Love Is a Muscle

Michael Hardt

I have never met anyone more relentlessly intelligent than Lauren, more intensely present. 

I remember once saying to them – admittedly, a rather banal comment – that love is a muscle.  The more you use it, the more you work at it, the more you will be able to love and, conversely, disuse leads to atrophy.  Loving needs something like a workout regime.

You’re right, Michael, they responded, but you have to remember how violent the process is.  By exercising you are really ripping the muscles apart, creating thousands of micro-tears.  When blood flows to repair those tears is when you start feeling pain.  Only then, with the pain, do muscles grow.  Yes, love is like that.  Don’t forget the pain, the violence of attachment.  It’s inseparable from the joy.  (Lauren is a master at holding conflicting affects together, pain and joy, hope and despair.)

Lauren’s response about love and muscles resonates in an uncanny way with famous US Marine Corps motto, “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  But, really, it’s just the opposite.  Rather than pain creating invincible warriors, here it is a sign of our becoming more able to be affected by others, more able to sustain and deepen our attachments.

One of the accomplishments of Lauren’s work that I continually return to is the way they elevate the power to be affected to a primary status.  To flourish, to experience joy, does require that we increase our power to act and to think, but equally important (and, perhaps, inseparable from this) is the need constantly to enrich our affective life, to increase our powers to be affected.  Being able to think and to act more powerfully is the result not of separation or shields but instead of being able to form more powerful attachments, being able to engage more openly with the world.  Hence the supreme power of the affects.

Now, after Lauren’s death, I’m not sure what to do with this pain.  I should remember that the sensation of tearing inside is inseparable from the joy of attachment and love.


Michael Hardt teaches political theory in the literature program at Duke, where he is also codirector of the Social Movements Lab.

3 Comments

Filed under Lauren Berlant

3 responses to “Love Is a Muscle

  1. Pingback: Losing Lauren Berlant | In the Moment

  2. Ian Steers

    A reading of Aristotle’s development of virtue through action/practice would not go amiss in this piece.

  3. Pingback: Links in the Time of Coronavirus, Vol. 16: June 16–July 15, 2021 | The Hyperarchival Parallax

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