Celebrating Insurgent Love on Valentine’s Day

love jihad

In India, Valentine’s day is the time when patriarchal authorities can exercise the powers of moral policing that they have bestowed upon themselves. Acting under the banner of Indian civilization, which supposedly legitimizes their war against “Western” ideas of romantic love, vigilantes will subject young men and women to “head shavings, face blackening, public thrashings and forcibly solemnized marriages”. “Politically-connected petty criminals…will be out chasing young men and women in card shops, parks, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls, threatening them, abusing them, ransacking private and public property on the watch of the police.” These acts of dogmatic righteousness are firmly situated in a structural context wherein the social power of love exists in an antagonistic relationship with the hierarchies supported by elites.

Patriarchy in the Neoliberal Age

Under the regime of neoliberal globalization, increasing economic and spatial integration has been accompanied by the simultaneous entrenchment of particularistic identities. As national barriers are removed for the unencumbered mobility of capital, “the difference between places in terms of labor cost, infrastructure, language, consuming classes, etc., become important in pitting different places against each other.” The international bourgeoisie utilizes all sorts of differences in order to cheapen production costs and the value of labor power. This is what David Harvey labels as the “central paradox”: “the less important the spatial barriers, the greater the sensitivity of capital to the variations of place within space, and the greater the incentive for places to be differentiated in ways attractive to capital”.

In a post-colonial nation like India, patriarchal restrictions on sexual autonomy serve to prevent women from acquiring political cohesiveness. This lack of organizational solidarity converts females into an exploitative source of surplus-value, enabling the perpetuation of unpaid domestic labor and gender pay gaps. On the plane of human relationships, this nightmarish mixture of traditional restrictions and the profit-making imperative gives rise to “arranged marriage”. In the words of Avijit Pathak, this kind of marital negotiation is “a complex calculation and measurement of a set of ‘qualities’—family/caste background, economic status of the bridegroom, or the physical beauty of the bride.” Matrimonial columns elaborate how the two individuals who will constitute the future couple will have to meet certain criteria of economic success, caste markers and religious identity. Furthermore, “these normal or socially sanctified marriages often rob women of their agency; it is assumed that they are like ‘dolls’; and ‘successful’ men – MBA graduates, doctors, engineers, NRIs and IAS officers with appropriate caste and religion – would rescue and preserve them.”

In my conversations with adolescent Indian boys, I have seen that the confluence of market commodification and misogynist conservatism is being accelerated by digital technologies. Take, for example, the political culture promoted by Andrew Tate – an online influencer, multi-millionaire, and former kickboxer who was arrested in Romania in December 2022 on charges of human trafficking and rape. Saturated in the consumerist cornucopia of fast cars, guns, cigars, hot girls, and private plane, Tate is notorious for, inter alia, talking about beating and strangulating women, trashing their belongings and refusing them to go out.

Love is Revolutionary

The hideous masculinities of neoliberal capitalism are fundamentally opposed to the radical encounter that is upheld by love. Kaifi Azmi’s poem “Moment” helps one understand the normative depth of love:

Life is the name given to a few moments, and

In but one of those fleeting moments

Two eyes meet eloquently

Looking up from a cup of tea, and

Enter the heart piercingly

And say,

Today do not speak

I’ll be silent too

Let’s just sit thus

Hand in hand

With our mutual gift of grief

With our shared heat of emotions.

Who knows if this very moment

Somewhere in distant mountain

The snow at last may start to melt.

Whenever we accept the invitation of love – one that is independently pursued – we make a cut in the routine temporality of world, inhabiting a moment that dissolves the structured coherence of our symbolic identity. Our social subjectivity is shaped by the exigencies of hegemony, which requires the patterning of human experience in accordance with established norms. Such a processing of individual experiences is motivated by the need to preserve stability and predictability; any excess that disrupts routinized lives is devalued. The event of love breaks the unidirectional management of social subjectivity by asking the lovers to co-create a space where their growing intimacy can lead to psychic readjustments. Love therefore destabilizes individuals because it asks them to let the Other enter their recesses of interiority so that something new can be created. Unlike hegemonic subjectivity, amorous subjectivity is not directed by the rhythm of routines. On the contrary, it is based upon the continuous construction of new bonds of affectivity that can productively accommodate the difference of the Other.

Normally, our orientation to the world is based upon instrumental reason, which treats the world as preexisting matter that is to be managed according to self-interest. This type of reason is “designed to allow us to make use of the world rather than to become fully and passionately immersed within its folds. In this sense, navigating the routine tasks and liabilities of life is not at all the same thing as being in touch with the pulse of the world.” The uniqueness of love resides in its ability to remind us that the separation of the world from human intellect is a spurious distinction. Rather, the world is internal to our subjectivity, forming an existential fabric that we are continuously weaving even as we are enmeshed in it. When we realize our being-in-the-world, we “feel firmly anchored in the here and now, embedded in the concrete materiality of the world. In a way, we are able to touch the sublime without ever leaving the world behind.”

