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Saturday, January 28, 2017

La La Love

La La Land. I knew it would be fantastic as in fantasy. And escapist as in let me out of this political morass that has become this country. I feared it might be reactionary--back to "Singing in the Rain" and "Oklahoma" when America was Great Again. 

So why did I enjoy it so much? The music and choreography? The acting and cinematography?  Nope, it was the love story. It recalled me to love.

The risk and uncertainty of love. It's idiosyncrasy and serendipity. Only in retrospect do we feel that our love was meant to be. Mia and Seb have an accidental encounter. Like my meeting with Bernie when I, without any foresight, happened to take a summer off from studies to play at community organizing in an area of Chicago which I had never heard of. I met and worked with her. The rest is history. Love is first a fluke. It is our commitment that makes it fate.

It is maddening to think that this was not the plan of the Universe or of the Creator; that it was coincidence, unwritten in the stars. Perhaps like the universe itself. A random emergence, a quantum fluctuation. But then in the process we change our love from chance to destiny. We take responsibility. We choose to respond to one another.

Alain Badiou, a moral and political philosopher, wrote a small book In Praise of Love that, Damien Chazelle, the director of “La La Land” might well have read. Badiou dismisses love as merely the ecstasy of the encounter or as a contract or as an illusion—a sort of cover for sexual desire. He discovers love as a quest for truth. Not the intellectual, academic, disinterested truth-quest of philosophy and science. It is discovering and making a world from the perspective of two, not one. “What is the world like when it is experienced, developed, and lived from the point of view of difference and not identity?”

Two unique individuals, with their own special identities, do not become or intend One whether in themselves or in some transcendent place or person. They are and remain different but together make their one world. They see things from the other’s point of view; they listen; they accommodate; they join in a common adventure, contribute to and share a common language. Yet they create their own persons, follow their own dreams, and grow their own souls. With each other’s help, critique, accountability.

And so it was with Seb and Mia who after the ecstasy of the encounter pushed the other to follow his or her dream to become what they wanted to become together, each within the limits of who they are. Remember Mia saying: I don’t like jazz which was anathema to Sebastian who then taught her to like it. (PS his description and illustration was awesome to this jazz-lover. In fact, jazz became the analogy for love as an asserting of the individual artist in creating a common world).

In Badiou’s understanding of human being, there are four elements—though “elements” implies separability. Better maybe “aspects” or “facets.” 1) There is the bodily behavior, the organism interacting with its environment through expressions. 2) There is bodily awareness, a sense of identity, personhood, self-consciousness. 3) There is the expression that defines things in the world, words, models, propositions. And 4) there is the world being framed, shaped, carved, discovered in the environment.

Love is two persons sharing the adventure of making and discovering the world. Yes, indeed they are part of a wider community and draw on many other expressions and even enjoy other activities and awareness as they go along. But in love there is a declaration, a commitment, an effort of two to share the adventure and discover their one world.

In the process of love as a quest for truth, Badiou identifies 1) the event which is the encounter and its ecstasy—Remember the bar in which Mia first hears Seb play, their meeting in the coffee shop, the party, the dance at the top of LA. 2) the declaration, the kiss, the “I love you,” as a commitment to one another, the risk of joining in an adventure which may go wrong. As when Mia left the dinner to join Sebastian waiting at the theater and then their fantasy of dancing the universe. 3) The baring to one another, being naked and vulnerable, much more than sexual intercourse which never appeared in the film directly, though they were clearly living together. 4) Points along the way like having a child, like a struggle of misunderstanding, like a success or failure, even of separation and death—all points that recall the initial event, the declaration, and the commitment as were his new job, her attempt at one woman show, her running away, and his bringing her back to successfully audition.

For Badiou and for Chazelle, love is corporeal. Two bodies entwined in the dance of life exploring and shaping the universe. Sexual, yes, but not just a satiation of desire, an orgasm, where the twoness is lost and each becomes preoccupied with his or her own pleasure. They do not satisfy or become one flesh. Again, there is no explicit sexual intercourse in the film.

Some commentators say that Badiou forgoes transcendence for immanence in love and politics. Love is not religion. And religion is not love. We act collectively and we love as two not for some transcendental state or person. I would rather say that Badiou and La La Land brings the transcendence of love into immanence. In other words, our very corporeal existence is in process, intentional, intending the growth of the whole person. Love (and politics) is in and for this world, not for some other one.

Love is a long-term project. Most love stories describe the initial encounter, the struggles that got the lovers together, and the ecstasy of the joining and then “they live happily ever after” even when that living becomes more commonplace, even boring, and without the initial passion as in War and Peace with Natasha and Pierre.  But as the ending of the film portrays, love is eternal, beyond separation even that of death.

Some viewers we’ve heard say don’t like the ending. Or that it is a sad ending. Mia and Seb meet again at his club after five years both having fulfilled their dreams. Again, by chance. She has an extravagant, yet delicious, fantasy as to how it could have ended and as we film-watchers expected, hoped it would end. Seb and Mia, the two together living happily ever after. But no, she has her family and her work. He has his band and his work. She walks out of the club with her husband, but turns once more to look at him. He nods and smiles, as does she.

And we know that this is a love that will never end. Even as the movie does.



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