Not in the Mood: Reading Love in 21st Century Humanities Scholarship

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Not in the Mood: Reading Love in 21st Century Humanities

‘What does it mean to fall in love with a writer?’: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick asks this in her essay on the work of affect theorist Sylvan Tomkins (Touching Feeling: 2003, p. 117). By acknowledging her feelings for theory, Sedgwick invites us to recognise the feelings of theory. Twenty first century humanities are increasingly interested in how the feelings of our disciplines unfold different potentialities for our critical imaginations. These new moods — and new modes — are perhaps exemplified by Rita Felski’s pursuit of affective alternatives to the suspiciousness, the attention to power and ideology, and, indeed, to the ideological and attitudinal violences that have characterised the work of critique. Suspicion, she writes, ‘highlights the sphere of agon (conflict and domination) at the expense of eros (love and connection)...Anyone who attends academic talks has learned to expect the inevitable question: “But what about power?” Perhaps it is time to start asking different questions: “But what about love?” Or: “Where is your theory of attachment?” (Limits of Critique: 2015, p. 17).
What kind of work is love doing here? If love might offer us a different critical orientation, what, exactly, are we being oriented towards? In her reading of the love plot, Lauren Berlant points out that a fantasy of love’s reparative potential ‘would represent a desire for a life of unconflictedness where the aggression inherent in intimacy is not lived as violence and submission to the discipline of institutional propriety’ (Love/Desire: 2012, p. 95). In this essay I ask us to reconsider our critical attachments to love. To do so I look at two kinds of love scenes, or love plots: how our cultural imaginary represents the academic’s attachment to their discipline (Luca Guadagnino’s Call me by your name, 2017; Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, 2005; Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, 1993); and how twenty-first century critical writing about the humanities fantasies the academic through a rhetoric of love (Stefan Collini’s What are universities for?, 2015; Rita Felski’s Limits of Critique, 2015). In both, I argue, love and our attachments to it are the source, rather than reparation, of marginalisation, denigration, and erasure. If we are to imagine new moods, and new modes, of scholarship that change the affective economies of our disciplines then we must, I argue, be prepared to relinquish love.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLove and the Politics of Care: Methods, Pedagogies, Institutions
EditorsWendy McMahon, Jordan Savage, Stanislava Dikova
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
ISBN (Print)1501387642, 978-1501387647
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022

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