Archive for June, 2013

A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

Saturday, June 1st, 2013




‘Roland Barthes’s most popular and unusual performance as a writer is A Lover’s Discourse, a writing out of the discourse of love. This language—primarily the complaints and reflections of the lover when alone, not exchanges of a lover with his or her partner—is unfashionable. Thought it is spoken by millions of people, diffused in our popular romances and television programs as well as in serious literature, there is no institution that explores, maintains, modifies, judges, repeats, and otherwise assumes responsibility for this discourse . . . Writing out the figures of a neglected discourse, Barthes surprises us in A Lover’s Discourse by making love, in its most absurd and sentimental forms, an object of interest.’ — Jonathan Culler


To try to write love is to confront the muck of language; that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive (by the limitless expansion of the ego, by emotive submersion) and impoverished (by the codes on which love diminishes and levels it).

I am therefore alarmed by the other’s fatigue: it is the cruelest of all rival objects. How to combat exhaustion? I can see that the other, exhausted, tears of a fragment of this fatigue in order to give it to me. But what am I to do with this bundle of fatigue set down before me? What does this gift mean? Leave me alone? Take care of me? No one answers, for what is given is precisely what does not answer.

Besides intercourse (when the Image-repertoire goes to the devil), there is that other embrace, which is a motionless cradling: we are enchanted, bewitched: we are in the realm of sleep, without sleeping; we are within the voluptous infantilism of sleepiness: this is the moment for telling stories, the moment of the voice which takes me, siderates me, this is the return to the mother (“in the loving calm of your arms,” says a poem set to music by Duparc). In this companionable incest, everything is suspended: time, law, prohibition: nothing is exhausted, nothing is wanted: all desires are abolished, for they seem definitively fulfilled.

Yet, within this infantile embrace, the genital unfailingly appears; it cuts off the diffuse sensuality of the incestuous embrace; the logic of desire begins to function, the will-to-possess returns, the adult is superimposed upon the child. I am then two subjects at once: I want maternity and genitality. (The lover might be defined as a child getting an erection: such was the young Eros.)

Any episode of language which stages the absence of the loved object — whatever its cause and its duration — and which tends to transform this absence into an ordeal of abandonment. Then, too, on the telephone the other is always in a situation of departure; the other departs twice over, by voice and by silence: whose turn is it to speak? We fall silent in unison: the crowding of two voids. “I’m going to leave you”, the voice on the telephone says each second.

The amorous gift is sought out, selected, and purchased in the greatest excitement—the kind of excitement which seems to be of the order of orgasm. Strenuously I calculate whether this object will give pleasure, whether it will disappoint, or whether, on the contrary, seeming too “important,” it will in and of itself betray the delirium—or the snare in which I am caught. The amorous gift is a solemn one; swept away by the devouring metonymy which governs the life of the imagination, I transfer myself inside it altogether. By this object, I give you my All, I touch you with my phallus; it is for this reason that I am mad with excitement, that I rush from shop to shop, stubbornly tracking down the “right” fetish, the brilliant, successful fetish which will perfectly suit your desire.

The amorous subject, according to one contingency or another, feels swept away by the fear of a danger, an injury, an abandonment, a revulsion — a sentiment he expresses under the name of anxiety

Absence can exist only as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain. The other is in a state of perpetual departure, of journeying; the other is by vocation, migrant, fugitive. I — I who love, by converse vocation, am sedentary, motionless, at hand, in expectation, nailed to the spot, in suspense — like a package in some forgotten corner of a railway station. Amorous absence functions in a single direction, expressed by the one who stays, never by the one who leaves: an always present I is constituted only by confrontation with an always absent you: to speak this absence is from the start to propose that the subject’s place and the other’s place cannot permute. It is to say: “I am loved less than I love.” Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys; woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises).

A deliberative figure: the amorous subject wonders, not whether he should declare his love to the loved being (this is not a figure of avowal), but to what degree he should conceal the turbulences of his passion: his desires, his distresses; in short, his excesses (in Racinian langauges: his fureur).

