Foreplay: To Fall in Love, or Revolution

Each attempt to speak or even write about love is inevitably linked to a profound difficulty, to an anxiety: words are always insufficient. However, even if our attempt resembles a jump into dark water, we should dare to talk about love, with all the risks involved. We should try again, fail again, fail better. The necessity for this book is to be found in the following consideration: that the lover’s discourse is still, like 40 years ago when Roland Barthes famously uttered this credo in his Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse, of an extreme solitude.

It shouldn’t surprise us so much that love is missing in the hypersexualized universe of the West, but what is striking is that it has no real place (does love have a place at all, or is it always already an a-topos?) or important role in recent upheavals all around the world, from Tahrir Square to Taksim, from Zuccotti Park to Puerta del Sol, from Hong Kong to Sarajevo. The question of love is surprisingly missing. It is hidden in the margins, whispered in tents, performed in a dark corner of the street. There are, of course, kisses on Taksim Square and passionate affairs in Zuccotti Park, but love is not the issue of serious debate. This book – sadly aware that it is only a small step in a long journey in front of us; that it is maybe only a foreplay – has to be seen as a risky contribution to this missing topic.

This attempt towards the possible meaning of radicality of love doesn’t understand love in the vulgar materialistic sense of, let’s say, the hippie explosion, or the “sexual revolution” of ’68 that was, unfortunately, in the end primarily reduced to commodified desire, or the postmodern permissiveness where “anything goes!” It goes, or at least tries to reach, much beyond it, embarking from the following dock: it is not only enough to be true to your desire and ready to follow it until the end – Lacan’s famous dictum: ne pas céder sur son desir (“Do not give up on your desire”); what is needed is a Duty to reinvent it from the very beginning each time over. Rimbaud’s famous credo that “love has to be reinvented” is the best recapitulation of this revolutionary duty.

It is wonderfully captured in one of the most beautiful instances of the fight against habit ever conducted, in Kierkegaard’s Works of Love:

”Let the thunder of a hundred cannon remind you three times daily to resist the force of habit. Like that powerful Eastern emperor, keep a slave who reminds you daily – keep hundreds. Have a friend who reminds you every time he sees you. Have a wife who, in love, reminds you early and late – but be careful that all this also does not become a habit! For you can become accustomed to hearing the thunder of a hundred cannon so that you can sit at the table and hear the most trivial, insignificant things far more clearly than the thunder of the hundred cannon – which you have become accustomed to hearing. And you can become so accustomed to having a hundred slaves remind you every day that you no longer hear, because through habit you have acquired the ear which hears and still does not hear.”1

The worst thing that can happen to love is habit. Love is – if it is really love – a form of eternal dynamism and at the same time fidelity to the first encounter. It is a tension, or better, a sort of dialectics: between dynamism (this constant re-invention) and fidelity (to this fatal and unexpected crack in the world). The same holds for Revolution. The moment when a revolution stops to reinvent, not only social and human relations, but stops reinventing its own presuppositions, we usually end up in a re-action, in a regression.

A truly revolutionary moment is like love; it is a crack in the world, in the usual running of things, in the dust that is layered all over in order to prevent anything New. It is a moment when air becomes thick and at the same time you can breathe more than ever. But remember Kierkegaard: when you get accustomed to hearing the thunder of a hundred cannon so that you can sit oblivious at the table, you know the revolution is at stake and the moment of counterrevolution lurks behind the thunder. The moment when you get used to the thunder of the hundred cannon, the truth of the event disappears. This is the reason why all these superficial classications (“Arab Spring,” “Occupy Movement,” “New Left,” etc.), which evolved from the eternal drive of people to alienate things by definitions, are dangerously misleading and become untrue to the original event, or: a desire (not from the past, but) from the future.

There is no such thing as the Arab Spring. There is no such thing as the Occupy Movement. Yes, they all share inherent characteristics (from the form of organization to most of the goals), and we are currently witnessing a specific political sequence that might bring tremendous changes (or end up in a total fiasco), but to identify them, to reduce them to the same denominator, always carries the danger of falling into the trap of simplification: to define is to limit (it is a limes), by definition. Of course, all these events are connected in a deeper sense. But each of these events, as much as they are part of the same sequence or pattern, carries something New.

