"Love Hurts": Hunter S. Thompson, the Marquis de Sade and St. Paul queer Alain Badiou's truth and fidelity

Resetting Theory

“Love Hurts”: Hunter S. Thompson, the Marquis de Sade and St. Paul queer Alain Badiou’s truth and fidelity

I start with the affirmation of a truth in order that I might be a subject permitted to write and affirm my militant commitment; writing of the truth and spelling out its affirmation necessitated not by a need to debate, to critique, or enter into conflict with prevailing particularities with regards to norms and the State of things, but in order that a truth might be recorded from its particular materiality and furthered in the making of it general and universal. A truth; the truth that precedes all others without subjecting them to a state or order within them; the truth from which the process of affirmation precedes; the truth that is universal but wholly disinterested; Love understood as Queer Polyamory. I become a subject as I affirm and act in fidelity to a truth, that truth, Love as Queer Polyamory. Then let it be said, vocalized, and written only as a contingent and unnecessary step:

“A Truth, the disinterested, universal, and collective Truth is Love: Queer Polyamory”

What is Love?
1. Love is an affirmation, a truth, and, I affirm, the disinterested and universal truth from which all others proceed.
2. Love is also subject to particularisms: cultural, national, legal, normative, etc. This is the State of Love and not Love as a Truth

Let us examine them in reverse order, without at any point entering into a ‘competition’ or debate between the two: they are wholly distinct from one another.

The State of Love, in the West – to delineate our subject and object of study to a manageable materiality; to deal with the particularism from whence as human animal I came and became located as a subject affirming a truth – is generally understood as a bond, an affirmative statement held or made between two, and only two individuals, which after some time is codified through norms into a relationship, and then legalistically and/or religiously defined and regulated to varying degrees into either a common law relationship, or through an act undertaken by two individuals into marriage. The final act of love, by entering into a common law relationship or marriage is marked by symbols, be they rituals of legal or religious origin. The State of Love, in most Western states, is further confined to two individuals of the opposite sex, with additional proscriptions against certain individuals being able to be ‘in love’ and complete the act of love – such as those with close blood relations.

Generally put, and commonly understood the State of Love in the West is: boy and girl meet (or sometimes boy and boy, or girl and girl, dependent upon codified legal norms in a given state), they ‘fall in love’ with one and other (and no other from here-on-in), they act on their love by disciplining themselves to the codified laws of the state and/or religious norms into a marriage bond, and forsaking Love in this way for all others (think of the Christian religious proscriptions of: “do you take him/her, forsaking all others” or “till death do you part”), they live happily ever after (unless subject to state or religious forms of reversing this process which is initiated on an individual level, that is: the break-up, separation and divorce).

There are two items of note within the State of Love that must be addressed.

First, the legalistic inclusion of homosexual love into the State of Love in some states clearly marks it as part of the rule, part of the State of Love, rather than some sort of bold rupture with established norms. It is not an exception, a fundamental break – whatever the religious and/or political right might think; it does not affirm a truth, but rather merely expands and encompasses more individuals (who do not by this act become subjects) within the State of things. In one sense, legalistic exclusion of groups based on their specific particularities does fundamentally matter: prohibitive laws against homosexuality are reprehensible and must be combated wherever they exist. But inclusion into the State of Love – outside of practical considerations such as pensions and benefits, a right not to be discriminated against or subject to harassment – does not correlate to Love as truth, as the ability to affirm a truth, to become subjects as bearers of a truth. This is why we have separated wholly our discussion into two points – affirmations and particularisms.

Second, and this is of fundamental importance: there is no relation to love under the State of Love, and fidelity to Love as a truth. Through the latter one becomes an immortal subject, ones’ address is universalizable, and holds absolutely without wavering in ones’ fidelity to it (“it is never shattered”), and is part of something that is in excess of oneself through unity with others; with the former, one is regulated, submits to a pre-described definition of love that is particular and filled with proscriptions of various kinds, and most importantly, one does not hold that love with unwavering fidelity. In the State of Love, in the states of the West, the love “commitment” – for it is wholly different from an affirmation which can only be used in reference to a truth – can be broken by individual or “natural” occurrence: break-up or divorce in the first instance; death in the latter. Alain Badiou is fundamentally clear on this point: death/dissolution is never an event, at least with reference to love, and thus bears no relation to a truth.

What becomes clear is that in addition to there being no relation between the State of Love, and Love as a Truth – and I will argue, the Truth – on Badiou’s topology of ethics, the State of Love in the West, including those states that recognize homosexual love as being part of it, is an established and proscribed state sanctioned legal-religious ethical Evil. What is posited as an event of love, is really a simulacrum of a possible event, as it is neither universal in address nor conforms to particularities. What is posited as fidelity is contingent, temporary (either till death or break-up), and has built in religious or legal procedures to actualize betrayal. I should note that I am clearly not arguing against the right to divorce or break-up, but identifying a lack of subjective fidelity, that fidelity must be sanctioned and enforced by legal, religious or normative procedures. Finally, the State of Love forces the unnameable, the truth of love, to conform to particularisms and smothers it under layers of rites and norms into a unitary form. In states which recognize homosexual unions, they are subject to the same legalistic framework as their heterosexual counterparts; and in all states, the State of Love is unitary in forcing non-subjects – for they do not affirm a truth – into the model accepted, marked and named by the state or religious particularism in question.

Time To Go To Vegas, Baby!

