Revolutionary Ambivalence: A Dialogue Between U.S. Third World Feminism and Liberation Theology on the Limits of ‘Love’ as an Axis of Radical Social Change, Critical Sense, 11#1:11-46 (Fall 2002)

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"Revolutionary Ambivalence: A Dialogue Between U.S. Third World Feminism and Liberation Theology on the Limits of ‘Love’ as an Axis of Radical Social Change," Critical Sense, 11#1:11-46 (Fall 2002)
  Critical SenseFall 200211 Revolutionary Ambivalence: A Dialogue BetweenU.S. Third World Feminism and LiberationTheology on the Limits of ‘Love’ as an Axis of Radical Social Change Jorge A. Aquino  No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. - Jesus of NazarethJohn 15:12-13 Yo no creo en la teología de la liberación; yo creo en Jesucristo. - Gustavo Gutiérrez(1990 interview with the author) Popular notions of “revolution” often represent revolutionaryactivity as though it were a single-minded and unambiguousproject aimed at transforming society from the ground up. Whilethe latter part of this representation is valid, history abundantlyreveals that revolutionary activism is diluted within a range of ambivalences arrayed between the extremes of love and violence.Revolutionary violence typically arises from materialist   articulations  12Jorge AquinoRevolutionary Ambivalence of self- or class-interest 1 seeking to disrupt or displace the institutionsor actors who uphold an oppressive regime, often through violentmeans. On the other extreme lie strategies rooted in the value of self-abnegation, or agapè, 2 which carry on acts of nonviolent (self-) sacrifice in the name of a larger collective good or utopian ideal,but without a commitment to violence. While it is rare to findexpressions of these revolutionary extremes, as extremes , of thetwo I suspect that the agapic is more rare, perhaps because socialchange is never surrendered without a fight, and revolution invariablyunfolds amid violence.More common is some register of activism running betweenthe extremes. In seeking to overturn a given social order,revolutionary activism often couches a utopian vision amid notionsof fellowship, friendship, or love, while aiming violent or disruptiveinstrumentalities at oppressive power structures. Utopian fellowshipreaches out to allies or other revolutionary comrades; but it can alsoreach out to certain opponents who today invest in an oppressivepower structure, with the aim of their conversion or integration intoa future utopian order. Certainly many individual revolutionariesexpress “love of the people” as a value motivating their activism. 3 But love and violence are uneasy fellow travelers in the history anddiscourses of revolutionary activism.This paper will consider two manifestations of agapicrevolutionary discourse — the discourse of “revolutionary love”developed by U.S. Third World feminists, and sketched by Chicanatheorist Chela Sandoval, and the discourse of Latin Americanliberation theology, as developed in several works from leadingtheorists — as a means of grounding the thought of revolutionary ambivalence .Ambivalence has been conceived with powerful clarity in thework of anti-colonial criticism. Homi K. Bhabha, 4 for example,writes of how the mimicry of colonial cultural formations appearsas the means by which colonizing powers subject their Others ,simultaneously integrating and barring colonial subjects fromaccess to the full franchise of the colonial order. 5 The notion of  revolutionary love depicts an analogous mode of ambivalent  Critical SenseFall 200213 subjectivation  from below : While Bhabha represents mimicry as anambivalent, even dangerously unstable, axis of colonial subjection,I would like to suggest that visions of utopian love form theambivalent axis of revolutionary forms of consciousness.This reading will seek traces of revolutionary ambivalence inthe margins of U.S. Third World feminism and liberation theologyrespectively, reading against the grain of their texts to discover acommon thread within revolutionary thought that is seldomremarked: not so much its utopian ambitions, as the ambivalentway in which utopian love cuts against the pragmatics of revolutionary activism. I will begin by considering the work of Sandoval, who undertakes a sweeping review of feminism on herway to demonstrating the way women of color develop a“differential” consciousness that offers possibilities for strategiccoalitions precisely across difference . Against the pessimismexpressed in the work of another revolutionary thinker, FredericJameson, Sandoval argues that “love as a hermeneutics of socialchange” has revolutionary possibilities that neither Jameson norwhite feminists have explored or appropriated adequately. Thosepossibilities arise in the experience of communities and coalitionsof “U.S. Third World feminists” 6 who, because of their particularpatterns of marginality, are forced to negotiate relationships (andlove) across differences of culture, discourse, and social location— precisely the