Tuesday, January 02, 2007


That this post is a mess is justified twice over. Firstly in Seminaire VIII, Lacan argues that it is impossible to say anything meaningful about love and that, as soon as one tries to do so, one ends up talking gibberish. Secondly, Zizek claims that the core aim of psychoanalysis is to persuade the subject that what appears to him to be constantly stymied by an obstacle he must somehow remove, is actually an inherent impossibility. So I make no claims that this is anything other than a few thoughts, hastily boshed together, which are no doubt as senseless as any that have gone before.

Why so? Because love itself is utterly senseless. Its violence is latent, but no less belligerent for that. Saying the words "I love you" is akin to saying "I want to destroy you - and myself." Unless, of course, one says it without meaning it - but in that case, what does one mean, and what does one not-mean?

Love means giving something you don't have to someone who doesn't want it - Jacques Lacan.

I have been thinking about this post for some time, but its catalyst is a short and ongoing discussion with Andrew over at Newfred:Declensions. Briefly, the conversation between Andrew and I has centred on the viability of the petit objet a, the unlocatable promise of the unknowable other. I am re-interpreting his words somewhat, but Andrew claims that the promise of sexuality is like that of democracy : a mere promise, eternally deferred, never actualised.

It seems to me that the fulfillment of desire can only ever be a complete fantasy, because the objet petit a is only ever a space for narcissism and masturbation - Andrew.

I do not disagree with this, but it seems important to turn this into an optimistic statement, a way of making sex (and love) fulfilling, even if not in the terms through which we traditionally think of fulfilment. To be relativist instead of nihilist. This appears a challenging volte-face : the promise of sexuality is always-already in the future, out of our grasp. How can we ever enjoy it now? Via two routes : first, by accepting that desire, by its very definition, cannot be fulfilled ; and second, by accepting that what appears as failure (a mere partial sexual satisfaction) can in fact be seen as a success.

(As an aside, the fact that the objet petit a is a space for narcissism explains why Bertold Brecht was opposed to the idea of the sacred simultaneous orgasm. In fact, to allow your partner to watch your bring yourself to a climax (with their help), and then to watch your partner bring themselves to a climax (with your help) requires far more trust because, as Zizek explains, you put yourself in a position of vulnerability : there is a risk that you may end up looking utterly ridiculous. There are few things that look quite as c0mical as another person cumming when you are not sexually excited...)


A while back, I had an even briefer tete-a-tete with Darling Vicarage, in response to a John Berger quote that I posted. This hinged around love as the silent, unconscious exchange of gifts. DV stated that "the worst thing about being in love is the fact that despite one's best efforts to show the beloved that you're trying to offer yourself, that message never quite reaches the person in the way you intended, if it ever really reaches them at all." I replied :

But what if your intended target did receive your message loud and clear? Would this not somehow dilute your desire for him? After all, isn't desire merely the gap between the demand for romantic love on the one hand, and its immediate satisfaction on the other?

The fact that you can even formulate a message in the first place must mean that you have compromised the more passionate, violent aspects of love which cannot be communicated. That presents another gap, which is actually the same as the first one. It is the gap, or lack, created by the fact that you cannot articulate your most primordial desires.

(Sorry - it´s terribly vain to quote from your own comments - disculpame...)


Lacan locates love as existing in the realm of the Imaginary. Falling in love consists of the subject seeing, and identifying with the image of, the other. The ensuing relationship must, therefore, be marked by alienation and narcissism.

To fall in love is, in effect, to beseech the other to fall in love with you. In love, man is only loving himself. Not his empirical self, not the weaknesses and vulgarities, not the failings and smallnesses which he outwardly exhibits ; but all that he wants to be, all that he ought to be, his truest, deepest, intelligible nature, free from all fetters of necessity, from all taint of earth ... He projects his ideal of an absolutely worthy existence, the ideal that he is unable to isolate within himself, upon another human being, and this act, and this alone, is none other than love and the significance of love - Otto Weininger.

Any psychoanalytic effort must be an attempt to inscribe what lies in the realm of the Imaginary with language, for otherwise the seductive allure of the specular image of the other will be compromised by the disabling effect of being locked into a set of static, unreachable fixations. This is not easy : the self-other narcissism-alienation is fundamental.

Lacan describes how the stickleback fish becomes sexually aroused when she sees a male, who wears a black spot on its back. But equally, the female stickleback is aroused when she sees a piece of cardboard with an identical black spot. It is the sexual image, rather than its contents, which is privileged. To break out of this specular trap, one must engage with the symbolic, to employ language, laws, codes, contracts and (after Levi-Strauss) the symbolic exchange of "gifts".

