Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do You Believe in Life after Love (in the Era of Neoliberal Capitalism)?

“Occupy love!” So some tweeted following Obama’s announcement that some of his daughters’ friends’ parents are gay and that he (privately) supports same-sex marriage. But it makes me wonder (I’m such a Carrie): what would it mean to occupy love? At this point, the demand that we “occupy x” typically functions as a call to an affirmative deconstruction: we are to situate ourselves within the immanent plane by which x functions materially, institutionally, and discursively, and then expose x’s immanent functioning to alternative futures. So, to occupy love would be to get a read on how love functions within one system of predications (the heteronormative system of [neo]liberal capitalism) and displace these predications. In order to occupy love, then, we’d have to begin with a simple question: Why are neoliberal states so garrulous about love? Not just sex, not just reproduction, but love itself?

We have any number of critiques that demonstrate how love can be instrumentalized by states. It provides the affective charge that sutures subjects to more-or-less abstract, ideological structures, affect serving as the conduit by which the imaginary effectively materializes. But I think that the instrumentalization of love (whatever form this instrumentalization takes) is simply the way in which liberal states negotiate the scandal of love as such. Love is scandalous because it is an act of hyper-predication—that is, it is not simply a predication such as “x is someone I love” or “x is beautiful” but a pre-predication that makes x available for predication, a predication that predicates x as such—and liberal capitalism treats subjects as thought they are formally non-predicated. There will always be a deficit of sense between love and the world of liberalism.

Hegel introduces us to this predicate-less, sense-less, love-less world in his fragment “Love,” composed around 1798. Opening with a little existential Robinsonade—that is, a tale that assumes the presuppositions of liberal capitalism as an ontological condition—we find a non-predicated individual in an alien world. This individual is “an independent unit for whom everything else is a world external to him”; the “world is as eternal as he is”; and “objects…are there,” simply there, horrifyingly bereft of subjectivity, of animation. We see a world of sheer duration in which this young Robinson can’t seem to inscribe himself meaningfully; the eternal being-there of the world is impervious to his subjectivity. Everything—including the individual person—is just stuff, “indifferent matter.” This is a phenomenological moment, not a historical actuality; it can repeat itself whenever the world-as-such is not structured as a horizon of thick meaning, a world in which matter matters indifferently. It’s simultaneously a pre-historical world and a post-historical world; it’s a world in which the sense of the world has withdrawn: the world simply endures, and the individual survives. This individual, who, given the narrative logic of Hegel, seems like a first-man, a pre-historic man, is just as easily the last man, the man at the end of the sense of the world, Fukuyama’s hero.

Love saves this individual from senselessness. There’s a theological grounding to all this, but what is important is the way in which the very possibility of sensing a sense-full, animate world is named “love.” Love, Hegel writes, “is a feeling, yet not a single feeling”—it is not one affect among others, but that which organizes affectivity in general. Love is the groundless ground by which the world grounds itself in meaning, incorporating even indifferent matter into lived meaning. Thus, “in love…life senses life”—a circular affectivity generated in the circulating love between his couple that has the effect of encircling the material world in a halo of affect. “In the lovers there is no matter…” By loving the beloved, in effect, the lover convokes the world as lovable—that is to say, as sensible and sense-full. So, what Hegel names “love” is a pre-predicative act that makes the world available for predication; it gives meaningful being to a world that seemed to resist Robinson’s attempt to find himself at home there. So, love makes the world and makes it through another—one-other, in fact. The world becomes senseless the moment the hyper-predication of love fails; the moment the lover is no longer in-love, the world collapses, and the lover becomes Robinson again. (This same narrative will be replayed in the Phenomenology, subbing love out for labor.)

It’s more complicated, though. Given the narrative logic of the fragment, it seems as if love (and a meaningful world) and lovelessness (and a senseless world) are simply diachronically separated. Yet, there is also a synchronic relationship between love and the loveless, the intimate world and the worldless world-beyond. The intimate world of love is always impinged upon by its exterior. These lovers would like to enclose themselves from the outside world, from the extensive sociality of indifferent persons and matter from which they emerged, but, in fact, they cannot: “the lovers are in connection with much that is dead; external objects belong to each of them.” The lovers don’t halo the world in meaning; rather, they striate a space of meaning in the alieness of materiality. In effect, wider circuits of sociality—here metonymized by property—constantly pluck the lovers from the intimacy of their world. The autology of the at-home gives way to the heteronomy of the more-than-one, more-than-two.

