By Monica R. Miller
Chocolate hearts will melt, flowers will die, and millions of Americans will be left to foot the bill of yet another over-commercialized holiday. Valentine’s Day can bring a sense of dread for many people wandering store aisles and street corners decorated ceiling to floor in putrid pinks and bloody reds. This time of year can cause a compulsion to share warm feelings of intimacy that may not exist in individuals’ lives, or isn’t deemed ‘socially appropriate’ based on the perceptions we carry around sexuality, monogamy, gender and more. In times like this I wonder, is Valentine’s Day still relevant?
As intellectuals thinking about the mass marketing of pre-packaged heteronormative modes of expression, it occurs to me that Valentine’s Day needs some serious deconstructing (if you’re into that sort of thing, keep reading). So where do we go and what do we do to get our [de]construction crews moving? Firstly, we get out of the house! Every year there seems to be creeping out of the love laden debris more and more alternatives to the big (and over-rated) V-Day. Last year I happened upon one such occasion called “Cupid Ain’t @#$%!: An Anti-Valentine’s Day Poetry Movement” and saw a hodge-podge of people varying in sexual orientation, gender, color and age forging a space to talk about their not-so-fluffy and [un]marketable experiences with love. This event is just one of many popping up all over the country that lets people bash an unopposed holiday that leaves their wallets and hearts bare. It is not just a place for singles—but also, the down-trodden and political cynics of the world (at least those who reside in Philadelphia and New York City)—an artistic space where folk gather together to listen to talented poets share their own thoughts and experiences with loves lost, sex, identity, and above all, that mythic creeper called Cupid!
I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, but there is a more serious concern which drives my ranting—it is important, and unfortunately rare, for people of varying sexual orientations/identities/partnerships to have a space whereby they can talk about their failed and current relationships with love and the outside world’s perceptions. While many of us uncritically embrace this (nonsensical) over-commodified, heteronormative, mythic day—others remain silenced. What I like about “Cupid Ain’t @#$%!: An Anti-Valentine’s Day Poetry Movement” is that through snarky, silly, political performance art—the stage is welcoming of all. There’s not a better way to deconstruct the problematics of V-Day than to bring gay, straight, queer, questioning, trans, single, coupled, monogamous, polyamorous and everything-in-between people together on one stage in the same night to talk about sex and love!
This Anti-Valentine’s Day Movement is about what doesn’t fit into the commercialized box of chocolates—on a more serious note, it’s about creating a space for those that embody a particular kind of ‘Otherness’—a singularity that isn’t recognized nor respected in a holiday that obscures difference. V-Day is in need of some serious deconstruction. No better way to get a lesson in the art (or war) of deconstruction then to look to late philosopher Jacques Derrida for a sample of (in)coherent (but very wise) digressions. Derrida suggests that the question of love raises, “…the question of the difference between the who and the what.” According to Derrida, one must be able to love the absolute singularity of someone—at the core of love is the very problem of Being, itself. What Derrida is hinting at, as he goes onto mention, is the concern about our relationship to and with the ‘singularity’ of the ‘Other’—the alterity of the ‘Other.’ In fact, Derrida suggests that love for the ‘Other’ is at the heart of deconstruction. In an interview with Nikhil Padgaonkar, Derrida explains that, “This love means an affirmative desire towards the Other – to respect the Other, to pay attention to the Other, not to destroy the otherness of the Other – and this is the preliminary affirmation, even if afterwards because of this love, you ask questions.” A little theoretical yes, but until V-Day can respect the irreducible difference of radical ‘Otherness’—we must continue to resist the temptation to passively consume this hegemonic day of celebration that leaves some hearts warm—and keeps others begging for recognition. If I were to get a little bit Spivakian on this point I might ask, “Can the ‘Other’ of Valentine’s Day Speak?” Pushing the envelope a bit further, we have to ask who the ‘Other’ of Valentine’s Day is. Perhaps it’s those who have incurred social injury from the symbolic violence of the normalizing order of dominant and compulsory heterosexuality and all other normative frames that attempt to cheapen difference, as such.
Cheer up, the desire is not to put V-Day to death forever, after all, one cannot participate in an ‘anti’ movement without the ‘Other’ it seeks to deconstruct—ideologically, V-Day will always exist even if the holiday doesn’t. We do however want to put this holiday to death in a way that allows it to live on in a form that can embrace the multiplicity of the embodiment of difference. And for those of us familiar with Derridian thought—we know that in order for something to continue on, we must exercise faithful unfaithfulness—we must betray that which we have inherited to create something new, better, and different. Derrida says, “…in order to invent something new, or to make something new happen, you have to betray the tradition….”
And so…..this year, we want to encourage all of you to be faithfully unfaithful this V-Day season and come here what thus sayeth the voice of the ‘Other.’ We are grateful that the ‘Other’ of V-Day can speak, in fact, these voices have never stopped—perhaps they only speak in languages not recognized by the dictionaries of our holiday lexicons. V-Day will be a happy day for many and perhaps a depressed and isolated day for others—come and betray the hegemonic tradition of V-Day through seductive and subversive poetry and performance art. Worn out clichés on love say that love is blind—but in a world of mass-marketing and fear of the ‘Other’ we know that this is not so—that everyone, is not free to love. And until that day…. to hell with V-Day. As long as there exists disparities in the ways we get to share our love as it exists, or lack thereof, we say, Cupid Ain’t @#$%!
Show Times & Locations:
In New York City:
Feb 12th 8pm, performance, Bluestockings Bookstore (172 Allen St)
Feb 11th 8pm, performance, Tritone Bar (1508 South St)
Feb 13th 8pm, poetry slam, Tritone Bar (1508 South St)
Monica R. Miller is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, Miller is Assistant Adjunct Faculty in the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University, Senior Research Fellow at The Institute for Humanist Studies and Co-Chair of “Critical Approaches to Hip Hop and Religion” Consultation (AAR). Miller’s research interests include theory and method in the study of religion in addition to the intersections of religion and material culture and youth cultural practices. Miller has a Ph.D. in ‘Theology, Ethics, Human Science’ from Chicago Theological Seminary.