sorts of differences that Sandoval argues Jamesonidentifies as stumbling blocks to anti-capitalist revolutionaryformations. However, we will see in this paper that Sandoval’sdiscussion sidelines the role of violence in revolutionary socialchange in a way that points to an ambivalence that is fundamentalto revolutionary discourse.I will then survey some of the literature in Latin Americanliberation theology to offer a contrasting view of “revolutionarylove.” Liberation theology conceives the agency of love astranspersonal and eschatological: humanity practices love as partof its responsive faith in God and God’s eschatological mission of “integral liberation.” Liberation theology is singular for its emphasison the way that human action and agency help induce the  14Jorge AquinoRevolutionary Ambivalence eschatological fulfillment of history by participating in revolutionarytransformations of the global capitalist social order that is particularlyoppressive to vast majorities who live in Latin America. We willsee how liberation theology struggles to reconcile its own ambivalentplace between the imperatives of social change and the theologicaldemand for agapè. In contrast to Sandoval’s writing on U.S. ThirdWorld feminism, however, liberation theology more consciouslyinterrogates the ambivalence between violence and love, and mostof its major theorists opt for activisms that follow the agapic, self-abnegating path of the via crucis . 7 The point of this exercise is not to discover some pure standpointin which revolutionary politics might be cleansed of ambivalence,but rather, to interrogate revolutionary discourse as a means of considering an instability at its heart that is seldom considered. Oneconclusion I draw from this reflection is that there is no cure forrevolutionary ambivalence. On the contrary, anti-hegemonic oranti-capitalist “revolution” must always struggle with a fundamentalcontradiction between an ideal of altruistic love and more practicalchallenges that will raise questions of the tactical necessity of violence. The crux of this instability lies at the crossing of ethicsand efficacy: Can love be “revolutionary,” if by “revolutionary” wemean capable of transforming the social order? Can incrementalchange transform what is — in Jameson’s view, at least — atotalizing capitalist hegemony? Or would a more violent disruptionof such an order be required? Can political action based on loveeffectively transform or convert the systemic micro-imbricationsof capitalism, postmodern culture, and neo-colonialism (alongwith their racist, sexist, and homophobic ideologies) withoutconcerning itself with the violence(s) by which those systems andtheir discursive formations 8 evolved? In some ways, this essayseeks to weigh differing expressions of revolutionary ambivalenceas they negotiate the tensions between materialist notions of political economy, which sees interest 9 as irreducible, and theefficacy of discursive, persuasive, or agapic forms of activism.In short, can love persuade the oppressor; and if not, is amethodology based on love still viable as a “revolutionary” mode  Critical SenseFall 200215 of social change? This paper cannot decisively answer this question,which in this form remains somewhat rhetorical. Rather, the hopeis that by  posing and exploring the question, a debility inrevolutionary discourse and practice might be effectively confrontedby a wider body of scholarship than has heretofore emerged.I. 'A Riesgo de Parecer Ridículo' : Revolutionary Ambivalence Chela Sandoval begins the sixth chapter of her book,  Methodology of the Oppressed  , with a series of quotations that aredesigned to underscore the chapter’s theme: “Love as a Hermeneuticsof Social Change, a Decolonizing  Movida ” (139). Alongsidequotations from Frantz Fanon, 10 bell hooks, 11 and Laura Pérez, 12 stands a quotation from the Argentine-Cuban revolutionary, ErnestoChe Guevara. His is a quotation so famous that it circulates on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and postcards: The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. I begin with Sandoval’s citation to point to what it leaves out, bothin terms of the context in which it was written, and in terms of Che’sbiography. The larger passage from which she takes her truncatedquotation of Guevara reads as follows: Déjeme decirle, a riesgo de parecer ridículo , que el revolucionarioverdadero está guiado por grandes sentimientos de amor. Esimposible pensar en un revolucionario auténtico sin esta cualidad.Quizás sea uno de los grandes dramas del dirigente; éste debeunir a un espíritu apasionado una mente fría y tomar decisionesdolorosas sin que contraiga un músculo. 13 [My emphasis initalics.] I n terms of context, Sandoval has sidelined Che’s ambivalence.That a revolutionary should speak of being motivated by “greatfeelings of love” is something that for Guevara bordered  on theridiculous. But Sandoval has also sidelined something   harsher: the
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