‘Back in the Garage’ is unpublished, one off lectures given during the halcyon days of The Garage, a literal garage attached to the flat of a sweet group of generous, brilliant and thoroughly corrupted young people in Brunswick, Melbourne. Once a month, 60, 70, 80, 100… people would turn up to the Garage to sympose: hear talks, eat, drink, argue and play the flute. It lasted about a year.
I’m going to cross three texts. Two from Alain Badiou: ‘What is Love’, from about 1996 and the more recent In Praise of Love whose title evokes Plato’s famous text the Symposium – which is about a bunch of blokes sitting about on sofa-beds, drinking and offering a variety of pretty encomiums to Love – at least until it gets to Socrates. I’m using the Symposium as a sort of source text and Badiou’s stuff as a heuristic, the means of a reading. There may be some abstraction but that’s because philosophy is concerned with Love and not desire even though the bodies which must be the subjective support of this thing called Love are never immune to desire. The division is this: Desire is a mater of amplitude – more or less – and thus repetition while Love is a matter of form, singularity. The latter does not negate the former, it’s that Love is a thought, desire relentless.
It’s worth mentioning, because it relates to Socrates teaching in the Symposium, that in an amusing essay called Philosophy as Biography Badiou speaks about the inherent seductive capacity of abstraction, of how philosophical refutations of the existence of God could serve to relive young, provincial, Church going girls of their virtue. ‘Before conquering their virtues, Badiou says, ‘their souls had to be yanked out of the Church.’ He learned, he says, that the most abstract philosophy also always constitutes a seduction.’ Sexual to be sure but more than this philosophy exists to corrupt: to corrupt the youth; to teach that immediate seductions have little value, but also that superior seductions exist. In the end, ‘the young person who knows how to refute the existence of God is more seductive than the one who could only propose a game of tennis. It's a good reason to become a philosopher’.
In the Republic, Plato says a pretty weird thing: ‘anyone who doesn’t take love as their starting point will never know what philosophy is about’. Obviously, from the perspective of received wisdom, it’s not usually supposed that philosophy has much to do with the disjunctive and irreducible position of the sexes and the impossibility of their rapport. This, insofar as it critical to the question of the subject and thus the truth of the unconscious, is indeed why psychoanalysis is an anti-philosophy. It’s weird also because it’s a philosopher saying essentially that Love exists despite philosophy, that there is something philosophy doesn’t know and even that ‘without love there is no philosophy’.
Weird also because in fact the consequences of this are that while philosophy does not exist without love, Love insofar as it is something other than ‘desire’ cannot be thought as what it is without philosophy. This is because Love like science, art or politics, is a production of what in-exists with regard to the established or known world within which it emerges – thus this production has a form which is not the same thing as its knowledge. Love, then, is a thought that philosophy must think. To be sure, even if we will say love is not a knowledge but a truth, the knowledge of love exists.
The existential intensity of love is a staple of artistic production from Greek tragedy to modern cinema, from Japanese antiquity to Neighbours and from Persian poetry to Posh and Becks, The Bachelor and Bachelorette. Politics too attests to this existence – representing love as family, conjugality or contract and in this way includes or represents what it cannot effect. In religion we have the holy family as exemplar par excellence.
And of course psychoanalysis is in a real way the science of Love – of the lack it marks and the insistence it detains. These offer up the thought of Love beyond its representations – its universality, its eternality against historical relativisms of all sorts, its non-objective form – but cannot in the case of art, fails to in the case of politics, and will not in the case of psychoanalysis, present to us the intelligibility of its form – which is to say, the force of its own immanent or internal production as a thought of the Two: two positions, two presentations in the world of what Love is. As Badiou, after Lacan puts it: ‘Any sexual unveiling of bodies which is non-amorous is masturbatory!’ If we want to do more than that we need to be attentive to how the most insignificant encounter is immanently linked to the most radical change of life.
What is universal, then, is that Love is always a new experience about the truth of the Two – that we can encounter and experience the world other than through a solitary consciousness. Not I but we – the minimal form of communism. It might sound banal that Love names the Two, but it’s actually a very radical thesis insofar as Love is one of the instances in the world, available to all, of the truth that there is no One. If Love exists and cannot be referred to any form of the One then, at the level of what is, the One is not. That the One is not is of great consequence. And its at these limits or aporias – its materials and its obstacles at once – that philosophy begins. The impasse at stake in the question of Love is the ‘paradox of identical difference’ or to put it another way, the thinking of the in-distinction of thought and body.
