A. Penzin: In talking about love, it is actually important to gain some distance from the ideological languages of sex and sentimentality. I am especially suspicious of the latter, since it is a reaction to the confirmation of sex as a power-apparatus and a product of the cultural industry, in its variant as a mass-cultural romance, as well as in the slightly cynical anti-psychologism of intellectual culture.
Barthes’ famous analysis of love as an archive of discursive figures is a type of refined sentimentalism, a melancholy menagerie of figurines. It places the reality of love, its status as an event or a form of praxis with political results, into semiological brackets. “There”, we find nothing but the reverberating emptiness of desire’s impossibility, or the alibi of the sexual act, which is neither necessary nor ever enough.
Considerations of the “gift”(no matter which role this notion has played in other theoretical contexts) appear as yet another form of soulful sentimental ideology…
Thus, I would like to find a constellation that might allow us to connect love with praxis and history. I would like to address the famous pop-cultural dramatic composition of “love against the backdrop of historical events”, a genre that has given rise to comically excessive models like the film “Titanic”). In the spirit of a late Marxist analysis, we need to uncover the repressed utopian content of this cultural material.
Usually, this use of history is considered as a primitive scenic device, which reduces History to the spectacularly costumed horseman of one single narrative. A catastrophic event, a rupture, a revolution will bring on the collision of two heroes, allowing the plot to unfold: as a rule, it allows the introduction of the archaic dimension of loss and self-sacrifice. The comic overvaluing of long-suffering love against the scenery of crumbling towers, bubbling lava, sinking ships, the noise of battle, or the cries of revolutionary crowds is not simply a means of naturalizing history, a libidinous infection of the phantasm’s arrangement. Its essence does not simply lie in its formal dramatic effect. Instead, it means that every love, something private, even “petit bourgeois”, stubbornly searches for this disjunction in history.
This is not trivial “resonance”. Instead, historical events, love’s harassments, and words become impossible to differentiate: the final scenes of the love-affair between Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis took place in the exploded Moscow of the post-revolutionary period, when “facts had already become theory”. Was it this approaching break or rupture that made their relationship so unreal?
While the subject is usually neurotic with the lack of love, even the most complete and beautiful love is marked by a lack of history. This is the source of the “heroism of a mad endeavor”, undertaken in passion, in that “strangely altered state of mind”, becoming a historical event or at least radically changing the subject’s biographical history. This is not simply the accident of irrational madness, but the revelation of a key moment, the love story’s drive or attraction to History. Love History.
Moving on: the dyad of lovers as a model of a classless society (in “real life”, it is actually capable of breaking down class boundaries). In fact, the praxis of love is motivated by its own rational, extremely realistic teleology, namely to change the world, to universalize the free and euphoric order of things which it will reveal.
In this sense, there is – without any doubt – a revolutionary, political impulse in love, even if conservative-reactionary structures are capable of taking it under control, reducing it to the conformist soul-saving sentimentality of what is usually a religious order. They will also relegate love to the liberal gigantomania of sex: group orgies that claim the status of historical events, as in the novels of Michel Houellebecq.Even the clearly politicized pacificist imperative of make love, not war is still bound to the framework of the “common sense” appeal of the liberal choice’s political conception (as a favorably private form of “recreation).
Enlightened cynicism is a means of controlling this explosive stretch of no man’s land between objectified sexuality (dead love, much like alienated labor) and impotent sentimentality (love that attempts resurrection in the barometric chamber of mass culture’s pseudo-religious images), between power and reaction.
A thousand couples, madly in love, storming the Winter Palace – this kind of revolution would have been impossible to betray.
Your refined text is far too starry-eyed for my taste. Yet I do not want to condemn it. Instead, it is something I want to radicalize.
Seen through the Marxist class approach, the essence of our epoch lies in the struggle of the working-class against the class of exploiters; the proletariat pitted against global capital. This struggle will result in the overthrow of capitalism and in the victory of new type of sociality – to the victory of communism. Hence, the main question needs to be formulated as follows: which place does love occupy in this struggle? Which role can it play?
Here, it is necessary to avoid two extremes. The first is the hippie’s “revolution through love”. We will love one another and call upon the others to love, and soon or later, the world will change beyond recognition.
The other extreme lies in “revolutionary rigorism”: “How dare you to speak of beautiful schmaltz like love, when the vampire of capitalism is sucking us dry day by day…” etc.
How it is possible to describe what is in between these two extremes?
First, one should never forget that the fighters for communism were not inspired by a hatred for the past as much they were driven by a love for the future. Though this balance has been subject to historical variation, though any communard can be guided by hatred, we should not hate but understand and change, laughingly leaving behind the leaden nastiness of capitalism.
Second, our confidence in victory is based not upon dreams and moral conviction (even if it also finds its sources here). Instead, it is based on scientific analysis and strict calculation, which have already been confirmed through centuries of struggle. Capitalism is pregnant with communism; the logic of capitalism carries the seeds of its own destruction. Capitalism’s own economic laws aggravate its immanent contradictions. Sooner or later, these contradiction will become irreconcilable. With its own flesh and blood, capitalism feeds the huge entirety of a social class that will one day overthrow the empire of hard cash and easy money.
