Monday, 3 May 2010

Fidelity Limited

1. Bourgeois Amorism
Adorno notes a seeming paradox in bourgeois life and love.  “Everywhere bourgeois society insists on the exerting of will; only love should be exempt from will, the pure immediacy of emotion.” (Theodor W. Adorno, “Constanze” in Minima Moralia, Frankfurt, 1980, p.226)
Being outside or beyond will means having no definite cause or effect – or that Eros is the union of cause and effect.  This paradox is not so mysterious.  As portrayed by Adorno bourgeois love seems to suggest a utopian enclave of the natural, the non-commercial, in the midst of a social organism governed by interest and economy.  But there are simpler reasons for the removing of love from the sphere of the will.  The medical encyclopedia divulges the open secret – when a man is experiencing erectile dysfunction – the inability to achieve the stiffness necessary for intercourse, no amount of will can give him an erection.  On the contrary the more he tries the less he is likely to succeed.
“In most cases, the physical examination does not detect any reason for impotence, most frequently it is caused by emotional inhibitions, for instance the unconscious rejection of the partner, an earlier frightening experience, fear of failure etc.  These disturbances require an appropriate psychological therapy, (…) to eliminate impotence, because it does not help, when the affected person is of the opinion he could overcome these emotional inhibitions with a special expenditure of will.” (“Impotenz” in Knaurs Gesundheitslexikon, 1970, p.481)

Indirectly one acknowledges the norm of the “expenditure of will” even where it is absurd to expect will to have any effect.  Abstaining from will is in this case a higher level of the exertion of will – using will to hold back will.  The dilemma of impotence is reflected in the tendency to want to reverse the will taboo for Eros – to have Eros adhere to the will as the principle of action.

The will has its limits in the physical and the related psychic occlusions  – especially all those somatic functions which are more or less part of the vegetative nervous system.  One cannot will oneself to sleep either.  One could equally claim – bourgeois society has an incongruously naturalized view of sleep.  Of course the pharmaceutical industry as the embodiment of the Social Corporate Will manufactures chemical aids (anti-depressants, barbiturates, Viagra, sex change etc) as quasi-will to denaturalize all the involuntary acts and conditions of the human organism.  Adorno confines himself to a sentimental view of Eros in this passage – assuming that the physical performance is a given (guaranteed).  He indulges in a strangely inorganic non-physical view of human sexuality.  But love without physis would have little significance for the individual or society.  Eros never has anything to do with will – rather with desire, equally unpredictable and mysterious.  Will is a secondary force – needed for the attaining of the secret object of desire.  But once the lover is in possession of the beloved – no amount of will can guarantee the duration or continuity of desire.

One would rather consider the relationship of pleasure (Lust) and will – as a corollary of the classical pair of intellect and will.  Pleasure is implicit in Bruno’s idea of the heroic passions.  Pleasure is the goal of an action as well as being the impetus of the drive itself.  Power is also the unfolding of pleasure – as in the will to power.  In general, one imagines the will as a force (power) for the augmenting of pleasure. 

2.  Sprezzatura
It is not necessarily the case that will is even in such demand in all other spheres of bourgeois life – one impresses one’s circles far more with ‘unearned luck’ than with petty ‘Strebertum’ (careerism).  Wealth and position should seem to fall into one’s lap – even if the lucky one has been indefatigably scheming and toiling at success behind the scenes.  Will is an ideal in Germanic society (“Triumph des Willens”), less so in Anglo-Saxon.  Will is mostly necessary as a kind of glorified ‘secondary virtue’ – one compensates for other failings – of talent, beauty, breeding with a strong will.  A strong will appears as something each individual can muster or fabricate as a result of his own labor – in a sense this is an infinite regress – to obtain a strong will one must have a strong will.  Will is also neutral – not an objective in a real sense, a mere workhorse.  A strong will says nothing about what one achieves by its application.  Any enterprise totally reliant on will has an air of desperation from the start.  For this reason aristocratic society looks down on effort – closely related to will.  Effort like work is plebeian – as an aristocrat one is born into a state in which will is unnecessary.  Most important is honor, a dignified ‘chasse à gloire’ and the avoidance of ennui especially in carrying out the courtier’s duties of office.  Baltasar Gracián describes the dreariness of a courtier’s life in his “Art of Worldly Wisdom”:
“It is a tedious occupation, the governing of people, but even more so when they are fools or stupid.  One needs a double reason with those who have none.  Unbearable are those offices which require the whole person, employing him during a set number of hours and for a specific matter.  The better ones, causing no feelings of tedium, mix seriousness with variety; diversity is refreshing.  The most prestigious offices are those where dependence is less, or at least more remote.  The worst are those for which you must sweat in this world but even more in the next.”
(“Es ist eine mühsame Beschäftigung, Menschen zu regieren, und vollends Narren oder Dummköpfe.  Doppelten Verstand hat man nötig bei denen, die keinen haben.  Unerträglich aber sind die Ämter, welche den ganzen Menschen in Anspruch nehmen, zu gezählten Stunden und bei bestimmter Materie: besser sind die, welche keinen Überdruß verursachen, indem sie den Ernst mit Mannigfaltigkeit versetzen; denn die Abwechslung muntert auf.  Des größten Ansehens genießen die, wobei die Abhängigkeit geringer, oder doch entfernter ist.  Die schlimmsten aber sind, die, wegen deren man in dieser und noch mehr in jener Welt schwitzen muß.” Balthasar Gracian’s Hand-Orakel und Kunst der Weltklugheit, Aus dessen Werken gezogen von Don Vincencio Juan de Lastanosa und aus dem spanischen Original treu und sorgfältig übersetzt von Arthur Schopenhauer, Essen und Stuttgart, 1985, p.85.)