My friend Adam likes – I’m tempted to say ‘loves’ – the State of Love in all its aspects: cultural, normative, state and religious proscriptions – you name it. The courtship by Adam of Ashley followed its usual boy meets girl and falls in love process, the wedding and engagement rings were bought at Tiffany’s, the bachelor party was in Las Vegas, the wedding itself was recognized through both state and religiously sanctioned avenues and held in the big wedding style. As part of the wedding party I was involved from start to finish – I lived with Adam when he met Ashley – and I was there when they said “I do” right before they left for the classic honeymoon to Europe for three weeks. What is it about this process that was “wrong”? Nothing in Adam’s mind, but for Badiou, for myself, there was no affirmation of a truth, no fidelity, no love.

Why is this? “Every truth, as we have seen, deposes constituted knowledges, and thus opposes opinions. For what we call opinions are representations without truth, the anarchic debris of circulating knowledge.” [1] The acceptance of the State of Love, and the two participants “affirmation” of it constitutes, when it comes down to it, nothing other than acceptance of the status quo; nothing is pushed; no void exposed. Affirmation of their love in this sense does not constitute Love for Badiou since there is no break with opinions, there is not even a dialogue or critique entered into with them, which for Badiou would be beside the point. Having a “gay” man – so defined by the State of Love – participate in the wedding party constitutes nothing as far as affirming a truth; I am a spectator, a witness who will hold memories for them, and memory has nothing to do with the affirmation of a truth, were the love affirmed to be a truth in the first place. Writing this I sound harsh and unfair to Adam and Ashley: but let me explain by reference to the bachelor party; the Las Vegas experience; that which is opposed to affirming a truth of love in specific; that which shows how the State of Love and the State of things in a state is vehemently opposed to the truth-procedure by which one becomes a subject.

Let me start with a question: What is Las Vegas? Las Vegas is a city; the city of sin as defined by the State of Love, based on the old adage ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’; it is also the real State of Love in the West when you get around all the conservative condemnations of the place. The sub-title of Hunter S. Thompson’s classic expose of American culture Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas makes clear the point, it is “a savage journey to the heart of the American dream.” Here we can use heart as Thompson intends it – a center, the defining point – but also expand it to love; the heart of the American dream defines the ‘heart’ of the State of Love. Thompson’s project is to “jangle the bastards right down to the core of their spleens. Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars. But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country – but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.” [2] It is in Las Vegas that we really find the definition of the State of Love in all its contradictions made whole and terrifying.

Las Vegas is a ‘special’ place, one that lets you see the true violence perpetrated by the State of Love, all the while hucksters, con-men and rich-men (often the same person) try and sell you ‘the life’. It’s an exhausting experience: “A little bit of this town goes a very long way. After five days in Vegas you feel like you’ve been here for five years. Some people say they like it – but then some people like Nixon, too. He would have made a perfect mayor for this town; with John Mitchell as Sheriff and Agnew as Master of Sewers.” [3] You fly into Vegas to celebrate the so-called affirmation of love, and then as either spectator or participant binge on food, drinks, money, drugs, sex, a pile of cigarets and god knows what else, and then leave – all in the name of Love!

The State of Love encourages this behaviour, specifically this manifestation by the participants of its affirmations. “”Well, anyways, here I am. And I tell you that was one hell of a long night, man! Seven hours on that goddamn bus! But when I woke up it was dawn and here I was in downtown Vegas and for a minute I didn’t know what the hell I was doin’ here. All I could think was, ‘O Jesus, here we go again. Who’s divorced me this time?'”” [4] It’s part of the ritual, part of the renewal, but not one that is a break which then declares that you ‘must keep going’. No, it is a betrayal and negation of the previous affirmation(s) one has made; a negating rupture which has been given a proper place within the State of Love. As much as the State of things would publicly deny that it encourages this behaviour, that it accords Las Vegas this place of high standing, in truth it does. The lie of this professed denial by the legal-religious definers of the State of Love – especially by its conservative constituents, who secretly participate in the whole spectacle as we find out through the tabloids – is put well by Jean Baudrillard: “It’s a little like Disneyland: in relation to the universal Disneyfication of ordinary life, the amusement parks are merely an alibi, which masks in a certain way the fact that the entire context of life has been Disneyfied.” [5] The State of Love claims Las Vegas as its alibi, its counter – ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ is surely in opposition to monogamous love, faithfulness, and all that other stuff like ’till death do us part’ – but really it is at its center, it’s defining moment. What it means, to be blunt, is that there is no love, no affirmation at the center of the State of Love. What is really there is an excessive binge on ‘food, drinks, money, drugs, sex, a pile of cigarets and god knows what else’, with a clean-cut whitewash through legal-religious rites – and rights – which deny and suppress its heart and universalize the cover-story after the fact if you are there for a bachelor party, or in the same moment if you are there to get married.

Las Vegas as Ethical Evil; Wedding Chapels, SUV’s and Machine Guns:

“”I hate to say this,” said my attorney as we sat down at the Merry-Go-Round Bar on the second balcony, “but this place is getting to me. I think I’m getting the Fear.” “Nonsense,” I said. “We came out here to find the American Dream, and now that we’re right in the vortex you want to quit.” I grabbed his bicep and squeezed. “You must realize,” I said, “that we’ve found the main nerve.” “I know,” he said. “That’s what gives me the Fear.”” [6]

Las Vegas is a messed up place. There, I’ve said it. It’s fun in the same kind of way that getting loaded up on speed, driving without lights on down a deserted desert highway, sitting on the top of the driver’s seat in a convertible with your feet on the wheel and a brick holding down the gas pedal, all the while using your hands to play Russian roulette and seeing what gets to you first – the drugs, the car or the gun – is fun. Or at least this is how it feels after five days of pure excess, staying in Caesar’s Palace for the first four, and staying up for forty-five hours to save on the cost of a hotel room for the final night before trying to walk to the airport off the strip. Thompson nails it: “after a while you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing. But nobody can handle that other trip – the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into the Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.” [7]

Adam’s bachelor party went straight to the heart of the State of Love, and was then whitewashed over with the religious-legal rites. But let us confine our discussion to Las Vegas as love, and break the code that ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’.

