On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise … Encore: Leonard Cohen and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Dance to the Rhythm of Abolition Democracy

The GAU website and newsletter platform provide individuals the opportunity to engage in incisive argument, advocacy, deliberation and dialogue regarding a wide array of topics potentially of interest to readers. The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect the views of Graduate Assistants United. Some of the perspectives and analyses featured in the following article almost certainly do not reflect all the diverse views of the many Graduate Assistants who are represented by the union at SIUC, nor do the opinions and anecdotes advanced below represent the positions of any other members of GAUnited.

By James Anderson

Since the last time I penned another piece in my ongoing series of Valentine’s Day confessionals, Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen died.

Cohen, posthumously deemed the “poet laureate of the lack,” was 82. An accomplished poet and novelist at an early age, he did not start seriously performing music until his early 30s. Entering the music scene with a maturity and lyrical sophistication few ever develop, he was renowned for seamlessly fusing allusions to the divine with innuendos apropos of sexual euphoria in his lyrics.

Perhaps his most famous song, “Hallelujah,” illustrates that theme. “I remember when I moved in you,” he sings in a version of the song performed live in London, “and the holy dove, she was moving too / And every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah.” The song moves rhythmically back and forth between spiritual intimations and insinuations of ecstatic intercourse. The song evokes the procession of prayer while simultaneously progressing toward climax and release, reflecting the sexual experience. However, “Hallelujah,” is also about the glory of romantic intimacy even when it exists only as memory, long after the rhythms of two bodies moving together has fallen off beat – or, as with some of us, when the ecstatic awkwardness has returned to a solo and (quite literally) single-handed affair aided only by the painful memory of previous bodily interactions.

It is that embodied, sensuous and super-sexual, yet simultaneously transcendent, power of love –unrequited, political and otherwise – Cohen’s lyrics alert us to.

“There’s a crack, a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in,” Cohen reminds us in the song, “Anthem,” which is quoted at the beginning of the PhD dissertation I defended last May, despite there being no love lost between me and most of the professorial class in the college at SIUC I then belonged to.

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On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise … Again: Tackling the Taboo

By James Anderson

For three years in a row now I have contributed a Valentine’s Day, love-themed column to the Graduate Assistants United website.

In my 2014 piece on unrequited love, I referenced Noam Chomsky, Kendrick Lamar, Phil Ochs, Marina Sitrin, Spanish anarcho-syndicalists circa 1936, the ideological embodiment of capitalist cooptation (Steve Jobs) and political scientist James C. Scott, among others. In my 2015 piece I opened by quoting Eduardo Galeano before embarking on a wild and steamy tangent about the history of love and revolution in France, authoring what was in retrospect likely my semi-conscious and probably inappropriate attempt at a poorly-coded love letter.

Needless to say, the theme of unrequited love remains a recurring one in my life. Heretofore, few are lining up to “Dance Me to the End of Love,” to borrow the title of the Leonard Cohen track, and this love drought is despite – or perhaps because of – the multiple off-rhythm renditions of the song I insist each time on performing for my would-be beloved.

This Valentine’s Day thus offers the opportunity for further introspection, self-reflection, self-loathing and conscious use of self-deprecating humor. The latter, I should add, has proven woefully inadequate when it comes to cultivating intimate interpersonal relations but immensely helpful in keeping me sane on days like Valentine’s Day when I otherwise wind up alone diluting my bottle of cheap scotch with a mix of ice and heartache-filled tears.

Modern Valentine’s Day might have become popular, as Tom Chivers noted, in mid-18th century England with the “passing of love notes,” the “precursor to the St Valentine’s Day card as we know it,” followed by Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass., mass producing cards using cheaper lace in the United States in 1847, leading to the present-day commercialized holiday. Yes, the holiday now sees some couples enjoying fine wine and orgasmic Michael Recchiuti chocolates while others keep themselves warm with tear-scotch, but that is no justification for ignoring it.

Painful and problematic as the day is, it also offers us a chance to draw important parallels and broach taboo topics. That sounds sexy anyway. So let’s roll with it.

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On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise Redux: Desires and Prospects

By James Anderson

In his testimonial, “Days and Nights of Love and War,” Uruguayan-born writer Eduardo Galeano recalls discovering his love for writing after release from a hospital following a near-death bout of malaria.

Since, as stated before, “Valentine’s Day offers a special opportunity to reflect on love – unrequited, political and otherwise,” it is thus the perfect time to contemplate the implications of Galeano’s words.

“I thought I knew some good stories to tell other people, and I discovered, or confirmed, that I had to write,” Galeano wrote. “I had often been convinced that this solitary trade wasn’t worthwhile if you compared it, for example, to political activism or adventure. I had written and published a lot, but I hadn’t had the guts to dig down inside and open up and give of myself. Writing was dangerous, like making love the way you should.”

With language real and raw, he described consciously committing himself to the act.

“That night I realized I was a hunter of words,” he added. “This is what I had been born for. This was going to be my way of being with others after I was dead and this way the people and the things I had loved wouldn’t die.”

He claimed writing required he get his “feet wet” and invoke desire.

This meant a need to “provoke myself, tell myself, ‘You can’t do it, I bet you can’t,’” he recollected. “And I also knew that in order for the words to come I had to close my eyes and think intensely about a woman.”

