All you think of lately is
getting underneath me
All I dream of lately
is how to get you underneath me
This could be any love song, but it’s our love song.
Tegan and Sara, “Closer” (lyrics in video)
How does that happen? How does any product of a mass culture begin to feel private and intimate, the exclusive property of lovers? Where does the “ourness” come from?
Sara Ahmed in The Cultural Politics of Emotions talks about how emotions flow, they circulate, moving between people and the objects we invest with emotional resonance. She says that sometimes emotions “stick” to certain objects, like the nation, like whiteness and straightness, like bodies, places, texts. And yes, like a song.
So why this song?
It came out in November, when we began our relationship, accompanied us in the car as we drove around the city in the hot summer heat. Sticking to us like sweat.
Two feminists, female artists? Check. Lesbian relationship, lesbian artists? Check. Electropop loving nerd, sudden artist turn towards electro pop? Check. Seems obvious why.
Sometimes pop music translates the highly specific into the universal, as when Morrissey took his queer teen years on The Smith’s “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and made it ambiguous enough for it to feel like the specific angst of almost every teen of a certain time period in the UK.
But as often as that, pop music’s sloganeering, its broad universal statements, feel like they encapsulate something private, something specific to the listener.
I can’t tell if “Closer” is one or the other for us; there is something elusive, still, a je nais se quoi lurking in its dreamy 80s new wave chords.
It’s that couplet, that I tweeted to you, that you sing to me as we dance in the kitchen, that I whisper as you lay down on our bed. Dissect it like a kabbalist, each syllable fraught with meaning. Lately. Underneath me.
The baroque swirl of that chorus:
It’s not just all physical,
I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical
so let’s make things physical
I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical
It’s not all physical, so let’s make things physical. For it to be all physical would mean there was nothing else but the sex. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what this is.
The philosopher Alain Badiou in In Praise of Love says that:
Love proves itself by permeating desire. The ritual of bodies is then the material expression of the word, it communicates the idea that the promise to re-invent life will be fulfilled, initially in terms of the body. But even in their wildest delirium, lovers know that love is there, like their bodies’ guardian angel, when they wake up in the morning, when peace descends over the proof that their bodies have grasped that love has been declared.
Here Badiou is talking about love as an event, one which changes (or promises to change) the co-ordinates of a life, and one which is founded initially between bodies. Your skin against mine. Here comes the rush before we touch…
Badiou imagines the euphoria of new love, new desire, as a promise. Here come the dreams of you and me, here come the dreams.
We need dreams just as surely as we need material sustenance. There’s a reason why the American Dream keeps recurring as an idea, why “Hope” was the slogan that elected the first black president in the United States. We need to dream, at every level from micro to macro. As feminists we dream of a better world, contemplating the changing of the inequalities of everything from who does the dishes to who runs the world.
Feminists have always known what goes on in bedrooms is political, that what happens when lovers dream together is political. Ahmed talks about the dreams of heteronormativity, of how when we call children “a little [parent]” what we express is our wish for a heterosexual future, a child that mirrors their parents’ lives.
But it need not be so. We can dream for ourselves, dream of something better than the political status quo. We can dream of different family, a more equitable and fulfilling distribution of power and responsibility. New and beautiful dreams of a better world.
But that is for later, for when we have begun to build something together that looks to the future. First, first, I need you, your skin against mine, your body underneath mine and mine underneath yours, a dance, a song, a line.
All I want to know is, can you come a little closer?