I have a love/hate relationship with this book (borrowed from Maki). I did not begin it with any particular enthusiasm, but it did not take me long to realize that it would provide me no ordinary reading experience. I fell in love within the first hundred pages. Frequently I had to pause in the middle of a page, close the book, and—as a curse passed between my lips—put it down like I needed time to recover. I had mind explosions. (The only other time I ever felt like this was with Nikolai Berdyaev’s The Destiny of Man.) I marveled at the author’s perception and use of rhetoric, the thick fluidity of his language. I drowned in it; I wanted to quote everything. Each break from reading was like surfacing from underwater to breathe.
It took me a long time to finish A Lover’s Discourse because I found it too heavy—and too beautiful to waste on a few readings. I could not take it in all at once; I wanted it to last longer. The latter half of the book sobered me up. My awe lessened. I saw the lover as a pathetic creature. Werther (from Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther) expresses the exact sentiments of the lover that Barthes describes. He is forever anxious, a slave to his “Image-repertoire,” and he knows it. Yet he remains “Intractable.” Yet we sympathize. (The novel initiated numerous copycat suicides across 18th century Europe.) Do Goethe and Barthes present an exaggerated idea of the lover? Yes. But isn’t it precisely this exaggeration that characterizes love?
Objections may be raised. The more cynical may argue disbelief in the existence of the “Image-repertoire.” To this Barthes answers, somewhat defiantly, confidently: Does it matter that the perfect being does not exist in reality? He exists in your mind, you know as well as I do. I hated this book because it was right. No matter how much I try to deny it, there was (is) something in me that identified with what Barthes describes, and if that is love then perhaps there really is within all of us this “emptiness,” this “looking” for someone to love. “I never fall in love unless I have wanted to”—if anything, this is the problem.
When I said I had a love/hate relationship with this book I was lying. I absolutely loved it.
The love story…is the tribute the lover must pay to the world in order to be reconciled with it.
I encounter millions of bodies in my life; of these millions, I may desire some hundreds; but of these hundreds, I love only one.
This stubbornness is love’s protest: for all the wealth of ‘good reasons’ for loving differently, loving better, loving without being in love, etc., a stubborn voice is raised which lasts a little longer: the voice of the Intractable lover.
Someone tells me: this kind of love is not viable. But how can you evaluate viability? Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it better to last than to burn?
A mandarin fell in love with a courtesan. ‘I shall be yours,’ she told him, ‘when you have spent a hundred nights waiting for me, sitting on a stool, in my garden, beneath my window.’ But on the ninety-ninth night, the mandarin stood up, put his stool under his arm, and went away.
You wait for me where I do not want to go: you love me where I do not exist.
To try to write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little…
To know that one does not write for the other, to know that these things I am going to write will never cause me to be loved by the one I love (the other), to know that writing compensates for nothing, sublimates nothing, that it is precisely there where you are not—this is the beginning of writing.
The true act of mourning is not to suffer from the loss of the loved object; it is to discern one day, on the skin of the relationship, a certain tiny stain, appearing there as the symptom of a certain death…
The one who does not say I-love-you (between whose lips I-love-you is reluctant to pass) is condemned to emit the many uncertain, doubting, greedy signs of love, its indices, its ‘proofs’: gestures, looks, sighs, allusions, ellipsis: he must let himself be interpreted…
In languor, I merely wait: ‘I knew no end to desiring you.’
‘…for when I glance at you even an instant, I can no longer utter a word: my tongue thickens to a lump, and beneath my skin breaks out a subtle fire: my eyes are blind, my ears filled with humming, and sweat streams down my body, I am seized by a sudden shuddering; I turn greener than grass, and in a moment more, I feel I shall die.’
What does ‘thinking of you’ mean? It means: forgetting ‘you’…and frequently waking out of that forgetfulness.
Out of love, the delirious assumption of Dependence (I have an absolute need of the other), is generated, quite cruelly, the adverse position: no one has any real need of me.
So desire still irrigates the Non-will-to-possess by this perilous movement: I love you is in my head, but I imprison it behind my lips. I do not divulge. I say silently to who is no longer or is not yet the other: I keep myself from loving you.