More than mere thoughts, intense feeling surely provided Galeano inspiration. Affect undoubtedly filled the pages of his works.

Other authors have similarly shown how words convey passion in radical politics, challenging’s previous distinctions. Boundaries between writing, adventure and radical politics dissolve in the realm of desire. They re-materialize as one with words printed on a page and concepts communicated on a screen.

Parisian Poetics of Lost and Unrequited Love

It is often wise to defer to the French in matters of romance, and France has long been a hotbed of radical politics. Writers and radicals in France throughout history have been amazingly adept at coupling these passionate exercises.

Poet Alphonse de Lamartine, for example, garnered immense popularity focusing on the fleeting moments of human happiness associated with earthly love.

As Mary Frances Dorschell noted, Lamartine met a young married woman, Julie Charles, at lac du Bourget in 1816. The two purportedly fell into “a platonic love,” although the boundaries surrounding their actual intimacy remained opaque. They planned to meet again the following year. Charles, dying of tuberculosis by 1817, could not keep the lover’s pact.

In his poem “The Lake,” Lamartine laments the ephemeral quality of human love like theirs. He implored our unforgiving world to immortalize their mortal bond.

“And let everything that one hears, or sees, or breathes,” Lamartine epistolized in his verse, translated from French, “Say out loud: ‘They have loved!’”

He yearned for the transitory nature of time not to snatch away his human happiness.

“O time! suspend your flight; and you, propitious hours,” he wrote, “Suspend your too quick course.”

Using his oratory powers, Lamartine rose to prominence during France’s February Revolution in 1848. As part of the Second Republic government, he would later be complicit in squashing subsequent struggles waged by Parisian workers that year.

German poet Heinrich Heine also happened to be in France in 1848, slightly removed from the uprisings.

His poetry, critical of Prussia’s autocratic regime, infuriated King Frederick William IV and forced Heine into exile in Paris, where he witnessed the insurrections from a distance.

Not confined to anything narrowly political, plenty of Heine’s poetry addressed issues of the heart. He was especially well-versed on unrequited love.

“The joy that kissed me yesterday,” Heine remarks in his poem “Kitty,” “Has disappeared already; Long years ago I found it so: True love is never steady. Oft curiosity has drawn/ Some lovely ladies toward me; But when they looked deep in my heart/ They left, and then abhorred me.”

He ended the verse with exception.

“Some have grown pale before they went,” he wrote. “And some with laughter cleft me; But only Kitty really cared—She wept before she left me.”

Prussian-born journalist Fanny Lewald met Heine in France during the year of continental revolutions. She wrote about coming to see him in a sanatorium on the Rue de l’Oursine outside Paris.

Like Lamartine’s love Julie Charles, Heine suffered from tuberculosis. It affected his spine, confining him to the bed much of the time. Yet, Lewald recounted, his doctor said Heine had been writing for hours that day and the day before she visited.

“I realized how interested I was in him, how grateful for all the hours of immense reading pleasure I owe him,” Lewald wrote. “I would have been so happy to have known or done anything that would give him relief, distraction, or joy. Because I always saw him as a young man in spirit, I do not want to give you any picture of his bodily suffering. He is somewhat crippled and complains bitterly about this condition, which has robbed him of the use of his eyes to the extent that he can write only a little and cannot read at all.”

When he spoke of writing in front of her, Heine said it had become impossible – but for reasons unrelated to his condition.

“Oh, I can’t write any more,” he said facetiously. “I can’t, because we have no censorship! How can a person write without censorship, if he has always lived under censorship? All style will cease, all syntax, all good habits. When I used to write something stupid, I would think, ‘The censor will strike or change this’; I relied on good censorship. But now I feel quite unhappy, unfocused. I keep hoping it is really not true and censorship still exists.”

Louis Blanc, Language and Labor: Ideological Inversion over Time

Another revolutionary in Paris in 1848, Louis Blanc, was tangentially part of the provisional government that replaced Louis Philippe’s July Monarchy and abolished censorship after the February Revolution.

Blanc advocated a top-down socialism, facilitated by the state. But, the author of “The Organisation of Labour,” also supported communal living and “social workshops,” envisioned as producer cooperatives. Those worker-controlled organizations should be funded by the state, Blanc thought. The government would support cooperatives to eliminate economic competition, which could theoretically put an end to authoritarian structures of the state.

Neither the provisional government nor the Second Republic gave Blanc the chance to implement his ideas. Instead, he established the advisory Luxembourg Commission. Bereft of state power or funds, under Blanc’s auspices the Commission still created the first workers’ congress and served as a forerunner to the Russian soviets.

With odds against him, Blanc would be marginalized by the government. Soon enough, workers repudiated him for his complicity with state power. Blanc, “with his dark eyes and shining white teeth,” historian Priscilla Robertson explained, “was only a bit taller than a dwarf,” and his love was largely unrequited.

Nevertheless, Blanc defended the “right to work,” or “droit au travail,” a popular working class campaign at the time. Back in 1848, it meant the right to employment for all who wanted it, with fair wages and decent conditions guaranteed.

