Edited May 24, 2022: I made minor clarifications and added a paragraph at the end of my introduction. I am working on new writings on psychoanalysis, but I can’t reveal anything because I am really secretive about my projects. To tell you the truth, part of me never wants to publish anything again just so I can keep this post on the front page. 🙂
Is love the most powerful force in human experience?
Yes—yes it is.
* * *
“Love without risk is an impossibility. Like war without death.” —Alain Badiou
The question of love is one of the oldest living philosophical inquiries in human history. We study it. We mourn for it. We write and sing about it. Most importantly, we experience it. Love in our contemporary world has largely been undermined by our hedonistic culture which teaches us the reality of pleasure (sex). Today, it would only be fair for me do the opposite: emphasize on love and undermine pleasure. I hope this post will forever reshape how you see human passion and your relationship with others. Love is profound because love is infinite.
This post follows my previous two writings on Lacanian psychoanalysis (hyperlink: part I; part II). You only need to understand part I to read this (you can probably get by without reading it, but you won’t understand what I mean by “split subject”). While I will try to reintroduce some of the old foundational ideas, I will skip through most of them and jump straight into general psychoanalytic approach to love. Due to the length of this post, I won’t have room to talk about the different types of love—namely obsessional and hysterical love. But the general consensus is that love is feminine in nature and obsessional neurosis (masculinity) is a dialectic with hysteria (femininity). I purposely titled this post after Lacan’s Seminar XX (20), On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge.
Since this might be my only post of 2022, I decided to write about one of the most important topic in the world. Despite its length, this has become one of my favorite post of all time. I don’t write as much anymore due to work. Nowadays, I like to turn my brain off and enjoy the moment because my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness: I think too much. While I am impersonal when it comes to my writings, people might find some of the content overly relatable. So if you think I am talking about you, I am probably not talking about you. And if reading psychoanalysis makes you question your sanity. Let me throw this out there: you are not crazy. We don’t use the word “crazy” in here.
Since most of my psychoanalytic writings were written with certain themes in mind (especially this post), please be cautious if you decide to take advice from them. What I presented here is not the entire framework of psychoanalysis (I mixed philosophy into this piece to make it more me). While Bobby can offer insights on why we may exhibit certain behaviors, there are often deeper causes behind the things we do. Please seek for help if you are feeling unwell.
Happy reading split subjects!
Imaginary, Narcissism, and The One
“Why is love rich beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves. Then we want to thank the beloved, but find nothing that suffices. We can only thank with ourselves. Love transforms gratitude into loyalty to ourselves and unconditional faith in the other. That is how love steadily intensifies its innermost secret.”
— Martin Heidegger, Letters (to Hannah Arendt)
Freud once famously argued that who we love in our life is influenced by our past relationships. But what is sometimes overlooked is the relationship people establish with themselves: between the ideal-ego and ego-ideal where the split subject recognize parts of themselves in the “other person” that they see in the mirror. As the split subject looks into the mirror reflection of themselves, the symbolic ego-ideal emerges as the Other (i.e. social laws) which interferes with their own ideal-ego (their self image); they begin to recognize that something is missing in the mirror and how their perceptions of themselves are never complete.
Let us use an example that may appear to have nothing to do with love, but emphasize on the fundamental separation between the imaginary ideal-ego and the symbolic ego-ideal. Consider the influence of social media platforms which functions as the Other and forms the ego-ideal. Recall in my previous post, I spoke about how it is not enough for me to recognize myself as an ideal person because you need the approval of the Other. You must live up to the Other’s expectations. It is like looking at yourself in the mirror, but recognizing that there is also the other Other person who is unknowingly standing behind you and sees who you are in a certain way. The symbolic ego-ideal is the recognition of an outside beyond who you are as you evaluate yourself. You judge yourself; recognize your insecurities because the Other sees you in certain ways since they are the one who represents the laws. As split subjects, we are trying to satisfy the desires of the Other.
Think of how people struggle with self image due to social media pressuring them to have impossible body standards (it doesn’t always have to be social media, it can be many things—but we will use social media as an example). It is common for people to think that going to the gym and building their bodies would make them feel more secure. Certainly for most people, working out is a healthy activity. Such endeavor would only be problematic if the split subject starts living in the gym 24/7 and avoids other obligations. For the sake of simplicity, let us refer to this man as patient X: someone who desires to become a veiny hulk due to the effects of social media. As a result, this drives him to neglect his daily obligations so he can work out 24/7. His desires to obsessively workout (symptom) becomes a form of addiction. Let us also say that their desire to workout is to avoid confronting the truth that they are insecure (the Real).
