The Exergue - “All is Fair in Love and War”

I am here to function as the exergue, as that which comes in advance of an argument or the playing out of a hoped for argument. The exergue is a citation, a found object or quote which alerts us to both what might be coming but also establishes its relation to previous thought. In part the exergue establishes a heightened atmosphere of what is to be expected, a frisson that communicates the intention and the spirit behind that intention in advance of the thing itself. Whether a quotation from a famous philosopher or poet, a tombstone, a snatch from a popular song or an advertising jingle, it sets the tone, maps out the archive in advance of its constitution as such, and delivers a promise.

But it also complicates the access to the problematic, setting up a number of false trails and oblique entry points, making clear that the promise of access to a problem is one that cannot be met. What makes the exergue so appealing is that it is preliminary, in advance of the argument and yet it is knowing, knowing of what is to come. It rehearses in itself the hopeless duality of what it is to know, to claim knowledge, to try and set it up for others, to recognise its limitations, to try and rescue it through some device that speaks from the corner of one’s mouth, through somebody else’s speech. It is preliminary in that it attempts to ward off an inevitable failure.

My citation, the tool of my exergue, is that “all is fair in love and war” , a colloquial expression , it is one of those dumb banalities that crop up whenever people don’t actually want to think about what is happening around them. In this case it is a dumb banality that is the instrument of the reluctant participant. This particular reluctant participant, aside from the fact that she really needs to be in Krakow this afternoon, has a whole set of misgivings about the project at hand, primary amongst which are her lack of belief in war as a subject. To say that war is not a subject is to recognise how over-determined it is, how overblown, how much it serves as a machine for the production of platitudes and banalities and empty rhetorics. More problematic is that ‘war’ has the inevitable effect of demanding a position, forcing us into occupying moralising positions in relation to itself; it is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘ justified’ or ‘unjustified’, relates to this people’s inherent aggression or drive towards expansion and to that people’s inherent victimisation and subsequent contraction. Amongst its many effects is the relentless drive towards coherence, the daily work that establishes emergencies and imperatives that override the many facets of difference that we, the critically implicated, are equally active in daily putting into the world. And somehow the work of breaking up the subject of ‘war’, breaking it up into military and strategic discussions, breaking it up into economic and resource discussions, into territorial and topographical discussions, or into tragic circumstances and human rights discussions – does not do the trick, does not have the effect of constituting it as a subject, only of constituting it as a contradictory mass of differing subject positions.

And we have tried, oh how we have tried, across the broad spectrum of contemporary theory and of contemporary politics we have all made an effort to break up this tiresome concept. To this end we have mobilised war machines and desiring machines, monads and stealth cargos and myriad other terms, and still it is there, as immutable as always, recohereing itself at the slightest alarm. To some extent the recent enhanced acts of terrorist resistance have truly made an effort at breaking up the notion of ‘war’.
The aim of terrorism, says Nikos Papastergiadis is “to disperse fear into the whole environment: to make anxiety ubiquitous and unlocatable”… as has been shown “After Sept. 11th the fear of the other could not be contained within either a single territorial entity, or confined to a given place of origin. Fear was ambient, and initially the war was not to be fought against an enemy with a conventional army, but against the concept of terror. The original code name for the battle was ‘Operation Infinite Justice’ but it was substituted to ‘Enduring Freedom’ because as Muslim clerics noted, only God could execute infinite justice. The boundlessness of the ‘war against terror’ sent a chilling message not only in relation to the ambiguities of place and identity in global politics, but in suggestion that a world with infinite terror implied that vigilance and war never ends.”i
Thus Papastergiadis has shown that fixed borders have been replace by ‘ambient fears’ in which war is deterritorialised and is everywhere amongst us. Or as Jean Luc Nancy says “Nowhere then is there war and everywhere there is tearing apart, trampling down, civilised violence and the brutalities that are mere caricatures of ancient, sacred violence. War is nowhere and everywhere, related to any end without any longer being related to itself as supreme end”ii. And yet, despite all of these observations of fragmentation, ‘war’ always re-coheres through an inevitable logic that always manages to re-establish itself.

To get at this ‘non-subject’ state, at this set of extreme effects I need to mirror it in another non-subject and that is the ‘love’ of my quote – equally over determined and overblown, equally eliciting every form of banality and platitude, ‘love’ too is not a subject but the elicitation of a set of compulsory attitudes. Roland Barthes told us about the fragments of love’s discourse; about tears and regrets and euphorias and ravishment, about looking for signs of loving and being loved, about desire and despair. “there is deception in amorous time (this deception is called the love story) I believe, along with everyone else that the amorous phenomenon is an ‘episode’, endowed with a beginning (love at first sight) and an end (suicide, abandonment, disaffection, withdrawal, monastery, travel , etc’.) Yet the initial scene during which I was ravished is merely reconstituted, it is after the fact. I reconstruct a traumatic image which I experience in the present but which I speak in the past “iii. Like the heroic tales of war, so the heroic tales of love are a question of re-experiencing again and again a heightened moment, and when either of these are depicted in a cooler mode, as off hand , unheroic and unromantic, matter of fact accounts reduced to enigmatic economies, this very effort becomes their subject. At the end of “Fragments of a Lovers Discourse” Barthes says one of those surprising sentences, one of those sentences that have kept us from relegating him to the dustbin of structuralism, he says “Some lovers do not commit suicide” and thus he opens the door to the idea that perhaps this ‘love’ was a preliminary, a necessary condition for a something else to come, as yet unnamed.