As Badiou notes in ‘What is Love’, philosophy founds its place of thought on rejections and on declarations; the rejection of the sophists – a term which knots knowledge and commerce, and whose paradigmatic domain is tokos, the Greek term Plato uses, which means both the interest made on a loan and biological reproduction or offspring; and the declaration that besides this, and on the basis of the chance event or encounter, there are truths. On the basis of this corruptive schema of rejection and declaration – rejection of excrescent or authoritarian norms; declaration of chance and the instance of what supplements this lack of the rule – Badiou sets out for us the three-fold schema of the erroneous conceptions of love. That is to say, those that in some way insist that an effective relation always already exists between the two asymmetrical sexuated positions – also known as ‘real difference’.
The fusional, communal or summative conception – where two become One, where one forgets oneself for the sake of the other, and whose tragic/romantic paradigm is that of ‘being-for–death’.
The ablative, prostrating of the Same on the altar of the Other, of being subsumed by the experience of the Other.
The superstructural or illusory conceptions – there is only biological drive, and/or sexual desire; love is a civilising convenience or ornamental semblance, a curb on our hedonic rights to the body.
To this erroneous schema we can add a more modern inflection, the calculative or security conception of love best exemplified, Badiou argues, by dating sites which for him seem to replay the older tried and true form of arranged marriage. The philosophical point is that this ‘e-harmony’ type arrangement is designed to insure against chance or risk, precisely the ‘encounter’ and, moreover, in its way, this ‘safety first conception’, utterly calculative mode follows the same logic that justifies the use of killer drones…
For Badiou, these present a danger to Love itself and against these, he says, quoting Rimbaud, Love needs to be re-invented. The problem, in general terms, with these ‘erroneous conceptions’ is, given their interests or their predication one way or another in interest, in a rule, a norm, a law etc. or if you prefer, reproduction – the reproduction of the relations of production or the One – they must remain, like all forms of law, both excessive and partial, and as Socrates says of his fellow speech makers, ‘fall in their praise to producing only appearances’ and not what is Love.
In the Symposium, Socrates adheres to this schema of rejection and declaration, of ‘No… But’, and to the irreducible asymmetry of the Two. After his usual dissembling irony about being overwhelmed by the beauty and force of the speeches and how he couldn’t possibly live up to them, he professes himself foolish because he thought you should ‘tell the truth’ about what it was you were praising. He knows now, he says, that it’s really about applying beautiful qualities to an object whether it has them or not. The upshot is that this is what all the speechmakers did and, moreover, that in doing so it must be the case that what they were doing was making it appear to everyone that they were praising love when – and here is the typical Socratic blow –they were not actually praising it.
So, if we ignore the opening conversation of the Symposium, there are 7 speeches – some by familiar and famous figures but all meant to represent a well-known subjective type.
I’ll reduce the first 5 to point like form. My aim is to present them so that the erroneous conceptions articulated by Badiou and familiar to us today from, pedagogy, culture and religion, resound in what the ancient precursors of post-modern sophistry have to say.
Phaedrus conceives of the relation between the lover and the loved as a putative pedagogical ethics. It’s the role of the lover to guide the beloved in right conduct. For either to act badly is first, a public admission of the absence of real love – the relation has failed to be pedagogically sound – and secondly but most importantly, for either to act badly before the other is the greatest shame of all. Love exists when the lover is constrained by the threat of shame to do what is right with regard to the beloved. Upon this, Phaedrus bases a conception of the polis in which all men loving one another will be ashamed to act badly, thus realising a ‘good city’.
Pausanias proposes to introduce complexity (a very modern trope). He claims there are two types of love not just One. He divides the name Aphrodite in two: there is heavenly Aphrodite or Urania and there is pandemic or common Aphrodite, the daughter of Zeus and Dine. Again, the theme of right is prominent but although Love is synonymous with the split name of the goddess he gives it a sexuated character. The divine Love is a matter of minds, the Common a matter of bodies – the former pertains to the male part, the latter to the female. Note, for Pausanias, right is not contained in the action itself but linked to the type of love. The common love attaining to bodies and interests is a shameful one. The right love is that by which the virtue inherent in the heavenly love is transmitted to the beloved by a lover. The city encourages the latter and discourages the former, he says. The love of the body then is subject to that of virtue. One submits only through the offices of virtue and this is for the good of all.