We flew into Vegas on a night flight, and after picking up our monstrous SUV, we blasted away to the hotel, and from there the strip for the first night of excess: of food (midnight buffet), of drink ($.99 margarita’s), and of money (the slots). Staying up until dawn, and then waking up again but a few hours later for days on end takes it toll on you, unless you fortify yourself each morning with beer and a constant intake of uppers and downers to balance things out. It’s the only way to survive the affirmation of love that the State of Love demands; it’s the reliving of Thompson’s journey and history into Baudrillard’s simulacrum, perhaps both as tragedy and farce, if we look at it as Marx would.

In order to affirm love under the State of Love you need guns, lots of guns. Maybe we weren’t quite as extreme as Thompson’s attorney character with his dirty, illegal handgun, but a central part of the bachelor party was to go shoot machine guns, hung-over and burnt-out from the night before – of course after we’d hit the slots for a bit and properly fortified ourselves at the same time. Las Vegas prides itself on the in-city gun ranges where you stand shoulder to shoulder with someone shooting some massive gun left over from World War Two while you blast away with your AK-47 at a target. Somehow this is part of affirming love to someone a few thousand miles distant for the State of Love, although all it did for me was to make me paranoid that gun powder residue was still going to show up on my disheveled person when I went through the airport scanners a few days later.

After, while the other boys directed their energy to the pure excess in all its parts, the monetary limits imposed by grad-student funding sent me in the direction of wandering through the various wedding chapels in search of affirmations of love – I mean, that’s why we were really there, right? The hotels all have their different themes – New York, New York; Caesar’s Palace; Camelot, etc. – and each provides a wedding and the final stage in the affirmation of love for the State of Love in line with their chosen themes and motifs. Each has, through whatever theme and dress they provide for the participants (they are not subjects in love), particularisms in the ornamentals and signs they provide, but at the core, each participant enters into the same legal contract which is defined by the state of Nevada. It’s not a universal truth, it’s a commodified attempt to impose a singular definition, an opinion on all involved. In the Las Vegas wedding chapels we find in its most extreme form a simulacrum (which is generally everywhere), without an expectation that the commitment be lasting (one can betray the other with whom one has made the commitment of marriage for a variety of reasons from inebriation, to just having a second thought), all the while forcing it to be named (the ‘I do’ of the simulated affirmation pushed into the legalistic framework imposed by the state of Nevada).

The manifestation of the State of Love in Las Vegas, the State of Love in its most excessive and extreme form is, under Badiou’s conception of ethics, Evil. In Las Vegas, love so expressed, is the opposite of “a radical break in a situation…but the ‘full’ particularity or presumed substance of that situation [so] we are dealing with a simulacrum of truth.[8] As identified by reference to Jean Baudrillard, it is the center of the simulacrum that has become general, and the ‘fear’ induced which is noted above by Thompson shows that the simulacrum of love has been pushed to its farthest form: it induces ‘terror’ in Badiou’s words; it is the furthest form of the State of Love, that which is farthest from a truth of love. Thus it is ethically evil.

As a terrorizing simulacrum, the heart of the State of Love in Las Vegas (which we must always remember is there and here, generalized, everywhere) is ethical evil par excellence for two further reasons that make it removed from the Good, a truth, and I affirm, the truth. Think of the description given above of the ‘duration’ of the Vegas wedding: at its core is not fidelity, but an always assumed eventual betrayal. Think back to the man Thompson meets: “All I could think was, ‘O Jesus, here we go again. Who’s divorced me this time?'” There’s not even a concern with the betrayal, nor a renunciation – it’s more like an alcohol induced blackout, and very well may be. The man concerned, with his blackout or blacking-out of the event, has convinced himself “that the immortal in question never existed, and thus rally to opinion’s perception of this point…[he has betrayed] the becoming-subject in [himself], [he has] become the enemy of that truth whose subject the ‘some-one’ that [he was] (accompanied, perhaps, by others) composed.” [9] Of course it’s not just this man in Thompson’s autobiographical tale: think of Denis Rodman and Carmen Electra’s short lived marriage undertaken in Las Vegas, or Britney’s, or countless others. As simulacrum themselves, we assume a betrayal by the celebrity images we see getting hitched in Vegas to the other involved, to the love they supposedly affirmed.

Las Vegas love is also ethically evil for it purports to “define what the total power of a truth would be: it would imply the ability to name and evaluate all the elements of the objective situation from the perspective of the truth-process. Ridged and dogmatic (or ‘blinded’), the subject-language would claim the power, based on its own axioms, to name the whole of the real, and thus to change the world.” [10] It is a betrayed simulacrum which nevertheless proposes that it is achievable for all; that all fall under its axioms (legalistic rites); that although supposedly ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’, the particular and specific legal form of the Nevada state marriage licence stays with the non-subject human animals that sign it even when they physically leave the heart of the State of Love, and so it claims a total power over them. Badiou calls this ethical evil a disaster. Ironically even the opinions that Badiou opposes to truth often agrees with him on this point: just think of the reaction to the disclosure that one decided to get hitched in Vegas, either planned or more often on a whim – if people won’t say it to your face, behind your back they’ll call it a disaster.

