from Commonwealth / love II

Agamben, p. 180-181

To understand love as a philosophical and political concept, it is useful to begin from the perspective of the poor and the innumerable forms of social solidarity and social production that one recognizes everywhere among those who live in poverty. Solidarity, care for others, creating community, and cooperating in common projects is for them an essential survival mechanism. That brings us back to the elements of poverty we emphasized earlier. Although the poor are defined by material lack, people are never reduced to bare life but are always endowed with powers of invention and production.
The real essence of the poor, in fact, is not their lack but their power. When we band together, when we form a social body that is more powerful than any of our individual bodies alone, we are constructing a new and common subjectivity. Our point of departure, then, which the perspective o f the poor helps reveal, is that love is a process of the production o f the common and the production of subjectivity. This process is not merely a means to producing material goods and other necessities but also in itself an end.

If such a statement sounds too sentimental, one can arrive at the same point through the analysis of political economy. In the context of biopolitical production, as we have demonstrated in the course of Part 3, the production of the common is not separate from or external to economic production, sequestered neither in the private realm nor i n the sphere of reproduction, but is instead
integral to and inseparable from the production o f capital. Love—in the production of affective networks, schemes of cooperation, and social subjectivities—is an economic power. Conceived i n this way love is not, as it is often characterized, spontaneous or passive. It does not simply happen to us, as i f it were an event that mystically arrives from elsewhere. Instead it is an action, a biopolitical event, planned and realized i n common.

Love is productive in a philosophical sense too—productive of being. When we engage i n the production of subjectivity that is love, we are not merely creating new objects or even new subjects in the world. Instead we are producing a new world, a new social life. Being, in other words, is not some immutable background
against which life takes place but is rather a living relation i n which we constantly have the power to intervene. Love is an ontological event in that it marks a rupture with what exists and the creation of the new. Being is constituted by love. This ontologically constitutive capacity has been a battlefield for numerous conflicts among philosophers.
Heidegger, for instance, strenuously counters this notion of ontological constitution in his lecture on poverty that we read earlier. Humanity becomes poor to become rich, he argues, when it lacks the nonnecessary, revealing what is necessary, that is, its relation to Being. The poor as Heidegger imagines them i n this relation, however, have no constitutive capacity, and humanity as a whole, i n fact, is powerless in the face of Being. O n this point Spinoza stands at the opposite end from Heidegger. Like Heidegger, he might say that humanity becomes rich when it recognizes its relation to being, but that relation for Spinoza is entirely different. Especially in the mysterious fifth book of Spinoza’s Ethics, we constitute
being actively through love. Love, Spinoza explains with his usual geometrical precision, is joy, that is, the increase of our power to act and think, together with the recognition o f an external cause.

Through love we form a relation to that cause and seek to repeat and expand our joy, forming new, more powerful bodies and minds. For Spinoza, in other words, love is a production o f the common that constantly aims upward, seeking to create more with ever more power, up to the point of engaging in the love o f God, that is, the love of nature as a whole, the common in its most expansive figure.
Every act o f love, one might say, is an ontological event i n that it marks a rupture with existing being and creates new being, from poverty through love to being. Being, after all, is just another way of saying what is ineluctably common, what refuses to be privatized or enclosed and remains constantly open to all. (There is no such thing as a private ontology.) To say love is ontologically constitutive,
then, simply means that it produces the common.



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