29, 39 Antipolitical love, 63, 64 Arendt, Hannah, 3, 63–69, 71 The Argonauts, 3, 47, 51, 53, 54, 75 Attachment, 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 13–15, 37, 40, 46, 49, 61, 65, 67, 68, 76 B Badiou, Alan, 9, 10, 23, 46 Bauman, Zygmunt, 46 Becoming, 3, 9, 12, 15, 30, 36, 38, 39, 45–57, 68, 71, 76 Berlant, Lauren, 7, 13, 19, 23 Bersani, Leo, 52 Biotechnology, 49 Bisexual, 35 Body, 8, 14, 30, 39, 40, 46–54, 56, 71 Bonnaffons, Amy, 3, 19, 31, 38, 39 Braidotti, Rosi, 8–10, 14, 23, 46
C Caritas, 66–68, 71 Celibacy, 30, 37 Child, 17, 18, 22, 35, 45, 51, 52, 62, 75, 76 Community, 1, 8, 10, 12, 18, 20, 22, 36, 39, 54, 56, 62, 64, 65 Couple, 3, 9, 21, 22, 29–31, 33–37, 39–41, 45–47, 51, 53–57, 65, 69 Cupiditas, 65–68, 71 D Dardenne brothers, 71 De Beauvoir, Simone, 6, 21, 23, 50 Deleuze, Gilles, 3, 17, 47–49, 54, 55, 71 Desire, 2, 6–9, 11, 13–16, 19, 21–23, 29–33, 35, 38, 40, 41, 47, 48, 50, 52, 61, 62, 66, 68 Doubt, 3, 53, 76
© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2021 T. Laurie, H. Stark, The Theory of Love, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-71555-7
E Ego, 9, 10, 14, 52 Enemy, 67, 72, 76 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 16
I Intimacy, 2, 6, 7, 12, 13, 16, 22, 33, 35–37, 41, 45, 46, 49, 55, 62, 64 In vitro fertilisation (IVF), 38
F Failure, 2, 13, 17, 36 Family, 16–19, 22, 30, 38, 40, 51–53, 57, 75 Fantasy, 2, 7, 19, 23, 36, 41 Feminism and feminist philosophy, 3, 21 Forgiveness, 3, 8, 61–72 Freud, Sigmund, 14, 16–18, 21, 50 Friendship, 9, 19, 22, 68, 71 Future, 1, 3, 10, 13, 16, 19, 29–41, 46, 47, 51, 56, 62, 63, 66–69, 71, 72
K Kipnis, Laura, 21
G Gender, 3, 19, 29, 45, 48, 49, 51, 53, 55, 56 Gillespie, Lucy, 3, 31, 35 Guattari, Felix, 3, 17, 47–49, 54, 55 H Halberstam, J. Jack, 17, 47, 54 Halperin, David, 9, 10, 22 Hardt, Michael, 11–13, 65, 70 Heterosexuality, 21, 37 Homonormativity, 53 Homophobia, 37 hooks, bell, 7–11, 13–15, 18, 23, 49, 61 Hope, 1, 10, 15, 16, 19, 66, 68, 72, 76 “Horse,” 3, 29–41
L Lanthimos, Yorgos, 3, 31, 32 The Lobster, 3, 29–41 Love, 1–3, 5–23, 29, 31–33, 35–37, 39–41, 45–57, 61–72, 75–76 Love Makes a Family, 75 Love Plot, 2, 7, 19–21, 23, 40, 47 Love Simon, 19 M Marriage, 2, 21, 22, 29, 32, 34, 37, 41, 51, 53, 64, 65 Marriage equality, 29, 34, 64, 65 Marxist, 3, 7, 11, 12 Metaphysical love, 50 Millett, Kate, 2 Molar/molecular, 48, 49, 55, 56 Monogamy, 22, 31, 32, 35, 36 Mononormativity, 3, 31, 34 N Narrative, 9, 10, 18–20, 22, 32, 34, 36, 38, 41, 47, 53, 68, 76 Negri, Antonio, 11, 12, 70 Nelson, Maggie, 2, 3, 47, 51–57, 75 No Archive Will Restore You, 46 Non-binary, 47, 51, 53, 55 Non-monogamy, 36
O Other, 1–3, 6–11, 13–15, 18, 19, 21, 22, 29, 31–36, 38–41, 46–49, 52, 55, 56, 61–68, 70, 71, 75, 76 P Polyamory, 21, 22, 32, 37 Pornography, 49 Preciado, Paul, 15, 16, 47–51, 54–57 Prosthetics, 48 Psychoanalysis, 6, 13, 15–18, 52 Puar, Jasbir, 55, 56 Public, 18, 21–23, 35, 37, 52, 53, 55, 62, 64, 65, 67, 68 Public feelings, 19, 23 Q Queer/queer theory, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 19–23, 29–31, 34, 37, 45, 51–54, 57, 65 R Romance, 19, 20, 22, 23, 32–34, 41, 47, 75
S Sedgwick, Eve, 30, 31, 51 Sentimentality, 19, 20, 63, 67 Sex, 16, 22, 30, 34, 36, 37, 39, 47, 48, 54, 75 Sexual citizenship, 39 Singh, Julietta, 46, 47 Singledom, 3, 29–41 Solidarity, 12, 30, 47 The Son, 3, 64, 69–71 Spinoza, Benedict de, 48, 61, 65 T Testo Junkie, 3, 47, 48, 50, 51, 54 Testosterone, 48, 50 Time, 11, 14, 16, 18, 20, 32, 35, 36, 46, 47, 49, 51, 54, 56, 64, 70 Transgender/trans, 3, 46, 47, 49, 52–56 U Unicornland, 3, 31, 35–37 Utopia, 41, 66 W Warner, Michael, 2, 64, 65 “Where Should we Begin? With Ester Perel,” 45 Winnicott, D. W., 17, 18, 75