Del amor a la amistad: la política de las relaciones

Foi lançado em Outubro de 2015 o livro "(h)amor2", que conta com um texto meu.

Originalmente escrito em inglês, esta obra conta com um texto meu. A sua versão original pode ser consultada abaixo.

O link para mais informações sobre o livro está aqui (página no Goodreads), e o mesmo pode ser adquirido através da editora (aqui).

A referência bibliográfica (estilo APA) é a seguinte:

Cardoso, D. (2015). Del amor a la amistad: la política de las relaciones. In S. Cendal (Ed.), M. Pérez (Trans.), (h)amor2 (pp. 53–66). Madrid: Continta Me Tienes.

 

From love to friendship: The politics of relating[1]

Daniel Cardoso

It was not that long ago that I read Judith Butler’s text on “Doubting Love”. It had a lasting impact on me. Rather than trying to come up with one way to define love or to deconstruct the various meanings of love, Butler inverts the question, and posits love as something that can be used as a resource to ask more questions. Love – the question of what love is – becomes a possible starting point for questioning one’s epistemological certainties.

Drawing on Freud, Butler points out that, as love is constructed as a fundamental element of human existence, doubting love means the obligation of doubting everything else. According to the philosopher, “love always returns us to what we do and do not know”. One thing that seems to go unmentioned – perhaps of imposed brevity – is how to doubt the centrality of love itself, and how to doubt about which kind(s) of love are so central.

Though Butler is not explicit about it, there seems to be an undertone of romantic love associated with that text - the idea that the infatuation and power that is usually associated with romantic love (in a sense, the core notions behind this can be linked to the heterosexual matrix of the reproductive love) is somehow indicative of an essential dimension of the subject. It is around this romantic love that seems to grow a necessity for speaking the truth about oneself and one’s love (in addition to, rather than in spite of, Foucault’s analysis about the ‘truth’ of one’s sexuality). Even if Butler did not intend it as such, this undertone of romantic love does not dispel the notion that this kind of love is especially, uniquely, powerful or central.

Many other authors have talked about how the centering of romantic love and romantic relationships is a political system – Coral Herrera Gomez and Brigitte Vasallo come to mind. With their analyses, we can better understand how the centrality of romantic love is more than presupposed: it is forcefully imposed, not only culturally and rhetorically, but also legally. It is important to remember that the notion of being together or marrying someone out of love was, in itself, a clear improvement over a system that treated women as chattel, as assembly points between men and their property. In this aspect, and on that cultural and historical context, then, marrying for love was/is a form of resistance, one that requires the woman to love back, to proactively match that sentiment.

This does not mean that love or marriage are, in themselves, intrinsic forms of resistance - only that they functioned as such, within that context, and in comparison to more straightforward forms of objectification and disregard for women’s sexual and personal autonomy. As they stand in the context of contemporary Western(ized) and modern(ized) societies, intimate relationships based on romantic love are functioning as references of normalization, as an aspirational ideal that can grant legitimacy to sex - especially, again, in the case of women. This creates a double pressure, that other authors have already commented on at length - namely Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and Beck-Gernsheim - where the individualized, choosing subject, must sample different relationships, where each relationship should hopefully be the last one (and the lasting one). In those - very many - cases where it ends up not being the last one, it’s often said that the end of the relationship proves it wasn’t “true love”; and so the subject moves to the next (last?) relationship.

The previous relationship becomes then a means to an end, and its existence is justified by the search for this “true” love. Thus, our contemporary contradictory narrative on love and romance once again joins objectification (e.g.: choosing a partner as one chooses what next to buy) with highly conceptual ideals (e.g.: that the “true love” will be recognizable as such, intrinsically). We can see here how different this is from Butler’s constant doubting: the choosing lover strives to get to the truth, while Butler’s perspective finds in the process of doubting the realization of love itself.

This difference, however, does not resolve the issue of what is happening around the centering of romantic love as especially powerful or meaningful. This centering has been, in recent years, a very important part of the intimacy politics around sexual minorities. The fight for marriage has been, in several countries, more about a symbolic struggle focused on straight-looking loving relationships (where the equation states that love=romance). I am in no way denying the importance of symbolic struggles, nor the gains that they bring, and specifically the fight for the right of monogamous same-sex couples to marry (at least if and when they both fit into the standardized sexual binary, somehow). But as the academic work around the concept of homonormativity clearly demonstrates, and as the more activist outcry to bring into focus those who, due to structural reasons, cannot even marry - and those reasons are manifold, as they pertain to wealth, to health, to geography, to religious belonging, and so on… - same-sex marriage operates by sanctioning the State’s supervision over the citizens’ intimate lives. It does so through romantic love: or rather, through aiming to prove (to provide the truth about it) that relationships between two people of the same sex are similar to monogamous heterosexual relationships, that they are also about love, about romantic love, and as such, worthy of protection and recognition. Same-sex relationships are then just as romantic as heterosexual relationships, which upholds the status of hetero-mono relationships, and by proxy, the status of the centrality of romanticism.

