What is Love’s Work? (Gillian Rose)

To celebrate the publishing of Gillian Rose’s book Love’s Work in the Penguin Modern Masters series (March 14th 2024), Nigel Tubbs reflects back on a piece he wrote in 1998 about Rose’s autobiography.

For Gillian Rose, protest not only opposes and speaks against, it also carries the recognition that to speak against is already to be part of that which is opposed. Speaking against something (contra-diction) is implicated in contradiction, a speaking that opposes itself. This contradictory self-relation is, for Gillian, the nearest we get, and fail to get, to something akin to an identity. The work and the logic here, for Gillian, are Hegelian. And unlike most readers of Hegel what Gillian found in this logic was ‘the process of learning, the corrigibility of experience’ (Rose, 2024, 84-5).

This working self-relation is her response to the question asked by Marx in 1844, ‘how do we now stand in relation to the Hegelian dialectic?’ (Marx 1975:379). Her answer is that in the middle of imposed and negated identities and truths, in the uncertainty about who we are and what we should do, we are commended to comprehend the brokenness of this middle as the education of our natural and philosophical consciousness. She commends us to work with these contradictions, with the roaring and the roasting of the broken middle, and to know that it is, and is not, ‘I’.

Unlike so much critical sociology and philosophy, Gillian is not simply drawing attention to the experience of contingency or of being determined within social and political conditions. She is revealing how all thinking, all critique, all protest is always already formed within the ‘anxiety of beginning’ (see Rose 1992). This presents itself as the double dilemma of self-relation. To assume that we know something is necessarily to have presupposed that a beginning can be made with that object. Awareness of our contingency undermines such abstract presuppositions. We were not after all, at the beginning; we were in media res. This is the mainstay of what passes as critique, where some kind of implication within social and political pre-existing conditions is shown to undermine the taken for granted nature of objects and our knowledge of them.

But where Gillian is relentless in her work, is in pointing out that this knowing of contingency, when it adopts its critical stance against an object, is just as illusory as that object which it is exposing as illusory.  The eternally returning unsettling of thought that troubles its own thoughtlessness is the logic of what Hegel calls illusory being in his Science of Logic (Gillian once said to me that if I read nothing else in the Science of Logic, I should read the section on illusory being as it explained everything else in Hegel). Few theorists, and very few commentators on Rose, have been willing to implicate their own thinking or their own work in this relentless negation of negation, or contradiction of contra-diction, or ambivalence of protest. I argued in 1998 that this was her whole project. I still think it is.  

This double dilemma of the contradiction of protest and the protest of contradiction, in her life as in her philosophy, is ‘love’s work’. I remain of the view that love’s work was the substance of Gillian’s Hegelian philosophy even before she herself was able to ‘speak its word’. That she was able to so name it at the end of her time as a writer, issued (and now reissued) as her autobiography Love’s Work, speaks of the formative and educative aspects of love’s work, that it is able to comprehend itself, returning to and repeating the self in the relation which is its own development. Love’s work is to hear self-relation as ‘the roaring and the roasting and know that it is “I”‘ (Rose 2024:50).

The young Hegel noted that,

since love is a unification of life, it presupposes division, a development of life, a developed many-sidedness of life. The more variegated the manifold in which life is alive, the more places in which it can be reunified; the more the places it can sense itself, the deeper does love become

(Hegel 1975:278-9)

This above all was Gillian’s risk: to seek places in scholarship for love and life. This risk commends the guardians of the tombs of philosophy, theology, sociology, education, feminism, legalism to see themselves within these tombs, watching over their own deaths, and then to accept the burden of becoming ‘the roaring wind’ (Nietzsche 1982:247) which rips open these tombs, releasing from within them the life and the comedy which has been repressed. This is the struggle which love’s work commended in its first publication in 1996, and perhaps commends even more strongly today in the re-publication in 2024.

References

Hegel, G. W. F. (1975), Early Theological Writings, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Marx, Karl (1975), Early Writings, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1982), The Portable Nietzsche, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Rose, G. (1992), The Broken Middle, Oxford: Blackwell.

Rose, G. (2024) Love’s Work, London, Penguin.

See also

Tubbs, N. ‘What is Love’s Work?’ in Women: a cultural review Vol. 9. No. I. © Oxford University Press 1998, pp. 34-46; 10.1080/09574049808578333