Aristophanes is meant to be next but Plato, in a subtle revenge for Aristophanes’ treatment of Socrates in The Clouds, gives him the hiccups (thus also post-Pause-anias). Instead, the doctor, Erixymachus speaks in his place. Erixymachus prescribes Aristophanes a remedy, and then proceeds to his discourse. Pharmakon – remedy and poison. The analogy the good doctor employs is of course a medical one concerning that of the body itself, specifically the harmonisation of the body between what effects it well and what badly, or in other words, what is put in and taken out. In short, Love is a technique; that of the correct handling of the desires; enjoyment without illness, we can say. Love is what makes concord, and not only between bodies but also between all that is at variance with itself.
Aristophanes’ speech marks out a certain trajectory – origin, cut, the desire of the return. In the beginning there were three natures: he says Male, Female and Androgynous and these corresponded to three celestial elements: M = Sun, F = earth, A = moon for it partakes of both sun and earth. The humans were spherical in shape, and so powerful they attacked the gods. Zeus had them all cut in half and had Apollo turn their faces so they could see their wound. So not only did the wound remind them of their folly and their lack, as it were, but they were also now desirous of their other half. However, they started dying out. So Zeus moved their genitals to the front so they could reproduce. Thus into their desire for their other half was introduced sex. The telos as invoked by the continued longing which sex only fleetingly interrupts, is the return of the two to the One and the name of this return is love. Who sought after whom (boys who like girls who like girls who like boys who like boys etc – as Blur put it) depended on the cut. You might be able to see why Lacan digs this genitive sexual comedy. But the cut means that these lovers ‘spend their whole lives together and still can’t say what they want from each other’. The becoming One of this Two – an offer Aristophanes claims no lovers can turn down – must pass through the lack of sexual relation. That is to say, this not knowing what the other wants. Love names this pursuit of the One – Aristophanes says.
Agathon claims that he will speak of the God love itself – unlike the rest. So you see he seems to be close to Socrates… thus he will speak of the thing… and not the fineness of the appearance. In fact, Agathon gives the god all the finery imaginable: youth, beauty, sensitivity, grace, and courage all rolled into one. The love-god essentially passes into someone and orients them in these virtues. The lover is an expression of these, the body animated by the God of love. Love makes what is not into what it is – ‘it is a skilled poet, who makes others into skilled poets’ he says.
Socrates is lol. Agathon ends by sounding like Hollywood, saying his speech combines entertainment with seriousness ‘as far as I can mange’. We could say all this is predicated on denying (rather than thinking through) the truism that ‘the two sexes die, each on their own side’. It’s a warding off of a perceived evil on the basis of forestalling any good.
As I noted, its not too difficult to read in theses sophistic constructions one or other of Badiou’s fourfold erroneous conceptions and the art of Plato is to let us know the error at the same time as forcing us to be attentive to the truth which the error animates.
The sublative conception – the ‘romantic’ suppression of the two as the ecstatic fusion of the One via an idealisation of being – is most pronounced in the speech of the drunk Alcibiades who gate-crashes the ancient garage but who nevertheless consents to give a speech of his own. Alcibiades seeks the experience of this fusion in the most discordant and bodily fashion – through possession of the body of Socrates – thus having Socrates surrender his conception of Love to Alcibiades demand, if you like. The idea is that Alcibiades will truly experience the Love of Socrates, which is to say, he will come to possess not just what Socrates has to give, but what is the Love of Socrates.
Alcibiades is after the object that animates Socrates, his agalma, and Alcibiades speech is itself a re-running and so narrative imitation of Socrates’ dialectic of love, had with the wise woman Diotima, but using the being of the body, and not the thought of the soul, as the key, orienting trope. For Alcibiades, the way to the soul has to be by possession of the body. What is real or what is in the lover’s interest, then, is the experience to the limit of the other as such, and its effect, by way of the trope of possession, is of one body by another or, it’s the same, the submission of one body to another. This is what Alcibiades calls love. The sexual relation constitutes the path by which the self is subsumed under the force of the Other. It’s not quite the wilful submission of Pausanias: rather, sex for Alcibiades is the matter of Love itself.
