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Need Help Developing an Anti-Capitalist Critique of Love and Romance

+4 votes
Can anyone offer some insights or readings regarding an anti-capitalist critique of modern love and romance? I was very moved by the following passage from The Coming Insurrection:

"The couple is like the final stage of the great social debacle. It’s the oasis in the middle of the human desert. Under the auspices of “intimacy,” we come to it looking for everything that has so obviously deserted contemporary social relations: warmth, simplicity, truth, a life without theater or spectator. But once the romantic high has passed, “intimacy” strips itself bare: it is itself a social invention, it speaks the language of glamour magazines and psychology; like everything else, it is bolstered with so many strategies to the point of nausea. There is no more truth here than elsewhere; here too lies and the laws of estrangement dominate. And when, by good fortune, one discovers this truth, it demands a sharing that belies the very form of the couple. What allows beings to love each other is also what makes them lovable, and ruins the utopia of autism-for-two."

So I think that's a good starting point. But the idea is not really developed any further in TCI. I also think that a close reading of Engel's The Origin of the Family and Private Property and the State might also help in this regard, but, although I've only read the wikipedia summary, seems to promote a type of natural or unalienated monogamy, whereas I intend to challenge the basic idea of monogamy (although I do see value in the idea of forced versus free monogamy).

I also heard somewhere that romance involves the assumption of scarcity, that while there are roughly equal amounts of women and men in most of western society, there exists a sense that only a small fraction of people are worthy of being a mate or desire being a mate. Sadly, the only thing I could find related to this idea was from (don't laugh) Oprah.com.

So that's what I have so far. Any suggestions.

EDIT: Wow, I almost forgot to mention two theoretical frames that would be invaluable to this. I am referring of course to queer theory and (radical?) feminism.
asked Oct 10, 2010 by el vagoneta (230 points)
edited Oct 10, 2010 by el vagoneta

The above is more of a poly based perspective though as that is what I am more familiar with. Can't speak to much else, although I am going to read the comments after and hopefully find myself some good queer/Anarcha-feminist info.  The whole passage struck me thanks for sharing, particularly the "autism for two" part.

2 Answers

+4 votes
A classic to check out would be the writings of Voltairine de Cleyre (http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org/authors/Voltairine_de_Cleyre.html), especially "They Who Marry Do Ill". I think Goldman may also have written on the topic of "free love." Certainly she practiced it in her life.

A contemporary anarchist who writes on these topics is Jaime Heckert (http://www.theanarchistlibrary.org/authors/Jamie_Heckert.html)

There is so much anarchist writing on non-monogamous love/romance/intimacy/sex/etc. I don't even know where to tell you to look first.

The main point I've considered when thinking about my previous experience in romantic relationships (all human relationships, really) is the clash of expectations between involved parties. Different expectations can often manifest themselves in patriarchal ways ("What do you mean you're not going to cook me dinner?") They can also be less easily categorizable. I'm a pretty verbally-oriented person, so I always want to make sure that my hopes/expectations are clear to my partner ("I'm not looking for anything serious right now.") and vice versa. A lot of people's expectations are culturally-originated. As anarchists generally are people who are intentionally trying to know and express their individual desires in spite of what this culture expects, our expectations are even less likely to conform to cultural mandates (whether that might be monogamy, celibacy or hooking up) than others. Thus, I think it behooves us to be quite explicit and clear about our desires. That is, of course, assuming we can be quite sure what it is we really want!

Scarcity is (or should be) a controversial concept to anarchists. A lot of the content of that concept is capitalist rubbish, however there is /something/ useful there, I believe. Certainly much of what draws me to specific individuals is their utter uniqueness. As the TCI quote alludes, most of what passes for romance in this culture is hollow ritual or a commodity experience informed by the likes of Cosmo magazine. Rare are the people that are liberated from these massifying tendencies.
answered Oct 10, 2010 by enkidu (6,110 points)
Great answer. Thanks, and I will look into those authors ASAP.

Just a point of clarification, though. In this society, we say "I'm not looking for anything serious" and it usually means "I'm not looking for an exclusive monogamous relationship." However, deep emotional commitment and taking a relationship "seriously" does not necessarily imply exclusive monogamy. I want to point to Sartre and de Beauvoir as an example of this, although looking through wikipedia, it seems Sartre had asked de Beauvoir to marry at least four times. Oh well.
diego rivera and frida kahlo are perhaps a (slightly) better example. but judging relationships from the outside is rife with error. the fame that would allow us to know about the example could be the distorting lens that doesn't let us see what was going on.
We can infer certain things based on evidence, though. I know it sounds kind of stuffy, particularly considering the topic, but I would like to be able to form some sort of social theory or critique, concerning this topic, and this would be the basis of any "judgment" on any particular set of relations of this kind.
+2 votes
I would definitely check out bell hooks On Love, Erich Fromm the Art of Loving, and The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem. I think there is a big difference between a general sociocultural analysis of love and sexuality in Western society and specifically how capitalism effects both of these aspects of our relationships to each other. The TCI quote is good, but there is a lot more on the subject of our relationships to each other (romantic or not) being mediated by products, commodities, reified images of middle-upper class behaviors, etc. The above three books all take capitalism into consideration... the first is from a feminist/marxist perspective, the second from a neo-fruedian/marxist perspective, and the third is from a "situationist" perspective (I'm sure someone would have a problem with that use of the term). Another important insight I would think would be to recognize the essentially quantitative logic of capitalist culture: the rationalization of relationships, value, etc.

Anyway - understanding "atomizataion" may help... books like the Lonely Crowd or the Society of the Spectacle or just Marx's concept of the Division of Labor can play into this a lot. A comparative analysis may be useful... which would be a bunch of anthropology literature. I guess my overall concern for writing about this subject would be to make sure I'm not reducing everything to capitalism-itself.
answered Oct 17, 2010 by Squee (2,450 points)