Take the example of the lover’s caress. In the contemporary world of relentless achievements, the needs and desires of our body are denied so that careerist fantasies can be fulfilled. This hostility towards the body’s demand for relaxation is countered by the corporeal sensitivity of the lover’s caress, which ignores the social conventions of fast-paced accomplishments to listen to what the body is trying to say. It is a mode of living whose contemplative slowness erodes the strenuousness of the workday, uniting the requirements of the individual’s body with the social atmosphere of the world. Since the lover’s caress stands opposed to the ethos of social Darwinism, it enables an alternative way of living in the world, one in which the universe is not seen as an alien object against which people have to guard themselves. Instead, society is comprehended as a network of human relations that enhances our ability to feel the world and interact with its various potentialities. Within the caress, “we are able to cross the permeable boundaries between self and other effortlessly and without the slightest sense of violation. The caress opens up horizons of experience that we could not attain independently of our partner. It is a way of coming together in a sheltered space of mutual reassurance.”

Apart from the distinctive temporality of the amorous moment, Azmi’s also poem talks about silence. Silence allows us to be receptive to the hesitant sentiments of the lover, cultivating a soft attentiveness to what cannot be verbalized with instant accuracy. According to Mari Ruti, silence makes it clear that the lover “may enter this world on his own terms—that he is free to move in and out of our emotional universe without being ambushed, ensnared, obliterated, or disparaged. We convey that we are willing to consider, and to mull over, what he presents, even when it is something difficult to hear. Silence is a means of containing our desire so as to forge an opening for the other’s fragile and flickering desire”.

In times of communalism, silence is a neglected value. One of the basic assumptions about current politics is that the Other needs to be epistemologically enclosed in the interpretative frameworks that we possess. In his suicide letter, Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student and a PhD candidate, had written: “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.” Our personality is never a stable whole. It is in constant flux, evolving as we interact with the world and discover new aspects about ourselves as part of a transformative process of becoming. This creative dynamic of collective interaction in the concrete world is petrified when elites impose hierarchies upon us and confine us to a particular section of the social universe. As a result, we come a predictable arrangement of characteristics, controlled not by our own decisions but the interpretative acts of powerful rulers.

Love violates the rigid architectures of epistemological closure by arranging the encounter of two distinct individuals, whose unfamiliar ways of being allow for an unstable intermingling. This intermingling – facilitated by the flow of silence – enhances the individual’s capacity to empathetically interact with the concrete diversity of the world and enrich his/her own individuality through the differences embodied in the Other. Whenever we attempt to uncritically repudiate the otherness of the lover, we build an echo chamber in which no fruitful relationships can be nurtured. In fact, “the fact that the other is irreducibly different from me is the foundation for actual dialogue and interaction. If I turn or attempt to turn the other into a version of myself, or if I require that the other be like me in some fundamental way in order to deserve ethical consideration, truly ethical interactions become impossible”. Denying the irreducible difference of the Other converts him/her into a mere object of our desire, foreclosing any possibility of complex and sovereign individualities. In contrast, silence opens a space for considering the affective densities of the lovers so that the amorous encounter can lead to the construction of personalities that are not immobilized by discriminatory frames but enlivened by the process of becoming.

On Valentine’s day, we need to celebrate love as a radical force that can upend the deadening impact of the myriad pathologies produced by Indian modernity. The present-day politico-economic conjuncture is headed by a government that is determined to combine competitive hyper-individualism with xenophobic communitarianism. This configuration of neoliberal fascism gives rise to a form of distorted romance that fulfills the criteria of exploitative productivity and social conformism required for the reproduction of a rotten order. When people engage in a non-hegemonic amorous event by choosing their own partners, they free love from the shackles of social classification in which it is trapped. They erode the neat categories in which individuals are packaged and displayed as part of a matrimonial alliance. What remains is the universality of the moment of love, in which the lovers craft a space for their incessant self-actualization.

Yanis Iqbal is studying at Aligarh Muslim University. His theoretical pieces and articles on contemporary affairs have been published around the world, in countries such as the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands, France, Greece, Italy, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Vietnam, Tajikistan, China, Turkey and several countries of Latin America and Africa. His poems have been published in websites such as Radical Art Review, Cafe Dissensus, Culture Matters, Palestine Chronicle, Live Wire, Frontier Weekly, Youth Ki Awaaz, and Indian Periodical. Two of his poems were also selected for “Anthology of Contemporary Poetry: Meet the Poets of Today”. He has appeared in many podcasts such as The Marxist Think Thank, The Anti Empire Project, A Correction Podcast, and Revolutionary Lumpen Radio.


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