To perceive this New, one can’t say Syntagma or Puerta del Sol are the same. There is, as said, a pattern. There is, of course, a very specific historical context (from the upheavals of 2011 to the new left parties such as Syriza or Podemos) in which such revolutionary potentials occur.

But what connects them, more than anything, is something that can’t be reduced to pure facts. What can’t be reduced is this feeling of presence beyond classification or definitions; a presence of submergence; the feeling that you are completely alone but not abandoned, that you are more alone and unique than ever before, but more connected with a multitude than ever as well, in the very same moment. And this feeling can be described as Love. Revolution is love if it wants to be worthy of its name.

Just take the miracle that happened at Tahrir Square when Christians had put their own lives at risk protecting Muslims praying amid violence between protesters and Mubarak’s supporters. They formed a “human chain” around those praying to protect them. This was – and still is – one of the most remarkable scenes from the so-called “Arab Spring”; this moment of unity, courage and ... discipline. Wasn’t that mad in the eyes of the regime? But, at the same time, wasn’t that pure reason in the middle of madness? Or as Hegel would say it a propos Napoleon, wasn’t that the “world spirit on horseback,” the Godot we were waiting for in our dark times?

Something similar happened during the Iranian Revolution. When Khomeini in March 1979 ordered women to wear the chador, hundreds of feminists started to gather in the courtyard of Tehran University and during the following five days of demonstrations tens of thousands protested against the veil. Then a Tahrir-like event happened: the women were surrounded by the newly formed “Party of God” (Hezbollah) and, in order to protect them, men – friends, lovers, brothers – made a circle around them.

This is a sign of love. And, again, it is Kierkegaard who still provides us with the best explanation of this event: one must believe in love, otherwise one will never become aware that it exists. The same goes for revolution. But why a sign? Because it is still not love. It is solidarity. Every act of solidarity contains love, it is a sort of love, but love can’t be reduced to solidarity. Take charity as opposed to solidarity. Usually it contains some sort of distance: if you, for instance, come across a beggar and give him a dollar or bread, this is not yet solidarity. Even if you organize a huge charity campaign, open an account for donations, etc., this is not yet solidarity. Solidarity is something much more than mercy: usually when you appease your conscience (donate money to starving children in Africa, to use the usual Starbucks example), you can go on with your daily life as if nothing really happened. However, once you are enacting solidarity you can even abstain from charity or mercy: even if you don’t give a dollar to every beggar, you can’t go on with your daily life as if nothing really happened. Why? Because you carry him in your life; you live with him not like with some “integrated reject” (as we live with immigrants or refugees today), but he is a part and even a presupposition for your very action: he can never be fully integrated, because injustice can’t be integrated in acts of love. This is why solidarity already contains love. In this respect, forming protective human rings around Muslims, Jews or Women is a beautiful instance of solidarity, but to arrive at love one must go a step further. To love would mean to do it even when there is no event, no special occasion, or level of consciousness. That would be the true event: when love is not (only) provoked by extraordinary cracks in the world, but can be found in the seemingly boring daily activities, even repetitions, or – reinventions.

Although our present historical deadlock, with all the “autumns” that came after “springs,” is darker than ever, it is the fidelity to this possible future (Muslims and Christians ghting together in Egypt, women and men in Iran, etc.) that defines the true revolutionary commitment. The time always comes when the shining path becomes covered with dust, when enthusiasm turns into the worst sort of depression (or what Walter Benjamin would call “left-wing melancholy”), when a counterrevolution swallows the last emancipatory potentials of a revolutionary moment, but the biggest defeat would be to sink into this: not to be defeated by the brutal reality after another defeat, but to be defeated by the abandonment of the utopian desire. Here we should paraphrase Mao, who in his famous quote says that a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, but an insurrection and act of violence by which one class overthrows another. Today we should say the following: Revolution is not a one-night stand, nor is it a flrt. These are the easiest things to do. If you perceive revolution like that you might easily find yourself waking up after crazy sex the next morning just to find a foreign body in your bed. Yesterday it was the most beautiful and sensual lover, now it is just a (fucked) body, like all those bodies left behind by the Nymphomaniac.