Jünger in his “science of the excess” sees the will as an obstacle to the proper state of Heiterkeit, disinvoltura of power, of the destructive character, based rather on luck, happiness and magic than on will.  He departs markedly from the “Faustian” way.  Not in the reliance on magic, but in the teleology of power. Jünger like Carl Schmitt try to escape the drab feudalistic SS ‘Nibelungentreue’ (fidelity of the Nibelungs) by plundering the Baroque for the characteristics of their ideal figure of the fascist ‘courtier’.  Disinvoltura is an aristocratic ideal – similar to sprezzatura (nonchalance, casualness) considered a primary quality of a courtier in the baroque age.  Nothing should seem to require much effort.  Baldassare Castiglione was the first to expound upon the virtues of sprezzatura in his portrait of the ideal Renaissance gentleman.  If it is the case that bourgeois society allows love the privilege of eluding will – then this is a relic of a bygone aristocratic sensibility.  Willless doing is also implicit in the enigmatic concept of the “inoperative community” (Jean Luc Nancy).   Just like the relation of no relation – interestingly Badiou sees this as characterising the ‘scene of two’ of love – Agamben as the definition of the ban, of abandonment.

3.  “Thou shalt love”
The exercise of will in love is fidelity, says Adorno.  Society distorts wishes to ‘spontaneously’ flow in the direction of what is approved or to follow the dictates of interests.  Love, which is not subsumed under this dictate, is stable, enduring, “hartnäckig” (stubborn) in opposition to the command of fashion.  So ironically the immediacy of love as a bourgeois institution is particularly suited to the need to be free for society – freely disposable.  Whoever thinks he or she is following the ‘voice of the heart’ – falling in and out of love accordingly, is in reality a pliant tool of bourgeois interests. 

Only love, which transcends this inevitable bourgeois fleetingness of any attachments – even to the point of obsession, resists those interests.  All this seems to be a very noble and laudable view of love – almost in the sense of Heloise and Abelard and all other great loves which defied society even at the cost of the physical destruction of the lovers.  But Adorno has burdened love with an additional compulsory work which is sure to kill it or any Eros – insubordination against society. “The command of fidelity, issued by society, is a means of unfreedom, but only through fidelity can freedom accomplish insubordination against the command of society.”
 (“Der Befehl zur Treue, den die Gesellschaft erteilt, ist Mittel zur Unfreiheit, aber nur durch Treue vollbringt Freiheit Insubordination gegen den Befehl der Gesellschaft.”, Adorno, op. cit., p. 227)

Love erupting in its unexpected fashion can certainly cause disorder in established caste and class systems.  This is however more a side effect of love – leading as a matter of course though to conflict and often annihilation – in the case of great drama – Aida, Venice Saved, Romeo and Juliet, La Traviata, Tosca, Tristan and Isolde, Francesca of Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, Anna Karenina, Chekhov’s “Lady with the Toy Dog”, Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas – where does it not?  Clandestinity is merely part of the mechanics of the tryst, the assignation.  But Adorno would instrumentalise this ‘second nature’ of disturbing love.  The lovers who through their all-consuming obsessive love, as a secondary effect, disrupt those social and political bonds resting on arranged marriage or class endogamy, should now consider this disruption of social order their raison d’être.   Whereas, love resembles art in its privileged status – having no other purpose beyond itself.  This privilege, Adorno would imply, should at least in the case of love be suspended or abolished.  Love must now serve the obsession of social emancipation. 

“But the one, who, under the illusion of thoughtless spontaneity and proud of a supposed candour, abandons herself totally to what she thinks is the voice of the heart, and runs off, when she no longer thinks she hears it, is, especially in this sovereign autonomy, a tool of society.  Passive, without knowing it, she registers the numbers being spun in the roulette of interests.  In betraying her lover, she betrays herself.” (ibid.)

