A possible definition of love: it is involvement. Roland Barthes provides this definition not in his “Fragments d’un discours amoureux” (A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments; 1977) but in the “Journal du deuil” (Mourning Diary; 1977–9). In it, he grieved the loss of his mother: “How I loved Mama: I never resisted the urge to return to her, looked forward to seeing her (holidays), involved her in my ‘freedom’, in short, I associated her thoroughly and carefully.”1 Involving the other in one’s freedom (Barthes had good reason for putting the word in parentheses) could be a definition of love. Neither taking the freedom from the other, nor excluding them from what one calls one’s own freedom, would be practicing an inclusive notion of freedom and love. Inclusion would loose its appropriative character. It would be offer, opening, reception. Unconstrained, yet decisive. Unconditional, but not uninterested. Love without interest remains a romantic phantasm. Associating with the loved one, as Barthes did with his mother, does not mean chaining the loved one to oneself. It means loving with the generosity that stems from knowing of the contingency of love, its fragility and the possibility of its dissolution. The biggest obstacle to love is the “melancholia of the dry heart” as Barthes called it, the “Acedia”. He connected this to the “inability to love”, in which the reluctance to give the other freedom in one’s own freedom is expressed.
Jean-Luc Nancy once said in relation to freedom: “I have little interest in the meanings of this word. (But all the more so in its strategic position.)”2 This applies to all words and terms. Often, degradation and abuse is carried out in the name of freedom, in what we call freedom in all possible semantic variations. No war that isn’t fought in the name of freedom, even if this is simply the freedom to evade certain notions of freedom and oppose them. The meaning of the word is revealed through its function. There are no innocent words or terms. The question is not primarily that of their meaning. Rather, it is that of their strategic use. An example: Someone asserts that nothing is more important than love. We could ask, what love then means in this case. But it would be more important to find out which function the word “love” gains through its use. It often has an extortive function. “I love you” then means: “I expect you to love me back!”
Etel Adnan: “Love doesn’t die.”3 It disintegrates beyond recognition. It is immortal under the debris of the present. Unable to die, it speeds towards us from the future. Embers covered in ash. In every new love, the old love persists. Those who loved once will have to live with never ceasing to do so.
Prostitution persisting at the heart of love also applies the other way around. Karl Kraus: “Contempt for prostitution? / Whores being worse than love? / You must learn: Not only does love take a fee, / the fee gives love!”4
Instead of a repeated rehash of romantic self-delusion – the narcissistic-infantile drama of desire desiring itself, complete with the constitutive claim of the impossibility of its satisfaction, the tragedy of an inevitable failure as the paradigm of unfulfilled love – the insistence on the impossibility of love finds its corrective in the irreducibility of the imaginary, the consistency of which is owed to an increasing affirmation of amorous inconsistency: “On n’échappe ni au spectacle de l’amour, ni à celui de la satisfaction.”
Lacan’s favorite adage “Il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel” / “There is no relationship between the sexes/sexual intercourse” finds its equivalent in Valéry’s assertion: “You never know whom you are sleeping with.”5 It is never a question of a transparent connection of complementarity, as Plato imagined in the Symposium: “… Because we only ever love a phantom.”6 Love only ever exists as the love of a specter. The same holds true for sex. Time and again, we have intercourse with phantasms. Yet this makes neither love nor sexuality any less real. The fact that this contact is between specters means that their touching is owed to the inconsistency of their protagonists. If the other was who I recognize in him, no encounter would take place. Phantoms feel one another by grasping at nothing. Yet this is not nothing, despite its aiding nothingness appear. By asserting their love for each other, specters affirm their reciprocal fault as real happiness: “No human being is able to love another the way they are.”7
Precision and rapture cooperate in the excess of amorous and artistic geometry. The subject searches for ground by leaving the old behind. It would be possible to speak of a Cartesianism of existence or of Euclidean passion. “Art is as bad as love” Valéry observed. Both, he said, carry “the seed to crime within them, – or they are not real.”8 Neither means much to a certain culture of harmlessness. Love and art supposedly loose themselves in religious veneration of authenticity, the promise of authenticity and utopian fantasies. This is countered by the ideologeme of what is right, which takes the shape of generalized ambitiousness. Secretly – for career reasons and in order to opportunistically stage one’s humility – people continue their dream of themselves unacknowledged. Instead of being romantic self-glorification, that which Valéry calls the seed of crime pertains to the tendency to resist the established, to the courage, kept alive against all resistance, to being free in objective lack of freedom – instead of being, as Nietzsche called it, a herd animal steered by resentment.
What is forced about love is the insistence on its impossibility.
When it is said that those who love lie, this does not mean that love can only exist as a lie. It is a matter of loving the lie of love, lending it consistency. We lie to ourselves and to the other. Yet this lying is not nothing. We do not lie to all in the same way. As right as Lacan was in saying that love, as “mirror-inverted delusion” was, for the most part, “deception,”9 as much does this deception correspond with targeted precision. Not everyone is worth being lied to with such precision. “I love you!” means: “I only lie to you with veracity.”
The experience of love includes breaking with it. As though the lover wanted to enter the zone in which hate and love cannot be told apart. Should love really be nothing but a lie? Lovers love to lie. Robert Walser: “Who can really say for sure what is a lie, what is hate, what is love? I prefer not to speculate about it for too long.”10
Like all myths, the myth of justice is problematic. Justice does not exist. Which is why we fight for it. And the same applies for freedom, equality, love, happiness…! Should mythomania be our realism?
In his “Denkbilder” Walter Benjamin wrote of the “ability to lose sight of the goal for a few moments.”11 The context is unimportant. The thesis can be generalized. Those who risk no blindness in view of what they want will miss their goal. The object of desire only gains tangibility when we cease to pursue it. In art, in politics, in thinking, in love it is those who can do without success who promise to be successful. The word that expresses such successful abstention of success the most fittingly is equanimity.
Sentimentality desperately clinging to itself becomes lost in the narcissism of the cold heart that misinterprets itself as loving (“emotional,” “empathic”) while being insensitivity personified.
Thinking shares a characteristic with loving, and that is their relating to something un-relatable. The vector extends into the absolute. It is only in blindness that thinking and love come to themselves. But in this case it is a blindness that is able to see.