In such case, I would imagine that the analyst’s job is to help the analysand (patient) reduce their trust of the Other (social media)—or reduce the impositions of the Other’s effects on the subject. The analyst’s job is to help the analysand touch the Real and discover the truth of their desires for obsessively working out is caused by their insecurities. As such, they must learn to do something else for a change. The truth of such desire can only be produced if patient X desires to discover the reason behind their symptoms (of why they are so obsessively working out). Certainly, by helping the analysand touch the Real does not free the subject from the tyranny of the Other. The Other will still impose the law onto them—and they may still recognize their insecurity. Only this time hopefully, it leads to a healthier relationship between how the split subject conceives of their ideal-ego and ego-ideal (their self-image).
Whatever a split subject perceive as lacking in the mirror is never what they originally lack. The human mind is deceptive in the sense that it always attempts to protect itself from trauma. The object cause of desire (object a; lack) which resides in the Real is like a blackhole that the subject can never fully grasp. While patient X may think they are concealing their lack by going to the gym and neglecting other obligations, their initial recognition of their lack is always a misrecognition or a wishful projection. In other words, while patient X may perceive that they are lacking big arms (due to influence of social media), even when what they are lacking is a lost object that is radically excluded from their consciousness (his insecurities). The solution of touching the Real where patient X recognizes the truth of his desires (symptoms) is caused by insecurities could be a mere invention in his mind. This is to say that their symptom may have nothing to do with their insecurities even if patient X believes to be the case. Yet, it would be as Lacan said on how speaking the entire truth is impossible, but it is through the speech of what the subject perceives as truth which holds onto the Real. Therefore, by helping patient X recognize the truth of his desires of working out 24/7, patient X may change the way he relates with the Real. The goal of psychoanalysis is to reorient patient X’s relationship with the Real (their lack; their insecurities) so they can dissolve their symptoms and change or interrupt how they desire.
While this is an oversimplification of such matter, the point I wish to make is that the convergence between ideal-ego and ego-ideal is an impossible task. Perhaps one might think that by achieving big arms, one removes what they perceive to be missing in the mirror. But this is almost never the case because, as already mentioned, getting big arms is a misrecognition of their lack. This is why you sometimes meet really attractive people who are still insecure about something—things that might not have anything to do with their appearance. One can be insecure about their intelligence, work, social skills, and lots of other things. In fact, some may find that the more attractive the person is, the more insecure they are. While this is not always true, sometimes, the more someone recognizes their lack, the more they will try to hide it by throwing on 50 pounds of make-up or become a veiny hulk, etc. At the end, everyone has insecurities regardless of how attractive they are. And no matter how hard one tries to conceal it, there will always be this lack because our ideal-ego is imposed by our laws of society (we are split subjects).
Think of all the things people do in their lives: addiction (gambling, partying, drugs, alcohol, smoke, sugar), people who work too much, play too much video games, people who repetitively does too much of something. While you can’t necessarily cure their symptoms since they are always a split subject, you can change and interrupt the way they experience these symptoms. I speak of this repetition compulsion in a similar way to my last post when I provided an example on how people enjoy listening to their favorite songs over and over again; just like patient X who repeatedly lives in the gym. Our daily lives are riddled by these unconscious repetitive symptoms that we are unaware of. Most of these symptoms are harmless and healthy when kept in check, while others are harmful when done to the extreme. We repeat them because we can never get enough pleasure from it since we are split subjects. Enjoy your symptoms!
The experience of narcissism is where the self attempts to unify with their ideal mirror image as One. The movement between the ego-ideal and ideal-ego causes the recognition of a lack when the split subject looks at themselves in mirror or at other people (i.e. I lack big arms due to the effects of the symbolic Other, therefore I produce the fantasy of becoming a veiny hulk). The desire to converge the ego-ideal and ideal-ego together is often referred as “the One”. Such term is also used in the same sense on how couples sometimes refer to their significant other as the One—an illusionary One that is produced by the effects of the imaginary. Perhaps our desire to converge with the One also explains why we live in a self-obsessed culture where people are constantly fascinated by their own image.
Now you know why you sometimes see couples wear matching clothes. They are attempting to converge with the other person into their ideal image (they see “parts of themselves” in the other). Rightly so, many couples end up resembling each other in some ways, whether it be their world views, personality, appearance, or habits; something that is normal until it reaches a point where the image of the One remains as the One and does not go through the symbolic which makes us recognize that the other person is actually different from us.