As a jealous man, I suffer four times over: because I am jealous, because I blame myself for being so, because I fear that my jealousy will wound the other, because I allow myself to be subject to a banality: I suffer from being excluded, from being aggressive, from being crazy, and from being common.

‘Am I in love? –Yes, since I’m waiting.’ The other never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.

Despite the difficulties of my story, despite discomforts, doubts, despairs, despite impulses to be done with it, I unceasingly affirm love, within myself, as a value. Though I listen to all the arguments which the most divergent systems employ to demystify, to limit, to erase, in short to depreciate love, I persist: “I know, I know, but all the same…” I refer the devaluations of a lover to a kind of obscurantist ethic, to a let’s-pretend realism, against which I erect the realism of value: I counter whatever “doesn’t work” in love with the affirmation of what is worthwhile.

To reduce his wretchedness, the subject pins his hope on a method of control which permits him to circumscribe the pleasures afforded by the amorous relation: on the one hand, to keep these pleasures, to take full advantage of them, and on the other hand, to place within a parenthesis of the unthinkable those broad depressive zones which separate such pleasures: “to forget” the loved being outside of the pleasures that being bestows.

Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire. The emotion derives from a double contact: on the one hand, a whole activity of discourse discreetly, indirectly focuses upon a single signified, which is “I desire you,” and releases, nourishes, ramifies it to the point of explosion (language experiences orgasm upon touching itself); on the other hand, I enwrap the other in my words, I caress, brush against, talk up this contact, I extend myself to make the commentary to which I submit the relation endure.

My anxieties as to behavior are futile, ever more so, to infinity. If the other, incidentally or negligently, gives the telephone number of a place where he or she can be reached at certain times, I immediately grow baffled: should I telephone or shouldn’t I? (It would do no good to tell me that I can telephone – that is the objective, reasonable meaning of the message – for it is precisely this permission I don’t know how to handle.) What is futile is what apparently has and will have no consequence. But for me, an amorous subject, everything which is new, everything which disturbs, is received not as a fact but in the aspect of a sign which must be interpreted. From the lover’s point of view, the fact becomes consequential because it is immediately transformed into a sign: it is the sign, not the fact, which is consequential (by its aura). If the other has given me this new telephone number, what was that the sign of? Was it an invitation to telephone right away, for the pleasure of the call, or only should the occasion arise, out of necessity? My answer itself will be a sign, which the other will inevitably interpret, thereby releasing, between us, a tumultuous maneuvering of images. Everything signifies: by this proposition, I entrap myself, I bind myself in calculations, I keep myself from enjoyment.

Sometimes, by dint of deliberating about “nothing” (as the world sees it), I exhaust myself; then I try, in reaction, to return — like a drowning man who stamps on the floor of the sea — to a spontaneous decision (spontaneity: the great dream: paradise, power, delight): go on, telephone, since you want to! But such recourse is futile: amorous time does not permit the subject to align impulse and action, to make them coincide: I am not the man of mere “acting out” — my madness is tempered, it is not seen; it is right away that I fear consequences, any consequence: it is my fear — my deliberation — which is “spontaneous.

It occasionallly seems to the amorous subject that he is possessed by a demon of language which impels himto injure himself and to expel himself — according to Goethe’s expression — from the paradise which at other moments the amorous relation constitutes for him.

Tonight I came back to the hotel alone; the other has decided to return later on. The anxieties are already here, like the poison already prepared (jealousy, abandonment, restlessness); they merely wait for a little time to pass in order to be able to declare themselves with some propriety. I pick up a book and take a sleeping pill, “calmly.” The silence of this huge hotel is echoing, indifferent, idiotic (faint murmur of draining bathtubs); the furniture and the lamps are stupid; nothing friendly that might warm (“I’m cold, let’s go back to Paris). Anxiety mounts; I observe its progress, like Socrates chatting (as I am reading) and feeling the cold of the hemlock rising in his body; I hear it identify itself moving up, like an inexorable figure, against the background of the things that are here.