In defense of stupidity — on love & marriage


The only reason to get married
is so you can start having affairs

— Oscar Wilde

For, to wed is not only to pledge oneself, to make a vow but to also make a wager, to place a bet on a future. Les affaires in the very sense of a certain business deal: after all there is always a contract in place.

And, perhaps more importantly, an agreement.

One that is found in the very phrase that is uttered at each ceremony, each time there is a wedding — in the very words, « I do ».A phrase which brings with it a question: how on earth does one say « I do » to another person? For, how does one agree to a future that is — and a future person who is — by definition, unknown?

The fact is: one doesn’t.
For, the phrase « I do » is there in front of one, has been written for one.
And, all you have to do is read.

But then, what does it mean to read out, to repeat, words that have come long before one, and — in this case has been — placed before one?

Here, it might be helpful to momentarily turn to Stéphane Mallarmé and his lesson that all languages are imperfect, and that « the diversity of idioms on earth prevents anyone from uttering the words that would otherwise be found by a single stroke, the earth itself materialised as the truth ».

So, the problem might well be: too many words.

Which might be why — if one is to have any hope of materialising any truth — one has to turn to repeating the same words. Which doesn’t mean that one is a mere broken record: not at all. For, as our Thai friends try to never let us forget, the same words might well be same same but different.

And, more than that, all words refer both to what they alleged mean — in this case, I accept you in health and sickness, wealth and poverty, and so forth — and also something else, something that the words themselves don’t, and cannot, account for.

However, it is not as if we have something other than words: none of that actions speak louder than words nonsense here. For, as the Gibb brothers have long taught us, « it’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away ».

Which means — since there is something else that words refer to — we can never say them, even the same ones, enough: that the « I do », even though uttered once, has to be repeated silently, endless, infinitely, and — at each moment — perhaps slightly differently.

And, what else is something that is read (lit) deletes itself (se rature) in order that it is read again, other than a moment of literature.




Jeremy Fernando, shadows approach — for Fan Ho, 2019



Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other
— Sammy Cahn

But, of course you can.

In fact, there is very little about either a horse or a carriage to suggest that they should « go together », except for the fact that someone wants to exploit a horse to drag their carriage.

And here, one could well open the dossier of the exploitative relationship between love and marriage; and posit how the former has been coopted in service of making the latter palatable to contemporary sensibilities.

In many ways, this is what the LGBTQ community has long known —

that equal rights to marriage were never about love, but about access to direct inheritance, to the legal protections that the institution of marriage bestows upon the coupled duo who have been brought before the law.

Which is precisely why a significant proportion of the Christian community — particularly those of the evangelical mien, alongside quite a few from the mega-church variety — has been most vocal against same-sex marriages: for, the ones from whom the logic of capitalism sprang forth were never going to give up the power to determined who gets to step through the gate (and by extension, who be beyond the pale) without a fight.

But perhaps, here we might open another — potentially more interesting — dossier: that, echoing the teaching of my old teacher, my old friend, Wolfgang Schirmacher, we are artificial beings. [1]

Where, in the tune Love & Marriage,
we might well be the carriage.

And where, it is love that not only drives the economic arrangement that is marriage, but our very selves — not in the sense of us being human qua human, nothing that banal, but in allowing us to maintain the possibility that there is a part of ourselves which is natural; that within this artifice called being human, there is something that is just a little beyond what is brought forth through craft.

Where, one might even go so far as to say,

becoming human is an art — in other words, an encounter.

Which is to also say that our very humanity — our humanness — is not something inherent, something internal, but lies in the very relationship with another, with others.

as Wolfgang, channeling Martin Heidegger, would utter.

Which suggests that to become human, whatever that might mean (for, if a relationship, there can be no stable, secure — certainly no a priori — meaning outside of an encounter), is to always also step outside one’s self, to take un pas au-delà: where, to become human means to both take a step beyond ourselves, to relate with another; and always also to be not beyond (for, one can never be outside of one’s head, one’s mind, nor one’s body) … at the same time.

Which also suggests that in becoming human, the relationship with another always also entails an encounter between one and one’s self — in which one is quite possible one’s own other.

Where, it is quite possible that humanness always already lies in potenza
both of the potential-to-become human and the impossibility-of-not-becoming human, at exactly the same moment …

… a moment which might well only be glimpsed each time one attempts to be in relation with another.

« I do ».


I tell you yes.
I begin us with a yes.
Yes begins us.
— Hélène Cixous

At the very same time as
us begins I.



I love you

A phrase that, as Alain Badiou reminds us, « is usually thought to be completely meaningless and banal [but, what it also says is], I shall extract something else from what was mere chance. I’m going to extract something that will endure, something that will persist, a commitment, a fidelity ».

Where, each time one utters I love you,
« you say that to someone living, standing there in front of you, but you are also addressing something that cannot be reduced to this simple material presence, something that is absolutely and simultaneously both beyond and within ». Or, perhaps even, something that is absolutely simultaneously beyond whilst — extracted — within. And even as one posits that one might well « extract something that will endure », the thing that lasts, that stays with the two, that might well be the sign of fidelity, is perhaps only to come, à venir.

Where, I love you, is an utterance of relation,
of a relationship between an I and a you; a relation in which the two in relation with each other remain unknown, remain wholly other to each other, where the other remains veiled to one another. And, if love is the openness of one to another, it is a relation in which, perhaps through which, the I is altered, but perhaps in ways that one remains blind to.

More than that, since the I and the you remain, at least somewhat, unknown to each other, the relation itself — love — might well also remain hidden from the two (or more) in that relation.