True love is much more violent than that. You can forget the foreign body, you can get over it, have another one-night stand or passionate affair, but you can never forget a real encounter, because it is an act of violence. Remember Laura from the classic 1945 Hollywood melodrama Brief Encounter (directed by David Lean), who in her imaginary confession to her husband, after her brief romance with a stranger at the railway station, says: “But, oh, Fred, I’ve been so foolish. I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.” She stayed with her husband, but the “brief encounter” changed the very presuppositions of her existence. Yes, love can happen even to ordinary people.

And didn’t the same happen with Tahrir or Occupy Wall Street? We could, of course, say that everything had to change so that everything could stay the same (Muslim Brotherhood and the army regime in Egypt after Mubarak; Obama after Obama again, etc.), but some coordinates did change. The most dificult task is – unlike Laura, instead of returning to her husband for a variety of reasons (guilt trip, understanding, habit, the possibility of loving two at the same time, etc.) – to endure. Firstly, not to be deceived by a false encounter (go for the stranger at the railway station only to end up in a superficial one-night stand), and secondly, grab the chance when the real encounter appears out of nowhere and do whatever it takes (go for the stranger…). Sing if you feel like singing in front of the skyscrapers of Wall Street, protect your fellow Muslims even if bullets might start flying.

This is the true meaning of “falling in love.” We take the risk, whatever the consequences might be. Even if we are aware that this fatal encounter will change the very coordinates of our daily lives, we insist on it precisely because of that. What else is there to be done?

But instead of this necessary risk of “falling in love,” what we have today is a worldwide movement directed against any sort of risk: from our decadent Western permissive societies to the Islamic fundamentalists, all of them are united in the fight against desire. Even if they proclaim desire, like our Western new social inventions (Grindr, Tinder, etc.), or they prohibit desire, like the fundamentalists of ISIS or Iran, they are aiming at abolishing chance, the very moment when you really fall into something, when you are lost… but you still know your way better than ever.

It was Alain Badiou who in his wonderful In Praise of Love described the fear of “falling in love.” He was struck by posters all around Paris for the Meetic internet dating site, whose ads contained slogans such as “Get love without chance!,” “Be in love without falling in love,” or “Get perfect love without suffering.” For Badiou, this is similar to the US army propaganda of promoting the idea of “smart” bombs and “zero dead” war. Why? Because there is no war and no love without risks. A “zero risk” love is not love: if a dating service has selected your partner according to your tastes, horoscope sign, job, interests, intellect, body, etc., no chance encounters. But falling in love consists precisely in this contingency, in the fall itself.

It was Ibn Arabi, one of the most influential, but still controversial, Sufis who already understood that it is the fall that matters in “falling in love.” Ibn Arabi understood “falling of love” as something he calls hawa. He classifies the concept of love in four stages. These are: hawa, hubb, ishq, and wudd.2 The first stage of love is called hawa. Literally hawa means to fall, i.e. the falling of love or any kind of passion into the heart. A man falls in love for three reasons: 1, seeing; 2, hearing; and 3, bounties received from the Beloved. The strongest cause of hawa is seeing, since this does not change upon meeting the Beloved. On the other hand, the second and third causes of the hawa are not perfect, because love caused by hearing changes by seeing, and love caused by beneficence can cease or weaken with the ceasing of the bounties.

The object of hawa might be many things, and not necessarily God. Therefore, in the Qur’an God commands the believers not to follow hawa. Hawa is a kind of love for God polluted with associating partners with the love of God. It is therefore not a pure love of God.

Knowing that Allah commands His servants to purify their hawa and direct it to God, Ibn Arabi admits that it is impossible to eradicate hawa from the heart, since it is nothing but a natural sentiment. All human beings have hawa for a different beloved. Allah commands His servants to direct this hawa to Him. But in spite of God’s prohibition on following hawa, it is impossible to eradicate its existence.

Ibn Arabi believes that non-believers possess this kind of love, because their love for God is mixed in with their love of their partners. It is no wonder that the next stage of love is something the sufis call hubb. It is the purification of hawa, and it is realized by eliminating other lovers and directing it only to God. In this sense, hubb is a pure and unpolluted love for God cleansed from all kinds of spiritual dirt. Ibn Arabi justifies this meaning of hubb from its etymology: in Arabic, a water pot is called hubb since water rests in it and its dirt sinks to the bottom. In this way the water becomes purified from dirt.

