Interview with Gillian Rose by Vincent Lloyd

I came across this great piece yesterday, which is available on-line through the author’s website.

Gillian Rose

Vincent Lloyd is Assistant Professor of Religion at Syracuse University NY  who has spent quite a bit of (scholarly) time with Gillian Rose, one of my reddresstheology favourites.  Lloyd introduces this 1995 interview with Andy O’Mahony for RTE Radio with a very accessible introduction to Rose’s work.  He chooses the six key phrases which display Rose’s pre-occupations and offers a brief explanation.  For Rose…

‘Philosophy must start in the middle’

‘Ethical life is risky, there are no guarantees – we are all victims and perpetrators’

‘Ethics is politics is metaphysical’

‘Modernity is characterized by dualistic splits which postmodernity continues’

‘Ontology is a false substitute for metaphysics’

‘Love involves risk and vulnerability’

The interview itself betrays Rose as a much lighter character than her writing sometimes suggests and certainly confirmed my liking of her: if you’ve been intrigued by my work on love I recommend you go and read the whole interview, which took place just one month before her premature death.

Here are a few of my favourite grabs:

AO’M: You mentioned the disappearance of eros, meaning a desire or hunger.
GR:  Eros ranges from sexual desire to intellectual curiosity.  It’s just a hunger, I think that’s a good way to put it, because a hunger acknowledges a lack, but knows also that it can be filled.  If you just say, as some people do, that Platonic eros is lack, you’ve only got half of it.

                – – –

AO’M:  Point to those philosophers, those thinkers, who see eros  in more full-blooded, more positive terms…
GR:  I don’t think there are any now.  I think that is what’s missing from philosophy at the moment and that is what I’m trying to restore in my own work.  In the tradition, I think it’s in Rousseau, Hobbes, Marx – I even see it in Marx – Freud.  I think it’s in all the great thinkers, but not in deconstruction or other French thinking.*

AO’M:  ‘If I knew who I was’, says you, ‘I wouldn’t write.’
GR:  I don’t like it when people say, ‘I’m writing this book as a woman, as a Jew, as a Catholic, as a black.’  Those are things that need to be explored in order to know what they are.  We write in order to explore what they might mean.  To put them there as fixatives is fascist.  They are not fixed things, to be a woman, to be a Jew, to be a black, to be a Catholic.  They’re highly mobile, volatile things.  If you’re growing, you don’t even know what they are from one minute to the next.  So you can’t start your book by saying, ‘This is where I write from.’  You’ve got to find where you write from by questioning where you start from.

                  – – –

AO’M:  You say at one point in Love’s Work, ‘I’m highly qualified in unhappy love affairs.’
GR:  Perhaps some people have over-construed that.  I do say at the end of the book that I have had two very successful long-term relationships.  I don’t want to appear as simply a waif of love.  Nevertheless, that statement was introduced strategically and realistically because I wanted to explore what it is to be love-able and what it is to be non-love-able – I mean loveable and capable of love at the same time – and that’s why I introduced it in that dramatic way.  It is true, of course, because I have had a lot of unhappy experiences – otherwise I wouldn’t grow, would I?

AO’M:  Did you see any pattern?
GR:  Certainly I did.  One tends to think, first of all, that things are happening to you.  What you have to discover from unhappy love affairs in your own agency and your own ambivalence.  I think some forms of feminism detract from women being able to do that.  They teach women that they’re oppressed, and they don’t encourage women to see their own active involvement in situations where they may indeed be unequal.  But you need to see your own involvement in that, commitment in that, in order to move beyond it.

AO’M: You talk about the rage that some women feel towards other men in their lives that often masks an even greater rage expressed in terms of choosing an incompetent partner.
GR:  There’s a syndrome, which I discovered in myself, and which I see in other women, whereby you’ve very angry with men, maybe your father, and therefore you choose a partner who it’ easy to be contemptuous of.  I think that’s a syndrome that needs to be recognized more.  I would put that generally: we don’t talk enough about the power of women, we talk much too much about the powerlessness of women.

AO’M:  The power residing in what?
GR:  In being a mother, in being a lover … that women are not always on the weaker side of things, they’re often on the stronger side of things, but nevertheless representing themselves to themselves as weaker.  Therefore they don’t understand their own agency in their choice of love object.

               – – –

AO’M: You say that to spend the whole night with someone is agape.  We normally make a distinction between agape and eros, that agape has something to do with relating to God, eros to our fellow humans.
GR:  It’s more that eros is about desire and apage is about care.  If you don’t simply make love with someone and then leave, but spend the night holding them, it’s much nearer care than desire, or it’s the beautiful mix of the two.

AO’M:  But how absolute a distinction is it?
GR:  I don’t agree with Nygren who makes an absolute distinction between agape and eros.  I think eros fulfilled always becomes agapic.#

AO’M:  Where is friendship, then, in that mix?
GR:  Friendship is also a very beautiful and important thing.  it could all be seen under the sign of friendship.

Go to Vincent Lloyd’s webpage to read the whole interview here.


* Remember that Rose is commenting almost twenty years ago – if she were alive today I think she would agree the situation has changed somewhat, and I think that she would very much like Jean-Luc Marion’s recent book The Erotic Phenomenon.
#  I cheered out loud at this point when I first read the interview!  Absolutely!!  Can’t agree more!!!  It’s captured masterfully in this piece by ‘soul scape’ artist Louis Parsons

Eros and Agape