Friday, April 25, 2008

The Love Boat

In honor of the recent disruptions, almost a month since the last entry, I have decided to write some remarks on Love and Other Technologies by Dominic Pettman. This is one of the handful of books that I have read precisely because it was mentioned on multiple blog posts. That is at least the primary reason, the secondary reason is that it contains at least one oblique reference to Simondon (one of my recent interests), and it is about love (something I have always wanted to write about).

The opening sections of Pettman’s book can be understood as a reflection of that often unreflected fact of existence, “serial monogamy”: the fact that most of us will love several people, and will thus go through the same gestures, utter the same words, words and gestures of irreplaceable singularity, to several people, or at least more than one. (Come to think of it, the monogamy is not exactly necessary, just the intensity of an attachment). As Pettman writes:

Alongside the conceptually infinite interchangeability of love, we must acknowledge the existence of a stubborn irreplaceability a finite singularity of the other (as those who have mourned a loved one only know too well). Herein lies the tension of contemporary intimacy, the tension between this radical interchangeability and the simultaneous awareness of our/their profound unsubstitutability on the level of personal narrative. It could be anyone, yet it is irredeemably (th)us. (pg. 40)

Now it seems to me, and this is not one Pettman’s points, that in our day-to-day life we contain this tension through such common sense notions as “types.” The idea of the type somehow contains the open ended serial nature of the encounters, representing them as variations on a theme, or as bad copies of one original. I must admit that I am personally skeptical of the notion of “types,” they always seem like retroactive constructions, an attempt to make sense of our loves after the fact. What Pettman draws from this tension is a notion of “inessential essentially,” every love is a particular “one” but its particularity is situational, at least partially determined by the relation. What Pettman is primarily interested in is the openness of this situation, the love, the relation, the friendship that is outside of type. Moreover, given that this history of love fundamentally change us, providing new perspectives, new worlds, and new habits there is also an openness of the self to its constitutive conditions. We are made of our loves, requited and unrequited, blissful and painful.

Spinoza defines love as nothing but joy with the accompanying idea of an external cause (EIIIP13Schol). A definition that on first glance sounds incredibly instrumental, but if we recall that joy is an increase in our power to think and act, then we can think of love as a process of reciprocal self transformation. We love those who transform us, or are transformed by those that we love. This is where things get difficult. First there is a question of how to sustain this process. We are all familiar with the way in which a love can die, lose its intensity, bogged down in the mundane repetitions of daily existence. Not all transformations are good, there are those transformations that we cannot sustain, things that are too intense, too alien, too difficult. Every relation risks the total effacement or loss of self, two people become one, a bad copy of each other. If we add to this Spinoza’s fundamental insight that all affective relations are ambivalent then we would have to add that this transformation is riddled with difficulties, with pains, jealousy, etc., then the process always risks becoming a different kind of transformation, we become less than ourselves not more, bitter, jealous, angry.

This is not really a thorough consideration of Pettman’s book, just a rift off of one of his themes. I have been meaning to write about the discussion of pornography as well, especially since I watched Society of the Spectacle, but that will have to wait for another time.


Jodi said...

your comments on transformation are insightful; I've not read it put this way before--academics and those involved in left politics tend to make transformation too easy, too completely optimistic.

unemployed negativity said...

Thanks. As for the insight, there is nothing like "real" difficulty to temper the optimism of one's political and academic orientation.