In your past, probably in your youth, there was someone who broke up with you who left you feeling so hurt, so angry, that you plotted revenge. Maybe just for an hour, maybe for a week, but for a while there, what you thought was love turned briefly into hate.
Fortunately, you came your senses pretty quickly and moved on, but what if you hadn’t. What if that friend of yours who convinced you that stalking was really a bad idea had instead stood by you as you planned ways to destroy your ex once and for all? How far would it have gone?
Does hate last longer than love?
The central relationship in Tristan Garcia’s first novel Hate: A Romance is between William and Dominique, two lovers/rivals who live in Paris through the 1980’s and 1990’s, the time of AIDS. They reminded me of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, the two poet/lovers who lived in Paris a century earlier. William, like Rimbaud, is the younger partner. Dominique is the elder/mentor figure in their relationship. For a while, their love works. Each thrives as a member of the leftist, gay political scene in 1980’s Paris. This was the time of Michel Foucault, when queer theory ruled the academy and AIDS was as much an intellectual discourse as a medical one.
Even after AIDS appeared on the scene, queer political theory stayed radical enough to seriously advocate infection as a form of power, a kind of membership that conveyed an enviable status. I remember this sort of argument taking place in San Francisco where I lived in the 1980’s. Claims that the virus was not the true cause of AIDS, that what looked like prevention was really motivated by anti-sex, homophobic bias. Tristan Garcia’s characters talk about Russian Roulette parties/orgies and young men who deliberately seek that one sexual experience that will infect them believing that moment will be the ultimate form of exstacy.
After William and Dominique break up, William’s love turns to a lasting hate, one that leads him to seek Dominique’s destruction. He does not want to kill his former lover, but to destroy his reputation so thoroughly that no one in their political/academic circle will ever credit him with anything again. He wants to ensure that Dominique is forgotten while he is still alive. The early days of the internet, and a small collection of photos will make this possible.
The two men move in one of those narrow intellectual circles Roberto Bolano so frequently writes about. The people in the circle care deeply about whose reputation carries the most weight, but very few outsiders are even aware that particular exists. The desire to be top dog in a very small pack can lead people to take great pains to destroy their rivals.
Tristan Garcia’s characters expose this as Garcia exposes much of the Parisian gay subculture of the 1980’s, but his main interest really is the nature of hate. About halfway through the novel William tries to explain why he hates Dominique so much:
“Because hate’s important. It’s the most important thing. We live in a society where hate is incredibly underrated. Hate brings you to life. It’s everything. Real hate–like Spinoza said, hate is where it’s at.”
He was windmilling his arms in the air.
“See, I’m going to be famous for that, and if they hate you, even if you die, still it means you’re somebody. And that beats love, in a way…”
He thought about it for two seconds.
“Because love, you know, love is conquered by death, because of course you don’t want what you love to die, but the thing is you do want what you hate to die, and in the end death isn’t even enough, because the thing you hate did exist and you can’t do anything about that. It’s better than death. Love isn’t even in the running.”
Since I know the story of Rimbaud and Verlaine, I should have known how Hate: A Romance would turn out. For several years, Rimbaud, the outsider, took Paris by storm. But eventually, their relationship burned itself out and Rimbaud alienated himself from everyone who could have helped him. He left Paris to live out his short life in obscurity while Verlaine continued on, successful in the world of Parisian men of letters.
I have a hard time believing that this book sounds appealing by this point in my review. I don’t expect to win Hate: A Romance or Tristan Garcia any new readers. But I really enjoyed it. Or rather, it has really stayed with me. I’ve been thinking about it and the characters in it for some time now. (I finished the book a week ago.) I’m going to keep my copy, not something I do very often these days. I expect to be reading it again sometime.