But there is also an excessive form of hubb. It is called ‘ishq. When hubb pervades all the body and blinds the lover’s eyes except to the Beloved and circulates in the veins like blood, it is called ‘ishq. It would be something Roland Barthes described in his Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse. If anything, Barthes’ book is not about love so much as about falling in love. And one of the most important characteristics of falling in love are signs. Barthes succeeded in showing how falling in love is a priori a semiotic system: the lover is a natural semiotician, he sees signs everywhere and in everything. This is ‘ishq.

But still, if Barthes’ “fragments” of a “lover’s discourse” are mainly a journey through the signs of falling in love, what would then be more, something that is closer to love as such? What is for Ibn Arabi the fourth stage? It is wudd, an attribute general to the three above-mentioned stages of love. It is the permanency of hubb, ‘ishq, or hawa in the heart of the lover. And it is here that we enter Sufism at its best: “for the true mystic all love is divine, and the division between profane and divine love is only a surface phenomenon. If men love women because of the divine manifestation in her, this love becomes divine love, while those who love them only out of natural lusts are ignorant of the reality of creation.”3

Take sex: if it is being done between two people who are not only attracted to one another but have fallen in love, isn’t this sex the most wonderful merging of divine and profane? All those bodily fluids that are normally considered disgusting suddenly become divine. Isn’t this also the level of revolution we should achieve today; wasn’t the moment of Christians protecting Muslims or men protecting women during the Iranian Revolution an encounter of the divine and profane, a manifestation of wudd?

This brings us to one possible proposition about love: to truly know love means to come to the level of universality. There were moments when the Iranian Revolution and Tahrir Square not only overlapped, but they had the same structure. What might look like a discontinuity at first glance is actually a continuity. And precisely in this continuity can we find traces of universality.

This is the lesson of the beautiful example from C. L. R. James’ The Black Jacobins: when Napoleon sent French soldiers to suppress the rebellion of slaves in Haiti, at night they heard the blacks in the forest singing the Marseillaise and Ça Ira, the emblematic songs of the French Revolution. They were, of course, shocked. They looked at the officers as if to say, “Have our barbarous enemies justice on their side? Are we no longer the soldiers of Republican France? And have we become the crude instruments of policy?”4

The protagonists of the Haiti Revolution took more literally Liberté, égalité, fraternité than the French themselves. For them it was nothing abstract, it was an anti-colonial struggle. What happened, then, resembles both the events from the Iranian Revolution and Tahrir Square. A regiment of Poles, who remembered their own struggle for emancipation, refused to join in the massacre of 600 Haitian slaves. And this is what Liberté, égalité, fraternité really means!

To understand the potential of this radical universality it seems we must conduct the structuralist experiment again: to understand all the revolutionary sequences on the synchrony and diachrony levels. Each part of the revolutionary history and present exists at the same time (Occupy, Syntagma, Tahrir, Taksim), and at the same time exists separated by time (Paris Commune, Haiti Revolution, October Revolution, etc.). But the true task is not only to decipher the revolutionary history on these two levels, but to detect their dialectial relation, the interaction of both, synchrony and diachrony. Take, again, the event at Tahrir Square (Christians defending Muslims) and the event from the Iranian Revolution (men defending women): at the diachronical level we can say one happened before the other, but on the synchronic level we see they are in presentia: it is as if they exist at the same time. Only, as it were, by transferring their diachronical relation to the synchronic level can we arrive at their true universality. In other words, we could imagine something we might call “the structuralism of resistance.”

It is not only that the Haitian Marseillaise carries the real pathos of the true radicality of the French Revolution, its universal, emancipatory character, but it is at the same time as if we could hear this echo in the events of the Iranian Revolution or Tahrir Square as well. And wasn’t the Tahrir Square event repeated on January 21, 2015, when more than 1,000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue, offering a symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark. It doesn’t matter whether one is Jew, Muslim, or Christian, this is the only true universality. St. Paul’s Epistles: “ There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female…”

The only one who to this day came close to such an – almost structuralist – understanding of the revolutionary universality was Peter Weiss, in his Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, the historical novel which was so much more than a historical novel. What Weiss did is not only a novelistic experiment that can’t be categorized (isn’t this the best definition of a true art work?), but even more: he conducted a tour de force in showing how the synchrony and diachrony of resistance can function in reality. The central thesis of The Aesthetics of Resistance is that precisely through this endeavor can we arrive at resistance; through education and self-education, through a constant examination of art, through a process of identification, we already commit an act of resistance. Instead of Lacan’s “Subject supposed to know” (sujet supposé savoir) we need Rancière’s “Ignorant Schoolmaster.” Only by posing seemingly naïve questions (for example, let’s imagine the Haitian slaves asking their French colonizers: “What does Liberté, égalité, fraternité really mean?”) can we arrive at truly radical answers.