Joseph Varga, an assistant professor of labor studies at Indiana University, analyzed the ideological inversion of the “right to work” phrase over time. The meaning of the maxim changed in the US around the time the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was passed. Coeval with the legislation, Varga suggested, concentrated power renewed concerted efforts to undermine workers’ rights, mutilating the language of labor.

Mark Gius, professor of economics at Quinnipac University, explained how in its new incarnation, “right-to-work” refers to laws prohibiting “unions from compelling workers to join unions in order to secure employment, hence greatly reducing the ability of unions to organize and retain members.”

Showing no love for labor, some 24 states have passed present-day versions of the “right-to-work” laws. Occasionally using another euphemism, “employee empowerment zones,” Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner supports today’s distorted version of “right-to-work,” reframed by the UAW and others as the “right-to-work-for-less.”

Passion for Women in History and the Radical Imagination

Women have perpetually been hit hardest by the kind of untrammeled capitalism epitomized by present-day right-to-work legislation. Historically, women have hit back the hardest too.

In nineteenth-century France, women were at the forefront of working class causes.

In her book “Revolutions of 1848: A Social History,” Robertson revealed how this radical politics incited passions of all sorts.

Insurrectionists in Paris, Robertson documented, erected more than 1,500 barricades throughout the city streets on February 24, 1848. After Parisian radicals released prisoners from the Château d’Eau, they burned the military post down and continued their rebellion against the monarchical regime.

“As the fight moved from the Château d’Eau over to the Palais-Royal a woman led a band of fifty people to the attack,” Robertson wrote. “She was dressed in a chemise and a skirt, with stockings which fell spirally about her legs. Her brown hair fell to her waist, and her shoulders, arms and most of her breast were bare. As men rushed up to embrace her she brushed them off, for all her ardor was devoted to the revolution.”

Love, unrequited and intensely political, found personification in female Parisian revolutionaries throughout history. They sparked the radical imagination.

John Merriman, professor of history at Yale, wrote recently about how one speaker at a meeting of women in May 1871, as the Paris Commune was underway, emphatically stated those “workshops in which you are packed will belong to you; the tools that are put into your hands will be yours; the gain resulting from your efforts, from your troubles, and from the loss of your health will be shared among you.”

Despite the lack of total economic transformation, women improved their status immensely in the Commune of 1871.

“Indeed, the solidarity and militancy of Parisian women, who had suffered such hardship during the Prussian siege, jumps out as one of the most remarkable aspects of the Paris Commune,” Merriman claimed about the short-lived reorganization of Parisian society. “Women, taking pride in their role as citoyennes, pressured the Commune to attend to their rights and demands and pushed for an energetic defense of the capital.”

Denouncing predominant working conditions as one aspect of “bourgeois authoritarianism,” women like Élisabeth Dmitrieff remarked the labor “of women was the most exploited of all in the social order of the past.”

She supported the right to employment, an end to economic competition and the equalization of wages for all male and female workers.

“Dmitrieff cut quite a figure,” Merriman explained. “She wore a black riding costume, a felt hat with feathers, and a red silk shawl trimmed in gold. A police description put her at about five feet, three inches tall, with chestnut hair and gray-blue eyes. Léo Frankel was probably but one of the Communards who fell in love with her.”

She was not the only Communard to stimulate desire.

Louise Michel, for example, decried the situation wherein a woman “bends under mortification; in her home her burdens crush her. Man wants to keep her that way, to be sure that she will never encroach upon his function or his titles. Gentlemen, we do not want either your functions or your titles.”

Michel and other militant Parisian “women were more concerned with economic and social reforms than achieving the right to vote,” Merriman documented.

Both revolutionary and reform measures ended in reaction. Forces at Versailles crushed the Commune in late May, killing thousands. Michel made it out alive and later led the first May Day marches in France.

French writer Victor Hugo, famous for heart-wrenching accounts of love lost and unrequited, dedicated his poem “Viro Major” to Michel.

Hugo also authored the novel “Notre-Dame de Paris,” which tells the story of the hunchback Quasimodo and his classic case of unrequited love.

In the novel, when Esmerelda, a beautiful Gypsy street dancer, is led off to the gallows, Quasimodo swings down on a bell rope to rescue her.

Esmerelda, however, never loves Quasimodo. She cannot get past his deformed appearance, which frightens her.

His love, unrequited as it was, never faltered. Quasimodo is later unable to save Esmerelda from being hanged, but he lies down beside her body where it had been thrown after execution, eventually dying of starvation.

The novel’s author weaved these narratives of unrequited love with stories of social injustice.

Past and Present Struggles, Future Possibilities

With works like “Notre-Dame de Paris,” Hugo demonstrated conditions of possibility for posterity. At present, struggles for social and economic justice can coincide with love, unrequited, political or potential.

The recent shift to a tuition-based and student debt-financed model at universities throughout the US introduced a market mentality and new disciplinary mechanisms into higher education, with all the severing of social bonds that entails.

Yet, as one stunning union militant pointed out during the two-day strike across the University of California system last April, campus can be – and historically has been – an intersection for struggles against the university’s own institutional violence.

As Eduardo Galeano no doubt understood, love often animates those struggles and the writings that enliven them. The collective challenge is to stay attentive to liberatory prospects, activate untapped potentials and realize latent desires.

