“All the delights of the earth” :: A Lover’s Discourse

“All the delights of the earth”

comblement / fulfillment

The subject insistently posits the desire and the possibility of a complete satisfaction of the desire implicated in the amorous relation and of a perfect and virtually eternal success of this relation: paradisiac image of the Sovereign Good, to given and to be received.

  1. “Now, take all the delights of the earth, melt them into one single delight, and cast it entire into a single man — all this will be as nothing to the delight of which I speak” <Ruysbroeck>. Thus fulfillment is a precipitation: something is condensed, streams over me, strikes me like a lightning bolt. What is it which fills me in this fashion? A totality? No. Something that, starting from totality, actually exceeds it: a totality without remainder, a summa without exception, a site with nothing adjacent (“my soul is not only filled, but runs over” <Ruysbroeck>). I fulfill (I am fulfilled), I accumulate, but I do not abide by the level of lack; I produce an excess, and it is in this excess that the fulfillment occurs (the excessive is the realm, the system of the Image-repertoire: once I am no longer within the excessive, I feel frustrated; for me, enough means not enough): at last I know that state in which “delight exceeds the possibilities envisioned by desire.” A miracle: leaving all “satisfaction” behind, neither satiated nor drunk (saoul, in French), I pass beyond the limits of satiety <ETYMOLOGY: Satis (enough), in both “satisfaction” and “saoul” (satullus).>, and instead of finding disgust, nausea or even drunkenness, I discover . . . Coincedence. Excess has led me to proportion; I adhere to the image, our proportions are the same: exactitude, accuracy, music: I am through with not enough. Henceforth I live in the definitive assumption of the Image-repertoire, its triumph.
    Fulfillments: they are not spoken — so that, eroneously, the amorous relation seems reduced to a long complaint. This is because, if it is inconsistent to express suffering badly, on the other hand, with regard to happiness, it would seem culpable to spoil its expression: the ego discourses only when it is hurt; when I am fulfilled or remember having been so, language seems pusillanimous: I am transported, beyond language, i.e., beyond the mediocre, beyond the general: “There occurs an encounter which is intolerable, on account of the joy within it, and sometimes man is thereby reduced to nothing; this is what I call the transport. The transport is the joy of which one cannot speak” <Ruysbroeck>.
  2. In reality, it is unimportant that I have no likelihood of being really fulfilled (I am quite willing for this to be the case). Only the will to fulfillment shines, indestructible, before me. By this will, I well up: I form within myself the utopia of a subject free from repression: I am this subject already. This subject is libertarian: to believe in the Sovereign Good is as insane as to believe in the Sovereign Evil <Novalis>: Heinrich von Ofterdingen is of the same philosophical stuff as Sade’s Juliette.(Fulfillment means an abolition of inheritances:  “. . . Joy has no need of heirs or of children — Joy wants itself, wants eternity, the repetition of the same things, wants everything to remain eternally the same” <Nietzsche>. The fulfilled lover has no need to write, to transmit, to reproduce.)

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

The Informer :: A Lover’s Discourse

The Informer

informateur / informer

A friendly figure whose constant role, however, seems to be to wound the amorous subject by “innocently” furnishing commonplace information about the loved being, though the effect of this information
information is to disturb the subject’s image of that being. (Barthes 138-139)

1.         Gustave, Leon, and Richard form a group; Urbain, Claudius, Etienne, and Ursule, another; Abel, Gontran, Angele, and Hubert, still another (I borrow these names from Paludes <Gide>, which is the book of First Names). However, Leon happens to meet Urbain, who gets to know Angele, who knew Leon slightly anyway, etc. Thus is formed a constellation; each subject is called upon to enter into relations, one day or another, with the star remotest from him and to become involved with that particular star out of all the rest: everything ends by coinciding (this is the precise impulse of A la recherché du temps perdu <Proust>, which is, among other things, a tremendous intrigue, a farce network). Worldly friendship is epidemic: everyone catches it, like a disease. Now suppose that I release into this network a suffering subject eager to maintain with his other a pure, sealed space (consecrated, untouched); the network’s activities, its exchange of information, its interests and initiatives will be received as so many dangers. And in the center of this little society, at once an ethnological village and a boulevard comedy, parental structure and comic imbroglio, stands the informer, who busies himself and tells everyone everything.

Ingenuous or perverse, the Informer has a negative role. However anodyne the message he gives me (like a disease), he reduces my other to being merely another. I am of course obliged to listen to him (I cannot in worldly terms allow my vexation to be seen), but I strive to make my listening flat, indifferent, impervious.

2.         What I want is a little cosmos (with its own time, its own logic) inhabited only by “the two of us.” Everything from outside is a threat; either in the form of boredom (if I must live in a world from which the other is absent), or in the form of injury (if that world supplies me with an indiscreet discourse concerning the other). By furnishing me insignificant information about the one I love, the Informer discovers a secret for me. This secret is not a deep one, but comes from outside <Bunuel: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie>: it is the other’s “outside” which was hidden from me. The curtain rises the wrong way round-not on an intimate stage, but on the crowded theater. Whatever it tells me, the information is painful: a dull, ungrateful fragment of reality lands on me. For the lover’s delicacy, every fact has something aggressive about it: a bit of “science,” however commonplace, invades the Image-repertoire.

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

“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]

The Unknowable :: A Lover’s Discourse

The Unknowable

inconnaissable  /  unknowable

Efforts of the amorous subject to understand and define the loved being “in itself,” by some standard of character type, psychological or neurotic personality, independent of the particular data of the amorous relation. (Barthes 134-135)

1.         I am caught in this contradiction: on the one hand, I believe I know the other better than anyone and triumphantly assert my knowledge to the other (“I know you-I’m the only one who really knows you!”); and on the other hand, I am often struck by the obvious fact that the other is impenetrable, intractable, not to be found; I cannot open up the other, trace back the other’s origins, solve the riddle. Where does the other come from? Who is the other? I wear myself out, I shall never know.

(Of everyone I had known, X was certainly the most impenetrable. This was because you never knew anything about his desire: isn’t knowing someone precisely that-knowing his desire? I knew everything, immediately, about Y’s desires, hence Y himself was obvious to me, and I was inclined to love him no longer in a state of terror but indulgently, the way a mother loves her child.)

Reversal: “I can’t get to know you” means “I shall never know what you really think of me.” I cannot decipher you because I do not know how you decipher me.

2.         To expend oneself, to bestir oneself for an impenetrable object is pure religion. To make the other into an insoluble riddle on which my life depends is to consecrate the other as a god; I shall never manage to solve the question the other asks me, the lover is not Oedipus. Then all that is left for me to do is to reverse my ignorance into truth. <Gide> It is not true that the more you love, the better you understand; all that the action of love obtains from me is merely this wisdom: that the other is not to be known; his opacity is not the screen around a secret, but, instead, a kind of evidence in which the game of reality and appearance is done away with. I am seized with that exaltation of loving someone unknown, someone who will remain so forever: a mystic impulse: I know what I do not know.

3.         Or again, instead of trying to define the other (“What is he?”), I turn to myself: “What do I want, wanting to know the other?” What would happen if I decided to define you as a force and not as a person? And If I were to situate myself as another force confronting yours? This would happen: my other would be defined solely by the suffering or the pleasure he affords me.

GIDE: Speaking of his wife: “And since it always requires love in order to understand what differs from you . . .” (Et nunc manet in te).

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