Escape from the State of Love? Or, North of the border, back from Las Vegas

I’m not covered by the State of Love in Las Vegas, but in Canada I am, as long as I’m willing to identify, or better put, submit myself to identifying as falling into the category of ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgendered’ (LGBT). Good ‘ol progressive Canada lets me get married now, on par with heterosexual couples, and therefore lets me affirm a truth, my truth, of love to another, right? Wrong. All that’s different from Las Vegas to Toronto is that I fall under the State of Love; my ability to affirm truths is unchanged, and not contingent on the legal framework of either location.

Is there any real difference in rights between Toronto and Las Vegas for the LGBT community? Or course there is: a right to be recognized as such (LGBT), for certain protective rights against discrimination and harassment, for rights to pensions and benefits – in short, for the heterosexual equivalent; for the right to be included in the State of things, and the State of Love specifically. This isn’t a right to subjectivity, to be a subject, however, since that requires an affirmation, a truth. Indeed, this right to have a particular sexuality obliterates love understood as a truth procedure. It catches the LGBT community up in the “culture-technology-management-sexuality” system, and places those that accept it – and there are many who like Adam ‘love’ this inclusion and fought hard for it – and are therefore disciplined by it in opposition to the “art-science-politics-love” system. In practice it causes

catastrophic pronouncements of the sort: only the homosexual can “understand” what a homosexual is, only an Arab can understand what an Arab is, and so forth…in the case of love, there will be the complementary demands, either for the genetic right to have such and such a form of specialized sexual behavior recognized as a minoritarian identity; or for the return, pure and simple, to archaic, culturally established conceptions, such as that of strict conjugality, the confinement of women, and so forth. It is perfectly possible to combine the two, as becomes apparent when homosexuals protest concerns the right to be reincluded in the grand tradition of marriage and the family, or to take responsibility for the defrocking of a priest with the Pope’s blessing. [11]

There is a further insidious twist to this inclusion of LGBT into the State of Love that the ‘victory’ of same-sex marriage is part of. Like all particularisms which renounce the universality of truths, this minoritatian victory becomes caught up in “monetarist free exchange and its mediocre political appendage, capitalist-parliamentarianism, whose squalor is ever more poorly dissimulated behind the fine word “democracy.”” [12] Same-sex vacation weddings, an expansion of the love-market as part of an expansion of the market in general in order to satiate capitals unending hunger for new spaces to comodify: “What inexhaustible potential for mercantile investments in this upsurge…Deleuze put it perfectly: capitalist deterritorialization requires a constant reterritorialization. Capital demands a permanent creation of subjective and territorial identities in order for its principle of movement to homogenize its space of action; identities, moreover that never demand anything but the right to be exposed in the same way as others to the uniform prerogatives of the market.” [13] Looked at in this light, it is not progressive politics that lead the charge for equality under the State of Love, but the State of things looking to ever expand the “culture-technology-management-sexuality” system and make a quick buck off of naming a void which cannot be named as such.

Indeed, recent Gay Pride events in Toronto highlight this process. In the parade, which at one point was a site of politics (with respect to Badiou’s use of the word), the corporate presence is overwhelming, given the leading spaces at the beginning of the parade, while community groups and political activists are relegated to the end of the four hour spectacle. Even many of those groups who once held to a truth have become the handmaiden of capital, of the State of things, intentionally or unintentionally, by either accepting the status quo or becoming defined and controlled by corporate sponsorship: “no truth can be sustained through capital’s homogeneous expansion. But on the other hand, neither can a truth procedure take root in the element of identity. For if it is true that every truth erupts as singular, its singularity is immediately universalizable. Universalizable singularity necessarily breaks with identitarian singularity.” [14]

In contrast to LGBT “politics” of “love” – which is really “management” of “sexuality” – Queer politics asserts a truth by refusing to be defined, and refuses to define itself.

Genuine thought should affirm the following principle: since differences are what there is, and since every truth is the coming-to-be of that which is not yet, so differences are then precisely what truths depose, or render insignificant. No light is shed on any concrete situation by the notion of the ‘reconfiguration of the other’. Every modern collective configuration involves people from everywhere, who have their different ways of eating and speaking, who wear different sorts of headgear, follow different religions, have complex and varied relations to sexuality, prefer authority or disorder, and such is the way of the world. [15]

The Queer subject – and it is a subject in Badiou’s usage – is such because of the affirmation and fidelity to a truth, to a definition of love which the individual refuses to define, that is recognized as universalizing, yet disinterested. It is a politics of the sexual in addition to a politics of love – and here I do not use the term sexual in the pejorative sense employed by Badiou – but it is one that is without reference to “positive or culturally validated indicators.” [16] Of course Queer politics makes reference to a real, to sexuality and sex in most cases, but these are the material not culturally validated indicators since it refuses to be included in the State of Love and makes no reference to it.

One Pride event which highlighted the difference between the truth that I am affirming – Queer politics as love – and the sexuality of LGBT management was brought to light at a Canadian Union of Public Employees – CUPE is the largest public sector Union in Canada – hosted panel that I helped organize in the context of post same-sex marriage LGBT politics, pointedly called What Now? Where’s the Movement Going after Same-Sex Marriage? What was examined was that when LGBT became part of the State of Love – the great ‘victory’ – what was lost was a sense of purpose, a sense of a common project that people were working towards. Once defined, named, and included in the State of things, the void vanished, and people became lost, or more precisely put, they became found and thereby defined and subject to state discipline. They betrayed their fidelity to a truth which challenged the State of things through their very illegality, while those that remained committed to a Queer politics, a truth which continued to remain universalizable and disinterested, one which refused to become an identity on par with the heterosexual, state-sanctioned love process, stayed active in affirming what it was that they though was love, regardless of recognition.

