“On the Risk of a New Relationality:” An Interview with Lauren Berlant and Michael Hardt

Heather Davis and Paige Sarlin

In May 2011, we sat down with Lauren Berlant and Michael Hardt to ask them about their use of love as a political concept. They each use the idiom of love to disrupt political discourse, as a means of thinking through non-sovereign social and subjective formations. Love, for both these thinkers, is transformative, a site for a collective becoming-different, that can help to inform alternate social imaginaries. But their notions about how this happens diverge. In his lecture at Banff, through a close reading of Marx, Michael Hardt proposed that substituting love for money or property as the means for organizing the social can open up new social and political projects. More generally, he begins from the position of love as ontologically constitutive, or love as a generative force. Lauren Berlant’s description of love has attended to the ways in which love disorganizes our lives, opening us to move beyond ourselves. And so, for Berlant, the concepts of love and optimism foreground the sort of difficulties and investments involved in creating social change, understood as the construction of an attachment to a world that we don’t know yet, but that we hope will provide the possibility for flourishing. Throughout the interview, Berlant and Hardt try on each other’s positions, organizing relationality through models of incoherence and multiplicity. In this, they speak to, reflect, inform, and inspire activist projects of social change from queer communities to neo-anarchist organizers. What follows is an excerpt from our discussion.[1]

Davis: What is it about love that makes it a compelling or politically interesting concept? What kind of work does love do politically that other concepts don’t do?

Hardt: One healthy thing love does, which is probably not even the core of it, but at least one healthy thing it does is it breaks through a variety of conceptions about reason, passion, and the role of affect in politics. There are a number of other ways of doing this, but considering love as central to politics confounds the notion of interest as driving politics. Love makes central the role of affect within the political sphere……more