Certainly, no one is surprised that the intimate is interrupted by the social. Haven in a heartless world or not, lovers have to talk about bills. What Hegel outlines, however, is the gap between the subject and the alien world once love has advened. When Robinson leaves his lover’s arms and goes forth into the crass indifferent world of matter so as to maintain his intimate world, what effect will the experience of sense-full-ness have on his ability to be in that indifferent world? Or, after Robinson has been loved by another, how are we to treat him, and how would he treat all the others, the others who are not the one-other? It’s here that love introjects a rupture in liberal capitalism. As Hegel writes, monogamous love functions as a giving-over of one’s being to a single predication (being-loved by another), and this giving-over of one’s being is necessary precisely because one’s world has no meaningful being without this predication. But one cannot appear in the world of liberal capitalism as predicated by another; one has to appear without predications, as a formally abstract person; one has to relate to all others via mechanisms of sociality that equate equality with indifference. Robinson’s impossible task: To learn indifference after love…

We know how liberal capitalism has managed this necessity: through gendered space thinking. The hyper-predication we call love is denigrated along a gendered axis as merely private: men in public are formally non-predicated. The masculinity of the liberal Everybody was a feature of liberalism’s attempt to think pure form without letting go of a vibrant concreteness it could never directly offer. It’s not that liberal capitalism does not particularize and predicate subjects—it does constantly, but always in the name of producing spheres of sociality in which subjects are freed from such predications. (The neoclassical market is that utopian place where everyone is freed from such predications, and it’s a wretchedly meaningless place, of course.) This casts Robinson’s necessary attempt to access wider spheres of sociality in a peculiar light. Bluntly, the de-predicating mode of liberal sociality, its freedom, is freeing only in the momentary affective rush of leaving predication behind—one feels the thrill of formal freedom…right before one ends up as Robinson again. Tonally, the technologies of liberal de-predication are always right at the tense excitement of infidelity: one leaves one’s beloved behind, leaves one’s being-loved behind, and enters into an anonymous, formal sociality with many-others. An orgy of senselessness.

Alas, there are no orgies in Hegel, no scenes in which a de-predicated one takes leave of the one-other and knocks boots anonymously with just-anyone. No orgies, but there is the state. Indeed, Hegel will, in other texts, manage the crisis in sense occasioned by the gap between the world of lovers and the worldlessness of liberal capitalism by turning to the state as a new principle of unity. He doesn’t in “Love,” though—it’s a fragment, after all. We’re just left with two lovers, the one and the one-other, fretting about their exposure to a world of many-others, of materiality, of the social. We can take it as a moment of potentiality before the state arrives to manage the crisis of the sense/lessness of liberalism.

So, what’s a lover to do when confronted with the heteronomy of the social in conditions of liberal capitalism? Our lover, our Robinson, might attempt to reject the ontological premises of Hegel’s argument. There’s no reason, after all, why the sense of the world arrives through one, and only one, other; there’s no reason why the partition of sociality erected by liberalism should attain such ontological gravity. There’s really no reason to begin counting at one, with the “individual unit”; no reason why this one can only interact with the world in a meaningful fashion when he encounters one-other—and only one-other; no reason why the persistent interaction with the world beyond these two requires the production of a third figure that, ultimately, just becomes a new unit, a new one. No need to begin from the individual, the ego, Dasein, the autos, the ispe…No reason, no need, except that liberal capitalism is an ontological force, and we can’t in voluntaristic fashion assemble a new ontology, one premised one the priority of the more-than-one, the lovability of an open-ended Mitsein. To get out of the quandary—how does one live liberalism after one has loved?—without calling upon an apparatus to manage the crisis of sense/lessness, our lover will need to work with others at learning to love differently. To begin building a loving, sense-making sociality premised on the more-than-one.

Can we think of Occupy as an experiment in post-liberal love? Think about the encampments, those bizarre sites, which—being neither public nor private, neither intimate, nor extimate—take the more-than-one as its ontological, material, and social constitution. There, the meaningful world is not accessed through one-other but through constructing this world with many-others; these many-others can’t be stated in a unifying figure, but are dispersed in their multiplicity. Perhaps most importantly: the sense of the world at Occupy is produced through con-sensing, the con- marking an open-ended set of those who arrive, and arrive such as they are. Echoing Hegel, we might say that consensing is “a feeling, yet not a single feeling”—it’s the modality by which many-others make the world sense-full and full, primarily, with the sense of being-with-others. 

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