Of course the panel was a failure in one respect: some panelists engaged directly with ‘opinions’ as such, like an Other that must be respected, rather than affirming itself directly as a truth that the Queer community continued to maintain its fidelity to. On the other hand it was a success: others refused to engage with prevailing opinions and affirmed or reaffirmed love and sexual relationships that were either illegal but universalizable, or outside the scope and totalizing definitions provided by LGBT “rights” or management. Queer politics, as an affirmed truth, refuses the general model of the heterosexual State of Love, and instead posits that one finds love for oneself, without defining oneself, and with it, love for other(s), leaving self and other(s) undefined, like a void.

Implied above, there is a necessary corollary to Queer politics: polyamory; that in the affirmation of a truth, (and I affirm) the truth from which all others proceed, involves in both its ‘love’ aspect and ‘sexuality’ aspect, a love and sexuality for more than one – it fundamentally must be plural. To state that polyamory is a necessary corollary is not to name and define a total part of Queer politics, as polyamory is an unnameable void, and universilizable and disinterested. When I affirm as a truth, love as a politics of Queer polyamory, it remains within the bounds of an affirmation and is not an attempt to posit simply a new State of Love because no other(s) are defined or identified – it is actual or potential love for all.

To remain ex-centered in action, like Saint Paul, Queerness as love, must become universalizable and disinterested, and it is by attaching Polyamory to it that it becomes so. Queer subjects, in their affirmation, refuse, in their fidelity, to locate a singular Other as the only site of their love. This is why LGBT management and Queer polyamorous politics are fundamentally incompatible: one is a truth procedure, the other part of the State of things. Indeed:

A truth procedure does not comprise degrees. Either one participates in it, declaring the founding event and drawing its consequences, or one remains foreign to it. This distinction, without intermediary or mediation, is entirely subjective. Rites and external markings can provide neither a foundation, nor even a qualification for it. Such is the price for truth’s status as a universal singularity. A truth procedure is only universal insofar as it is supported, at that point which it indexes the real, by an immediate subjective recognition of its singularity. [17]

LGBT management accepts, if not in whole, a good part of established morality, and so those that accept it refuse to establish themselves as subject, or if at one point they were part of a truth procedure, they have betrayed it for a “right” to participate in simulacrum, and beg under the ruberic of ‘The Rights of Man’ and/or ‘Truth, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ to be let into the heart of the State of Love, to be allowed to get hitched in the insanity that is Las Vegas.

A truth, the affirmation of Queer polyamory is different, and like actions undertaken by the Marquis De Sade’s characters, they reject in whole established morality if they even make reference to it: it has subjects, and they are charismatic in their affirmation and fidelity to the unnameable void that they declare in all its ambiguity with respect to their love and sexuality.

Every subject is initiated on the basis of a charisma; every subject is charismatic. Since the subjectivating point is the declaration of the event, rather than the work that demands a wage or reward, the declaring subject exists according to the charisma proper to him. Every subjectivity confronts its division within the element of an essential gratuitousness proper to its purpose. The redemptive operation consists in the occurrence of a charisma. There is in Paul a fundamental link between universalism and charisma, between the One’s universal power of address, and the absolute gratuitousness of militantism. [18]

Is there an incongruence between the universalism which maintains there are no differences, and of the truth affirmed here? No. It is a matter of “being in excess of the law, of collapsing established differences.” [19] Queer polyamory refuses, indeed cannot be defined by law, and unnameable or undefinable truth that it is, it cannot become an established difference. We have declared what ‘conservativism decrees to be impossible’ – both the conservativism that Badiou speaks of, and that which the conservatives of sexuality and love speak of, the legal-religious managers – a truth of sexual-love that refuses to be defined and which arises from charismatic subjects in the moment that cannot be contained within any type of moral system. Think of the name of the Pride panel referred to above: what’s happened to the ‘politics’ of LGBT and what is the role of the Queer subject. This militant of love:

He regains those attributes of power that had fallen onto the side of the law and whose subjective figure was sin. He rediscovers the living unity of thinking and doing. This recovery turns life itself into a universal law. Law returns as life’s articulation for everyone, path of faith, law beyond law. This is what Paul calls love. We already know that faith cannot be confused with mere private conviction…[although] certainly, private confession, that of the heart, is required, but only the public confession of faith installs the subject in the perspective of salvation. It is not the heart that saves, but the lips. [20]

The polyamorous Queer subject, in affirming a truth of love, in my affirmation and rejection of LGBT management, I ‘regain those attributes of power that had fallen onto the side of law’; I regain the power to affirm the most fundamental truth from the State of things – Love.

The universal singularity that proceeds from this truth is filled with violence. While the State of Love, in its definitions and demarcations presents love and sexuality as a precious little thing which must be ‘protected’ from individual and/or collective violence, the truth that I affirm can or must contain that which is violent to the self and other(s), all as part of love. While De Sade writes of slavery as an aspect of love, this simply makes him fall back into the State of things, into a personalized relationship with the Other(s), a dialectical negation of the rubric of the Other which Badiou so clearly deconstructs. Only those who would seek to ‘Burn De Sade’ would see this aspect – slavery as love – as so fundamental to his project that we can simply disregard what De Sade points to in his partial affirmation of a truth, of a love that knows no religious-legalistic-moral bounds. Perhaps we can still burn De Sade, but not for content, but rather because he falls into one of the traps of the State of things, and since an affirmation can never be partial, it can be for that reason that he is inconsequential. Let me explain.

