– Hey, I Think Ι Love you! – Wait, What? Where Did This Happen?
Saint Valentine’s: popular among mortals but not in Academia. What is interpersonal love after all compared to love for Knowledge? And where Black Eyed Peas stand in all this? Dimitris breaks the taboo and pays his respects to the notorious Saint.
Saint Valentine’s Day and Academia. Something like water and oil, right? They never mix together. Opposites that, unlike the stereotype about ideal couples, they never attract. Just go ask a random Humanities academic if he/she celebrates February the 14th. However, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. Brace yourself to listen how this infamous day dedicated to ‘Love, Lovers, and Beloveds’ is - in truth! - nothing else but a disgraceful heteronormative celebration of the very-late-capitalist Western era that secretly aims at keeping the masses under control according to the holy commandment of the nuclear family. “You think you are in love people, but what we want from you is to make kids, many kids. And not only this, but also make money out of it by convincing you to buy gifts, many gifts!”. You think this is over? Hell, no! Saint Valentine is not even a Saint anymore, you will hear from our keen academic, informed as she/he is about the hottest deconstruction strategies. Apparently, Saint Valentine’s Day must be deciphered as a heavily loaded discourse on how sexual bio-politics emanate within a nexus of competing powers the accumulation of which dictates the quasi-fluid identity patterns of the present-day urban subject in relation to the phenomenological anti-oedipal aptitudes of the grand collective that can be God or a secular transvestite version of the Foucauldian Panopticon thus undermining the Baudrillardian purposefulness of Simulacra & Simulation, and, finally, to quote Slavoj Žižek’s remarkable dictum on erotics, “blah-blah, and so on and so on…”.
I don’t know about you but hearing all this I already have lost my appetite, no matter how allegedly aphrodisiac are one’s wisdom nuggets regarding the applicability of Eros to this post-postmodern, post-apocalyptic, post-everything world we are living in, where everyone can become whatever they desire to be apart from themselves, only because the ‘True Self’ is some kind of a construct dictated by a zillion external factors, without anyone knowing who the real puppet master is, although we all know very well that it exists.
I mean, I also love Literary Studies and we have to be critical with everything but, good lord, enough is enough! Well, pardon me for the emotional response and I am aware that things are more complex than they seem but why so much hatred for the poor 45th day of the year according to the Gregorian calendar? You can always see it like this, if this makes you less frustrated: as a simple entry in a datebook. Thank God, commercialization, commodification, and exploitation take place every single day of the year, so we don’t need to worry that we missed something important. The very moment we speak somebody is getting fired or being dumped. So, let’s try to be joyous for once, no? After all, it’s Saint Valentine’s. How could I leave you without a gift, and not dedicating you the Black Eyed Peas anthem, ‘Where is the love?’.
To be honest, I think there is some hidden truth in this Black Eyed Peas song, though not a love song per se. But before explaining why, let’s first state the obvious: everyone nowadays is obsessed to understand what Love truly is. A mass hysteria, I am talking about. To define it, demarcate it, possess it, or even circumvent it, resist it, defy it. However, all these actions happen to point to the very same direction: the paradoxical idea that Love is not certain but somehow has to be known. Trained by numerous romantic comedies and mawkish break-up songs, we are embarked on an epistemological quest to grasp the true meaning of Love. Saint Valentine’s Day could thus be understood as an all-too-cheesy attempt to validate the existence of such heightened emotion. A palpable confirmation that our belief in Love is valid. Somehow it has been agreed that once a year we need to say ‘I love you’ out loud. People do so, not only to re-confirm their mutual affection with their significant others, but, on a larger scale, to re-assert the whole existence of this thing we call Love. Simple as that, no?