 

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and a member of the GAU Communications Committee.  He has served as steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts, and as co-chair for the Legislative and Political Action Committee. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

 

 

 

 

Angela Davis Recollects Histories, Insists on Transformative Resistance

When Angela Davis was introduced before her talk at Shryock Auditorium on Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus on Feb. 13, the speaker said he struggled to find an adequate way to encapsulate all that the long-time activist and scholar put into practice, but he found an answer – love.

“What could influence such courage, such desire for freedom?” he said seconds before Davis stepped onstage. “And what could inspire others to change the world? And I thought, it was love.”

He said it had to be love that drove Davis during the civil rights movement and throughout many historical struggles.

When Davis spoke she said “you have to act as though it’s possible to radically transform the world,” and she emphasized the importance of recuperating history.

“When I think about the difficulty we have in this country of honestly talking about our history, of talking about the colonization of the indigenous inhabitants, and recognizing that we are a settler nation, talking about slavery,” she said the abilities of other countries, like South Africa, to at least open up that repressed past, “should inspire us to get started.”

Davis said the period from 1865 to 1877 was the “most radical era,” and “the most important era in the history of the country,” because of reconstructive efforts immediately following the official end to slavery.

“We never really abolished slavery,” Davis qualified, noting “something akin to slavery emerged through the punishment apparatus.”

Drawing on Douglas Blackmon’s book, “Slavery by Another Name,” Davis said the nation lacks an adequate vocabulary to communicate the “magnitude of the impact of slavery,” and fully consider it as a “catastrophe with vast implications.”

The “convict lease system,” which started after 1865 perpetuated what Blackmon called “neo-slavery,” Davis explained.

She critiqued media coverage honoring Nelson Mandela, following his death on Dec. 5, 2013, for stressing the anti-apartheid revolutionary’s purported penchant for forgiving and forgetting.

“In all these relationships it was not about forgiving and forgetting,” Davis said.

She said Mandela demanded that people not remain the same and instead advanced the “revolutionary transformation of the self,” and “transformation of social relations.”

Elsewhere called the transformative power of love, these histories of humanization, these histories of slavery and genetic critique of the prison-industrial complex teach us “that resistance is possible,” she said. “Resistance is not only possible, but it is the only legitimate response to these systems and apparatuses of un-freedom.”

“The ideological effect of the criminalization of blackness is still with us,” she said, affirming the connections between slavery and the contemporary criminal justice system. She also affirmed the “link between anti-slavery abolitionism and the link between anti-prison abolitionism.”

After the lecture, during a question and answer session, Nick Smaligo, a Teaching Assistant in the philosophy department at SIUC, asked Davis if she had heard about the prisoners at Menard Correctional Center on hunger strike since Jan. 15., and now reported to possibly have started refusing liquids.

“How do you think the movement against mass incarceration, as the new slavery, as ‘The New Jim Crow,’ how can we – not just as academics but also as individuals as groups on the outside – how can we organize a movement against this really?” Smaligo asked.

“It’s so important to have solidarity,” Davis answered, “particularly when prisoners engage in the only form of radical resistance that is available to them.”

During the question and answer period Davis reminded the audience “how much social justice struggles influence the scholarly universe.”

She said we academics must better “acknowledge the fact that knowledge gets produced outside of the academy.”

“The way in which we conceptualize the world will never actually replicate social relations in the world,” she added, intimating the connection between theory and practice.

And contrary to popular belief, Davis said, many young people today make that connection.

Recent social movements also illustrate the potential for creating “communities of resistance,” she said.

Davis cited Occupy Wall Street as a movement that enabled society “to critically engage with capitalism in such a way that had not been possible since the 1930s.”

“I think we’re still living with the inheritances of Occupy,” she said.

Many students – or indebted former students and graduates – participated in Occupy.

Davis noted during her talk how “public education suffers because it’s not profitable according to corporate measures,” and added that there is an urgent need to recognize interconnectedness to bring a variety of social justice issues together.

“So my answer is organize,” Davis said.

Anyone interested in contacting Nick regarding organizing can email him at nicksmaligo@gmail.com

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

On Love – Unrequited, Political and Otherwise

By James Anderson

Valentine’s Day offers a special opportunity to reflect on love – unrequited, political and otherwise.

But what is love? Like the act of love itself, the answer is not so easy.

Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT, was unable to say for sure.

“I just know it has an unbreakable grip,” Chomsky said. “I can’t tell you what it is. Just, life is empty without it.”

Michel Gondry, the artist and filmmaker who directed the animated feature, “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?” about Chomsky, said the long-time linguistics scholar reminded him of the TV character “Columbo” during the interviews they did for the film.

“He always talked about his wife,” Gondry told the Wall Street Journal, admitting “it’s a bit of a stretch to compare Columbo to Noam Chomsky, but the way they talked about their wives had something touching.”

Chomsky married in 1949. His wife died in 2008, but during their years together the relationship was such that Carol Chomsky could wryly remark that “one never wins an argument with Noam,” as Neil Smith documented.

Decades of marital devotion and encyclopedic knowledge on world affairs notwithstanding, Chomsky, 85, failed to answer another one of life’s pressing, love-related questions.

“Do you have any recommendations for me to be able to talk to women better?” a student asked Chomsky after a lecture.

Chomsky replied that he’s “the wrong person to ask,” having left that business long ago.