This means that communism is already present in the world. For now, it only exists as an embryo and a project, as the vague dream of the many and the strict knowledge of the more acute. (When the energy and force of the many enters into a union with the intellectual sharpness and conviction of the firmest, coming together in the form of democratically organized mass working-class organizations with precise political programs – we shall finally prevail.)
And everyone – literally every one of us – can see communism here and now, in its immediate proximity. To do so, it is enough to simply fall in love.
I do not want to describe what lovers feel; this is not my present goal. But the most important thing consists in the following: will anyone really try to dispute the fact that we find ourselves in a completely different world, once we have fallen in love? A world without enmity, without dictatorship. The world based on tremulous and sincere care for the other, cooperating on the basis of equal in rights, in respect for the other’s personality, in a world based on kindness, freedom, and beauty. Certainly, all these words sound wildly naive and sentimental. But, at the risk of repeating myself, anyone who has been in love for at least half an hour in their life will agree. These words describe the state of love.
Yes, “love is strange”. Frequently, its lofty feelings toward the other are quickly replaced by a form of relating that is far from lofty. The problem is that this idealized image of love is inevitably touched and soiled by the nastiness of the social order that surrounds us. You might answer that “love” is actually a courtly construct, invented by the Romantics during the early 19th century or the Troubadours of the late Middle Ages. And indeed, this is something we should speak about at greater length.
But nobody can deny that each of us can reach communism today, here and now, for half an hour, for an hour, for a day, for years. And anybody will ever be able to convince me that this “communism for two” is doomed to remain nothing more than a rare flash of love’s flame in the eternal capitalist night. Combining justice with the desire to give to best to the other, freedom with the desire to hear and understand the person closest to you, we must spread this form of relating to society at large.
Because no matter what you say, our world is not only progressing technically; progress is also spiritual.Humanity is moving forward. Nothing can stop this movement. Something is booming, knocking, revolving underfoot, making its way from the deep to daylight, something so huge that its breath rumbles as an infra-frequency, much like the indistinct roar of an approaching mass of water from a broken dam, like the first tremors of an earthquakes, still weak and barely perceptible.
If you are capable of feeling these infra-tremor of something massive, you will raise your head and open your ears, asking what exactly is knocking at our door. For me, this is Love and Communism, two things of whose deep connection I am firmly convinced. For me, this is the rumble of history in its tectonic outbreaks toward Communism: “Almost every insoluble problem hides the path to its solution – the path to history” (G. Lukacz. History and Class Consciousness).
But there is no reason to get cheesy and schmaltzy. It is not love – even the strongest love of all – but class-struggle that makes history. And certainty in victory does not meanslackness – quite on the contrary. Our path to society’s future is paved with hard work and tragic trials. Yet along this road, love will not only be a promise of the future but our foothold in the everyday.
The natural and banal course of things of daily life, sociality etc., excludes love as a deviant form, a fatal blunder, a gross mistake, constantly in danger of producing the most catastrophic consequences.
If there is any connection between love and capitalism, its last instance lies in the modern system of normalization and exclusion, through which love is expelled to the periphery of our worlds, the most perfect of which in a world without love. Sex, sentimentality, and the aesthetics of “adventure” as minor history (love story) serve the purpose of excluding or normalizing love.
Love is erroneous, criminal, inadmissible and extremely dangerous because it does not tolerate any complete identification of money with time. To put it simply, love’s time cannot be measured in money. This is the source of the lover’s illusion of a timelessness and endless return, as the same words, the same face, the very same moment are repeated again and again. This moment of returns presents itself as an explosion or a rupture in a narrative that is comely and rationally ordered. Although we once seemed to be taking part in this narrative’s construction, we were participating in the most conformist of ways: deceiving ourselves and the others, we were working for our scabby personal interests.
Caught unawares by unexpected love, we understand what a small meaning all of this has now, as your or my individual existence is eradicated with the presence of the other. For love to be consummated, the “one and only name of the game” needs to suffer a defeat, since love itself is an attempt at escaping this moment.
Oedipus’ entire life was a protracted effort to avoid the will of gods, ever since he discovered his fate from the oracle. This will is carried out, although unnaturally, against everything. Necessity is carried out as something completely impossible, as something that should have never taken place at all. The neutralization of this event, the interdiction of its recurrence or its eternal return takes on the form of an instructive tale, a love story about something that can have no place in history’s reality.
Identifying time with money, capitalism turns out to be a far more perfect mechanism than it would initially seem. Its inner logic does not simply preclude the any chance for love’s occurrence. Love’s only chance – its only occurrence – is a disruption in the machine’s functioning.
In terms of historical reality, the inevitability of communism – aslove and freedom – are similar to the “divine will” of the Greek tragedy. While communism is certainly inevitable, it is only possible as a contradiction of history’s “natural” development, based on the blind effort of escaping.