Adorno would perpetuate a kind of vassal bondage in his claim that the lover who stops loving is a traitor of self and love.  Fidelity in love as a revolt against bourgeois inconstancy seems almost a retrograde feudal gesture of voluntary servitude.

Badiou admittedly constructs much of his concept of the subject within the “dialectic of being and event” upon the ‘institution of fidelity’ arising from the “amorous encounter”.  “The word ‘fidelity’ refers directly to the amorous relationship, but I would rather say that it is the amorous relationship which refers, at the most sensitive point of individual experience, to the dialectic of being and event, the dialectic whose temporal ordination is proposed by fidelity.” (Alain Badiou, Being and Event, London, 2007, p. 232)
Although Adorno and Badiou are otherwise hardly comparable as thinkers – they seem to briefly concur in this view of amorous fidelity as a kind of ‘revolutionary institution’ within society.  Of course Badiou rests the whole of his theory of the subject upon this tenuous notion of amorous fidelity, whereas Adorno restricts himself to a critique of infidelity as false emancipation in bourgeois society.  Badiou seems to be oblivious to the institutionalized deformations of amorous fidelity or infidelity so apparent to Adorno.  He simply extrapolates from the empirical amorous encounter and its particular fidelities and infidelities to form his “generic fidelity” emerging in the aftermath of an abstract event – although the empirical model (the amorous relationship) is preformed and distorted by the interventions of capitalist expediencies.  Badiou seems to hint at a degree of historical variability in his fidelity-apparatus – but he does not question the specific capitalist form- determinations of fidelity itself:  “Are there, for example, events, and thus interventions, which are such that the fidelity binding itself together therein is necessarily spontaneist or dogmatic or generic?” (Being and Event, op. cit., p. 238)  Badiou’s system though is inherently torn between what he calls in “Manifesto for Philosophy” the positive ‘nihilism’ of capitalism, its “rupturing of the traditional figure of the bond” (which as he says destroys “the substantiality of bonds and the perenniality of essential relations”) and his own key concept of fidelity.  The proposed adhesive function of fidelity seems strangely undermined within a situation of capitalism defined by the systematic erasure of any kind of bond.  One is tempted to observe – if capitalism liberates philosophy from the tyranny of the bond, as Badiou declares in “Manifesto for Philosophy” then the truth process as he conceives it can hardly be contingent on a subject’s fidelity to an event.  Such fidelity would be nullified by capital like any other bond.

Perhaps, it is not the true lover who endangers society actually or potentially as much as the untrue lover of the type of Don Juan who uses the energy of love to mock and destroy unshakeable authorities such as the Commendatore without himself being touched by it (love).  He is the real unrepentant disloyal revolutionary; his is the power of infidelity, the unpredictable breaking of allegiance.  At the very least Don Juan practices the Aristippian system of the archetypical poet Horace – not to let things subject him, rather to subject things first. “Nunc in Aristippi furtim praecepta relabor, et mihi res, non me rebus, submittere conor.” (Letter to Maecenas in Horazens Briefe, translated and edited by C.M.Wieland, Nördlingen, 1986, p. 44)  

The insistence on fidelity seems out of character for Adorno – as if love itself had become a law binding someone who once has loved always to love the same object.  Certainly the absurdity of this dictate is obvious.  It is as if a sly Kierkegaardian note had crept into Adorno’s argument, inspired by his wish to condemn the false freedom of bourgeois society.  Adorno ridicules precisely this impossible ‘forcing’ of love in an earlier essay entitled “On Kierkegaard’s Doctrine of Love”.  “This very impossibility becomes to him the core of the command.  “Thou shalt love” just because the “Shalt” cannot be applied to love.  This is the absurd, the wreckage of the finite by the infinite, which Kierkegaard hypostatizes.  The command to love is commanded because of its impossibility.  This, however, amounts to nothing less than the annihilation of the love and the installment of sinister domination.  The command to love degenerates into a mythical taboo against preference and natural love. The protest of love against law is dropped.  Love itself becomes a matter of mere law, even if it may be cloaked as the law of God.  Kierkegaard’s super-Christianity tilts over into paganism.”
(T.W. Adorno, On Kierkegaard’s Doctrine of Love, in: Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, Herausgegeben von Max Horkheimer, Jahrgang 8, 1939-1940, München, 1980, p.418)

In Adorno’s later reflections in “Constanze” (Minima Moralia) a taboo is established by extant love, not by a transcendental commandment – although the old love ceases to move the lover, it has created a precedence, which cannot be overturned by new preferences.  Or – the new preferences are mere apparitions, implants of the interests of capital.

But even without punishment, in the event of the violation of such a ‘law of love’, there are always consequences worse than any punishment.  Who punishes you when you don’t obey the Law “Thou shalt love”? 


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