A Properly Political Concept of Love: Three Approaches in Ten Pages

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

There’s a part of me that wants to give a little lip and simply reject that we have never had a properly political concept of love. It’s been floated by so many as a solution--literally, a loosening or an unfastening, a dissolution--to the problem of social antagonism, or fractured community. I take the genre of Michael’s essay to be propositional, though, as it references only a sliver of what our conversations suggest he actually thinks might be done with love. But I will focus on what’s here, because to love is to deal with what’s here amid the noise of projected out pasts, futures, and states. But “dealing with” might point too much toward exchange and bargaining, the forging of false equivalences.  Maybe I should say what I always say, which is that I propose love to involve a rhythm of an ambition and an intention to stay in sync, which is a lower bar than staying attuned, but still hard and awkward enough.  The anxiety to define--a key feature of being in proximity to all magnetic ideas--especially cleaves to love, and so the conversion of a love into a properly political concept must induce attention to what to do with the baggage the term ports with it:  in this case, quite a huge dustball. (p. 685)

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published many essays on culture and theory, including: Marisol de la Cadena's "Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections Beyond 'Politics'" (2010); Erice Bornstein's "The Impulse of Philanthropy" (2009); Danilyn Rutherford's "Sympathy, State Building, and the Experience of Empire" (2009); and Michael M.J. Fischer's "Culture and Cultural Analysis as Experimental Systems" (2007).

Cultural Anthropology has also published multiple articles on the theme of intimacies.  Examples include: Nancy Rose Hunt's "An Acoustic Register, Tenacious Images, and Congolese Scenes of Rape and Repetition" (2008); S. Lochlann Jain's "Cancer Butch" (2007); Mark Liechty's "Carnal Economies: The Commodification of Food and Sex in Kathmandu" (2005); and Debra Curtis' "Commodities and Sexual Subjectivities: A Look at Capitalism and Its Desires" (2004).

About the Author

Dr. Lauren Berlant is the George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of  Chicago.  Her work examines the affective aspects of belonging in the United States from the nineteenth century until the present.  In particular, she focuses on the connections between juridical citizenship, modes of social belonging, and intimacy, and the relationships with which people both imagine and actively shape the world around them.  She teaches courses on the ordinary, affect theory, intimate publics, contemporary and historical literature, sex and gender, and many more topics.  Dr. Berlant received her Ph.D. from Cornell University and has taught at the University of Chicago since 1984.

Lauren Berlant, November 2011.


Links to Interviews with Lauren Berlant

"Life Writing and Intimate Publics: A Conversation with Lauren Berlant." (Lauren Berlant with Jay Prosser)

"Affect and the Politics of Austerity: An Interview Exchange with Lauren Berlant." (Gesa Helms, Marina Bishmidt, and Lauren Berlant)

"The Broken Circuit: An Interview with Lauren Berlant" (Sina Najafi, David Serlin, and Lauren Berlant)

"I Don't Understand the God Part: A Conversation Between Dorothea Lasky and Lauren Berlant" (Lauren Berlant, Dorothea Lasky, and Katie Geha)

Selected Works by the Author

Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.

"Opulism." South Atlantic Quarterly 110.1(2010): 235-242.

"Risky Bigness: On Obesity, Eating, and the Ambiguity of 'Health.'" In Against Health. Jonathan Metzl et. al, eds.  New York: New York University Press, 2010.

"Neither Monstruous nor Pastoral, but Scary and Sweet: Some Thoughts on Sex and Emotional Performance in Intimacies and What Do Gay Men Want?" Women and Performance 19.2(2009): 261-273.

"Affect is the New Trauma."  The Minnesota Review, 2009.  Rpt. 2010.

The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

"Thinking About Feeling Historical." Emotion, Space, and Society 1.1(2008): 4-9.

"Nearly Utopian, Nearly Normal: Post-Fordist Affect in La Promesse and Rosetta." Public Culture 19.2(2007): 272-301.

"Citizenship." In Keywords of American Cultural Studies. Bruce Burgett and Glen Hendler, eds. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

"Starved." South Atlantic Quarterly 106.3(2007): 433-44.

"Slow Death." Critical Inquiry 33(2007): 754-80. Berlant, Lauren ed.

Compassion. Berlant, Lauren and Lisa Duggan, eds. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest. Berlant, Lauren and Laura Letinsky. New York: New York University Press, 2001. 

Venus Inferred. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.

The Anatomy of National Fantasy: Hawthorne, Utopia, and Everyday Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Related Reading

Bersani, Leo and Adam Phillips. Intimacies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Gregg, Melissa and Greg Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Commonwealth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty and Being Just. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Thrift, Nigel. Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. London: Routledge, 2007.

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