And so suspended between these two non-subjects I inevitably come to ‘fair’ and ‘fair’ surprisingly does seem to be a subject. In “All is fair in love and war” the assumption is that in highly charged situations , any method of achieving your objectives, i.e. of winning, is justifiable. Yet ‘fair’ is connoted as positive in every sense from fair weather to the fair sex, from fair play to the fairway of the golf course, from fair trade to fair hair all the way to the confrontational drunks I tried to avoid one night on the street and who when told that I didn’t feel like having them vomit all over my new coat looked back in surprise and said ‘fair enough’. Justice, appropriateness, clarity of vision are all embedded in this most reasonable of terms. And yet, it is mobilised in relation to the heightened and extreme states of both war and of love, set amongst them as the marker of the unexpected, of that which is not inevitable.

And so I go back to Jean Luc Nancy, no one I know of writes better on war than Nancy, both taking its effects seriously and absolutely refusing it at the same time.
“As far as moral, political and affective considerations are concerned, ‘war’, as it reappears today, is a whole new reality by virtue of its archaism. In other words, the return of war not as the reality of military operations but as a figure in our symbolic space, is an undeniably new and singular phenomenon, because it produces itself in a world in which this symbol has been all but effaced….Interrupting Nancy in mid sentence, I think back to Jochen Gerz’ monument in Buronne France, a village/town of some 2000 inhabitants. Like all such villages it too had a small obelisk in its main square, a monument commemorating the dead of the first world war. Like all such monuments this one too became shabby and crumpled with time. A call for proposals resulted in Gerz’s winning entry – instead of re-designing the obelisk or refurbishing it , Gerz went around the village asking the inhabitants what they would be willing to die for, to risk their lives for , today..
The question however remained a private interaction between interviewer and interviewee and all we see are the answers, engraved on small steel plaques that are tacked onto the crumbling monument, propping it up. Gerz had moved from commemorating a war and its human sacrifices, to theorising a notion of a sacrifice in the present. In this he has exemplified Nancy’s argument that war is a symbol that has all but effaced itself from our world. Back then to Nancy…
This is certainly worth thinking,. And it might be that thinking about this is urgent. It is perhaps no longer a question of the degree to which war is a more or less necessary evil, or a more or less troublesome good. It is a question and it is a question for the world – of knowing to which symbolic space we can entrust what is known as liberty, humanity”.iv

And so it would seem that the ‘fair’ I have been so preoccupied with , is the voice of the philosopher, not because it is reasonable, devoted to the application of reason, but because it does the work of relegating both love and war to their symbolic spaces. Because it serves as both an interruption and as that which exits the concept, deflates its rhetorical dramas, refuses its wish to sweep us along against the need to think, to really think. In the struggle to refuse the re-cohering faculties of war, as of love, ‘fair’ with its irritating moderatness affects a temporal gap. The philosopher’s interruption of ‘war’ or of ‘lover’ for that matter is akin to Deleuze’s refusal of ‘state philosophy’. D&G speaking of , speaking of official lineages of philosophy as ‘state philosophy’ say that it populated by ‘bureaucrats of pure reason who are in historical complicity with the state’. Their discourses, that of these bureaucrats of pure reason, “are of sovereign judgement, of stable subjectivity legislated by good sense, of rock like identity and of universal truth”. State philosophy say D&G is representational thinking, thinking which is analogical – it seeks to establish a correspondence, a similarity of thought, an analogy between the subject, its concepts and the objects in the world to which these concepts are applied. This supposed unity is obviously a hugely privileged assumption. From any contemporary perspective it seems laughable that one could posit a world so without ruptures, fissures, chaotic disruptions and necessary mobilities, that might allow one to sustain this fantasy of coherence and of unity between the subject, its thought and the objects in the world to which this thought is applied.

Over the next two days of ‘the dictionary’ this unity will be broken down we hope, but still it seems wise to cling to my notion of ‘fair’.
This ‘fair’ assumes that neither love nor war are an end in themselves, but the preliminary, to a we know not what. Not waiting around for the result of either love or war , but arther to position them as preliminaries to something, something inevitable which might be called a conclusion or a consequence, we can take comfort in the fact that after all ‘not all lovers commit suicide’, do they ?’

Irit Rogoff