Suffering plays a key role in De Sade: he subjects his character to all sorts of excesses and tortures. These actions can be part of an affirmation of a truth, even the truth of love, especially when it is understood as a part of Queer sexuality – it has no limits, no definition or name when it comes down to it. For Saint Paul and De Sade, suffering is never inevitable, but “such is the law of the world. But hope, wagered by the event and the subject who binds himself to it, distributed consolation as that suffering’s only real, here and now…in fact, the glory tied to the thought of “invisible things” is incommensurable with the inevitable sufferings inflicted by the ordinary world.” [21] The sufferings inflicted on the characters in De Sade’s tales simply represent a subset of opinions and customs; a challenge to established morality. De Sade, like Paul and Badiou wishes to establish that

once gripped by a truth’s postevental work, their thought becomes capable of traversing and transcending those opinions and customs without having to give up the differences that allow them to recognize themselves in the world. But in order for people to be gripped by truth, it is imperative that universality not present itself under the aspect of a particularity. Differences can be transcended only if benevolence with regard to customs and opinions presents itself as an indifference that tolerates differences, one whose sole material test lies, as Paul says, in being able and knowing how to practice them oneself. [22]

We should all enjoy a good whipping now and again, in order that while gripped by truth, we are able to be indifferent to differences.

For this reason Saint Paul, Badiou, and De Sade, all insist that “everything is permitted.” The tortures inflicted upon Juliette by the monks underlines this, the congruence between Saint Paul’s Christ events ‘religious’ truth, and De Sade’s expos&eactue; of the hypocrisy of the religious whitewash at the heart of the State of Love, which as exhibited in Las Vegas is chock full of the idea that almost every form of excess can be permitted in the State of things – especially if it can be commodified. But while the commodified State of Love seeks to define, and in reality limit the most excessive of that which is permitted so that it can be named, claimed and put in place under moral-legal management, the trinity of Paul, Badiou and De Sade counter that there is “no need to presume to judge or reduce that material so far as this puncturing is concerned; indeed, quite the opposite. That customary or particular differences are what we must let be from the moment we bring to bear on them the universal address and the militant consequences of faith.” [23]

On Badiou’s reading, Paul is a militant in the grip of a truth process (“Paul is an antiphilosophical theoretician of universality“: [24]) but what are we to make of De Sade? Clearly he posits, both in his own personal actions and in his discourse, something that is not and was not at the time of his writing part of the State of things, or the State of Love in specific. He articulates something radical: but is it a critique or a break? This is of fundamental importance in deciding if the Marque affirms a truth, holds fidelity to it, and is firmly in the grip of it, as being part of something that is in excess of himself; or something less and thereby, as far as truth is concerned, is inconsequential. Badiou is explicitly clear on this subject, that which creates subjects, and lets us know if De Sade is indeed a subject: “it is in fact of utmost importance for the destiny of universalist labor that the latter be withdrawn from conflicts of opinion and confrontations between customary differences. The fundamental maxim is mê eis diakriseis dialogismın, “do not argue about opinions.”” [25] With this in mind, it is clear that De Sade is not a subject created out of an affirmation to a truth: he is a critic of conventional morality, and his writing and personal actions (which are what is of real importance for Badiou) seek to show the lie of the status quo, the internal contradictions of the State of Love. De Sade proceeds not from an affirmation, but from dialectical critique. He attacks the simulacra of Love, first, and then, eventually in his old age, betrays even this critique with his ‘good behavior’ and attendance of mass. But it is not a betrayal in the strong sense of an attempt to convince oneself that a truth never existed, but in the weak sense of personal renunciation and acceptance of the State of thing.

Divisions, Singularity and a Founding Truth

At this point we have clearly established four propositions in relation to Badiou’s project: what a truth is; what a truth procedure is and what it entails; why the affirmation of Queer Polyamory is a truth (the truth of love); and why De Sade does not affirm a truth of love, although he does show us what types of ‘love-violence’, for lack of a better term, can be included within it, and indeed must be included within Queer Polyamory. There remain three points on which we must either challenge Badiou, not as an opinion that we then critique, but on his theoretical approach in specific, in order to properly affirm our own truth. This is to say two things: that in my affirmation of a truth, the truth procedure I maintain fidelity to is different from Badiou’s (or perhaps Badiou has simply not entertained these thoughts); and more problematic, especially for Badiou: in his truth procedure he accepts some aspects of opinions, of identitarian politics, of that which the State of things contains. We can call these three points, in short: the personal-political division of the truth procedure as it pertains to affirming a truth; the singular or static nature of a truth; and the need for a truth, a specific truth, as a founding for all other truths to be affirmed and stated as truths which we can hold fidelity to as disinterested and universalizable.