At the fundamental level, love is an imaginary and narcissistic phenomenon. Just as the child who looks into the mirror and says “This other person in the mirror is me!”, people also associate their beloved as someone who is similar to themselves. At the imaginary level, love between two people is about sameness so to turn the other into the One. Yet, the image of the One is always stopped short by the symbolic. Furthermore, while all relationships are based on past relationships, imaginary love steals over us before we recognize that this person turns out to be different from our past relationships. In this sense, love truly is blind (and friendship closes its eyes; this famous saying is from Friedrich Nietzsche). Now you know why Freud once said that “Love is temporary psychosis”. It is temporary because it is only a matter of time where we realize that the One is never quite “the One” since the other person is different from us. For Lacan, it is not enough for love to exist within the imaginary dimension through sameness. Any forms of love that are stuck within the imaginary are always doomed to fail. In extreme cases, it may lead to psychosis, delusions, and paranoia. This can be seen in the famous real case of Aimee who externally projected her ideal-ego onto an actress and murdered her. Lacan argued that Aimee’s love for her ideal-ego that she projected onto the actress turned into hate. When Aimee struck a knife at the actress, she struck an image of herself. After the crime was committed, Aimee goes through a meltdown and began crying where her psychotic symptoms were relieved.
Let us briefly consider the opposite scenario where a person does not seek to turn the other person into the One. Consider an everyday person who says, “I should love my significant other for who they are and I should never love an idealized image of them” (an idealized image that I project onto the other person—my narcissism; the One). Often times, if you continue to ask the same person about their relationship with their significant other, they may also tell you all the things they think are important in a relationship. They might tell you how being faithful is important—something most people would agree. In some cases, this makes a classic example of the One entering into their mind without their conscious recognition. The person who is saying this does not recognize that their love for the other might be their love for the One / ideal self of being faithful to their partner. At times, becoming the ideal One (being a faithful person) is more important than being with their partner. Hence, it is when we believe we are not idealizing the other where we idealize them where we are caught into our own image of the One (our own narcissism). Analysts seem to agree that idealism is an inescapable aspect of human passion. The same phenomena happens when people “love for love sake” where one loves the ideal or idea of love. One of the main differences between animal and human passion is that humans consists of an idealized dimension of love that enters into their minds when they least expect it. We don’t just love the person, we also love to love. Or as James Joyce would say, “Love loves to love love”.
Symbolic, Love, and Lack
“Love is giving what you don’t have.” —Jacques Lacan
As we know, it is impossible to converge with our idealized One that we see in the mirror due to the discourse of the symbolic Other. Thus, it is also impossible to converge with our beloved where we project ourselves onto them. Love can never only exist within the imaginary and must go through the symbolic.
While we may spend much of our lives protecting ourselves from experiencing the full force of what we truly lack (the Real), which leads to establishing healthy or unhealthy ways to deal with it (the symptom). In an ironic way, love does the opposite. This is the most profound insight Lacan offered in regards to the experience of love; which is that love reveals our experience of lack where the subject willingly exposes the truth of their desires and symptoms. To declare our love is to give what we lack.
By declaring our love, one is proclaiming that they are split subjects. To say “I love you” is to say “I am incomplete”. This is not as simple as saying “I am incomplete and you complete me” so to speak (though it’s not wrong). But rather, the one who declares their love is offering what they recognize as the lack (object a; or object cause of desire) that they locate within their beloved. Lacan refers to the declaration of love as “making love” because one produces love by saying “I love you”. Love is conjured out of thin air through the act of declaration. Perhaps this is what makes these “three special words” so special.
Think of our example of the diagnosis for patient X who must touch the Real by acknowledging their unconscious repetitive symptoms are produced by their insecurities. By confronting the truth of their desires of living in the gym, patient X creates something new in their lives: a difference and dissolves their symptoms (they produce a new relationship with the Real after recognizing their symptoms are due to their insecurities). The recognition of love for the other does something similar. Love also touches the Real which produces a difference to those who declares and experiences it. This is why the encounter of love has the ability to change our lives and who we perceive ourselves to be!
Just as the person will always see something missing in their mirror image due to the effects of the symbolic Other, they also recognize lack when they encounter their beloved. Hence, to love someone is to unconsciously locate our lack in the other. Love is an exposure of our lack which may halt the lover’s desire of whatever repetitive symptoms that they already have. At its core, love has nothing to do with our desires other than the truth of such desires—which is that X loves Y.
