Srećko Horvat has worked on revolution with Slavoj Žižek, technology with Julian Assange and democracy with Yanis Varoufakis. He is the latest guest on the HKRB series of exclusive interviews with the most exciting writers in the world. Last week Simon Critchley. Next week Jodi Dean.
Out recently with Polity Press, The Radicality of Love is an unique and remarkable book. It is, like millions of other books through history, about love. It is also, like millions of other books throughout history, about politics. Its treatment of love and politics together is like no book throughout history. Opposing the idea that love is the realm of the private, personal and apolitical, Horvat’s book shows how every act of love and desire is bound up with the politics of its moment. He diagnoses the current situation as bleak, with most love experiences falling into simple narcissism, but he also sets out plans for a politically radical love which would transform the politics between people.
Alfie Bown: Let me start things of with a fun question: what do you think of Tindr, Grindr and online dating?
Srećko Horvat: Right, so I think that Grindr, Tindr and online dating are perfect illustrations and also sad illustrations of where we are at the moment when we speak about love. Recently when I was in London I was reading the usual newspapers and I saw this title: ‘Outsource your Online life with a Cyber-Butler.’ This is the newest trend and these trends can give us theoretical answers to what is happening with love in the 21st century. This service works by setting up your dating profile on all the dating sites so that all you actually need to do is turn up at the right time and place. The ideology behind this is that it’s the perfect service for a busy professional who doesn’t want to waste time doing all that is necessary to fall in love, so they “outsource” it. What it really shows us is that at the same time that Apple is outsourcing the production of iPhone to Foxcon in Taiwan who is then outsourcing to China, what you have now is a transition of this capitalist structure into the most intimate sphere: into dating and into love itself.
AB: So there is a problem with this kind of love, right? I mean, you are saying that we are in a sad and even tragic situation here?
SH: Yes, I am saying that this is a kind of narcissistic and identity-affirming love that we need to move away from. Take what happens in Spike Jonze’s film Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with an operating system which has the voice of Scarlett Johansson. But in fact all he is falling in love with is himself, so what I think is shown to us here is that very often we are falling in love not with the other person but with ourselves so that you don’t even need the other, you just need the image. Of course another parallel is the classical story in the third book of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the story of Narcissus, where the subject loves in the other the image that it would like to inhabit itself. This kind of narcissistic love is tragic and sad, it simply affirms our identities.
AB: So what should we do in this bleak landscape for the future of love? What would an alternative look like? What is ‘radical’ love?
SH: What you have in the idea of romantic love is based on the idea of the “missing half”, which – can I go so far to say this? – ruined whole generations in search for “true love”. It’s the old myth present in Plato’s symposium where Aristophanes presents the story of “soul-mates”, in which one part is trying to find the other complimentary part and as long as it doesn’t find this missing part it will never be complete. This idea has come to dominate all ideas of love and what we need to rehabilitate today is precisely the opposite idea. If anything has been taught to us by psychoanalysis it is that each of us has a certain lack and that the other is not someone who is able to cover this lack. This is the reason why Lacan once said that ‘love is to give something that someone doesn’t have…”, and added what most people tend to forget: “…to someone who doesn’t want it.’ This should be the basic formula of the ‘Radicality of Love.’ It’s not giving someone what they want but giving someone what they do not want, challenging them and not ‘completing’ them. Radical Love means accepting the very difference of the Other, to accept the Otherness of the Other, and I think that this could be a way out of the current problem where people are trapped in narcissism and cannot get out.
AB: I know that you are obviously working with Badiou’s ideas and indebted to his discussions of love, but there are also some key differences between yourself and Badiou, particularly with the position you take in this book on the relationship between love and politics. Whereas Alain Badiou’s book In Praise of Love argues that love and politics are separate realms, you argue the opposite. Why should love be a political topic?
SH: What most of the political philosophers except, I would say, Spinoza, Lyotard with his “libidinal economy”, Deleuze and Guatarri with their philosophy of desire, and Negri’s reading of Spinoza, have not fully taken into consideration is that love and desire is already part of politics. Moreover, there is no politics without desire. What I tried to show in The Radicality of Love is that you can see this Deleuzian realization by looking, for example, at totalitarian systems. I did, among other things, not only research on the October Revolution or ’68, but also the Iranian Revolution. These political systems try to not only to control or suppress, but to create power, as Foucault would have said. What really powerful regimes do is not only prohibit desires and stop us from acting on our desires but create desires as well. This is exactly what the Iranian revolution did for example, but we could also give other examples. Or take the French Revolution, in which what we can call modern pornography – which was then still subversive unlike today’s pornography – was created. These revolutionary political movements created desire. So what I am saying is that we cannot understand modern politics until we understand these realms of desire, and even love. The Right has managed much more to manipulate and use emotions to its advantage than the Left has and if I have one claim about love it is this: that if the politics and political philosophy of the Left is to be successful it needs to learn to do this, to take Love seriously.
A full-length interview between Alfie Bown and Srećko Horvat covering Horvat on Politics, Technology and Love will be published late in the year by Zero Books.
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The featured illustration on this post is by Roy Christopher. Find out more here or visit his website.
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