By Rupayan Mukherjee
To Love or not to love that is the question!
Love is a ‘dangerous supplement’, with its spontaneity and a-rational disposition; love topples the established regimentations of the status-quo. The French philosopher Alain Badiou finds in love a sacrosanct encounter with the Other which creates the possibility of the Birth of an-other ‘world’. This ‘world’ is sovereign from the greater geological World and is a “Two-scene” where the self and the other co-habit. The stable premises of the cogito are unmade by the arrival of an excess that is unprecedented. In love, the self surpasses the limits of the habitual and inhabits a world that, owing to its dialogic disposition, is irreducibly singular. The claim to singularity rests in a co-habited order of existence which, to quote Badiou, “constructs a world from a decentered point of view”.
Love is also beyond the logistics of reason and the sensible considerations of causality. Sense, a loved signifier in the everyday vocabulary of the bourgeoisie, is otherwise fundamental to the condition of human existence. To inhabit the world of humanity is to be sensible, to be sensible is to conform to the utilitarian rationale of productive significance. An excess that jeopardizes the logic of sensible reason and rational sense, in form of a deviation, is deemed to be abnormal. Love as a chance that is unmediated and unmeditated is that excess and hence undisputedly abnormal.
To tackle the peril of love, it is essential to normalise love. Enlisting the various ideological and repressive systemic modes which control, govern, condition and propagate a legitimate-sensible notion of love is impossible; for the great catalogue is likely to include apparent disparities like ‘Love Jihad’ and the cosmopolitan apathy towards love, pronounced in trending hashtags of ‘I Hate Love Stories’ and viral memes of ‘turuuuue love’. For love to survive, it is essential, yet not enough, to identify and resist the already familiar antagonisms of caste, class, and religion. It is also equally important to be critical of the normalisation of love that is accomplished and sustained by other unfelt forces.
The force of patriarchy, for instance. That patriarchy is critical of any non-heterosexual ideal of love is but universally accepted. Yet, it is not just the homosexual individual who is endangered by the imposition of compulsory heterosexuality by the modus operandi of patriarchy. Patriarchy does not merely propagate a normative ideal of desire. It is also unconditionally committed to preserve the normative ideal of love. In that normative imaginary, Prince Charming rides the white horse of glory and bows in chivalry before the damsel in distress who has all this while waited for him. The eternal pattern of romance repeats itself timelessly in Love stories with happy ending, only the white horse transforms into coloured Ferraris. The end is, unfailingly, “Mr. Success weds Miss Beautiful.” Role reversals are barely allowed; Alice is ideologically discouraged to look into this normalized ideal of love through her looking glass. There are Alices who have let their love for White Knights wither in silence and, instead of raising arms against a sea of troubles, have preferred to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune – the fortune of living with-in the green-eyed vigil of patriarchy.
My Dear Reader, with furrowed eyebrows you may ponder, “But how can Alice be in love with the white Knight?” You cite the text and assert that Alice refuses reciprocation; you accuse me of misappropriating the text to strategically serve the design of my argument. You question my senses for having invented a love that is not just materially absent but also imaginatively improbable. How can Alice, a young lady who at this point in the novel is about to become the queen and is thus, metaphorically, on the verge of her womanhood, fall for an old un-heroic knight who is clumsy and ludicrous? You remind me of one of my students from the first year who once observed in an aside (which I overheard) to her friend, “Why should Desdemona fall in love with Othello?”
Such ‘why’s and ‘how’s are elementary idioms through which the standardisation of love is initiated. Elementary premises, My Dear Reader, on which stands the great mechanisms that endlessly endeavour to condition love. Elementary interrogatives that accompany the normalisation of love. My friend, heartbroken after the end of an intense love affair, had visited the psychiatrist and the learned Doctor had opened the conversation on that ominous note of ‘why’: “Why do you still miss her, now that x years and y months and z days have passed?” My friend had said, “Because love, I am told, sustains somewhere outside the orbit of ‘why’.” The physician being no philosopher, had diagnosed pathological ailment and prescribed him strength and sedatives, seeing him off with the final words of optimism, “You are after all, A Man!”
I am not Devdas, nor was meant to be. Pardon my puerile parody of Eliot for it is a genuine attempt of self-defence. I think that by now I have made you presume that this is an overtly sentimental mediocre piece on ‘True Love’. That I mean to suggest that all that transgresses the nominal and normative ideal of love is love proper, all loves which conform to the normative are plastic and lacks purity. Such presumptions, although valid, are not what I intend to provoke. I am only interested in suggesting the intricate policies and mechanisms through which love is governed, tamed and shunted to facilitate the birth, sustenance and nourishment of, what Alain Badiou calls, risk-free love. These intricacies are so inseparably entangled within our mundane everyday reality that it often escapes our otherwise intelligent and sensitive gaze of perception.
The intricate correspondence between Love and Shame may be cited in this context. They are so very simultaneous, almost metonymically synonymous, and more so in teenage when hormones play their ‘natural’ role. The lovers are consumed by shame as they messily stammer their love to each other; they are disgraced once the treacherous wind whispers the ‘news’ to an unwanted third. Then a scandal is born, parents are summoned and after the disgrace had scarred the entire family, the precocious youths, convicted of the heinous crime of falling in love, are inevitably delivered the archetypal advice: “Grow up first. This is not the right time. You will find time for love once you have settled down.”
Love must find a time, a favourable time. Love must be born after we ‘settle down’. Love must be born at a holy hour when we have achieved our maturity, have successfully located ourselves within the prevalent modes of production, have interiorised the ways of a patriarchal world, have acquired an unfailing consciousness of class, caste and other social hierarchies and have, at long last, substantiated and registered ourselves as docile subjects who, instead of transgressing, are committed to obey the norms of the status quo. Now, at this pristine hour love can be born, love should be born. Love will evolve into marriage, marriage will create family, family will treasure, preserve and uphold the order of the status quo! Any love that is outside this linear narrative of ascension is not love. It is infatuation, it is lust, it is perversion, it is desire, it is stupidity, but it is not love. It is not love, it is never love, it cannot be love.
And yet, like memory that refuses to die and perilously returns even when it is logical and sensible to forget; a Love, which lingers outside the orbit of logic and reason, returns to dismantle the grand mechanisms of normalisation.
To Love or Not to Love that Love as Love, that is the question.
The Excess that slips and haunts
As I write this piece, Soham returns in me. Soham had returned to Calcutta, only to travel far, far away into the distant lands. In all that I have been writing of late, I have desperately tried to find him. Today, while I was writing this piece, I found him yet again. My friend Soham, a poet and an admirer of love, would generously sing love songs in his unloving voice. We would immediately plead with him to cease the torture and ease our ears. He would laughingly say, “Love has its own melody, only lovers like me are able to realise them” and then in a Sohamesque manner proclaim, “tora amar moton aar ektao piece paabi naa bujhli?” (Never will you find another piece like me).
Soham…You are as singular and as irreducible as love; I will never find another ‘piece’ like you. But in all that I say, all that I write, all that I think, I realise your trace. I will, forever, be able to trace those traces. I will keep tracing them. Forever.
Rupayan Mukherjee is a Research Scholar at the Dept. of English, University of North Bengal. He is the co-editor of Partition Literature and Cinema: A Critical Introduction (Routledge, 2020). Besides academic writing, he is a regular contributor to the Editorials of UttarBanga Sambad, a widely circulated Bengali daily.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, born in New York City and currently based in India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Pandemics/Epidemics and Literature”, edited by Nishi Pulugurtha, Kolkata, India.