Love also has nothing to do with sex. From the psychoanalytic perspective, sex is basically a bundle of drives attempting to achieve satisfaction. Sex teaches us the reality of pleasure. This is why Lacan famously said that “There is no sexual relationship”. There is no sexual relationship other than each person recognizing their own pleasure during intercourse. The only sexual relationship they have is with themselves. To put it vulgarly, sex is mutual masturbation. If someone thinks they love someone because of their butt fetish (for example), then it is not love, but lust. [The popular interpretation is that while there are no sexual relationships, it is love which substitutes or gives meaning to sex].
It is common for us to mistake desire and lust as love. And if such confusion ever arises, it is because desire and love are two sides of the same coin. It is the encounter of the Real or getting too close to object a which stops our desire (it interrupts our repetitive symptoms; when we get too close to object a, we also experience anxiety). The lack that we unconsciously locate in the other (object a) causes our desire while eventually stopping it in its tracks which produces the experience of love. This is why love feels like it cannot be described by any words or reason. Our desire for the other temporarily comes to a halt and love is produced by what is left over through the symbolic (by what is missing in symbolic language). Hence, Lacan points out how love allows us to experience the Real of our desire without the tragic dimension.
We often perceive the beloved as the One via imaginary even if such unity is impossible because love consumes us before we recognize that the One is never quite the One we perceive. Analysts sometimes talk about the whimsical aspects of love that they observe in couples where the things that each person perceives in the other is not always directly felt or recognized by the other person. In this sense, love is a form of misrecognition (just like patient X’s misrecognition of his desire for big arms, even when the truth is that he is insecure). The entire notion of dating involves this unconscious search of the lost object cause of desire (a) or lack. Some people manage to locate object a very quickly and those who are able to find it in the other will perceive them as someone who carries a special “glow”. Some of us are able to locate object a much easier in certain individuals than others because all relationships are based on past relationships. And when object a is located during the first encounter of the other, it sometimes becomes “love at first sight” (I say sometimes because it can also be lust).
Love at first sight is often considered as a short circuit between the imaginary and symbolic where the subject bypasses the Other’s laws (such as the Other’s demand that we must know someone before we can love them). Lacan once spoke of love at first sight as a form of attack that suddenly overpowers the subject. Its experience is often metaphorically described as getting struck by a lightning bolt (hence the French idiom coup de foudre which translates as a flash of lightning or thunderbolt). There are many famous examples of love at first sight in human history. One of them is from Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (father of existentialism) where nearly all of his works were inspired by his love for a woman named Regina (Regine Olsen). Kierkegaard once described his love at first sight encounter of Regina as a form of longing which gave him a strong sense of familiarity (this is transference; will get to later).
Nevertheless, just as one always identifies their lack in the mirror (i.e. I am missing big arms), the split subject also identifies the lack or object a that they locate in their beloved. But as we learned, this recognition of lack in ourselves or beloved is always in some ways a misrecognition (i.e. I am not missing big arms as I gaze into the mirror, but something that is unconscious to me; such that I am insecure). Thus, perhaps the moment we think we love the other and recognize them for their good qualities is the moment where we don’t love them for their good qualities. Bruce Fink, a renown clinical psychoanalyst, does a brilliant job at explaining how love functions as a form of misrecognition:
“Can we after all, love someone who seems to be perfect, someone who seems to have everything? Isn’t it often the case that although we may be fascinated or captivated by someone who appears to have only good qualities, we only begin to love him or her from the moment we suspect that he or she is somewhat (if not deeply) unhappy, quite clueless about something, rather awkward, clumsy, or helpless? Isn’t it in his or her nonmastery or incompleteness that we see a possible place for ourselves in his or her affections—that is, that we glimpse the possibility that we may be able to do something for that person, be something to that person? In this case, we perhaps love not what they have, but what they do not have; moreover, we show our love by giving what we ourselves do not have.”
Perhaps we don’t love the other’s perfections and what they have after all. We love what they do not have. We love what the other lacks and we want to take the place of such lack as much as we would like them to do the same for us. Love is thus, born between givers of what they do not have. As Fink might say, to declare “I love you” is to give what we lack and hope the other will handle it with care. In our materialistic world, it is easy to reveal our love by showering our beloved with what we have, such as a fancy dinner or a big bouquet of roses. But it is much more meaningful and difficult to give what we do not have.
This is why Lacan points out how humans cannot speak about love without sounding like an imbecile. We cannot talk about love without situating it into metaphors which represents its lack. For Lacan, love is always mutual. He uses his own metaphor to describe love:
Imagine you see a beautiful flower. You reach out your hand to grab it. But at the moment you do, the flower bursts into flames. In its place, you see another hand appear, reaching back towards your own.
