Love, between Norms and Transgression: Art, History, Fiction
Coordinators: Marie Fourcade, Tiziana Leucci, Raphaël Rousseleau
The project of this workshop is to take “love” as a scientific object, an object of history, of art, of fiction. There is always a historicizable creation of the beloved object. This feeling, experienced in radically different ways depending on time periods, cultures and nations, is at the point of contact between social history, economic history, the history of women, etc. But is has its own history, although no precise approach—with just a few exceptions—of its forms, durations, ways of being and existing has really been attempted. There are numerous sources (archives, correspondences, trials, diaries, dance and song spectacles, films, etc.), and yet historians rarely take the experience of love as an object of serious study. Love is looked down upon because of its supposedly capricious nature, its fleeting character, the aura of its power, the belief in its universality. Love lies at the heart of what is forbidden, of denial, of moral, civil or religious obstacles, of separations, of the emergence of romantic rivalries. It is declined in forms ranging from the normative to the transgressive, with intermediary states of negociation, adaptation, sublimation or even renunciation. Love has its own temporality, and is always under threat from fear of the other, racisms and stigmatizations, sicknesses or emprisonments, exiles, etc. Each era creates its own representations of the project and destiny of love. Existing work, such as that of Rougemont on Europe and the historicization of the link between love and marriage are useful when turning towards India. It is the emergence of women’s history, and then later of gender history, that has elicited more attention to the relationships between the masculine and feminine worlds. Prescriptions on rules governing love change in accordance with the status of the women involved (wife, courtesan, etc.). Over the course of the last few years, the status of emotions and their historicity have come to color some historical fields: the body and politics, as well as seduction have become important themes that are recognized as legitimate objects of study today, giving rise to publications and conferences. The history of love is a tricky project, as Arlette Farge (2011: 12) has indicated, “not just because of the sources, but also because love is subject to a multitude of states and definitions, either eminently durable, volatile, or suspected of being incapable of ever transforming a passionate and indissoluble intimacy into a stable and harmonious state.” Being in love creates a state of tension between two people. Either this love is in conformity with societal norms and it becomes etiolated; or it is transgressive and must go up against adversity. Often, love goes hand in hand with procreation. For many, love is beyond reason, and it is this very stereotype that forces societies to codify what it means to be in love (a codification which then gives rise to transgression). Obstacles sharpen desire and, paradoxically, love is also rife with normative contexts that make it both lasting and possible.
South Asia provides a particularly rich field for the study of a history of love (kâma) as an “affect.” Art, history and fiction illustrate and animate this theme to the heights of its reality and of its phantasmagoric power. With a caste-based, procedural, excessive society, which was for a long time—and to a certain extent still is—dominated by hierarchy(ies), South Asia, with its complex landscape, requires detailed and rigorous analyses: the role of kâma in how feelings are structured, in normative and literary texts, in iconographical representations and ethnographic testimonies; the way emotional landscapes are depicted in the South (Ramanujan). We shall take care to make careful distinctions in the range of emotions: filial love, sexual desire, conjugal attachment, faithfulness; relationships with other emotions: relative configurations of emotions (Despret 1999). We will touch on the question of genders and individual difficulties encountered when trying to negotiate the norms relative to masculine/feminine roles (homosexuality, transsexuality, etc.) in contemporary India.
In order to examine “love” as an object, the workshop will enlist the help of different fields: literature, literary and social history, anthropology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, esthetics, music, dance, song, theater and film. We will examine the articulations between personal feelings, social norms and cultural representations. In the vocabulary of love proper to the Indian sub-continent, we will analyze the notions of śringāra (erotic affect), viraha (separation/suffering caused by separation from a lover), ‘isqh/muhabbat (desire/passion), prem (love/affection) and “love,” all of which have taken on a variety of appearances throughout the course of their long histories, and are still alive and actively used today.
We will question the four repertories that govern love: in the Sanskrit repertory, the philosophical basis of the discourse on love is kāma (pleasure of love)—the focus of the Kāmasūtra treatise, which gives instructions on the art of love in all its minute nuances. In the oral repertory, love is a production of epic sources, tales and songs. As for the Arabo-Persian repertory, it is articulated around expressions such as ‘isqh/muhabbat and includes religious injunctions, Sufi poems and their interpretations, universal texts on ethics and proper behavior, poetic novels (masnavī), lyric poems (ghazal) and tales of adventure and chivalry. Finally, there is the poetic repertory of devotional love (bhakti), which can be grouped with the modern register to which prem and “love” belong. For example, in one of his articles (in Orsini, ed., 2006), the historian Daud Ali examines the Gupta court using plays in which amorous enthusiasm and dynastic alliances are combined. In India, Arabic and Persian poetry are part and parcel of the cultural contribution made by the Muslim conquest. The masnavī generated models and frameworks in which motifs of identity construction could develop. These love stories, written in prose or in verse, in Persian or in Indian languages, have passed on standards that have established a certain degree of familiarity with different publics.
Furthermore, the huge body of literary work produced by the bhakti devotional movement is primarily made up of vernacular-language songs, which were transmitted orally by itinerant professionals who also performed in the major temples. A cultural restructuring has occurred since the days of the Mughal courts, through the re-writings of classical stories and various forms of investment in local languages and traditions. This eclectic patronage has fostered the dynamic development of hybrid forms such as Hindustani music, or Persian re-appropriations of Indian love stories, like that of Nala and Damayantī. This same kind of cross-fertilization also affected Parsi theater, which flourished between 1850 and 1930.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, a shift occurred from an erotic conception of love towards a more emotional one (cf. Kaviraj in Orsini, ed., 2006). Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is the mouthpiece of this latter conception. We will insist on the colonial period, which witnessed the moralization of feelings and the “spiritualization” of the arts. A new ideal of romantic love took shape in novels, and later in film, where songs staged in Edenic settings serve as declarations of love. This ideal has even infiltrated arranged marriage. Under the influence of the Bengali reform movement Brāhmo Samāj, education manuals for women, dealing with the sexual health of couples, have begun to be produced. From the widow burning on the pyre of her deceased husband (satī) to the consensual “arranged love match,” which is what is most widely accepted in present-day Delhi; from sensorship of kissing on the mouth in film, followed by its suspension, which is controversial once again, to the recent anti Valentine’s day demonstrations (Bombay), India has a talent for accommodating the contemporary without evacuating or abolishing its past in the process.
It is the examination of these various versions of love that will nourish our research and our investigations as we attempt to deepen our knowledge of this complex continent.
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