Love and the One

I came across this wonderful video yesterday, a French short animated film of Aristophanes’s contribution to the dinner-party bullshit (dinner parties are a great forum for that) in Plato’s Symposium. It tells the story of the formation of human sexes and sexualities. Originally humans had a circular body, with four arms and legs and two sets of genitals. There were three sexes: male (two penises), female (two vaginas), and androgynous (one of each). For reasons we needn’t go into, Zeus got miffed and sliced us in two. The separated halves then sought out their ‘other half’, the half they’d literally been cut off from.

He gives a nice articulation of the character types of the people who go for certain sexual pairings. Women and men who go for each other derive from the original androgynous humans, and are lascivious and tend towards adultery. The gay pairs of either sex are better behaved, respectable, becoming politicians. What he says about the discovery of the other half will sound familiar to anyone schooled in the view of love promulgated by Walt Disney, one of the three most evil men of the twentieth century (I’ll tell you why in another blogpost, maybe…). I’ve made the translation from the Oxford World Classics edition gender-neutral.

Now, when someone who loves boys – or whatever their sexual preferences may be – actually meets their other half, it’s an overwhelming experience. It’s impossible to describe the affection, warmth and love they feel for each other; it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that they don’t want to spend even a moment apart. These are the people who form unbroken lifelong relationships together, for all that they couldn’t say what they wanted from each other. I mean, it’s impossible to believe that it’s their sex-life which does this – that sex is the reason they’re each so eager and happy to be in the other’s company. They obviously have some other objective, which their minds can’t formulate; they only glimpse what it is and articulate it in vague terms.

The story is all a lot of fun and expressed in a familiar Greek seriocomic mode. But the weird thing is that people actually believe this rubbish. They take seriously the idea that there is a ‘one’ – or even if they don’t believe the full Disney doctrine of the Prince Charming (and it always works that way round: men don’t have to submit to a ‘one’: they can just shag whatever has the right-shaped arse and right-sized tits), they still claim that finding true love effects a ‘completion’ of both persons, as if the qualities of the beloved fit neatly into the gap of the lack in the other. Whenever you meet anyone who prattles in this manner, you should remind them of this origin of their beliefs.

Badiou has demonstrated mathematically (as he does: the first part of a video of him lecturing on sex and love is below) that this story – we can call it the ‘beast with two backs hypothesis’ is the origin of this particular view of the relation between two sexual positions, which he calls M and W (though he has no investment in traditional heterosexual coupling). What is suggested is that for all human beings (t), t is either M or W and there is no third position (the original androgynous human was destroyed by Zeus, remember). That means that there’s a fundamental disconnection between the categories of M and W (which is the basis of all misogynistic attitudes). He writes it this way:

(Ɐt) t ≤ M t ≤ W (not a third space)

Since M and W are split from the original totality, it follows that their recombination combination creates a whole, a totality, one:

W = 1

But the truth is of course that man plus woman (or woman plus woman, or man plus man, or man plus dog, or anything else) does not produce a whole. Aristophanes (given voice by Plato) was right that what attracts us to other people is so deeply mysterious that we can’t express what it is. But to believe that a particular combination makes a whole is to believe in something like this Platonic just-so story. It’s a story the Tories seem to believe, incidentally, or they wouldn’t lay such stress on the institution of marriage as the most stable human institution (they clearly haven’t seen the statistics). So the next time you see a Tory – you’ll know them by the constant phatic stream of ‘yuh’ they spout, and the expensive-slobby clothes they wear: they’re everywhere these days, now their reptilian masters are in government – do tell them that they’re missing Plato’s joke. They’ll love that.

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