This famous Lacanian metaphor represents the height of love which occurs when the beloved transforms into the lover. When the lover declares their love by reaching their hand towards the beloved (flower), the beloved bursts into flames as their hand reaches back to the lover. This is what some analysts refer as “the miracle of love”. It is a miracle that your beloved returns your love! Obviously, the idea that our beloved happens to love us back will not always be the case, even if Lacan would disagree, which he has every reason to do so (will get to later). I won’t talk too much about unrequited love today. All I will say is that unrequited love may sometimes make the lover question whether they are lovable or not. “The other does not love me back because I am not good enough to become the One!”. To declare our love is to reveal our narcissistic wound that we are incomplete. This is why the pain of unrequited love is unlike any other.
Alenka Zupancic, a contemporary Lacanian scholar, talks about love as a form of surprise. It is surprising that what we initially perceive as the person of interest often turns out to be completely “different”, even when the other person had been themselves all this time. Zupancic writes a beautiful passage on the love encounter:
“A love encounter is not simply about everything falling into its rightful place. A love encounter is not simply about a contingent match between two different pathologies, about two individuals being lucky enough to encounter in each other what “works for them”. Rather, love is what makes it work. Love does something to us, it makes, or allows for, the cause of our desire to condescend, to coincide with our love. And the effect of this is surprise—only this surprise, and not simply our infatuation, is the sign of love proper. It is the sign of the subject, of the subjective figure of love. It says not simply “You are it!.” but rather: “How surprising that you are it!”. Or, in a simpler formula of how love operates: “How surprising that you are you!”.
Love is about difference, not sameness. Love appears only when something is out of place and misrecognized. The person who is outgoing life of the party turns out to be introspective and thoughtful. The person who appears aloof is just shy. Or the intelligent person turns out to be clueless of social norms. The effect of symbolic love is the surprise of difference.
While the imaginary dimension of love makes us blind to the fact that the One is never quite the One (the imaginary makes us think that the other is the same as us, even when they are different), love at the symbolic level has the ability to traverse differences where two people produces a truth together. Love is what makes differences work. It is where people converge into their imaginary One as they recognize its impossibility through each other’s symbolic differences. Thus, real love must triumph over all the obstacles ruptured from the world—even if it may sometimes involve struggle and pain. For, isn’t it through the hardships of love which makes it meaningful? That our love for the other is worth fighting for and not easily given up on? Imagine two people who goes through thick and thin with unconditional faith in the other and conquers the entire universe! Perhaps Freud was right in that one day, the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful.
But we now also understand what Lacan meant when he asked: “What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them can give you the universe?”. Love always involves difference where our beloved can never completely give us our universe (i.e. idealized relationship; the One). Think of some people who are prone to jumping from one relationship to another from giving up on their love after the first obstacle. Some of them wants to find their ideal love and ideal relationship without recognizing that the convergence of the One is impossible. Love cannot exist solely within the imaginary. Love is about difference, and it is hard work.
In the film Arrival, the relationship between Ian and Louise is a good example of a love encounter. Consider the ending where Ian (Jeremy Renner) declares his love for Louise (Amy Adams) by delivering a magnificent line: “I’ve had my head titled up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you”. Not only is love a form of surprise, it requires chance to occur (will get to this later). It is by chance that they meet where they begin their relationship through mutual differences. Where Louise thinks language is the foundation of civilization, Ian thinks it is science. And it is only at the end of the film where such difference gets resolved as Ian becomes surprised at how Louise approached language like a mathematician. Although they end up separating, what makes the ending of Arrival profound and heart wrenching is Louise’s act of love and her acceptance of the finitude of being human. Would you give birth to your daughter knowing that she will die at a young age? Just as, would one adopt a pet companion knowing they will eventually die from their illness? The truth is, everyone dies sooner or later. While it might be sad to know that the person or companion we love dearly will one day leave you (or they already left you), it is because they will leave you which makes the time you spend with them meaningful. Every memory is infinite, every moment is forever.
Recall in my last post, when I introduced one of Freud’s famous patients of the man who was attracted to the shine on a woman’s nose that no one else could see. This is a prime example of transference. We often associate various traits of the other as something familiar to our past relationships. People find and see different things within the other that they love. Hence, not only is love blind, beauty is also in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people tend to think that by achieving ideal body standards set by society, they become the object of desire. While this might be true under the context of desire and sex, people often love characteristics that has nothing to do with these beauty standards because we love what they do not have. This is why everyone has something beautiful and unique about them, even if they don’t fit into any ideal standards.
