La La Land: A Leninist Reading

We stumble here upon a problem passed over by Alain Badiou in his theory of Event. If the same subject is addressed by multiple Events, which of them should be given priority? Say, how should an artist decide if he cannot bring together his love life (building a life together with his/her partner) and his dedication to art? We should reject the very terms of this choice. In in an authentic dilemma, one should not decide between Cause and love, between the fidelity to one or the other event. The authentic relationship between Cause and love is more paradoxical. The basic lesson of King Vidor’s Rhapsody is that, in order to gain the beloved woman’s affection, the man has to prove that he is able to survive without her, that he prefers his mission or profession to her. There are two immediate choices: (1) my professional career is what matters most to me; the woman is just an amusement, a distracting affair; (2) the woman is everything to me; I am ready to humiliate myself, to forsake all my public and professional dignity for her. They are both false, as they lead to the man being rejected by the woman. The message of true love is thus: even if you are everything to me, I can survive without you and I am ready to forsake you for my mission or profession. The proper way for the woman to test the man’s love is thus to “betray” him at the crucial moment of his career (the first public concert in the film, the key exam, the business negotiation which will decide his career). Only if he can survive the ordeal and accomplish successfully his task while deeply traumatized by her desertion, will he deserve her and she will return to him. The underlying paradox is that love, precisely as the Absolute, should not be posited as a direct goal. It should retain the status of a by-product, of something we get as an undeserved grace. Perhaps, there is no greater love than that of a revolutionary couple, where each of the two lovers is ready to abandon the other at any moment if revolution demands it.

The question is thus: how does an emancipatory-revolutionary collective which embodies the “general will” affect intense erotic passion? From what we now about love among the Bolshevik revolutionaries, something unique took place there and a new form of love couple emerged: a couple living in a permanent state of emergency, totally dedicated to the revolutionary Cause, ready to sacrifice all personal sexual fulfilment to it, even ready to abandon and betray each other if the Revolution demanded it, but simultaneously totally dedicated to each other, enjoying rare moments together with extreme intensity. The lovers’ passion was tolerated, even silently respected, but ignored in the public discourse as something of no concern to others. (There are traces of this even in what we know of Lenin’s affair with Inessa Armand.) There is no attempt at Gleichschaltung, at enforcing the unity between intimate passion and social life. The radical disjunction between sexual passion and social-revolutionary activity is fully recognized. The two dimensions are accepted as totally heterogeneous, each irreducible to the other. There is no harmony between the two—but it is this very recognition of the gap, which makes their relationship non-antagonistic.

And does the same not happen in La La Land? Does Mia not make the “Leninist” choice of her Cause? Does Sebastian not support her choice? And do they in this way not remain faithful to their love?

[Appeared in The Philosophical Salon on February 19th 2017.]

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