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Love for the biopolitical economy: Wasps & Orchids

In copy-remix, English on May 7, 2010 at 7:14 am


This blog will talk about love. Yes, love! But first…


Love is not just a matter for the sentimental fool. Love produces subjectivities, affective networks, and schemes of cooperation. In this sense, love is an economic and political power. Love is not just a matter for the romantic either. Love is not merely, as it is often characterized, spontaneous or passive. It does not simply happen to us, as if it were an event that mystically arrives from nowhere. Instead it is an action, a biopolitical event, which, in order to be created in its benign form, also requires training. A boot camp of love for everyday life.

Love can fascinate us, but it should also interest us, since love provides a path for investigating the power and productivity of the common.

Corrupt forms of love

We often think of love as a means to escape the solitude and isolation of individualism. But in our contemporary ideology we end up getting isolated again in the private life of the couple or the family. To arrive at a political concept of love that recognizes it as centered on the production of common life, we have to break free from the contemporary corruptions of the term. After that, we’ll explore their antidotes.

  1. Identitarian love, or “love of the same”. Identitarian love can be based, for example, on a narrow interpretation of the mandate to love thy neighbor, understanding it as a call to love those most proximate, those most like you. Family love, race love, nation love or patriotism, all exemplify the pressure to love most those most like you and hence less those who are different. From this perspective we might way that populisms, nationalisms, fascisms, and various religious fundamentalisms are based not so much on hatred as on love – but a horribly corrupted form of identitarian love. Love of the stranger, love of the farthest, and love of alterity can function as an antidote against the poison of identitarian love, which hinders and distorts love’s productivity by forcing it constantly to repeat the same.
  2. Unifying love, or “love of becoming the same”. The contemporary dominant notion of romantic love in our culture, which Hollywood sells every day, its stock in trade, requires that the couple merge in unity. Individuals thus find each other with the promise of becoming the same. The mandatory sequence of this corrupted romantic love – couple–marriage–family – imagines people finding their match, like lost puzzle pieces, that now together make (or restore) a whole. Of course, no single other makes anyone whole. Contrary to this, some say that “you are already whole”. While this notion rings more true, it is also too simple. Rather, wholeness emerges from the inside as an internalized secure base, only through love’s inclusion of others. Discovering the uniqueness and singularity of our encounters and relations, can function as an antidote against the poison of unifying love, which handicaps and encloses love’s expansion by forcing it to merge into the one.

To summarize, these corrupt forms of love aim at the same goal: making the many into one, making the different into the same. Sameness and unity involve no creation but mere repetition without difference. Similarly, various forms of patriotism, nationalism or loyalty to the party, share this notion of setting (or pushing) aside differences and alterity in order to form a united people, a united identity.

Wasps & orchids

To discover a way out of the corruptions of live, let’s turn to the classic metaphor of insects and flowers. Certain orchids give off the odour of the sex pheromone of female wasps, and their flowers are shaped like the female wasp sex organs. Pollination is thus achieved by pseudocopulation as male wasps move from one orchid to the next, sinking their genital members into each flower and rubbing off pollen on their bodies in the process.

So wasps fuck flowers! Wasps do their work just like that, for nothing, but for the fun of it. Our delight at this example is due in part to the fact that it undercuts the industriousness and “productivism” usually attributed to nature. These wasps aren’t your dutiful worker bees; on the surface they aren’t driven to produce anything, at least not in the traditional sense. Seemingly, they just want to have fun.

A second point of interest is undoubtedly the way this pollination story reinforces the diatribe against the corruptions of love in the monogamous couple and the family, as told above. Wasps and orchids do not suggest any morality tale of marriage and stable union, as bees and flowers do, but rather evoke scenarios of cruising and serial sex common to some gay male practices and communities of non-monogamy.

This is not to say that cruising and anonymous sex serve as a model of love to emulate, but rather that they provide an antidote to the corruptions of love in the couple and the family, opening love up to the encounter of singularities.

Training in love of becoming-other

We should be careful to not just see the orchid as imitating the wasp or trying to deceive it, as botanists often do. Rather, the orchid is a becoming-wasp (becoming the wasp’s sexual organ) and the wasp is a becoming-orchid (becoming part of the orchid’s system of reproduction). What is central is the encounter and interaction between these two becomings, which together form a new assemblage, a wasp-orchid machine. The fable is devoid of intentions and interests: the wasps and orchids are not paragons of virtue in their mutual aid, nor are they models of egoistic self-love. We should avoid reducing the activities through questions like “What does it really mean?” or “What do they really want?”. Instead, this machinic language allows one to ask questions like “How does it work?”, “What happens in the process?” or “What comes to matter?”

The fable thus tells the story of wasp-orchid love, a love based on the encounter of alterity but also on a process of becoming different. The conspicuous variety of orchids, with their fascinating shapes and colours, tells us something of the power of wasp-orchid-love. A truly polymorphous love! Furthermore, beyond the serial and anonymous quality of cruising love, these becomings seem to continue their encounters, and thereby instituting lasting relations of becoming-other. By turning wasps and orchids into machines of becomings, we discover the parallel and open relationships of polyamorus love, where both serial encounters and relations of continuity can take place. Love does not just happen spontaneously, so a process of training in love becomes necessary in maintaining these forms of polyamorus love. Training in love does not reduce the multiplicity of singularities, making everyone the same or merging the many into one. In avoiding the corrupt forms of love and enhancing the benign ones, training in love creates contexts for the singularities to manage their encounters and relations: to avoid the negative encounters and relations, which diminish their strength, and prolong and repeat the joyful ones, which increase it.

The biopolitical production of love

Wasps who loves orchids point toward the conditions of the biopolitical economy. But how could these wasps be a model for economic production, you might ask, when they don’t produce anything? The bees and the flowers produce honey and fruit, but the wasps and orchids are just hedonists and aesthetes, merely creating pleasure and beauty! It is true that the interaction of wasps and orchids does not result primarily in goods, but one should not discount their biopolitical production, ie. the making of forms of life. In the encounter of singularities of their love, a new assemblage is created, marked by the continual metamorphosis of each singularity in the common. Wasp-orchid love, in other words, is a model of the production of subjectivity that animates the biopolitical economy. Let’s have done with worker bees, then, and focus on the singularities and becomings of wasp-orchid love!

Stereo Total – L’amour á trois

c’est sexy, extatique
crazy, excentrique
animal, romantique
c’est communiste


I copy-remixed this text from a number of passages in Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri‘s Common Wealth (pdf on a.aaarg.org), in particular p. 186-188 from the chapter “De Singularitate 1: Of Love Possessed”. Consequently, the “we” speaking in the text is a combination of these writers, their own copied writers, me, and anyone feeling the urge to inhabit this open text.