Finally, we also have the experience of hate. Quite the contrary to what most people think. Hate is an extension of love. You might notice that people who break up may sometimes end up hating each other. They might talk behind each other’s back and gossip to other people how horrible their ex were. The truth is that nothing annoys us more than the things our lovers do. If we did not love them, we would not care about the things they do because it wouldn’t matter in the first place. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. And those who cannot hate, cannot love.
Love and Transference
“Love is giving what you don’t have…to someone who does not want it.” —Jacques Lacan
Transference is a common phenomenon that happens everyday. It involves the split subject who transfers past experiences, traumas, emotions onto a present object. These past experiences can be applied onto someone or something. Not only is transference central to psychoanalytic therapy, it plays a fundamental role in the experience of love.
Since all relationships are based on past relationships, love is transference. Humans transfer past emotions and experiences onto the present object without immediately recognizing that the present object that we perceive as sameness—such as the beloved—is actually different from our past. Now we understand how our misrecognitions are often produced by transference (our misrecognitions are a form of wishful projection—our desires). This is why analysts often say that when one is in love, they are unconsciously in love with someone else. Who is the other person that we unconsciously love? Could it be our ex-partners? Our mother or father? Our siblings? Could it be someone who one cannot possibly love due to symbolic influence of the Other? One can only imagine the tragic dimension that is absent from the declaration of love as the love that cannot be accepted by someone else. This is the reason why our beloved often resembles someone in our families or past relationships even when they are a completely different person. And this is exactly why love is about difference.
One way of interpreting this last part of Lacan’s quote is to think of how many of us sometimes fixate on the failures of our past relationships which cast doubts on our current beloved without our conscious recognition. Just as our recognition that we project onto our beloved turns out to be something else (the person who is aloof is just shy, etc.), perhaps the reason we have doubts about them is due to transference. Thus, perhaps the moment we think the other is not returning our love (a projection from our past where someone did not want our love), is the moment where we find love being returned. To love requires us to take risks and embrace the unknown so to be consumed by its magic where the result is surprise. Love requires one to leap across an abyss. If you have to think about it, then you won’t do it (a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre found here).
Another way we can interpret this last part of Lacan’s quote is to think of how the lack that we give to the other are often traits and characteristics that they see as our imperfections and non-masteries. In reality—and as strange as it may sound—it is often these imperfect annoying traits about the other person that we love most. The reason is because they unconsciously remind us of something from past relationships that we have repressed where they consciously appear to us as disgust and annoyance. In this sense, the lack that we give are things that the other does not consciously want, but unconsciously desires.
Consider the film No Time to Die and the scene where Safin visits Madelaine at her psychotherapy office. The setting of her office reveals that Madelaine is a psychoanalyst of sorts. Such view is reinforced by Safin who points out how it is dangerous for the patient to have an attractive psychotherapist. This is true in the sense that the goal of the analyst is to cause desire within the analysand without the analyst becoming their object of desire. And when the analyst is attractive, it becomes difficult to not become the object of desire. This is why the analyst’s desk is located behind the patient’s chair (you see Madeleine’s desk behind Safin during this scene). It is also one of the reasons why you sometimes hear people talk about falling in love with their analysts or therapists.
Within the analytic setting, the “analysand” (patient) basically translates as “the person who analyzes”. When you get psychoanalyzed, it is the patient who does all the hard work by analyzing themselves via free association (i.e. speaking whatever comes to mind). In the perspective of the analysand, the analyst is someone who is “supposed to know” all the answers to their unconscious repetitive symptoms, even when the analyst knows nothing more than what the analysand tells them when they free associate. The analyst’s job is to follow the trail of the analysand’s unconscious as they free associate and help them locate the key to dissolve their symptoms.
I recall reading about a real case of a male patient who did not know why he always treated and dumped his ex-girlfriends in the exact same way. As he went through analysis, he discovered the reason why he treated them in the same way was because this was how his father treated his mother when he was a child. This is a good example of how childhood experiences affects adulthood—or what Freud refer as the “return of the repressed”. It is also a good example of how past relationships influences present relationships (transference). Instead of our made up example of patient X who goes to the gym 24/7, we have a real case of someone who repeatedly treats their girlfriends in the exact same way where the reason is unconscious to them.
This takes us back to the question from my previous post between what the subject wants versus what the Other wants from the subject. Consider Squid Game, where each player is forced into relations with the Other (the show featured a book by Lacan). If you do not conform to the desires of the Other, which is to play by the rules of capitalism (or squid game) so to serve yourself, you will be eliminated from society. Hence, the everyday split subject’s desire is the Other’s desire (to desire for money, social status, wealth, ideal beauty, etc.; or patient X who wants to become a veiny hulk). This is metaphorically paralleled to the film Inception where it implied Robert Fischer as someone who wasn’t sure what his father desired for him. At the end of the film—despite the “inception” that took place—Fischer opens up a safe and realizes that his father does not want him to take his place of owning his business empire. Instead, he wants Fischer to dismantle it and become his own man. One can only assume that the awakened Fischer from the depths of his dreams would live his life satisfying his father’s desire.