Yet we continue to search for an answer.

What I have learned thus far: being overeager is not usually the way to go. When a girl you don’t know says, “hello,” the best response is not, “I love you,” as appropriate a response it may seem when one is filled with desire.

So are desire and love then to be considered signs of weakness?

Sam Stark, associate editor at Harper’s Magazine, problematized the question, using the philosophy of Marx to open up the life-love dialectic.

Because “manhood for Marx also meant, for example, the capacity to love,” Stark noted. He added that Marx described modern culture as making one weak, while love, as Marx put it, “makes the man once again into a man.”

Understanding Unrequited Love

Marx emphasized mutual reinforcing facets of true love.

“If you love unrequitedly,” that is “if your love as love does not call forth love in return, if through the vital expression of yourself as a loving person you to become a loved person,” he once wrote, “then your love is impotent, it is a misfortune.”

Ouch. Not only is unrequited love a misfortune, but a failed attempt to make – or at making – love is impotent.

James C. Scott, professor of political science and anthropology at Yale, advanced a different perspective on the potency of love and the power of love lost or unreturned.

When teaching an undergraduate course, Scott recalled in an interview, he posed a challenge to students at the beginning of the semester. If students wanted to remain in the class, they had to write about their most memorable experience of powerlessness or dependency.

The most common topic?

“Thirty-five percent of them write about unrequited love,” Scott said.

The statistics speak volumes. So does experience – like lying curled up in the fetal position in the corner of your room, after your love for another ceases to be reciprocated, sucking on a bottle of scotch, listening to Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello,” and all of Kanye’s “808s & Heartbreak” on endless repeat, crying out: “Why?!?!”

We’ve all been there, rapt with desire. Sometimes the best medicine is to rap about it.

“Somethin’s burning,” Eminem rapped in “Love Game” featuring Kendrick Lamar, “I can’t figure out what. It’s either lust or a cloud of dust. Judgment is clouded, must just be the powder from the power of love.”

Waxing reflectively, Lamar opined in the song, she does not “love me, no she don’t love me no more. She hates my company, yeah she don’t love me no more.”

And alas, love can evolve from blissful mutual affair to relationship of resentment over many a previously unknown sordid affairs. Believe me. I know.

But the game of love is not so simple.

Scott explained why and how the unrequited love and feelings of powerlessness his students experienced can provide insight into “Domination and the Arts of Resistance,” which is the title of his book on the subject.

In detailing discreet forms of insubordination – what “might suitably be called the infrapolitics of the powerless,” Scott suggested “hidden transcripts” of those without authority illustrate the keen understanding of how power functions.

Scott suggested those who have been subject to the power others have exercised over them – and those who have experienced unrequited love – can understand phenomena of power and love better than others immersed in either.  What then matters is using those insights to address conditions of power-over.

Structural Violence: Systematic Strangulation of Love Erased by Ideology

The exercise of power-over, especially if institutionalized, can constitute structural violence, an insidious mode of injurious compulsion that peace studies scholar Johan Galtung first explained more than 40 years ago.

Drawing on Galtung’s work, William Hathaway, professor of American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany, defined structural violence as “injustice and exploitation built into a social system that generates wealth for the few and poverty for the many, stunting everyone’s ability to develop their full humanity.”

Structural violence privileges “some classes, ethnicities, genders, and nationalities over others,” and “it institutionalizes unequal opportunities for education, resources, and respect,” Hathaway wrote. “Structural violence forms the very basis of capitalism, patriarchy, and any dominator system.”

A system of domination “reveals the pathology of love,” Paulo Freire wrote in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” in elucidating the sickness of sadistic love.

Domination, oppression and “overwhelming control,” are “necrophilic,” and “nourished by love of death, not life,” Freire wrote.

The ineluctability of love occludes its power. Internalization of oppression normalizes structural violence, privileging Thanatos over Eros, as the ancient Greeks would have it.

Miya Tokumitsu, who holds a PhD in art history from the University of Pennsylvania, wrote passionately for Jacobin about the pitfalls of the pervasive “Do what you love” (DWYL) mantra regarding labor, which at its worst becomes both internalized oppression and structural violence.

In the piece titled, “In the Name of Love,” she noted the individualist, entrepreneurial DWYL adage is “ultimately self-focused to the point of narcissism,” and it functions ideologically to conceal hurtful class antagonisms. It masks heartbreaking – and backbreaking – iniquities.

Excerpts from a commencement speech the late Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005 illustrate the point:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

That DWYL ethos seems encouraging on the surface, but the “violence of this erasure needs to be exposed,” Tokumitsu told readers, referring to how much of his speech reinforced the effects of commodity fetishism, propagating a superficially pleasing necro-politics incompatible with real love.

Because “by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love,” she wrote, “Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.”

Some of that labor takes place in Foxconn factories in China, where student interns process iPhone casings. Liang Pui Kwan reported that “Apple CEO Tim Cook failed to reply to students’ and scholars’ open letter on student labour exploitation” at Foxconn factories in February 2012.

Investigations by the Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehaviour, “demonstrate that Apple supplier factories are intensifying a military-style management of workers,” according to a report from last February.

