The Book of Love is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing...


Great Lovers ( Mr and Miss Hembus), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1930

by Lauren Berlant

I am a love theorist. I sometimes feel dissociated from all my loves. I sometimes ask them to hold more of an image of me than I can hold. By “sometimes” I mean all the times. The image is the regressed form, not the narrative noise that comes later to try to apply adhesive to the fantasy and its representation in objects, so that I know I am an event that lives in the world. The love and the images available for it are in a Thunderdome death-love match, yet we act as though affect could be held within a steady-state space like meat on a hook, or the image of meat on a hook, since actual meat turns green. Most storage lockers are cold enough to slow down that decay, as we know from narrative and domesticity. Aggressions and tenderness pop around in me without much of a thing on which to project blame steadily or balance an idealization. So it’s just me and  phantasmagoric noise that only sometimes feels like a cover song for a structuring shape or an improv around genre. In love I’m left holding the chaos bag and there is no solution that would make these things into sweet puzzle pieces. See Phillips’ reading of attachment as the drive to return to the taste of another person: the “sweetness” love stands for binds itself to an infinity of objects and plots and strategies for investing the scene with a worthiness matching our intensity of a need for its nourishment.  This is why, perhaps too, Laplanche uses the word “metabolize.”

This is a philosophical “I”. I don’t feel like using “we,” because I fall into the banality pit when I do. (See Derrida on film on love. He should have trusted his first instinct to say nothing, since what he says is nothing, but he was being a good boy, and trying to maintain his availability for the interviewer’s idealization, the death in life of the call and response: he was trying to be loveable.  Maybe the phrases one offers as gifts are the best love because they metarecognize the demand for love in any call: but, in itself, the professor’s discourse is not an opening to the other’s inconvenience, and it is not love if it is not opened to that.)

Detachment on a good day, dissociation during the stressful ones, overwhelmed and awkward on the days that begin flooded, and when it works, a lot of imitative affect mixing optimism and protective coating so that, reliably, while the internal objects are splashing around the external ones are getting the best of it. The heart bursts, Nancy says, and love isn’t dialectical, some stupid unimaginative feedback loop. I find that part almost delightful.

Apostrophe is not only the condition of love but an ideal of self-encounter. Can the addressee make more of it than you can, is she you who waits for the sentence of your existence to finish and, inevitably, to miss its mark?  For the addressee, you are willing to make provisional clarities. For the addressee, you are willing to perform an openness that’s an optimistic brokenness. If you’re lucky, you’re a topos in your own world, although without the apostrophic phantom you cannot exist in the world.  I am writing on a short story now in which the protagonist moves from telling his story as “I do x” to saying “you do x” because he is looking for some refuge in the general, a pattern of self-detachment that would feel less lonely than he feels, if language could pull it off, but language can’t pull it off entirely, which doesn’t mean that one should give up trying this or that.  Something might happen and a structure might shift its symbolizations. That is the hope of love, the Eternal Sunshine to which you just have to say “ok” to walking awkwardly and falling down on the ice.  The truth is closer to Amores Perros, in which love wounds so badly that all you can do is walk away.  But if you carry the image with you it will itch you to put it next to other things in an almost return that renews, without repeating, love.

It isn’t an ethical problem, whether one or a population is held in the world as an idealizable image in the minds of others: it’s what’s needed for anyone, to have a world that can hold an image of them more complete than the image they can hold of themselves. We watched a clip cluster from Sex in the City, which was one after another scene of a woman demanding recognition from objects or persons whose job it was to become-objects, and no wonder why having a real doll is a dream, because you can make it say “I love you”,” “I desire you,” “I’m sorry,” “Does that feel good,” and “Why did that bastard say that to you?” in an eternal loop of distant listening, light touch reflection, magnification, and shrinkage, an archive of impacts whose success or failure depends more than anything on the timing of the effort to assimilate to the lie that the statement of love is not merely a proposition. I moved from I to you. Distortion is not falsehood. Blame it on the failure of language to hold perfect phrases for the states that have multiple aims but do not stop communicating regardless.

I have been reading Ariana Reines’ The Cow.  Three students gave me this book within a space of six months, and then I’ve given it to people who I thought could bear it and not a single person has been able to, which I find interesting (I mean, my failed judgment of my intimates is interesting to me). When I gift a book or a film it is personal after all, more than buying clothes for someone: an imagination of someone’s pleasure in relation to a demand for their attention.  Is it the kind of book my students give me because they sense that—actually,  I don’t know. It is as though they perceive frustration beneath my apologetic pedagogic poetics (Oh come on, try, this is hard, I can brainstorm a hundred examples and maybe maybe then you can and maybe you can hear something and surprise yourself later, which is how Bollas describes “the unthought known” in relation to the aesthetic, which doesn’t represent what you know but provides a setting to encounter its impact.)

I am a love theorist, how did that happen? I was doing ideology critique and fell down the rabbit hole, the donut hole, the pipette. I have a book coming out with some older thought about all this, but the examples are all wrong.  Always, the examples are all wrong, which is why love theory tends to be so conservative—ProustProustProustBovaryBovaryBovaryAbelardEloiseCourtly.  It’s not that the classics can’t be wrong, it’s that they won’t be disgusting, and love theorists tend to have an aversion to the disgusting.

I sometimes feel dissociated from all my loves. “I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans.”

[Delaminated from week 1 lecture notes, Love Theory (Winter 2012)…]

Piece crossposted with Supervalent Thought