This is part of the reason why Lacan thinks love is always mutual and will inevitably be returned (some analysts contests this claim). Not only does Lacan argue that the experience of love does not fully emerge until the lover unconsciously recognizes that love is also emerging within the beloved; at the fundamental level, the declaration of love functions as a form of demand which reveals to the beloved as the desire of the Other. All declaration of love is a demand for love to be returned. In order for the beloved to satisfy the desires of the other (i.e. the lover who declared love), love will be returned.
Contrary to these examples, in a clinical setting, the analyst’s goal is to not desire the analysand to be like this or like that in the same way the Other would. Rather, the analyst’s job is to give the analysand a chance to produce their own desires as the analyst attempts to reduce the effects of the Other’s impositions. After all, the subject’s desire is the Other’s desire. It is by reducing the effects of the Other where it could yield room for the analysand’s subjectivity to identify the truth of their desires (symptoms). This procedure is referred as the “ethical act of psychoanalysis”. It is not the analyst’s job to determine the analysand’s desires and what they should perceive as the truth of their desires (instead, the analyst guides them by following the crumbs of their unconscious as they free associate in an attempt to resolve their transference). In this sense, one can say that psychoanalysis is the practice of free speech par excellence. The analysand just sits there and speaks whatever comes to mind.
However, just because it is the analyst’s job to give space for the analysand to desire does not mean that the analyst shouldn’t desire anything from the analysand. One of the first things that the analysand demands from the analyst during therapy is for the analyst’s love and care that they listen attentively to what they have to say. The reason is because speech is a demand for love; just like a baby’s cry. Analysts knows they cannot return this type of love—which is why they often speak as little as possible during analysis. The analyst must always be aware of their desires versus the desires from the analysand. What makes psychoanalysis different from other therapies is that the analyst must always try to find something to desire within the analysand. They must try to love and care about something in the analysand in order for psychoanalysis to take place (if this is the case, is the analyst an example of an unrequited lover who must love without expecting anything in return?). After all, how could there be successful psychoanalysis if the patient does not feel like they are being listened to and cared for by the other?
Lacan once famously pointed out how the analyst’s job is to temporarily function as the analysand’s “right person” (their beloved, but without becoming it). The analyst is the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge (object a; lack) that the analysand unconsciously projects onto as they free associate. By becoming the “right person”, the analyst hopes that the analysand can experience the metaphor of love in a new way which would make them stop repeating their symptoms. The analyst do so by trying to make the analysand recognize that they are split subjects. This is one of the reasons why you cannot psychoanalyze yourself. There must always be an analyst or person who functions as the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge. As we begin to see, psychoanalysis doesn’t just take place within a clinical setting, it happens everywhere through our encounters of love. The experience of love is central to dissolving the analysand’s symptoms because it is what allows difference, interruptions, and new knowledge to emerge. The moment the analysand feels like the analyst does not listen or care about them is usually the moment psychoanalysis fails.
What is Love?
Love is the wound of our split subjectivity that we locate in the other. No wonder why we feel so vulnerable when we declare our love! Love is what we do not have—or have very little of due to symbolic filtering. Declaring our love for the other exposes our incompleteness (lack). Yet, to produce love through the act of declaration is to speak nothing of it because its experience infinitely exceeds language.
In the same way patient X must come to the truth of their desires by producing new knowledge that their symptoms are caused by insecurities, the lover must also declare their love so to produce knowledge for the truth of their desires—such that everything they’ve done for their beloved was because they love them. If you are following my metaphors that are structured in the same way but with different content, you now understand why love marks the limits of human knowledge. It is from the revelation of the truth of our desires where new knowledge is produced from our unconscious mind. And it is from this truth or new knowledge that latches onto the Real which may change our perceptions of ourselves and everything around us. In some cases, it may even change the world! The metaphor of love takes infinite forms because love is the letter (or signifier) from our unconscious mind. Can you imagine the first person who desires to walk on the beach everyday (symptom) and suddenly discovers the truth that ocean waves are influenced by the moon? Or one day, Isaac Newton desired to sit under a tree where an apple randomly fell on his head which allowed him to discover gravity? The famous story of Newton is indeed, a love story. Love is the metaphorical representation of infinity that is conceived through symbolic thought. To conceive of love is to become the thinker of infinities.
