Freedom’s Fairytale? Pt. 2 or Love and Temporality

19May08

In a recent episode of Lost entitled “The Constant”, Desmond, a character who up until the previous episode had believed to be clairvoyant, begins jumping back and forth through time – his visions acknowledged as incomplete memories. Desmond eventually learns that he has become ‘unstuck’ in time – his consciousness begins to swing back and forth over a span of eight years. By talking to the island’s local physicist he learns that he must discover his constant – an object or person that is the same in both times thereby stabilizing his rapidly decaying being. What brought on his shifting is unknown – only that it occurred when he left the island where, at least so far in the story, there seems to be some sort of time dilation or other spatio-temporal disturbance.

What makes the episode so interesting is that Desmond’s constant is Penny – the love of his life who after he has seemingly disappeared off the face of the planet – spares no expense in finding him (of course there is her name connection, Penelope to that of legend – the woman who waited endlessly for her husband to return from the sea). Why is this interesting? I want to argue that love, by its very nature, is that which sticks us in time and is, paradoxically, what unsticks us, what submits us and raises us above temporality itself.

One of the most interesting, if not the most interesting, point that Zizek makes in The Sublime Object of Ideology is that ‘love is a forced choice.’ He explains this by simply pointing out that one cannot choose who one loves nor can one be forced into loving someone, instead what happens is that the loving subject realizes that they have fallen in love, having already choosen, only after the fact.

Love is, fundamentally, a freely chosen act of unfreedom. It is a choice, made without one’s knowledge that forecloses further choices – particularly when it is considered a ‘thought terminating cliche’ (here we might interject Badiou’s claim apropos Fernando Pessoa that love is a thought) or something with ‘absolute value’ as Russell put it. One can also interpret the anchoring or ‘stuckness’ of love in the usual derogatory comments about marriage – in particular husband comments about wives – such as the ‘old ball and chain.’

Despite the negative examples of love’s stuckness, there is unquestionably an appeal to an identitarian anchor when existence is, undeniably, lost in a Heraclitean river of constant change. Hoftstadter, discussing identity, brings up Plutarch’s Ship of Theseus:

“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”

The question becomes one of the persistence of identity and how plastic our notions of being are. The strongest attempt at solving the paradox is to simply think of the ship as a four dimensional object – taking time into account as a dimension and as part of the object, maintains the object’s self identical nature. In effect any object is made of up three dimensional slices of time which causally effect one another – of course there is the issue of relativity – who is observing the changes, what does it mean to change over time for the observing others? The question of sameness is messy – where does the persistence of a person’s identity break down and they change ‘too much’ – where is the validity of ‘you’re not the person I fell in love with.’ Even four-dimensionalism says nothing about the substance that the ‘I’ refers to or the ‘you’ for that matter.

Love continues to complicate matters in that it changes basic numeracity – the numerical thing that I am, this object in relation to other objects, disavows the possibility that I could fundamentally become a thing that does not fall under the category of my name and yet what happens to the numericity when there is the radical twoness of love by way of Badiou? One might find it useful to dive a bit into the philosophy of Whitehead and argue that the substance of metaphysics is, in fact, not a substance at all but a kind of solidified occasion – a collection of windows – Whitehead’s materiality is an organic one – he reverses Kant – the world isn’t grasped (imperfectly) by the subject the world births the subject as such. Whitehead’s metaphysics however, seems to validate Deleuze’s One-All which dangerously induces a full material nature, a completeness which, under the lens of psychoanalysis (and our own voidal subjectivity) is porous.

To return to the event of love then, how much are the particular spatio-temporal qualities of the lovers involved in the recognition of love as such? If, as Badiou argues, the object of desire, the objet petit a, serves only as the guiding star of the encounter, then it seems that the storm of change surrounding and penetrating the identities of the lovers is of little or no concern as long as the fidelity to the truth, found in the intial encounter (the chance of fate where the lovers met) is lived up to/worked through.

In this sense, and to return us to the force choice of love and “The Constant,” love’s defining feature is that it plasticizes everything around it (hence the cliche ‘love conquers all’). When one says ‘I love you’ it is often followed by, at some time or another, ‘I will always love you and I have always loved you.’ One can read these statements both dichronically and synchronically. ‘I’ve always loved you’ usually means that despite our difficulties my love for you was never nulled and yet, more radically, it can also mean that before I even knew you (experientially) I loved you. In terms of I will always love you – this can be taken as regardless of ‘what happens my love for you will not change’ and also that ‘beyond my and your existence my love for you continues.’

Again it is worth mentioning that, at the beginning of Zizek!, Slavoj says that love is formally evil because you place a fragile person or thing above all else. What makes it formally evil, and not just evil in the standard sense but in the Kantian radically evil sense, is that it is not about an attachment to a particular thing (a love) but the real fragment of that person, that which does not change in the other over time, the very gap of the beloved’s subjectivity. The other side of the coin here would be the event of love, instead of being an amorous encounter a la Badiou, would be given an external justification (or master signifier) – we were meant to be because why else would we be together?

To return to Lost, the show constantly enacts a battle between fate and free will – the characters are constantly refering to the possibility or impossibility of destiny and the events of the show seem to suggest that the gap of choice is tiny or non-existent. If there is to be a kind of choice it is our ability to ‘freely choose’ our destiny – to accept our fate. Ben, the former villain (or perhaps still a villain) saw his great strength in manipulating people especially in his ability to make people ‘freely’ choose what he wants them to do. Here again we have the formal equation of love and evil as freely chosen unfreedom – isn’t the standard war criminal response – ‘I was just following orders’ and doesn’t this, as Zizek suggests, outsource free will?

Contrary to evil however, while the destiny of love is registered in the the big Other, seen as the ‘answer of the Real’ (the universe guided us to one another), responsibility, as such, weighs upon us. Love is, as Badiou says, a slow march, a two-headed interpretation of the world. The test of love is obviously time since, as stated above, attraction is fleeting (as are various identitarian details) and the remainder of each shared shift of experience separates another glob of matter from the void of our being.

To anchor ourselves in the previous entry – how can we be sure that love is testing one’s fidelity to the event of love (or the attachment to one another’s identitarian je ne sais qua) and not simply an example of confirmation bias and anchoring – or put more simply: does love only continue when we are afraid of lonliness and because we are cognitively adept at putting up with discomfort? Or to ask in terms of “The Constant” – what is it about Penny that makes her Desmond’s constant, how is it that she can be the axiom of his existence regardless of time and space?

Stay tuned.

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