As stated above, though, even Butler’s transformation of love from truth-seeking to question-making does not fully resolve the problem, if we assume that there is indeed an undertone of romanticism in the account of love given. At the same time, Butler says that love is not a “feeling”, but “an exchange”. This exchange “fraught with history, with ghosts”, and again coming from a Freudian reading, is akin to certain aspects of the psychoanalytic process of transference - a relationship. As it is usually referred to, and talked about, love is considered to be a psycho-emotional experience, a subjective experience (that is, one that is essentially contained in the subject, even when considering the importance of the physiological aspects of said experience). Thus if we are to talk about love in a way that decentralizes romantic love then we need to use words that can convey the notion of a relationship better than “love”.

It is not that acknowledging several kinds of love is not important, because it is. In fact, acknowledging the diverse meanings that the word “love” carries is both historically important and culturally relevant. In this sense, love is not a feeling nor a relationship. Love is an idea,  and as with all ideas, it can be traced, deconstructed, analyzed, and its permutations can help us understand its evolution and the cultural contexts in which it was used and in which it continues to be used. It goes beyond the scope of this text to even attempt to do such a thing; besides, several accounts of such transformations or usages have and are already being written, researched and compiled (e.g.: Berit Brogaard, William Reddy, Lancelin e Lemonier). The choice here to step away from love - especially in a book about love! - is to linguistically force the conversation onto the field of the relationship.

No, I’m not attempting to disagree with Judith Butler. The comparison made on Butler’s text is fundamental to understand how the representation of the self about it-self is a key aspect of how love arises, how love is understood and a motivator of constructive doubts for the subject it-self. Love, as a feeling, as romantic love, is used politically - as seen above - but not because of its intrinsic features or meanings, but rather for the relationship that is supposed to be a representative or an indicative of. From abnegation, to dedication, exclusivity, purity, and so on, the political mobilization of love is based on the relationships constructed around (romantic) love, and how those relationships invite others (parenting, putting friendships ‘on hold’, etc). Therefore, I will try to focus on other forms of relating. I recognize that, just like romantic love usually points towards specific presuppositions about relationships, so do other forms of relating point to a number of feelings (where love, romantic or otherwise, can be and is included).

Therefore, and now drawing from Foucault, I want to talk about friendship. Friendship is particularly relevant here because in contemporary Western(ized) society, friendship has a very tensional relationship to (romantic) love. That the “friendzone” even exists as a concept - as a sexist and patriarchal concept, based on how men are entitled to access to women’s bodies as long as they ‘pay’ for it - is a good demonstration of a clear hierarchical stratification between romantic/sexual relationships and friendships. Through this idea of the friendzone, we learn that friendship is not what happens when we grant someone a special degree of attention, affection or respect, but what happens when we deny someone the possibility of sex and/or romantic love.

Likewise, and as Adrienne Rich very pointedly remarked, romantic relationships (especially heterosexual ones) drive people to prioritize that relationship over all others - romance over friendship is the default. The issue here is not that one would want to spend more and more time with the (romantically) loved person, but that one is expected to want that.

At the same time, or so the saying goes, one’s (monogamous) lover should also be one’s best friend: there is not only a hierarchy between romance and friendship, but the romantic person must occupy the top spot in any given sub-section of that hierarchy. However, Foucault’s approach to friendship goes beyond the common sense meaning often attributed to it - he refers to it as “the sum of everything through which they can give each other pleasure”.

This friendship that he talks about stands in stark opposition, throughout his “Friendship as a Way of Life” interview, to institutionalized and normalized interpersonal relationships, even when said friendship occurs in an institutional context (like the army, or prisons). Likewise, it is also not an alternative to love, but rather a field where many loves (many kinds of love) can appear and develop. The focus, though, remains on friendship, rather than on love - because friendship is a potential, a multitude of “relations with multiple intensities, variable colors, imperceptible movements and changing forms”. Rather than a point of arrival, a destination that is pre-set and already clearly marked in its expected characteristics, friendship understood in those terms is a way to “make ourselves infinitely more susceptible to pleasure”.