So, these series of representations is what Socrates is up against when he comes to speak about the truth of Love and this is why we get these several renderings of Love here all, note, in one way or another working with the Two. Strictly speaking, Alcibiades arrives after Socrates speaks but he doesn’t say anything Socrates didn’t already know – if I can put it this way. It’s the same with Badiou’s fourfold schema of erroneous conceptions. These representations tell us something – that this thing called Love exists, that it’s important for everyone, that it involves the disjunction of the one and the two and that there are a variety of opinions and languages by which to speak of love. It also tells us that there is something else, too, something left over that it cannot say.
As noted, Socrates starts with the rejection of sophistic excess and the declaration that besides what is represented to us as Love, besides all the bodies, opinions and languages, there remains over as the subversive underside of these discourses, the truth of Love. In the last instance, then, it’s not wholly true to say the two positions M/F are absolutely disjunct but rather that the form of their non-relation attests to the existence of a minimal element that holds them apart, so to speak, and is such that it is ‘indeterminate, indescribable and un-compossible’. Such an ‘inexistent’ element, which is not ultimately nothing, is retroactively recognised as the basis for the production of any Two. It’s that ‘site’ falling between any such Two, the real element of their encounter. It’s the point orientation of the possibility of a shared world, thus the truth named Love.
So, to begin to end, we’ll follow Socrates saying something about the truth of Love or the Scene of the Two – which is really to say, how the thought of love, insofar as love inscribes itself in the world – in terms of revolt, logic, universality and risk – can be thought. We can see that Socrates cuts a diagonal path across all that the sophists said such that it’s not simply that Socrates is opposed to them but rather that he takes up bits of theirs and submits them to the trajectory he establishes, reconfiguring them entirely.
First, schematically, what does Socrates say? Or rather what does Socrates say Diotima – the wise woman from Mantinea (thus another stranger to the knowledge of Athens) – says?
Three things to note: apart from the slave girls bringing wine and playing flutes, Diotima is the only woman – and she is not there, bodily. Second, Socrates does not give a eulogy but presents a dialogue, a ‘between Two’ as it were, a ‘working out as they go along’ of what can be said or thought of love. Third, Socrates has said that he knows about love. If you know about Socrates, you know that he always says ‘I know nothing’ – about whatever topic is current. This is tantamount to a rejection: explicitly, a rejection of what sophists know. So its significant that he says he knows about love but, this is because he doesn’t!! Rather, and I think Lacan misses this, it’s Diotima who is the subject supposed to know.
The structure of the conversation is a dialectic in which Socrates plays the student and Diotima conducts the conversation such that Socrates comes to know something in the correct manner. As I said, it’s not a eulogy but a dialogue on Love, a between two without predicate or end. It’s inventive, logical, dialectical, the proper form of the pursuit of wisdom – a pursuit based on nothing but that which exists minimally between two: their encounter. At the start of the dialogue, talking to a bloke who is effectively his stalker, Socrates prefigures this conversation saying, ‘The two of us together going on our way will work out what to say’. One can say, they march off limping – dialectic is a three-legged race – the truth of difference.
Love, Socrates (via Diotima) says, is the child of Resource and Poverty – it is a great spirit, a daemon circulating between the two – and thus as a daemon is indiscernible. So love is neither god, nor mortal then – neither transcendence nor biology. These indiscernible element/spirits circulate between one and the other as neither, and operate a sort of knotting, producing the effects of desire for the world of the Two. Socrates marks a distinction between this one form of the getting of wisdom, which is this kind – the constant circulation between two or the constructive pursuit of what this Two is, and any other form of knowledge – all the rest being techne’s – professional or mechanical operations, in the empiricist vein of cause and effect and so on.
So we see that love is not a knowledge per se – not of the romantic, conjugal, commercial, biological or security kind but is the form of an act with regard to the Two which affirms the duality of its ‘hard labour’.
Socrates gives a great description of the two sides of Love, as resourceful and as poor, which is worth looking at – especially if you are interested in justice and thus how love and communism subtend one another. But the emphasis is on ‘the spark’ or ‘the sudden’. Love springs to life of a sudden. In the first instance there is what happens in Love. Love is therefore not only the name for the production of the two but it names as immanent to it, its sudden rising – the declaration ‘I love you’ marks this rising as what will have been ‘true’.
