All human desire is poised on an axis of paradox; absence and presence its poles, love and hate its motive energies.
— Anne Carson, 1986
As we know it, love needs reinventing.
— Arthur Rimbaud, 1873
Try as we might, love remains an elusive and contradictory muse; fatal and alluring, like nightshade. First evoked by Sappho as that “bittersweet, irresistible creature”, love has long occupied a paradoxical stage in our hearts. Home of the naïve, the desperate and hopelessly romantic, it is both a source of limitless pleasure and the heavy burden of its tragedy. Love can arrest us, precipitate disaster and solicit untold ecstasy. It can ignite revolutions, overcome grief and melancholy, and allow us to express our most intimate desires. With love all is to play for.
From the curlicues of Shakespearean sonnets to the political demands of Black Lives Matter, the blissed-out rapture of acid-house to the encroaching crisis of care, love is not just another cliché. Love speaks out for justice: it has the power to heal and reform, to engender solidarity, kindness and generosity. Love can be captured in embellishments of literary allusion, felt viscerally through the rush of serotonin or ecstasy, and observed in daily practices of mutual exchange, cultural diversity and radical self-determination. In every case, Bell Hooks writes, “Love is”, quite simply, “as love does.”
Tenderness, however, is never without its enemies. Who and what we choose to love is as much a civil right as it is a reason for its revoke. Discipline and control, the rise of authoritarian politics and the reactionary discourse of the culture wars: all object to the freedom of love. In its most sinister guise, this antagonism stretches from issues of political representation to molecular regulation. In its most humble, the safety-first romance of dating by algorithm or the simulated intimacy of ASMR, manufactured experiences gutted of all friction, risk and adventure.
Faced with struggles of solitude, anger and grief, we must return to love. Against such opponents the past two years have brought us closer in love than ever before; despite—or precisely because of—the distances between us. To rediscover love, that ineffable source of vitality and hope, is the antidote of our times.
Love is the message. It is the means by which cooperation and compassion shall triumph over competition and violence, freedom and dialogue over force, fear and apathy. Bold Tendencies will gather its 2022 programme under this broad theme, speculating on the future of love, care and intimacy and asking what love looks and feels like in the 21st century.