As Butler’s talk of love has a tint of romantic love, so does Foucault’s talk of pleasure have a tint of sexual pleasure. Yet, concurrently, it need not to be sexual pleasure the only kind of pleasure the text alludes to. In fact, friendship has historically functioned as a social space where non-heterosexuality could be, could manifest itself. Such is the case with relationships between women, where touching each other, and combing each other’s hair was also a part of these pleasures. And given how Foucault emphasizes the importance of these multiple intensities and variable colors, “friendship” does not have to equal an exclusion of asexual people or aromantic people. The objective is not to arrive at a certain form of pleasure but to discover what other kinds of pleasures might there be, what other kinds of experiences might there be, that engender shifting forms of pleasure.

The focus on the relationship and on what the relationship might bring to those involved is especially important because it shifts the matter from the subjective experience to the interpersonal ethics of relating. At the same time, this focus on relating does not point to one specific mode of relating as being inherently superior, but to what Foucault calls an ascesis - a constant work of the self on the self. Such an approach to relating does not lend itself to State management, to local regulation, or to institutionalization. Though love, romantic or otherwise, might make an appearance, the accounts Foucault mentions are far from being understood as mainly romantic and erotic experiences. For the philosopher, it is imperative to deny the necessity of the intelligible. Love, especially romantic love, and especially allosexual partnered love, is eminently intelligible. Therefore, and going back to Butler, its social and transformative power must be doubted, its political performativity called into question.

In a way, Foucault’s friendship offers a different working paradigm.  If we transpose this into current political debates about heterosexuality and monogamy, we see that polyamory (as well as several other forms of consensual non-monogamies) in and of itself - or rather, the notion of “multiple loves” understood as meaning “multiple romantic and sexual relationships” - carry little political clout. They too - just like it happened with the political acceptance of the monogamous same-sex marriage - very easily lead to the same reification of the feeling of love as a surefire way to garner mainstream acceptance. And while I would be loath to claim that this acceptance is irrelevant or unnecessary - my own academic work has been partially dedicated to how polyamory is still a locus of discrimination, even within LGBT contexts - such a necessity should not come at the expense of reinforcing some of the most powerful normative concepts being currently deployed in the context of intimate citizenship. Just like marrying for love was once, in Western(ized) countries, a step forward in equality and in breaking down some patriarchal dynamics, so too is consensual non-monogamy a form of breaking down the sexual double standard and the primacy of monogamy as the sole mode of expressing love. This does not mean that the breaking down it might help to perform makes it an end-goal.

After the approval of monogamous same-sex marriage in the USA, non-monogamies were used both as a slippery-slope fallacy, and as a goalpost in the fight for equal social rights. On the one hand, the fear that giving rights to a minority might take something away from those who already have it; on the other, the hope that more groups might gain from that political victory. I believe that pursuing the goal of polyamorous marriage (or non-monogamous marriage) is a mistake. The issues that consensually non-monogamous people face are not due simply to the way monogamy is legally reinforced, but due to the role that expectations and stereotypes around romantic love (and its sexual component) have played in structuring contemporary intimacies.

For non-monogamies to have a lasting and powerful impact on intimacy politics, we need to go beyond the reframing of love-as-doubt. We need to doubt the importance of love itself - to doubt the reasons and the consequences behind this emphasis on feeling that seems to relegate the doing, the relating, to a secondary position, and the mobilization of those feelings as a justification or a legitimation of the political validity of said relationships. Several authors (such as Brigitte Vasallo, that I’ve mentioned before, and Pepper Mint or Eleanor Wilkinson) have dedicated considerable attention to how polyamory can very easily slip into becoming a “lifestyle choice” for already-privileged White, middle class citizens. If we are to stand in solidarity with queer bodies and identities, with non-binary folks, with asexuals and aromantics, with trans* people, with non-White, non-Western, non-middle-class disenfranchised and discriminated citizens, then we must focus our efforts on doing something, in forging and fostering bonds of friendship, rather than on extending the reach of the State’s management of our lives, bodies, and affects.

As such, this is my call for us to disavow marriage altogether. To take it down. To make it disappear from our law books. To refuse to accept or validate the centrality of romantic love and sexual love in the apportioning of benefits and social protections. To hold the State accountable for the protection of all peoples, the recognition of all willful bonds, the fostering of multiple friendships, friendships beyond intelligibility.

(H)amor2



[1] This is the original, author’s version.