So what’s all the fuss about? Can we just not accept it as it is? The same way we have accepted that one particular day of every passing year it also happens to be the last day of that same year because we humans like the fallacy of old ends and new beginnings as much as we like to give love and be loved? In fact, Ι think it is somewhat misleading to only underscore the moneymaking/conservative aspect of Valentine’s Day as the sole reason that this day is being spurned by, say, higher educated people. For me, there is also another, more elitist reason why, say, ‘the average academic’ tends to snob such lovebird festivities. And, ironically enough, it is because they really believe to have a better grasp of what Love is, and thus there is zero need to partake in stupid revels like Valentine’s Day that basically undermine such lofty emotion as True Love. All in all, isn’t Academia the hotspot for knowledge acquisition/production? How could the topic of Love possibly escape from its claws? Masterpieces have been written on Love. Ronald Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse and Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet, to name a couple. But this is not the point. Sadly, not every academic ends up writing Love treatises but the tendency to think of knowing better, is still there. For instance, read what our imaginary scholar has to say when asked if he has anything planned for Saint Valentine’s:
“I’ve published two papers on the reception of Plato’s Symposium as a blueprint for present-day polyamory practices plus I have all the oeuvre of Marquis de Sade next to my bedside, underlined and all, what do they expect me to do now, go buy a teddy bear and strawberries dipped in chocolate as a token of endless appreciation to my life partner? No, of course we are not married with Charlotte, but I avoid using this hideously gendered ‘girlfriend’ terminology; so much charged with negative connotations of dispossession and displacement, it makes me sick even thinking about it.”
Isn’t this fantastic? Confident of knowing the true meaning of Love, the ‘average academic’ openly rejects Saint Valentine’s Day, which, as argued above, it also happens to be an expression of what Love is believed to be yet in a more popularized and mainstream (and super capitalistic) form. Nevertheless, the result is always the same: no matter if choosing to celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day or not, you do so by answering what Love means to you. Quite a paradox, no? Doesn’t this present hurdle remind you the same thing they typically say about Love? That is all-too paradoxical? What a bloody mess is this we find ourselves entrapped in! I LOVE it.
All in all, finding an answer to what is Love can prove tiresome. And taking the risk of been seen as a love guru of the glossy magazine type, I think I know why: If you ponder about the ontological nature of something, you run the danger of reaching the conclusion that nothing suits you because nothing is really like what you imagined it to be, and subsequently the assertion that there is nothing worthy to be found is not too far away. Does this mean that we must give up our efforts talking about Love? Of course, not. What are we, nihilists? I don’t know about you, but I personally quit Nietzsche long time ago (who basically became who he was because of a love rejection. Imagine that, poor soul). A change of focus, however, would be necessary. So, why don’t we simply stop asking what is loveand look instead for other means of engaging with the subject? Should we use another interrogative pronoun? Like where Love can be found, for instance? This rings a bell, doesn’t it? Oh, right, that Black Eyed Peas song! What is so special about it then? Let’s just say that by asking where is the Love instead of what is Love, the hip-hop quartet turns the tables of the game: with the pronoun ‘where’ one does not question the existence of Love but simply becomes interested in the places where this Love can be found. This definitely sounds more fun and liberating! Nobody needs to prove anything to anybody, anymore. Seen from this spectrum, to affirm Love does not necessarily entail to justify its existence in abstract terms, since it suffices to pinpoint the domains it inhabits; the diverse shapes it takes; its various spatiotemporal manifestations; its simultaneous presence in many receivers by a single transmitter, or the exact other way around. Yet again, if you begin overanalyzing, you start sounding nonsensical. So, plain and simple, for the most sensitive and poetic souls: asking where is the Love is to trace the dwellings where rose-footed Cupid has flown throwing his arrows to unsuspecting mortals.
By focusing on where rather than on what,one ends up looking at the consequences of Love, i.e. how Love is felt, not how Love is rationally clarified. And thanks to my native Goddess Aphrodite: Love is felt in a whole song or a single verse, when holding hands, under a tree, via post, through casual talk, at the beachfront, under water, up in the air, between sunny day and starry night, during bungee jumping, on tiptoes, without knocking the door, in the student halls, whilst forgetting the coffee burning on the hob, with time, never in a bar, sometimes alone, maybe asleep, just now as we speak, as if a wordplay, if I only knew, always you have to spot it. The examples are plenty, feel free to add your own. For the economy of the discussion I choose to exit with a quote from an Irish version of Sophocles’ Antigone, which I really think it encapsulates the idea that Love is all about tracing where it springs from not what is made of: “It is Love that has done this. Love's responsible”.
Happy Saint Valentine’s Y’all.
- Barthes, Ronald. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. London: Vintage Books, 2002.
- Carson, Anne. Eros the Bittersweet. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.
- De Sade, Marquis. Justine. London: Harper Perennial, 2005.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
- Plato. Symposium. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
© Dimitris Kentrotis-Zinelis and Leiden Arts in Society Blog, 2020. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dimitris Kentrotis-Zinelis and Leiden Arts in Society Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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