Devorah Baum, Alva Gotby and Sophie K Rosa on what radical love looks like

Ahead of their event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, we ask authors Devorah Baum, Alva Gotby and Sophie K Rosa about their most utopian imagination of what love can look like

Feature by Devorah Baum + Alva Gotby + Sophie K Rosa | 09 Aug 2023
  • Illustration

In three of the most striking non-fiction works of recent times, Devorah Baum (On Marriage), Alva Gotby (They Call It Love) and Sophie K Rosa (Radical Intimacy) explore new ways of being together, thinking beyond traditional structures of relation to consider the radical potential of our most vulnerable desires, and the ways in which love, attachment, and care are profoundly political things. Ahead of their event Close Encounters at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, we asked each of the writers: What can radical love look like to you?


Perhaps the most radical thing about love is that we fall into it. Marriage can be plotted, but love? An accident. Love is folly, lack of control, vertigo. And also, as fall, sinfulness, criminality, insubordination. We look for love in all the wrong places, says the song, and then fall for someone we may not even like, let alone admire. Or maybe it’s someone we do admire, but (truth be told) that’s not why we love them. Love isn’t creed or politics. Love is impolitic. We aren’t passionate about those we have the measure of. We’re hurtled instead towards those who remain frustratingly, tantalisingly, unknowable – even if we marry them. Might we rethink marriage, then, not as an institution for possessing and mastering, but as the long practice of learning how to love through dispossession and unmastering? And might we rethink love not as a means of overcoming differences – by turning two into one – but as the rupturing force that multiplies our differences, not just with each other but within ourselves? Love as the pleasure to be taken in our differences. Indeed, if the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference, would we even, without love, be capable of perceiving our differences at all? [Devorah Baum]


I think we need to challenge currently dominant understandings of love, in which romantic love and love within families are seen as the only 'true' or meaningful relationships. Many of us are already part of different relationships that don’t fit into narrow understandings of love and romance, but which offer us warmth and joy. Queer people have also experimented a lot with more communal ways of supporting one another, which are oriented towards pleasure as well as care. Building on that, I hope we can work towards more open and expansive forms of being together, in which the differentiation and hierarchy between different types of relationships are dissolved. I want a world in which we take joint responsibility for caring for children, the sick and disabled, and the elderly – and for able-bodied adults as well – and can share the joys and intimacy of those caring relationships, regardless of 'blood' ties. People would still choose who they are close with, and in fact would have more ability to choose the people around them. That way, we could build intimate and loving relationships that are actually able to meet our shifting and multiple needs and desires, rather than just conforming to normative ideas of what love should look like. [Alva Gotby]


Radical love could be a project of transformation; it could be what takes us from who we are and where we are now, to who and where we might be in ten minutes, or tomorrow, or in ten years, or far beyond. It is a long exhale, it is endurance, it is forgiveness, it is refusal. How about we ask ourselves what we need 'in love'? That is to say, in our 'love life' – whatever kinds of relationship(s) that means for us. Me? I need care, I need enjoyment, I need pleasure, I need commitment, I need patience, I need safety, I need freedom. I need to know we are going to love each other through conflict and fight in ways that make us more alive; I need our being together to bring us hope. All that to say (I’ll just put it plainly): I think that what we need in our relationships can give us a good idea of what we need in the world. We face crisis and precarity on our planet, in our societies; as well as in interpersonal love, we need to build secure attachment with our neighbours, communities, ecologies. Radical love is the promise that, between us, we will find a way. [Sophie K Rosa]

Devorah Baum, Alva Gotby & Sophie K Rosa: Close Encounters is at Edinburgh International Book Festival on 17 Aug, 12pm