"Happy Valentine's Day to all the Occupy lovers out there." - OSN
What is it about love that makes it a compelling or politically interesting concept? What kind of work does love do politically that other concepts don't do?
Michael Hardt: One healthy thing love does is it breaks through a variety of conceptions about reason, passion, and the role of affect in politics. There are a number of other ways of doing this, but considering love as central to politics confounds the notion of interest as driving politics. Love makes central the role of affect within the political sphere.
Another thing that interests me is how love designates a transformative, collective power of politics – transformative, collective, and also sustained. If it were just a matter of the construction of social bonds and attachments, or rupture and transformation, it would be insufficient. For me, it would have to be a necessarily collective, transformative power in duration.
Lauren Berlant: We’re looking for something, some way of talking about the possibility of an attachment to a kind of collectivity that doesn’t exist yet. There are lots of things that can do that, like fascism, or the politically orchestrated forms of sociality that could do that. But we want the thing that includes a promise…
The thing I like about love as a concept for the possibility of the social is that love always means non-sovereignty. Love is always about violating your own attachment to your intentionality, without being anti-intentional. I like that love is greedy. You want incommensurate things and you want them now. And the now part is important.
When you plan social change, you have to imagine the world that you could promise, the world that could be seductive, the world you could induce people to want to leap into. But leaps are awkward, they’re not actually that beautiful. When you land, you’re probably going to fall, or hurt your ankle or hit someone. When you’re asking for social change, you want to be able to say there will be some kind of cushion when we take the leap. What love does as a seduction for this, and has done historically for political theory, is to try to imagine some continuity on the affective level. One that isn’t experienced at the historical, social or everyday level, but that still provides a kind of referential anchor affectively and as a political project.
Michael Hardt: Let me start with the non-sovereign thing. I like that. If one were to think a political project that would be based on or include love as a central motivation, you say, notions of sovereignty would be ruptured. That’s very interesting and powerful. I assume we are talking about a variety of scales here simultaneously, where both the self and the social are not sovereign in love.
When we engage in love, we abandon at least a certain type of sovereignty. In what ways would sovereignty not be adequate in explaining a social formation that was grounded in love? If we were to think of the sovereign as the one who decides, in the social relation of love there is no one who decides. Which does not mean that there are no decisions but, rather, that there would be a non-one who decides. That seems like a challenging and interesting question: what is a non-sovereign social formation? How is decision-making then arrived at? These are the kinds of things that require modes of organization; that require, if not institutions, customs, or habits, at least certain means of organizing the decision-making process. In a politics of love, one of the interests for me is a non-sovereign politics, or a non-sovereign social formation.
By thinking love as political, as somehow centrally involved in a political project, it forces us to think through that non-sovereignty, both conceptually, but also practically, organizationally.
Davis: I’m really intrigued by the ways you both speak of how love is a project of non-sovereignty in terms of the social, the self, and the relationship between the social and nature. If you’re trying to conceive of each of those layers with a certain consistency, whether that is a surface of habit or as an institution, then what is the difference between those formations and sovereignty?
Michael Hardt: I’ll start with some basic things. I think within the tradition of political theory, it’s not at all clear what a non-sovereign politics could be. It’s hard to make such grand generalizations, but the tradition of political theory we inherit is fundamentally related to the role and decision making of the one, whether that one be the king, the party, the liberal individual, all of these. Here, decision-making can only be performed by the one, and so I think this is what Toni Negri and I have felt is interestingly challenging about the concept of multitude itself. How can a multiplicity decide? The organization of decision-making is central for me for thinking politics or political theory. I guess I would apply this to the level of the individual too. How can an individual as multiplicity, and hence as non-sovereign, decide and not be just an incoherent helpless heap? What I think is required for that, now back again at the level of political theory, is understanding how collective structures, or structures of multiplicity, can enable social decision-making. We also have a long tradition of the possibility of the democracy proper – the rule of the many – but it’s a minor tradition, or sometimes a subterranean tradition. That seems to be one way of characterizing what’s at stake, or challenging in this.
One other pedagogical way of thinking about this, that seems to me useful for posing the problem, is the long tradition in European, Chinese, and many other political theorizing that goes back thousands of years, which poses an analogy between the human body and the social body. In these traditions, the analogy is very explicit: the army is the arms, the peasants are the feet, the king is the head, and so forth. This assumes the centrality, hierarchy, and unity of the organs of the body that ground and justify the centrality and unity of the organs of the social body. The natural assumption, in Hobbes and any number of others, about the human body and its functions, are what make necessary that kind of social form.
So what if one were to take seriously the contemporary or even the last thirty years of neuroscience that talks about the non-centrality of thought processes and decision-making processes in the brain? What if we were to keep the analogy and say, well, actually the brain is not centered. It’s an incredible complex of neurons firing and chemical processes. Thinking about the human body and the brain, in particular, as a non-centered multiplicity, would help us understand a radically different social body. I think that my inclination generally would be to throw out the analogy, but it’s at least polemically interesting to say let’s take the analogy and recognize it for what it is, and the functioning of the brain might help us understand that sovereignty was a mistaken idea in the first place for how the individual functions.
Lauren Berlant: I think “sovereignty” badly conceptualizes almost anything to which it’s attached. It’s an aspirational concept and, as often happens, aspirational concepts get treated as normative concepts, and then get traded and circulated as realism. And I think that’s what happened with sovereignty. So, in “Slow Death,” I say that perhaps we should throw sovereignty out, but people are so invested in it maybe we can’t, because you can’t just decide that ghosts don’t exist…
Read the full discussion between Lauren Berlant and Michael Hardt on the politics of love at Reviews in Cultural Theory