Skirting around love

This is why at this point we are faced with a severe expository problem: the correlation of the heterogeneous cannot be schematised. It can barely even be expressed.

– Alain Badiou, Theory of the Subject

It’s not working out and the whole world talks about it and a large part of our activity is taken up with saying so.

– Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX

“I know it’s a bad title / but I’m giving it to myself as a gift…” 

Why should talking about love, as near as universal, be such a reliable source of mortification and mystification? It is no accident that Lacan intonated “The Limits of Love and Knowledge” in the title of his twentieth seminar. “It seems to me that it is difficult not to speak stupidly about language,” he says; it is even more true of language’s obscure motor, desire. Eventually, words fall short. They must. Perhaps it is even the case that I cannot talk about love, I can only point towards it as what escapes my discourse.

It is for good reason that love so stubbornly evades meaning. I have said over and over that to understand something means to assimilate it into the chain of signifiers which constitutes knowledge. It is at base an egoic process; I become the one who understands, I can receive in the mirror the image of a subject who knows. Love moves in the opposite direction, it is a challenge to my representation of myself to myself, because it touches on what supplements this, which is finally what we aim at by calling it real. In love, I am given over to the part of myself which exceeds the representation, the object which is the locus of that which is in me more than me. “Love is giving what one does not have.”

But we are already getting ahead of ourselves.

Love and desire – where to draw the distinction? It is an essentially Platonic problem, in that it was a problem for Plato himself. Badiou suggests that desire is like systole, a contraction towards the atomic element which is common to the heterogeneous subjects in their mutual misunderstanding of the obscure object which brings them together even in their absolute disjunction, which Lacan called a. Desire is fantasy, I only relate to something the other person has. Aristophanes was wrong, there is no relationship between the sexes.

Love is what comes to supplement this lack. It is like diastole, the movement outwards into the world, an investigation from the point of view of Two. “Love is neither trivial nor sublime”. In the metaphor of diastole we find the work of love, as an everyday construction on the part of Two, held only by the statement which fixes a totally contingent encounter. This is at once its strength and its fragility.  

“The limping rhythm of love can be described as the diastole of its expansion around the conjoined excision of u [the atomic element], and the systole of what, irresistibly, leads to the central atomicity of what was subtracted.”

And this scene of Two causes something to change even on the side of desire:

“One can pose then, that, in the systole which ineluctably leads a love toward centering on its sexual indeterminacy, something of the scene constructed of the Two “sticks” to the M and W positions, in such a way that it is not exactly in the same configuration that the misunderstanding inscribes. […] love prescribes the aura which its atomicity lacks. The result is that sexual non-rapport is topologically situated in another configuration than that in which it was originally deployed. Or, if you wish, it is saturated by the construction of the scene of Two.”

It is not even ever a experience of the other, but first of the object, and then of what is external to both from the point of view of the subject-Two.

What is passed over in Badiou’s account is all too conspicuous. What of the thematic of the unrequited love? We find no place here for the failure of the amorous event. Elsewhere he takes as a rule: “Make sure that your category admits the great love stories, like a syntax made from its semantic fields.” What about The Sorrows of Young Werther? Great Expectations? Peanuts? There is subjectivation to be extracted from failure. Insofar as every site at which there is the potential for an event positions one on the ‘edge of the void’, poses an immanent threat to the construction of a world in which everything is ‘in its right place’, even unrequited love lays the seeds of the subject.

You find you have already laid your cards on the table.

So it cannot be the case that we can oppose the obscure misrecognition of an object, a burning concupiscence, with a two-structure in which the advent of a mutual expansion dignifies even that. Too much is at stake.


Whenever one talks about the pain inherent in love, one has to turn to Barthes. In the following he contrasts the ‘unreality’ of one form taken by love to the ‘disreality’ of another:

“In the first case, my rejection of reality is pronounced through a fantasy: everything around me changes value in relation to a function, which is the Image-repertoire; the lover then cuts himself off from the world, he unrealizes it because he hallucinates from another aspect the peripeteias or the utopias of his love; he surrenders himself to the Image, in relation to which all “reality” disturbs him. In the second case, I also lose reality, but no imaginary substitution will compensate me for this loss: sitting in front of the Coluche poster, I am not “dreaming” (even of the other); I am not even in the Image-repertoire any longer. Everything is frozen, petrified, immutable, i.e unsubstitutable: the repertoire is (temporarily) foreclosed. In the first moment I am neurotic, I unrealize; in the second, I am psychotic, crazy, I disrealize.”

It is the Heideggerian problematic of Befindlichkeit, of the way we find ourselves already having been disposed, something which “comes neither from ‘outside’ nor from ‘inside’, but arises out of Being-in-the-world, as a way of such being”. But very much hinges on the passage between the first and the second disposition.

It must not be underestimated to what extent one can nourish oneself with the Image, or for how long – long after transactions in the symbolic would seem to render it futile. These are the hazy powers of retroaction and introjection. I take care of myself by taking care of the image of the other in me. The image is not even abnegated, in the active sense this would imply. The structure is dialectical: there is a unity of the terms underpinned by a contradiction. Scission: the Image as such, hallucinatory and transcendent, and the place in which the Image repeats itself, in which it finds itself falling short. The two twist around each other, and form a knot. ‘A knot in the stomach’ as we say.

Can it be untied? Or is the only solution Alexander’s, namely the ruthless cut? I do not think it is definitely this severe, and perhaps because we have not even isolated the right questions. Untying: this is, as we know, the etymology of analysis. And everything we have said has pointed towards an unanalysable component, insisting, untouched, after all talk dries up.

It cannot be something given over to subjective understanding. It is not something to be worked out. It is not to be subsumed. It is not to be abjected. It is not what I make an aspect of myself, but simultaneously I am nothing without it.

It is not a part of your world. Rather, you build your world around it.


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