When I began this series just two years ago, I never expected it to reach one hundred. But habits grow on you, and after a while, writing these columns began to structure my week and even my intellectual life. Although the number of subscribers and readers has grown respectably, it remains modest by media standards; one doesn’t write a column like this as a means of attaining stardom or even “visibility.” But it is an invaluable means to develop ideas of interest to me in the context of informal communication with friends, intellectual sympathizers, and other interested parties.
Some readers, astute or simply undiplomatic, have wondered what the connection is between the “chronicles of love and resentment”–a title that everyone seems to like–and “generative anthropology”–a slogan I didn’t invent and that I in fact rather regret. Resentment has an important place in the theoretical framework developed in my books on GA, but the idea of “love” plays no role there.
The term “love” can be made to apply to all sorts of human relations, but as I have used it in these Chronicles, it has a clear focus on “romantic” love, which, from my own masculine standpoint and that of culture generally, is directed to women. It would therefore not be altogether inappropriate to interpret “love and resentment” as a reference to the two sexes: love for women, resentment for men. In this case, as opposed to that of the hypothetical originary scene of language, it is the women who merit first place.
As the presupposed reference for the unqualified term “love,” in these Chronicles as elsewhere, the heterosexual couple furnishes the exemplary model of mutual human caring. And whereas all other kinds of love can furnish metaphors of what we presume to be God’s care for his creatures, “romantic love” alone, through the love-of-Other / love-of-God analogy elaborated in neo-Platonism and in more accessible form in lyric poetry from the troubadours on down, including the radical inversion of divine-human dominance in Manon Lescaut (see Chronicle 17), allows us a general understanding of our relationship to the sacred.
Over two centuries have reinforced the human priority over the divine in this analogy to such a point that I wonder how, outside the experience of love, one can claim any first-hand understanding of the sacred as Other, that is, as the originary source of language. The high point of religious consciousness realized in Christianity conceives of the human Other in general as sacred, as worthy of our care and reverence, but that is not quite the same thing. Although we must see Christ in every other person, romantic love offers our only normal chance at the uniqueness required to sustain an appropriate intensity of identification. It is not enough to say that care takes time and energy, and that ours is limited. Care of the kind merited by the divinity is essentially infinite. The saintliest person cannot love his neighbor in a way approximating his love of God, because he has many neighbors and only one God, and because his devotion to God encompasses that to all his neighbors whereas the converse is not the case. This is not to say that our care for our neighbors is necessarily deficient in face of the ideal of considering each Other as divine. If my neighbor needs my help for a specific task, and I give it to him, it would do him no good and in fact would only embarrass him to treat him on top of that as an object of infinite care. And if I do this merely as a spiritual exercise, e.g., looking into his face and imagining Jesus in his place, then my relationship to him is not an ethical one at all.
But for the one person I care for most, the social institution of the couple, married or not, facilitates the exercise of infinite care. I won’t rehearse the biological basis for coupling, but suffice it to say that a Sirian arriving here (in the Sirian planetary system there are 1.73 sexes and reproduction is carried out by computers) would be struck by our tendency to pair off even when raising children is not the object. Because couples share essentially their whole lives, the loved one may be conceived without practical inconvenience as the origin and goal of all one’s activities. Personal mediation tends to take the place of the public mediating function of religion because it alone offers genuine interaction with the mediator.
The love relationship affords us a scenic understanding of the sacred otherwise unavailable save in the most intense revelatory experiences. Influenced by the thought of Emmanuel Levinas, a recent vogue emphasizes the abjection of the Other as an appeal to our care. But while recognizing (through “tenderness”) the other’s mortality which s/he shares with me, love never treats the Other–not even the Crucified–as denuded or abject, in a word, as victimary. What I see in the beloved Other, beyond mere human vulnerability, is her sacred power to give and take away meaning from my world.
This is a subject better explored through lyric poetry (see Chronicle 96) than theory. Because love is the most interactive of possible relationships with another (in contrast with the caricature of romantic love as idolatry, “putting woman on a pedestal”), it is the freest, the least theorizable a priori. This potentially infinite private richness offers a model for life and thought in the postmodern world that has tended to get lost among more highly publicized cries of collective resentment. I intend this third year of Chronicles to be devoted chiefly to the elaboration of this idea, particularly in its impingement on critical theory and on the practice of Cultural Studies.
For the moment, let me return to the beginning of the Chronicles in July 1995. It was, I will admit, something of an effort to insert the idea of “love” into a series I had originally intended to call Chronicles of Resentment. I had conceived it as an ironic narrative of the humiliations of everyday life, somewhat on the model of the diary of Dostoevsky’s “underground man” that had been for me the literary equivalent of puberty. But it became clear that this formulation was too subjective and self-serving to be associated with an originary anthropology that begins, after all, from the deferral rather than from the enactment of violence–from love rather than resentment. And as a result of insisting and reflecting upon love over the past two years, I now feel ready, as last week’s “prophetic” Chronicle 99 suggests, to insist on it as the structuring principle of critical thinking and discourse. Of course we will always feel resentment. But the whole point of human culture is the deferral of resentment, and the “higher” the culture, the greater the effort expended in making us aware of the costs of our resentful satisfaction to its potential victims.
I think it is the duty of those of us who are privileged to spend comfortable tenured lives studying cultural phenomena to work for the triumph of love over resentment, not in a utopian final conflict, but here and now, in every act. Today’s academic conversation is saturated with overt and unapologetic resentment of a kind that not long ago would not have been tolerated in the political, let alone in the academic arena. Let us work, whatever our political views, to expunge the language of resentment from our own vocabulary and to encourage by our example our students and colleagues to do the same.
This is no profound analytic conclusion, merely the humble acceptance of moral truth; but it would not likely have occurred to me had I not originally been inspired to entitle this column “Chronicles of Love and Resentment.”