“Show me whom to desire” :: A Lover’s Discourse

induction / induction

The loved being is desired because another or others have shown the subject that such a being is desirable: however particular, amorous desire is discovered by induction. (Barthes 136-137)

1.         Shortly before falling in love, Werther meets a young footman who tells him of his passion for a widow <Werther> : “The image of that fidelity, that tenderness, pursues me everywhere, and as though scorched myself by that fire, I faint, I fail, consuming myself.” After which there is nothing left for Werther to do but to fall in love in his turn, with Charlotte. And Charlotte herself will be pointed out to him, before he sees her; in the carriage taking them to the ball, an obliging friend tells him how lovely she is. The body which will be loved is in advance selected and manipulated by the lens, subject to a kind of zoom effect which magnifies it, brings it closer, and leads the subject to press his nose to the glass: is it not the scintillating object which a skillful hand causes to shimmer before me and which will hypnotize me, capture me <Freud>? This “affective contagion,” this induction, proceeds from others, from the language, from books, from friends: no love is original. <La Rochefoucauld> (Mass culture is a machine for showing desire: here is what must interest you, it says, as if it guessed that men are incapable of finding what to desire by themselves. <Stendhal>)

The difficulty of the amorous project is in this: “Just show me whom to desire, but then get out of the way!”: Countless episodes in which I fall in love with someone loved by my best friend: every rival has first been a master, a guide, a barker, a mediator.

2.         In order to show you where your desire is, it is enough to forbid it to you a little (if it is true that there is no desire without prohibition). X wants me to be there, beside him, while leaving him free a little: flexible, going away occasionally, but not far: on the one hand, I must be present as a prohibition (without which there would not be the right desire), but also I must go away the moment when, this desire having formed, I might be in its way: I must be the mother who loves enough (protective and generous) <Winnicott> , around whom the child plays, while she peacefully knits or sews. This would be the structure of the “successful” couple: a little prohibition, a good deal of play; to designate desire and then to leave it alone, like those obliging natives who show you the path but don’t insist on accompanying you on your way.

STENDHAL: “Before love is born, beauty is necessary as a sign, it predisposes to this passion by the praises we hear bestowed upon whom we will love” (On Love).

[From A Lover’s Discourse, by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard]

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