Thus, I love you is an utterance of relation that does nothing more, and infinitely nothing less, than promises a relation between one and the other — an utterance in fidelity to the possibility of that relationship.

And here, as the dossier on promises is opened, if one listens carefully, it might not be too difficult to hear echoes of the late, great, Werner Hamacher, and his teaching that « whenever there is a promise, something other than the promise and something other than language — or simply another language — is also spoken. What is promised is always something other than understanding, other than another understanding, and other than an alteration of understanding alone. Something unpromisable ».

Something that is always already not of the promise —
not in the sense of being excluded from promises, certainly not antonymous to promises, but something that escapes being promised even as it is part of the promise.

For, in order to promise, there has to be something that is only-to-come, something not-quite-yet, something beyond; where the something that is promised cannot even have the status of a thing, or at least a known thing — thus, there can never be a referent to the promise. Which means that even as it is being promised — keeping in mind that promises can only take place as a relation, in relation to another — it is a relation where the promisory utterance, usually in the form of a statement — without which there cannot be any promise — is one that is without correspondence, is catachrestic.

A statement, an utterance, that not only cannot be verified,
but which might never be verifiable.

And, which might well have occurred without one ever even knowing —
a coming-to-be outside of, exterior to, what one knows, what one thinks, one has uttered.

Which means that it is not so much whether it is promised or not, but that the
« unpromisable » cannot be promised because one can not know of it even when one has uttered it.

Or, even: the « unpromisable » cannot be promised precisely because even when it is uttered, it is not, cannot be, is not quite yet, stated.

Where, « promising means nothing else — [other than] a promise of the mere possibility of making promises ».

Which is not to say that the one that is promising is not responsible for the promise, for the utterance of the promise; for, one must try not to forget that even as it is perhaps always only in potenza, it must also be uttered. A promise only exists — if it can be said to exist, to be; but at least it is always in-becoming — in and through language. Keeping in mind that often-times language says far more, or far less, something other, than what one is saying, than what one thinks one is writing. Or, to tuning ourselves once again to Werner: « speaking a language means nothing else than speaking as one who does not yet have a language » — as one who is speaking as if one can speak a language — as one who is doing nothing other than promising to speak a language.

Speaking in fidelity to the possibility of speaking a language —
perhaps, especially when one is attempting to speak of fidelity, in fidelity, to another.

Perhaps especially when one is uttering
I love you.

Which opens the possibility that not only does the I never quite know what (s)he, one, it, is uttering — that one is uttering in blind faith to the possibility of love, in the hope of a fidelity to-come — but that at the point of love, the I and the you might well be in a relationship that brings with it the possibility of a non-relation.

A relationship that puts the two in a relation with each other,
whilst at the same time maintains a distance within that very relation.

A relationship that knows not what it is,
even as it enters that relation.

A relation where the one — the I — that enters into that relationship knows not what it does; where one jumps, where I jump, in blindly, even foolishly.



The trouble with literature is that the moment one mentions the word, the first thing that comes to many people is tragedy; where death is the supreme indicator of love — where one is supposed to be prepared to die to prove one’s love for another.

Romeo & Juliet
Tristan & Isolde
Lin Daiyu & Jia Baoyi
Cleopatra & Anthony

4 great sets of lovers. 4 great tragedies.

But thankfully, this is where most have missed the point.

For, the death that is required is not one in the realm of the physical, but rather a death to other people, to other possibilities.

And nowhere is this death to all others except each other captured more than in the « I do » : a promise that is made about the future, which is always already in the past; and lived out in the present. For, the saying two become one has never been about people — that would be impossible — but about time. And in this moment lies a nod towards madness — for, how can one person possibly say, at any juncture, with any certainty, that (s)he will spend her life with this other person.

But it is this moment of madness, this « I do » — which translates to I will spend the rest of my life with this person even though I know it is not possible to say so with any certainty — that gives marriage its beauty. And, it is this truly mad decision — this insane leap of faith — that saves marriage from banality, from being a mere business contract; and allows us to catch a glimpse of the sublime.

In fact, here I am tempted to take it all the way to the end, and posit that, not only is it an act of madness, it is also an act of sheer stupidity; where one makes a decision that is beyond any reason.

« The only reason to get married
is so you can start having affairs ».

Where, it is the « I do » that opens the possibility of — in fact, is the very condition of — having affairs; but where one doesn’t do so, even though it is the only reasonable thing to do.




[1] For, it is not so much that we ‘use’ tools, nor that instruments are mere extensions of us, of the human body — nothing so anthropocentric — but that each encounter with technology always already shapes us, changes us, quite possibly redefines us; brings us forth (tekhnē) in a manner which would not have been possible before the advent of that particular craft (tekhnē), that specific technology.

Which is why, in the words of Wolfgang Schirmacher, we are not so much the ones that discover the world but are « homo generator », the ones who bring forth the world in which we live — in which what is always also generated is ourselves as human.

Where, becoming human is an act of creation —
in which what is brought forth is the very artifice we call a human being.

Jeremy Fernando reads, and writes; and is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and his, more than twenty, books include Reading Blindly, Living with Art, Writing Death, in fidelity, and resisting art. His writing has also been featured in magazines and journals such as Arte al Límite, Berfrois, CTheory, Full Bleed, Qui Parle, TimeOut, and VICE, amongst others; and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Serbian. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and the visual arts; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He has been invited to perform a reading at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in September 2016; and in November 2018, to deliver a series of performance-talks at the 4th edition of the Bienal de la Imagen en Movimiento in Buenos Aires. He is the general editor of both Delere Press and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and is a Lecturer & Fellow of Tembusu College at The National University of Singapore.

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