Love, Care, and Comrades

Curator's Note

In the conversational book In Praise of Love, Alain Badiou wonders, “what on earth is “fraternity”? No doubt it is related to the issue of differences, of their friendly co-presence within the political process, the essential boundary being the confrontation with the enemy.” Viewed through a political framework, love itself has no necessary enemy, that is, in love unlike in politics, the goal is to “experience the world from the point of view of difference.” There's much I'd leave behind in Badiou, but this formulation of love and politics—analogized in relation to family and state—seems to point in a fruitful direction. Living with difference is a challenge (we could also say an opportunity) revisited at both the micro and the macro levels of politics. Or, in other words, we must live with difference among our politics allies as with our antagonists.

When one loves another (partner, parent, child, friend, comrade), there is supposed to remain affection in surplus to the strict requirements of duty or obligation. What is to be done with the surplus? Where do we put it? If the State is to operate as a tool to see the fruits of our collective capabilities, then might love, as a mode of recognizing fellow-feeling and care, provide an under-tapped resource in terms of establishing political solidarity? The aesthetics of militancy and of radicalism, in particular, have often tended toward figural austerity and privation. There are numerous examples but Exhibit A might be V for Vendetta and its stress on the astringent value of pain and lies. This all seems premised on a good faith renunciation of bourgeois or neoliberal paradigms of self-fashioning, such as the subject as the crisis-oriented, target-marketed consumer.

Not every objection to precarious personhood and neoliberal politics takes this straightforwardly oppositional approach, however. Brooklyn-based Irish filmmaker Donal Foreman's Kittens / Communism exploits and explores this ostensible contradiction. It lays the voice of an activist discussing care and self-care over a few long takes of the Internet's favorite form of idle, pleasurable nourishment: adorable kittens playing. Foreman's short film “works”—it pierces—precisely because it must register this point ironically. This isn't the irony of winking detachment, but rather of embodying through form a contradictory premise that is prevalent elsewhere. Rather than doing so through voluntary aesthetic of poverty, we might better orient ourselves with other selves by way of care, comfort, and love.



Hi Zach, great post. I’m in particular intrigued by one of the questions you ask: “If the State is to operate as a tool to see the fruits of our collective capabilities, then might love, as a mode of recognizing fellow-feeling and care, provide an under-tapped resource in terms of establishing political solidarity?” This is, I think, a fascinating provocation. But I wonder if the problem with this formulation is that love seems to resist the kinds of organization that might allow it to produce particular and repeated results. That is, I’m not sure love can be activitated at given moments and made to achieve given outcomes. I’m reminded here of Jonathan Crary’s 24/7, in which sleep manages to evade the forces of neoliberalism by virtue of its being difficult to quantify and to absorb into market logics. While sleep, for Crary, might point towards something outside neoliberalism, the fact that it so readily resists rationalization also makes it difficult to organize into a principle that actively resists the forces of intensified quantification and constant activity. Do you think love shares these same properties? It seems that one of the things that makes neoliberalism so effective is precisely that all the things that might find their way outside of it are difficult (I almost wrote “impossible”) to organize and activate (I guess if they weren't neoliberalism would have already eaten them up).

Zach, thanks for your intriguing post. I'm wondering if neoliberalism, something I take on in a different way with my own post this week, allows for love at the expense of community? That is, if love exists within neoliberalism, has it not taken on a much more restricted meaning than perhaps the video you share explains. I can very easily think of loving someone, but it is more difficult to imagine a situation, time, or place where I would be openly loving of others in general. To me this seems naive, even dangerous, based on the neoliberal ideologies I've internalized: self-care, competition, individual responsibility. To another way, if saying "I love you" means loving some person at the expense of everyone else, then it also seems to suggest that everyone else is a threat, competitor, or inconvenience. So, while I'm hopeful that love could operate as a generalized form of care, my concern is that love under neoliberalism's weight largely limits that possibility.

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