Peter Hallward’s introduction to Badiou’s Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil notes that “the eclectic range of Badiou’s illustrations is balanced by their rigorous distribution among four and only four fields of truth,” or as Badiou puts it “our capacity for science, love, politics or art, since all truths, in my view, fall under one or another of these universal names…the only genuine ethics is of truths in the plural.” [26] With respect to the four fields of truth, Badiou is clear that while truths of science and art are “mixed” situations in that they have as vehicles subjects that are or can be both individual and collective, the truths of politics are always collective, and those of love are only individual:

The lovers as such enter into the composition of one loving subject, who exceeds them both. In the same way, the subject of a revolutionary politics is not the individual militant – any more, by the way, that it is the chimera of a class-subject. It is a singular production, which has taken different names (sometimes ‘Party’, sometimes not). To be sure, the militant enters into the composition of this subject, but once again it exceeds him (it is precisely this excess that makes it come to pass as immortal. [27]

In so dividing up truth into four fields, and claiming that some only affect the individual, and others only the collective, Badiou accepts the personal-political divide of the State of things. Love can clearly be political, and in the truth that I have affirmed, it is also clearly collective, while Badiou confines the affirmation of a truth, the truth of love, to only two individuals. Holding fidelity to Queer Polyamory necessitates the continued affirmation of a truth, love, that is not made with reference to a singular other, but all others, and is also clearly a politics in and of itself, a politics that escapes ‘the personal’. I, in affirming a truth – a subject affirming as a truth love as Queer Polyamory – in my affirmation, question Badiou’s division, and in making the truth that I affirm disinterested and universal shatter the State of things that Badiou ascribes to in order to do so. This also establishes the claim that one cannot speak of an ethics in the singular, which is part of the third objection.

The second objection, that the affirmation of truths are always singular, is particularly problematic and has Badiou at odds with himself. When Badiou describes, for himself, the subject of truth, he insists that it comes from a singular earthen vessel who

bears a treasure, that he is traversed by an infinite power. Whether or not this truth, so precarious, continues to deploy itself depends solely on his subjective weakness. Thus, one may justifiably say that he bears it only in an earthen vessel, day after day enduring the imperative – delicacy and subtle thought – to ensure that nothing shatters it. For within the vessel, and with the dissipation into smoke of the treasure it contains, it is he, the subject, the anonymous bearer, the herald, who is equally shattered. [28]

Or consider:

The ‘some-one’ thus caught up in what attests that he belongs to the truth-process as one of its foundation-points is simultaneously himself, nothing other than himself, a multiple singularity recognizable among all others, and in excess of himself, because the uncertain course of fidelity passes through him, transfixes his singular body and inscribes him, from within time, in an instant of eternity. [29]

It is always a singular individual who holds true to a static and specific moment in time that is the subject of a truth process. While fidelity is obviously dynamic, there is never any chance to relive, revive, or literally go through the truth again.

This is problematic for the truth that I affirm is dynamic, that Queer Polyamorous love and sexuality changes by the moment, in the moment. Although one could say that one affirms ones commitment to it at one moment (in general), and then actions undertaken after simply demonstrate fidelity to that initial act, I strongly question this interpretation of the truth I affirm. In each (polyamorous) act within which I affirm is different as I affirm it with different subjects who also affirm at that moment, not before, and become subjects at that moment. In essence I am claiming that to hold fidelity to a truth, specifically Queer love, one must constantly be in the process of affirming through thought and action to that truth, and do so with other(s). It is weakness pushed to its most extreme form since it demands of subjects that they constantly place their own subjectivity on the line. While Badiou’s own conception of the moment of truth is problematic, his description of Paul’s offers what he really means to say (if we are generous) or what we should really understand as the truth moment (if we are not):

All equality is that of belonging together to a work. Indubitably, those participating in a truth procedure are coworkers in its becoming. This is what the metaphor of the son designates: a son is he whom an event relieves of the law and everything related to it for the benefit of a shared egalitarian endeavor. It is nevertheless necessary to return to the event, upon which everything depends, and particularly the sons, coworkers in the enterprise of Truth. [30]

Here we see a truth that must be returned to, and is not confined to a singular earthen vessel, but instead is in the process of constantly creating dynamic subjects who exhibit weakness by always being caught in the process of affirming.

The third objection to Badiou’s description of truths and the truth process, is that they are always plural, that they cannot be subsumed under one truth without it being an ethical Evil. Yet, in his description of fidelity – that which allows the truth to continue; to be (re)affirmed – Badiou necessitates a founding truth, a truth which I affirm is love, where love is Queer polyamory. Consider:

Fidelity to the declaration is crucial, for truth is a process, and not an illumination. In order to think it, one requires three concepts: one that names the subject at the point of declaration (pistis, generally translated as “faith”, but which is more appropriately rendered as “conviction”); one that names the subject at the point of his conviction’s militant address (agapê, generally translated as “charity”, but more appropriately rendered as “love”); lastly, one that names the subject according to the force of displacement conferred upon him through the assumption of the truth procedure’s completed [achevé] character (elpis, generally translated as “hope”, but more appropriately rendered as “certainty”). [31]

Or again:

Paul is in no way a theoretician of oblatory love, through which one would forget oneself in devotion to the Other…the new faith consists in deploying the power of self-love in the direction of others, addressing it to everyone, in a way made possible by subjectivation (conviction). Love is precisely what faith is capable of. I call this universal power of subjectivation an evental fidelity, and it is correct to say that fidelity is the law of a truth. [32]

What is fundamental for the ‘theorem of the militant’ to have its subject making, truth affirming power is that “on the one hand, the evental declaration founds the subject; on the other, without love, without fidelity, that declaration is useless. Let us say that a subjectivation that does not discover the resource of power proper to its universal address misses the truth for whose sudden emergence it seemed to be the sole witness.” [33] Since fidelity is in one respect synonymous with love, and an event without the possibility of fidelity is “useless,” then love becomes “fidelity to fidelity,” and that which the truth process, that which makes affirmations affirmed, is founded upon love; there is thus singularity at the heart of all truths, the truth process and ethics.

