Just to mention how the word has been debased is for sure to risk appearing less than clever, and to dwell on the problem is to confess to some kind of personal failure. To write about love rather than sex and its risks, to consider (or worse champion) the sacrifice that love involves, the limits and inconveniences love imposes, to suggest that love should be sought precisely because it has nothing to do with squirting orgasms, romantic walks down wet city streets, nor the warm feeling that creeps up your spine when you hear a pop song that was a hit when you were six-years-old, is to come across like a member of the clergy maybe, or even like a hallmark card. After all, defining love as something that does not equal these other things makes love into something purely negative.
Love is not the same thing as doing it on silk sheets or on soft wet grass under a butterfly bush in your neighbor’s backyard.
Love is a word that has been debased to the point of it appearing incomprehensible except as a kind of pleasure, perhaps shared. Love is a hedonistic thrill, or it is a grey nightmare, an economic arrangement, a biological necessity, or just a lie. It’s so far from us now that in order to understand what’s gone wrong with the word we should consider another lost word in its place: “revolution.”
In the 2007 film Examined Life Michael Hardt discussed the word revolution with director Astra Taylor while rowing a canoe across Central Park Lake. He explained that in the 80s he was an activist working in solidarity with rebels in El Salvador until the rebels asked him and his friends to stop. They told him that he should go back to the US and make revolution there rather than trying to help a struggle that was not his own.
“I said to him that Reagan was in the White House and I have no idea what it would mean to make revolution in the US. And he said, ‘Don’t you have mountains in the US?’” Michael Hardt, Examined Life, 2007
The El Salvadoran rebel told him that revolution is easy, just go to the mountains, start an armed cell, and make revolution.
Today Hardt is stuck between the idea of a coup (an insurgent movement to replace the elites) and a revolution that would be the removal of all the barriers that stop socialism from happening. However, it’s likely that a revolution wouldn’t involve either the seizure of the current State nor the perfection of what we know as democracy. Or, to put it another way, Socialism would be both the removal of elites and the replacing of the power structures that currently appear to hinder democracy.
Returning to love for a moment, we might ask what it is that blocks us from it? Do the institutions of love, like those of representative democracy, merely need to be toppled? Should our slogans of love be: “No more romance! No more marriage! No more honeymoons! No more staining the bedsheets!” Or is romantic love inexorably entwined with romance, sex, pleasure, and domesticity? Maybe love really is already expressed in our stupid and debased everyday lives.
Think of it this way. A marriage with love is a love that risks marriage and attempts to bends it to its will. And love, in the end, cares nothing for marriage. Love in a singles bar or dance club, is the same. Love does not exist between two hipsters working out how their outfits go together and hoping that their affair might work to their mutual advantage in some or other scene, but rather two lovers throw themselves against whatever scene they find themselves in, each in his or her own way as love demands. Finally, love between silk sheets is not the working out of one’s pleasure on the other’s body, nor is it some perfect merging of two people into one, but is maybe some kind of sacrifice.
Or maybe I’ve gone off the rails.
Let’s stick with revolution. At the end of Michael Hardt’s interview he says that the location they picked for the conversation was all wrong. Central Park Lake is too aristocratic a location to stage a talk of revolution, but he rejects other possible locations as clichéd. He rejects the background of the slums as perhaps maudlin, and claims that a factory, or the point of production, would also be clichéd. “We would see the ones who benefit from it and even the subjects and the actors who would conduct it.”
And this is where Hardt’s difficulty lies. Hardt imagines the factory floor as a site of pleasure, of the site where squirting orgasms are made while the world’s poor suffer imposed abstinence. But that’s not how it is on the shop floor.
Let’s bring revolution and love together with Woody Allen’s movie Bananas. In this film Allen’s nebbish character is kidnapped by Latin American revolutionaries and transformed, through the course of the film, into Fidel Castro. At the end of the movie, after Allen has escapes back to America, he seduces his former lover by revealing how politically engaged and transformed he has become. They get married and, on their Honeymoon, Woody Allen and Louise Lasser are featured on Howard Cosell’s ABC sports.
Cosell covers their Honeymoon consummation for his audience of sports fans. Cosell covers their antics in bed as he would a boxing match:
The two are working together closely, the action growing more rigorous. It is swift, rhythmic, coordinated. What’s that? A cut over Mellish’s right eye. The doctor comes in to examine the cut.
The site of production is currently a struggle, a daily fight where one class seeks to exploit the other, and while maybe both classes have their own moments of enjoyment this process has nothing to do with love. Love isn’t the elimination of exploitation, but perhaps the working out of this exploitation under the banner of love. Both partners are subordinated to love in some kind of revolution.