So there is this encounter of a sudden and there is this declaration, this naming which is the subsistence of this encounter in the world so to speak, and so the basis of the new world such an encounter makes possible. The sudden, then, can only refer to the encounter between one and another that in turn refers us back always to an originary Two – not any One – something every sophist in the Symposium marked as integral to the knowledge of love. Love is between two, I keep saying; it’s not the object of Love. It’s contradictory to say that love is the seeking after love, rather, Socrates says, ‘love is embodied in the lover’ – that what is constructed between the two is what is Love and what is between the two is what both in their difference desire – that is to say, what they don’t individually have or know. Socrates will say that what the lover wants, which he doesn’t have, is the good, but if its not an object then what, through their difference they want, can only be a subjective production and given that its possibility comes all of a sudden and is not given by anything else, it must also be new or in fact unknown. It’s a truth, then, generic to the Two. Albeit that it’s the same, formally, for every Two.
So Love is universal qua the Idea and multiple qua the types of its manifestation. In Plato’s terms: ‘There are many routes available to achieve the ends of love’. But he reminds us, not every set of ends can be called Love. Love names the form of the pursuit of the ends of Love – which is beauty or the good or the truth of the Two. But Love is not this object or: the truth of the two is not the end as such but the production or the pursuit of its re-production. When you are in love, you don’t actually seek Love as an object under whatever name, the name of sex for example, which has no need of Love, but seek to, or have the courage too, produce what is love each and every day. This practice of this procedure we usually call fidelity. This is the ‘Scene of the Two’ – of a world constructed without recourse to an identity. This, Plato says, is as close as we come to immortality – the immortality of the Idea.
There are two key aspects to this, then. Love is not a matter of self-interest but of what a two can do, turned toward the external, the expansion of a world, and as such it’s a prescription upon infinity in the sense that the Two cannot know how far a Two can go. There is no law of love. It’s also, for this reason, a participation, and thus a manifestation of the eternality of the Idea of Love, an Idea absolutely not rooted to a particular time or human culture or specific historical circumstance.
In perhaps too overly Platonic terms then – in the sense given in the term ‘Platonic’: Love is ‘to be drawn toward beautiful bodies… to give birth in them… to the best of all possible things and thus through them to touch immortality, thus the divine…: Thus one seeks out those beauties that can provide for the birth in this way. The trajectory: Begin with the one body, realise beautiful discourses there… then realise the relation between one beauty and another. And thus the Form of beauty comes to the fore… once this is realised a certain tension for the one is released, the passion is seen as foolish and the lover comes to realise the beauty of the mind is greater than the body.
Note: this is an educational arrangement: that is what the education of love brings one too. One sees the beauty of what is – that which always is and never comes and goes… and is in all ways beautiful – not partial in any way, substantially or temporally – nor in relation to something else… nor is it a matter of perspective… nor will it appear in the shape of an object or thing – faces, hands etc., nor as a specific piece of knowledge, nor is it a part of something greater. It’s singular in Form: and as a Form, universal. Thus every beautiful thing partakes of the Form – and the form is never less nor more for this participation. This then, is the way of love: from bodies, to practices, to forms; and from forms of learning to that form, beauty itself.
Socrates speech ends with the Mantinean stranger asking ‘what would it be like if someone could see that Beauty’? And right then, all of a sudden, Alcibiades comes in and takes aim at that object of beauty, hidden as it were beneath the cloak of the ugly old Silenus, Socrates, and not at the beautiful young boy Agathon, that other ‘good man’, sitting beside him. As noted Alcibiades mistakes the real for an object, ostensibly inverting Socrates, but as the latter attests, in touching the real and not images of it, one can give birth to true virtue… immortality. In other words, to that which is in us more than we know. Love names this ‘more than we know’, the scene of the Two.
For Badiou, after Freud and Lacan, philosophy cannot forget the real of sex, of putting our body on the line – which Alcibiades is there to remind us – as what subtends the possibilities of a new subject or Two in the world, a new set of enquiries about what it is for this Two to live, of a shared construction of difference. The lack of rapport sex insists as needs to be re-inscribed within the knot love forms despite it, every day: but it cannot be reduced to it. It’s the thought of love, it’s the labour of love to faithfully hold to the encounter that supplements this inexistence and thus to reproduce the consequences, limping –because W and M (structural positions, mind) enter into the Two differently… into the sunset, two by two… where one is happy to have not to have not.