At the Jabil Green Point Technology factory located in the Wixu, Jiangsu Province where workers provide manufacturing services for Apple phones, laborers are loved so much they often have mandatory overtime – sometimes paid at rates less than required by law – on top of the usual 11.5 hours of standing work they do per day, according to a China Labor Watch report published Sept. 5, 2013.

Meanwhile, the DWYL “Jobsian view demands that we all turn inward,” Tokumitsu wrote. “It absolves us of any obligation to or acknowledgment of the wider world, underscoring its fundamental betrayal of all workers, whether they consciously embrace it or not.”

She noted severe consequences of DWYL dogma, “largely along class lines,” wherein work is “divided into two opposing classes,” that which is lovable and creative – monopolized by those “vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases and political clout,” juxtaposed with work which is “repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished,” and hard to love.

Those doing the latter work are “effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations,” and, she asked, is it surprising that these strains “barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?”

Folk singer Phil Ochs, who committed suicide at the age of 35 after losing his love for life following more than a decade of writing songs to advance issues of socioeconomic justice, satirized the disconcerting indifference of affluent liberalism.

“Once I was young and impulsive,” he sang. “I wore every conceivable pin. Even went to the socialist meetings. Learned all the old union hymns. But I’ve grown older and wiser. And that’s why I’m turning you in. So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.”

The same sensibilities legitimate structural violence within contemporary University walls, Tokumitsu argued.

“Nowhere has the DWYL mantra been more devastating to its adherents than in academia,” she explained. “The average PhD student of the mid 2000s forwent the easy money of finance and law (now slightly less easy) to live on a meager stipend in order to pursue their passion for Norse mythology or the history of Afro-Cuban music.

“The reward for answering this higher calling is an academic employment marketplace in which around 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors — contract instructors who usually receive low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work.”

Many factors contribute these conditions, Tokumitsu noted, “including path dependency and the sunk costs of earning a PhD, but one of the strongest is how pervasively the DWYL doctrine is embedded in academia. Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.”

Tokumitsu is right to assail the DWYL formula for the way it obviates class antagonisms and entreats those atop the academic pyramid to repress any concern for those hurt by structural violence.

David Graeber, who teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, was essentially forced to resign from his post at Yale over activist and union related issues, compounded by his principled rejection of institutional hierarchy, an outmoded edifice of structural violence.

Much like the less-visible processes of structural violence, Graeber said Yale’s explanation for pushing him out was not transparent. Students thought they still had a good idea why it went down.

“While I don’t know what happened, a lot of the students felt that they did,” Graeber said in an interview with Charlie Rose. “Originally it was the students that began to protest, and the overwhelming conclusion of the graduate students was that it had something to do with my defense of one of the graduate students who was a union organizer, who they [the administration at Yale] tried to kick out of the program.”

He went on to explain that the student excelled academically and deserved to be defended.

The University structure suppressed any non-violent, ethically-motivated militancy, he found.

“In academia there’s a hierarchy,” Graeber said. “And you’re supposed to be scared. You’re supposed to be sort of cowering before people. And I was never disrespectful to people, but I didn’t cower.”

Those structures of hierarchy, which give some “people complete impunity and power over others,” can create “a psychological dynamic that is almost sadomasochistic,” he said.

In his 2006 Malinowski Lecture address, Graeber assailed the tendency in academia to play up the notion of knowledge alone, devoid of praxis, as a form of social power. Professors extolling this theory “were themselves most completely divorced from any access to political power, or increasingly, even to real social movements,” Graeber explained.

The trajectory came part and parcel with increasing bureaucratization of higher education. It dovetailed with concentration of decision-making power and capital at the top of these institutions.

Reinforcing spirals of violence ensued.

“What I would like to argue is that situations created by violence—particularly structural violence, by which I mean forms of pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed up by the threat of physical harm—invariably tend to create the kinds of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures,” he said in the lecture, which was later turned into an essay. “To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behavior that they themselves define as stupid, but rather, that they are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence.”

Praxis as Theory and Action of Love

Those harmful hierarchies and systems of violence outlined above are reified when Graduate Assistants are made to pay more than two months of their salary back to the University in fees just to perform the labor they love.

When Graduate Assistants are coerced into laboring in excess of the hours per week average stipulated in their contract, too many professors look the other way or are directly involved in reinforcing the power relations that make such exploitative work possible. Too many higher-paid academic professionals remain complicit in the reaffirmation of structural violence.

To be sure, our own love is not always pure.

At times we are even complicit in the structural violence that offends us, either through apathy or tacit acceptance of the way existing conditions disproportionately hurt more disadvantaged GAs.

Within the union there is also hierarchy. Sometimes intra-organizational verticality perpetuates power relations that too closely parallel the structural violence seen in the society and institutions we wish to transform.

Historically, social movement unionism of the collectively loving and simultaneously emancipatory kind, has made enormous contributions to eliminating such structural violence. It is worth recalling.

For example, the Spanish CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo), an anarcho-syndicalist union, created a comunismo libertario society in Andalusia, Catalonia, Barcelona and other cities around the time Francisco Franco’s fascist forces attempted a coup d’état in the summer of 1936, igniting a civil war in Spain.

