[This is a post in several parts, the text of a talk I gave in Nottingham for World Event Young Artists. Scroll down to get to the very beginning]
What do you think of when you think of love?
I am a sucker for romance
In all my favourite films
People fall in love
Or out love
In my favourite songs
People are heartbroken
Or about to be heartbroken
I am consumed by love
We are consumed by love
On the album
69 Love Songs
Of the Magnetic Fields
Described love as like
Being on the moon
You struggle to breathe
But you feel lighter
Which is true
But maybe that metaphor could be extended
Maybe it’s also true in other ways
Perhaps love becomes a vacuum
In which we can’t hear the other things we’re trying to say
Love turns everything into a love story
And perhaps there are times when we need to talk about other things
As the writer and director René Pollesch once said
I would like to talk to the capitalists about money, but they only wanted to tell love stories
As Rebecca Solnit says
In her beautiful book
A Paradise Built in Hell
There are other loves:
But we have little language for them. In an era whose sense of the human psyche is dominated by entertainment and consumerism and by therapy culture – that amalgamation of ideas drawn from pop psychology and counseling – the personal and private are most often emphasized to the exclusion of almost everything else. Even the scope of psychotherapy generally leaves out the soul, the creator, and the citizen, those aspects of being human that extend into realms beyond private life. Conventional therapy, necessary and valuable at times to resolve personal crises and suffering, presents a very incomplete sense of self. As a guide to the range of human possibility it is grimly reductive. It will help you deal with your private shames and pains, but it won’t generally have much to say about your society and your purpose on earth. It won’t even suggest, most of the time, that you provide yourself with relief from and perspective on the purely personal by living in the larger world. Nor will it ordinarily diagnose people as suffering from something other than familial and erotic life. It more often leads to personal adjustment than social change (during the 1950s, for example, psychology went to work bullying women into accepting their status as housewives, the language of Freudianism was deployed to condemn their desires for more power, more independence, more dignity, and more of a role in public life). Such a confinement of desire and possibility to the private serves the status quo as well: it describes no role for citizenship and no need for social change.
Popular culture feeds on this privatized sense of self. A recent movie about political activists proposed that they opposed the government because they had issues with their fathers. The implication was that the proper sphere of human activity is personal, that there is no legitimate reason to engage with public life, that the very act of engaging is juvenile, blindly emotional, a transference of the real sources of passion. What if that government is destroying other human lives, or your own, and is leading to a devastating future? What if a vision of a better world or just, say, a better transit system is a legitimate passion? What if your sense of self is so vast that your well-being includes these broad and idealistic engagements? Oscar Wilde asked for maps of the world with Utopia on them. Where are the maps of the human psyche with altruism, idealism, and even ideas on them, the utopian part of the psyche, or just the soul at its most expansive?
I would like you to make a list of your favourite films
And your favourite songs
How many of them are about romantic love?
I would like you to make a show about love
In which no one falls in love
And I would like you to make a map of the human psyche
with altruism, idealism and ideas marked on it.