In one of his most famous cases, Freud demonstrates how we must symbolise the absence generated by desire when he describes his grandson playing the "fort da" game. In this game, which the child repeated over and over, he would throw a reel of string under the bed where it could not be seen, and then pull it back into view. When the reel could not be seen the child would shout "fort" (gone!), and when it came back into view he would exclaim "da" (there!) with delight. The pain of absence (the child´s father had recently been sent to the front in World War One) is mastered by the signification of absence and retrieval via language. A year or so ago, I had a brief, rather traumatic and certainly formative fling with a girl who, in Freudian terms, made me feel as though I, and only I, possessed the phallus. As Freud himself said, this makes you feel like a God, such is its symbolic power. But of course its power is illusory, and it can be stolen from you without a moment`s notice. I was given a day`s notice that the girl did not want to see me again, and it scarred me (not badly, but with the dull roar of a mild depression) for another six months. I am not sure what it was, exactly, that cured me of the pain of this relationship. A week in the Lake District helped more than anything, but again I am not sure why. All I know is that when I returned from Cumbria, I felt a whole lot happier ; not only could I explain (more or less) why she might have disappeared from my life and why I had felt so shitty, I also didn`t feel a compulsion to explain it.


Love means an affirmative desire towards the Other - to respect the Other, to pay attention to the Other, not to destroy the otherness of the Other - Jacques Derrida.

You fell for her again, she watched it happen
Every day, day by day
But more important, night by night
She watched it all come into play
He held her hands, she listened to what he had to say

Thrown down like a barricade
Maybe now he could prove to her
That he could be good for her
And they should be together - Fleetwood Mac, "Thrown Down"

It is apparent pretty early on in Patricia Highsmith`s This Sweet Sickness that its protagonist, David Kelsey, is a psychopath. He is clinging on to a sweetheart, Annabelle, from his early twenties, even though Annabelle has married another man. His relatives and, as the book progresses, the colleagues who (in the eyes of the prejudiced-God-narrator) admire and even worship David, can all see that he is clinging. But David cannot. He writes letters to Annabelle in which he tells her of his confidence that she will realise that her dull marriage was a mistake, and return to the warm embrace of David. David kills Annabelle`s first husband (an event disturbing only by its lack of disturbance), and the plot develops into a kind of murder mystery in which David evades the police by the use of a pseudonym, William Neumeister. Neumister is David`s ego-ideal, the hallowed place from which he judges himself ; but, of course, the identities of ego-ideal (like the objet petit a, a constantly reflexive, unstable black hole) and the ego merge with each other. He is neither David nor William, for he does not have the symbolic power to recognise either ; it is this psychosis which blinds him to non-reciprocity of his love for Annabelle.

And yet, the strangest part of the book is Annabelle`s behaviour. Why does she allow David to persist in writing letters? Why does she occasionally agree to meet him - often enough, anyway, for his delusions to persist? It is as if Lacan`s dictum that Woman does not exist is made flesh over the course of the book ; we are trapped in the very same position as Kelsey`David`s fellow lodgers in that we cannot be sure to what extent Annabelle exists. Certainly her tolerance of David´s persistence (which is never quite expressed as love, but which has a latent, tranquil force to it) seems to be a psychotic fantasy, but how can we really know? This is the genius of Highsmith`s narrative : it is not the voice of David, but in its cool objectivity, it certainly sides with him, and we are therefore perpetually uncertain as to whose point of view we are looking at things from. But Highsmith makes one thing clear enough : whether Annabelle really exists or not, it is not she whom David loves, but himself : his own ego made real on the imaginery level (to quote Lacan (again)).


Dwight : I will always love you, Gail
Gail : Always - and never - Sin City


**HERE ENDS THE FRAGMENT** (well, I did warn you it would be a mess...)


Blogger minifig said...

Stop analysing and enjoy it :-)

7:46 AM  
Blogger Newfred said...

Good to read your thoughts. We have at least one thing in common: a brief, rather traumatic, and certainly formative fling with a girl about a year ago! Although she was from the Lake District, and so a recent family holiday there produced the opposite effect from your trip.

Anyway, I will get to work on a response.

10:01 AM  
Blogger paddington said...

Minifig, I am just enjoying my symptom (as they say).

8:50 PM  

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