“The trade unionism of class struggle,” wrote Daniel Guérin, a French theorist who supported collective struggles of love, “had been regenerated by the anarcho-syndicalists who had entered it,” with the aid of the CNT and its predominant síndicatos únicos (local unions). “These groups, close to the workers, free from all corporate egoism, served as a physical and spiritual home,” for those disaffected by institutions of injustice.

“The trade-union center had become the real town hall,” Guérin explained. At the Saragossa congress in May 1936, the CNT took care of the “many adepts of naturism and vegetarianism among its members, especially among the poor peasants of the south,” Guérin wrote. The union “did not forget to consider the fate of groups of naturists and nudists,” and because those groups would not be able to supply all their own needs, the union made arrangements for special economic agreements to ensure their survival. Despite the impending war and the growing power of Franco’s followers to contend with, “the CNT did not think it foolish to try to meet the infinitely varied aspirations of individual human beings.”

Pat Gallagher documented how, in response to the stifling of formative culture by those with concentrated power, the Spanish syndicalist unions “became forerunners in experimentations of education reform,” for children and adults, “offering all kinds of classes on every imaginable subject: evolution, sexuality, free love, revolution, women’s liberation, ecology, economics,” and myriad others.

Historical recollection – and critical reflection regarding our own union activities – throws light on internal impediments to actualizing a greater public pedagogy of love, as exemplified in many ways by the CNT almost 80 years ago.

Of course, love is a process. We can replenish it with reflection and action – a praxis whereby within our own organization we begin to create the sort of loving bonds and mutually empowering relations we want reflected in the larger institutions and the world system of which we are all part.

Australian cultural critic Roman Krznaric described six main kinds of love identified by the ancient Greeks, one of which has implications for union praxis.

Krznaric explained that philautia is a kind of self-love, recognized by the Greeks to have two different types. One reflects the Steve Jobs DWYL Apple ideology of individually-focused advancement. The other “healthier version” of philautia can enhance “your wider capacity to love,” Krznaric wrote. “The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (today this is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of ‘self-compassion’).”

This might materialize through an “engaged Buddhism” actualized in graduate school, evincing the transformative power of love.

Alternatively, it could be secular.

What in “Everyday Revolutions” Marina Sitrin, visiting scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, called politica afectiva, “a politics and social relationship based on love and trust,” suggests a self-love that could lead to a radically selfless love, or agape, another variety of love known to the Greeks in antiquity.

For this, an indomitable spirit is necessary because “love is an act of courage, not of fear,” and thus “love is commitment to others,” Paulo Freire averred again in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” a book as much about love as anything else.

This is especially true if we push the notion of solidarity beyond “the old, traditional sense of doing for the other,” as Sitrin, my unrequited love, suggested in “Occupying Language,” and extend it to “each of us seeing ourselves in the oppressed other—in actually being the other—and the other being us.”

We can expand solidarity to include something like what Michael Hardt called a “properly political concept of love,” which generates bonds both intimate and social.

In so doing, we can better love ourselves and make our institutions better reflect and foster that love.

In another folk ballad, Phil Ochs told the story of Joe Hill to remind us of the role union activity can play in the process of generating new subjectivities by overcoming systemically unrequited love:

So he headed out for the California shore
There things were just as bad
So he joined the Industrial Workers of the World
‘Cause the union was the only friend he had
‘Cause the union was the only friend he had

Elsewhere, Ochs pointed out in a hymn how empowering people and producing protagonists in a movement means conscious, organized – if also spontaneous – acts of militant, non-violent love.

“Come you ranks of labor, come you union core,” Ochs once sang, “and see if you remember the struggles of before, when you were standing helpless on the outside of the door. And you started building links on the chain. On the chain. You started building links on the chain. When the police on the horses were waiting on demand, riding through the strike with the pistols in their hands, swinging at the skulls of many a union man, as you built one more link on the chain. On the chain. As you built one more link on the chain.”

Cultivating links of love is not simple. But, as my many failed attempts at intimate interpersonal relationships attest to, love never comes easy.

Undoubtedly, to build a movement to manifest love is a challenge. But, like Alfred Lord Tennyson told us, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

The Transformative Power of Love

On November 17, 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon on “Loving Your Enemies” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. In order to love our enemies, King said, we must begin by analyzing our self. While we see weakness and evil in our enemy we must at the same time see the weaknesses and evils in our selves.

“There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. There is something within each of us that causes us to cry out with Goethe, ‘There is enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue.’”

MLK Sermon

King’s message in this sermon was largely a reorientation towards the better angels of our nature. The reason for this is that “hate for hate only intensifies hate and evil in the universe that goes on ad infinitum.” Hate distorts the personality of the hater. Finally, “there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals.”

On January, 25, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. Among his reasons, King wrote, “Because no honor is more respected than the Nobel Peace Prize, conferring the Prize on Nhat Hanh would… remind all nations that men of good will stand ready to lead warring elements out of an abyss of hatred and destruction [and] would re-awaken men to the teaching of beauty and love found in peace.” The committee did not make an award that year.

thich-mlk

The transformative power of love is the most deeply held belief by Buddhist practitioners. According to Nhat Hanh, “love, mettā, is a mind that is intent on bringing peace, joy, and happiness to others.” Love (mettā) and compassion (karunā) are the keystones upon which Buddhist philosophy is built.