Our journey through a possible meaning of the Radicality of Love must conduct an experiment of posing seemingly naïve questions similar to the ones Pier Paolo Pasolini asked in 1963 when he took a 16mm camera and a microphone to travel throughout Italy, from the industrialized North to the archaic South, and questioned all sorts of people about seemingly naïve topics. The result was Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings), a unique cinéma vérité documentary in which children answer how children come into the world, soldiers whether they would rather be a “Don Juan or a good dad?,” football players about sexual repression, female factory workers on prostitution, virginity, homosexuality, divorce, etc.

This book is trying to explore what would happen if we would take the microphone into our hands and if we would, without any fear of the possible responses, stroll through the revolutionary history of the twentieth century and ask the main protagonists – from Lenin to Che Guevara, from Alexandra Kollontai to Ulrike Meinhof, from market fundamentalists to Islamic fundamentalists – seemingly naïve questions on love, sex, and revolution. Moreover, it can also be understood as a modest contribution to the current upheavals all around the world – from “springs” to “occupations” – in which the question of love is surprisingly missing. It is as if, from the “Arab Spring” to the “Occupy Movement,” from Sao Paolo to Hong Kong, from Athens to Sarajevo, there is no consciousness that we can never really imagine a different and better world without the reinvention of love. The reinvention of the world without the reinvention of love is not a reinvention at all. And this is the reason why all important revolutions of the twentieth century – from the October Revolution to the Iranian Revolution – aimed at regulating the most intimate spheres of human life.

There is a wonderful anecdote about the Russian revolutionary Alexander Kaun that brings us, without unnecessary introductions, instantly into the topic of this book. “In Moscow,” said Kaun, “when we used to attend a party, the hostess, a beautiful woman, would appear completely nude except for a pair of gold slippers. is was a test of our dedication to the Revolution. Our souls were too filled with the dream of Russian freedom to respond to a naked woman.” However, many years later, it is the same revolutionary who gave a dialectical twist to his own commitment: “But now I have forgotten all the revolutionary speeches that were made at those parties. I remember only her breasts – two heavenly pillows.”5

C’est la vie! Is it so difficult to imagine a similar conclusion of a protester from Zuccotti Park who has now grown old after all the enthusiasm he felt protesting in 2011 against the skyscrapers of Wall Street or even a protestor from the Iranian Revolution of 1979: “Our souls were too filled with the dream of changing the world, but now I remember only two heavenly pillows?” Doesn’t it sound like another version of the famous phrase on the front of T-shirts: “My brother went to Istanbul, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”? Or in this context: “We believed we were making a revolution, and all I got was a memory of her breasts.”

The way out of this fatal deadlock maybe lies in overcoming this binary opposition. The real question today is the following one: do we really have to choose, and is it the only choice we can make, the choice between our dedication to the Revolution or “two heavenly pillows”? What our short Comizi d’amore will try to propose is that the answer to the question “love or revolution” should be as simple and difficult (at the same time) as: love and revolution. Only here are we able to find the true Radicality of Love.

This text is the foreword, or indeed foreplay, from the book The Radicality of Love by Srećko Horvat, published by Polity Press, 2016. Published here with permission from the author.

1 Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, Harper Perennial, New York, 2009, pp. 51-2
2 I rely here on Süleyman Derin's excellent Love in Sufism. From Rabia to Ibn al-Farid, Insan Publications, Istanbul, 2008.
3 Love in Sufism, p.199
4 C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Overture and the Sand Domingo Revolution, Vintage, New York, 1989.
5 The anecdote is retold by the American screenwriter and director Ben Hecht, in his memoirs: Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century, Primus, New York, 1985, p. 222