What I am affirming as a (founding) truth is both necessary for the truth process to be actualized – for there to be fidelity to fidelity – and potentially dangerous as a singular truth is being placed at the root of the plurality of truths, and this plurality of truths, for Badiou, if rooted in a singular truth becomes the third type of ethical Evil, for it has total power as a truth, since it could “imply the ability to name and evaluate all the elements of the objective situation from the perspective of the truth-process.” [34] Or put differently: “The Good is only Good only to the extent that it does not aspire to render the world good.” [35] But as outlined above, this founding truth, love, evidences weakness in its most extreme form for the subject, and so it is “that the power of a truth [this truth] is also a kind of powerlessness” and not a “disaster” (Evil, in Badiou’s ethics). When I affirm as a truth, and affirm further that all truths are based on love understood as Queer Polyamory, there is no attempt to “render the world good,” nor, since this truth is like a dynamic black hole to the point that it becomes inverted (universalized and disinterested), is there any “ability to name and evaluate all the elements of the objective situation from the perspective” of the truth of love. It almost seems silly to affirm as a truth, but the potential love of all, in all different ways (physical, emotional, sexual, etc.) is the precondition for fidelity to ever occur, for a truth to be in excess of a singular material vehicle (a subject made by affirmation), for others to affirm with that subject and thereby become subjects themselves, and for the truth once affirmed to outlive the particular individual subject. Again, it is through Paul, and not Badiou that we are able to make this leap:

just as love is the general power of self-love turned toward everyone as the construction of living thought, similarly, hope weaves the subjectivity of salvation, of the unity of thought and power, as a universality that is present in each ordeal, in each victory. Each victory won, however localized, is universal. For Paul, it is of utmost importance to declare that I am justified only insofar as everyone is. Of course, hope concerns me. But this means that I identify myself in my singularity as subject of the economy of salvation only insofar as this economy is universal. [36]

Fidelity to Love: Queer Polyamory

I began by stating an affirmation, a truth, which in fact is the founding truth on and from which all others are founded (their necessary precondition), and I end with my fidelity to it. In order that I remain a subject, since one must constantly affirm to have fidelity, I state it again: A Truth, the disinterested, universal, and collective Truth is Love: Queer Polyamory. I have refused to enter into a debate or address my affirmation as a critique of the State of Love, or of LGBT ‘management’. My affirmation makes me weak, it makes my love disinterested, and places my fidelity through its praxis in a state of constant (potential) illegality. This is because although “the event is new [this] should never let us forget that it is such only with respect to a determinate situation, wherein it mobilizes the elements of its site.” [37] It means that my affirmations of love are always contingent, that I can never expect to have ‘stability’ in them that the simulacra of the State of Love promises (no matter how tempting since it would constitute a betrayal). It means that I must make Paul’s maxim my own – “the dissolution of the universalizing subject’s identity in the universal, makes of the Same that which must be achieved, even if it includes, when necessary, altering our own alterity…for the subject, this subjective logic culminates in an indifference to secular nominations, to whatever allocates predicates and hierarchical values to particular subsets” [38] – and recognize the potential ‘violence’ that it may cause me and others as we affirm (think back to De Sade). It means a constant renegotiation of my love for myself and for other(s). It fundamentally means, that when I affirm love for other(s), “when all is said and done, [it is the] consistency [in] the engagement of one’s singularity (the animal ‘someone’) in the continuation of a subject of truth. Or again: it is to submit the perseverance of what is known to a duration peculiar to the not-known.” [39] It means that as I affirm love, and as I remain in fidelity to it, I subject myself in my fundamental weakness constantly to the “not-known”; to constant heartbreak; to affirmations which I cannot betray as it would be a betrayal of the truth process itself. It’s as if at the very moment the Beatles say the words “All you need is love” they were subjected to wrenching heartbreak and still went on: “All you need is love…”

Notes

[1] Alain Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, New York: Verso, 2001, p. 50.

[2] Hunter S. Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, New York: Vintage Books, 1971, p. 18.

[3] Ibid., p. 193.

[4] Ibid., p. 36.

[5] Jean Baudrillard. In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, New York: Semiotext[e], 2007, p. 120.

[6] Hunter S. Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, p. 48.

[7] Ibid., p. 47.

[8] Alain Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, p. 73.

[9] Ibid., p. 79.

[10] Ibid., p. 83.

[11] Alain Badiou. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, p. 12-13.

[12] Ibid., p. 7.

[13] Ibid., p. 10.

[14] Ibid., p. 10,11.

[15] Alain Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, p. 27.

[16] Ibid., p. xxviii.

[17] Badiou. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, p. 22.

[18] Ibid., p. 77.

[19] Ibid., p. 78.

[20] Ibid., p. 87,88.

[21] Ibid., p. 67.

[22] Ibid., p. 99.

[23] Ibid., p. 101.

[24] Ibid., p. 108.

[25] Ibid., p. 100.

[26] Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, p. xi, 28.

[27] Ibid., p. 43.

[28] Badiou. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, p. 54.

[29] Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, p. 45.

[30] Badiou. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, p. 60.

[31] Ibid., p. 14,15.

[32] Ibid., p. 90.

[33] Ibid., p. 91.

[34] Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, p. 83.

[35] Ibid., p. 85.

[36] Badiou. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, p. 96.

[37] Ibid., p. 25.

[38] Ibid., p. 110.

[39] Badiou. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, p. 47.

Graham Potts is a PhD student in the Social and Political Thought programme at York University, Canada. He writes on digital culture, social networking sites, reality television, social and political theory as well as union and labour studies. A committed union activist and organizer, he also teaches yoga and popular education courses.