Saturday, 18 June 2011

"Love Will Tear Us Apart"*

To compose a collage of sorts, a note for later elaboration, I will take two very valuable quotes from J. Hillis Miller's excellent book, On Literature. The first concerns J.L. Austin's speech act theory, primarily as regards its implications for literature understood as "performative" (112):

The second concerns a very basic ethical principle – "basic" in the sense of both very simple and utterly important – that has crucial implications for reading literature:

Miller makes no explicit connection between these two passages belonging to subsequent chapters dealing with more or less distinct issues. However, I would like to suggest one.
What do we say – what do I say, what do you say – when we say "I love you"? I just heard someone telling about her youth in the eighties, as a "goth" or, in other words, as part of a generation that was both "neoromantic" and "postmodern", and about the ironic consciousness that was an integral part of that identity. The way of saying – or avoiding to say – "I love you", ironically distantiated by adding clauses like "as a poet would say", would be a telling example of "postmodern language consciousness". It would be easy to dismiss such a word-play, if not only as a childish pose, then at least as refusal to commit oneself – to commit oneself to "anything", since "I love you" is just a sort of extreme example of a phrase that should mean everything but has been completely worn away in its promiscuous usage by all kinds of industries – but perhaps this token of "neoromantic" irony implies a deeper motivation?
Perhaps the phrase "I love you" does not (just) express an affect, and perhaps responding "I love you" does not mean that we share the affect, that I "know exactly" what you mean by the phrase, and feel the same way too? As a matter of fact, neither you or I can know exactly what the other feels, or feel exactly the same "thing"; an affect cannot be shared "exactly", or even if we somehow could "participate" in the "same" affect, we could not know this participation.
Perhaps we could think of the phrase "I love you" in a different way, then? Not (just) as expressing and sharing an affect, but otherwise?

* The title of this note comes from Joy Division, of course.

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