If you recall when I said that love is fundamentally feminine, we now understand why a hysterics position (mostly found in women) is infinitely more profound than an obsessional neurotic (mostly found in men). Even an obsessional neurotic must temporarily take on the position of a hysteric so to discover new knowledge and declare their love. This is why obsessional neuroticism is a dialectic with hysteria.
In order for love to arise, there must always be a certain level of risk and contingency. Alain Badiou’s philosophy on love is a great example which circles around psychoanalysis. Badiou is well known for criticizing dating apps which uses advanced algorithms to pair people who are similar to each other. He thinks people today are too safe (conservative) and hedonistic in their approach to love in that they always either look for sameness or they look for sex (food for thought: what is the difference between an algorithm that matches people in a dating app, and the person who arranges blind dates and marriages?). In other words, people want love without chance and risk. They want guaranteed love and make sure that the other is their “best fit”, even when love only occurs when things don’t quite fit. Ultimately, Badiou disagrees with this type of “safe love” and favors love that requires adventure, difference, contingency, and risk.
Regardless of Badiou’s critique on dating apps. Love is an event that is ruptured out of the contingencies of everyday life (like the apple that randomly fell on Newton’s head). The encounter of love arises in the most unexpected places which shakes the foundations of your world (the apple that shook Newton’s world). One day, you walk into a place and encounter a person who challenges your world (this is the “fall” of falling in love). Love becomes an ethical event that is produced out of pure contingency. In face of such event, love requires a risk that two people must take. Your encounter of the other turns into destiny (just as it is Newton’s destiny to encounter the apple which allowed him to discover gravity). It is no longer by chance that you encountered this person, but your destiny to do so. Human fate gives over to another human fate. From this point on, love allows you to see the world not from the perspective of one, but from the perspective of two (difference). And it is through these differences in perspectives where two people produces a truth together. As Badiou says, love is a rare experience where on the basis of chance inscribed in a moment, one attempts to declare eternity!
Love is a catastrophe that interrupts your existence and shakes you out of your comfort zone like stage fright. The encounter of love makes you recognize that your world is no longer about yourself (your narcssisism; the One), but what you lack: your beloved. Love is not fetishism, such as the sexualization of the other’s body parts (breast, butt, penis, muscles, etc.). Love is a form of care for the other’s soul, which involves experiencing the world from a different perspective. To love is to want your beloved to be happy. This is love in its purest form. It is what most people refer as “true love” or “unconditional love”. In our hedonistic society which teaches us to serve our own pleasures and happiness, love turns selfish into selfless. Many people often confuse love and desire by thinking that love must always consist of possessing or desiring the other. While loving and desiring to be with our beloved should always be the ideal scenario, we all know it’s not always possible. However difficult it might be, it is perfectly possible that one can love someone without desiring to be with them. Hence, it is also possible that one can love someone while desiring someone else. It is very difficult to love without desire or wanting to be with the other because love and desire are two sides of the same coin. It is not recommended that one should give up on their desires for the other because the truth is, everyone wants to be with the person they love most.
Is the experience of love simply caused by hormones and chemical reactions as science claims? While this answer is sufficient for most materialists, it cannot explain the problem between consciousness and the unconscious mind. Perhaps this highlights the philosophical problem between idealism and materialism (the experience of consciousness is non-physical; one can hold onto their physical brain, but they cannot physically hold onto their experience of consciousness; welcome to metaphysics). Personally, I think this is a cold approach to love, even if it is not a wrong answer. Some contemporary psychologists tries to scientifically universalize the experience of love by arguing what a normal relationship should look like (think of the function of the Other defining an ideal relationship, like social media and advertisements defining ideal beauty). Many of them do so at the expense of ignoring the problem of ideology among other things. In psychoanalysis, there is no such thing as “normal” because every individual is unique with different pathologies and histories. Everyone has a different type of love language. There is always something specific and unique about each love encounter. This is what makes love perilous and profoundly beautiful!
Many of us have a tendency of burdening ourselves to be in love despite the risks that it involves—such that the other might not love us back, that it may lead to pain and suffering, or our love might fail in the future. The truth is, whether it is new knowledge, an animal companion, or someone special, humans can do very little without love. Without its lack which provokes our curiosity and desire, one would not be able to declare or produce the question of love and offer a response. It is here, where we arrive at one of the very first questions in human intellectual history:
What is love?
“The wound can have (should only have) one proper name. I recognize that I love—you—by this: you leave in me a wound that I do not want to replace.”