Nhat Hanh describes mettā as “the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness” and karunā as “the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows.” In other words, mettā includes the ability to teach because it requires knowing what someone needs to be happy and what must be done to bring that person happiness. Furthermore, mettā requires a deep level of understanding, not just in the worldly sense but also in the more specific sense on the level of individual interaction. To summarize, one must understand the other person in order to teach the Dharma. To bring joy and happiness, to alleviate a person’s suffering, one must understand that person’s specific needs. With understanding comes love, but what good is that love without the ability to communicate, to bring joy and alleviate suffering? In order to bring help and, must develop karunā. Karunā comes from mettā and therefore includes understanding, but without mindfulness, one can become frustrated and weary from trying to bring compassion. The Buddha is said to have had infinite compassion. Therefore, the suffering of the world did not affect him but this level of compassion had to be trained through mindfulness in the form of meditation, deep listening and deep looking.

Love is the foundation of knowledge in Buddhism and is why Nhat Hanh says, “When we understand someone deeply, even someone who has done us harm, we cannot resist loving him or her.” Mettā and karunā are as inseparable as the individual aspects of the Eightfold Path in the Buddhist philosophy.noble-eightfold-path This is part of what the Buddha learned upon attaining enlightenment and is what he passed on after he decided to teach.

The Buddhist philosophy is grounded on the transformation of suffering into love and compassion because of the teaching of interdependent co-arising (pratītyasamutpāda). As the Dalai Lama explains it, “The word pratitya has three different meanings–meeting, relying, and depending–but all three, in terms of their basic import, mean dependence. Samutpada means arising. Hence, the meaning of pratityasamutpada is that which arises in dependence upon conditions, in reliance upon conditions, through the force of conditions. On a subtle level, it is explained as the main reason why phenomena are empty of inherent existence.” Followers of the Tibetan tradition consider the Dalai Lama to be the incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. While any introduction to Buddhism course will explain that the escape from the cycle of rebirth is one of the principle goals in Buddhism, a bodhisattva foregoes escape from rebirth and instead vows to return time and time again in order to transform the suffering of others into love and compassion. This is because of the teaching of interdependent co-arising which also explains that the suffering of others is your suffering as well. We are all connected.

Dalai-Lama-there-for-his-people2One need not be a Buddhist or religious to believe these teachings of love and compassion. As the Dalai Lama writes, “although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and compassion, I am convinced that these qualities can be developed by anyone, with or without religion. I further believe that all religions pursue the same goals: those of cultivating goodness and bringing happiness to all human beings. Though the means might appear different, the ends are the same.” The Dalai Lama has been a global figure in the cause for peace, social justice, environmental protection stating, “we must consider future generations: a clean environment is a human right like any other.” After the 2011 Tsunami hit Japan, Zen monk Koyu Abe aided cleanup by helping dispose of irradiated dirt and distributing sunflower seeds in an effort to lift the spirits of residents. “We plant sunflowers, field mustard, amaranthus and cockscomb, which are all believed to absorb radiation,” said the monk. The Japanese response to the tsunami was the largest contribution to disaster relief by religious organizations in more than three generations.[i]

It’s therefore no surprise that Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Nhat Hanh and King both speak the message of love for oneself and love for one’s enemies while simultaneously fighting for social justice. King fought and died for the Civil Rights Movement while Nhat Hanh aided his fellow monks in their non-violent peace efforts. Nhat Hanh has also been the leader of the Engaged Buddhism movement, a term he coined, promoting the individual’s active role in creating change.

king-nhat-hahn

King concluded his sermon by stating, “I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed.” The transformative power of love is not Christian or Buddhist but rather an orientation towards the world that sees hate as a dead-end. Nhat Hanh writes, “The source of love is deep in us and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.”

Angela Davis came to Southern Illinois University yesterday, February 13, 2014. When she was introduced, the speaker thought if one word could encapsulate Davis’ courage it would be ‘love.’ “It was love that ignited the Civil Rights Movement… love for all people and humanity.”

Angela-DavisDavis decided that her talk would build upon the theme “Civil Rights in America” with a discussion on slavery and the prison industrial complex. Challenging the traditionally accepted 1865 date for the emancipation of slavery, Davis argued that, in a county where we have 100 more years with slavery than without, we are still struggling with the inheritance of slavery. The 13th Amendment, which Davis read in full, she argued, allowed for a new punishment apparatus in the form of the prison industrial complex.

Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow and the prison industrial complex is the new fight in civil rights; a term Davis criticized as though the Civil Rights Movement had purged racism from our culture. Davis lamented that the media, following the death of Nelson Mandela, characterized him as a man who could forgive and forget. But it is not about forgiving and forgetting. It was about transformation. Mandela demanded that those who ruled under apartheid not remain the same and in doing so South Africa had made greater strides towards purging racism, exploitation, and violence than has ever happened in the United States after the Truth and Reconciliation Act.

Love and Transformation. As Angela Davis began her closing remarks, so as not to limit her focus to the dehumanizing structure of the prison industrial complex that transformed the idea of rehabilitation through penitence (hence, penitentiaries), to a system of mass incarceration and free labor, she added to her civil rights list the rights of immigrants, the disabled, those suffering war, homophobia, and the environment. A list of oppression that must be transformed through love.

Love is transformative.