The Enigma of Love’s Affect


/1/ – Zizek in Love

Previously, I have discussed the following, but while the initial concerns are the same, the passage thereafter diverges greatly.

At the start of Astra Taylor’s Zizek!, the manic philosopher, clearly over heated, explains how love is “formally evil.” Zizek points out that in love, a subject picks out another imperfect subject to raise above all else; everything in the universe is forfeit for the sake of the object of love.

Zizek also comments on how he finds the concept of “‘universal love’ disgusting” and that the only proper attitude towards the world is hatred or apathy. In his essay “A Plea for Ethical Violence,” Zizek goes as far as to say that a kind of radical violence, which cuts universally, is necessary to break through the false sense of universal love, of vacuous tolerance that dominates current discourse.

Sigi Jottkandt, in an essay in Lacan: The Silent Partners, writes that the response to this tolerant and empty form of universal love should not be an ethical violence as Zizek suggests, but more love. Jotkandt suggests that the sentimentality of a kind of ethical love takes the form of a superegoic demand of ‘Love me!’ Here the parallel to Zizek’s comment in Zizek! and elsewhere in his work that capitalism demands us to enjoy is of great interest.

Ultimately, Jottkandt’s response to the call for more love is to respond with ‘I will love you no matter what’ (p. 284). In the collection Sexuation, Alenka Zupancic states that Lacan’s definition of love is when the object you look at, the object of your affection, looks back at you, when it ‘winks’ at you. “You either run away or fall, that is, resubjectivize accordingly” (p. 283, Sexuation). To discuss love as a threat proper, we must move to the loving two.

/2/ -Object…

Discussing love outside the broader social context and speaking only of the two loving subjects: love is a violent act. In The Sublime Object of Ideology, Zizek states that love is a forced choice, meaning that it is a choice but one that only happens in retro. What is meant by a forced choice? Clearly love cannot be forced, you cannot be threatened into loving someone; what you would get is the appearance of love, the actions that accompany it without the actual state of love. Nor can love be a free choice; we cannot decide to love someone. Returning to Zizek, all we can say is that when we love someone we know that we have already fallen in love with them (p. 166).

The knot of love and freedom here is plopped awkwardly on the table of analysis. The question that arises is whether love is the very embodiment of free will or the very loss of freedom itself, albeit willingly. Here my commonly made point about freedom and Kant appears relevant yet again. As Kant put it, humans are born into a state of fundamental bondage, we are, whether we like it or not, at the mercy of space, time and a whole other range of phenomenal ravages. What gives us our freedom and makes us simultaneously noumenal and phenomenal is that we can choose, to some degree, which phenomenal things are affecting us at any given moment.

Now the complication rears its head: do we see our love as object or subject, do we say no to the object which demands us to love it, or do we as Jottkandt suggests, tell the hostage taker that we will love them beyond death?

As is well known, Lacan first articulated love as a narcissistic fiction which covered over the truth of one’s desire, which aggrandizes the plain, stupid objet petit a, the odd uncomfortable thing which strangely gives us enjoyment with romantic platitudes which wax transcendentally towards the eternal. Or, as the quote goes: “Love is when you give away something you don’t have to someone who doesn’t exist.”

Alenka Zupancic’s “The Case of the Perforated Sheet” in the collection Sexuation opens with a depiction of the moment of love from Lacan’s Le Séminaire livre VIII: Le Transfert:

“Lacan depicts what he calls the ‘metaphor of love’ with this poignant image: a hand reaches out toward a fruit, a flower, or lips which suddenly blaze; its attempt to attain, to draw near, to make the fire burn, is closely connected with the ripening of the fruit, the beauty of the flower, the blazing of the lips. But when, in this attempt to attain, to draw near, to make the fire burn, the hand has moved far enough toward the object, another hand springs up from the fruit, from the flower, from the lips, and reaches out to meet our hand, and at this moment our hand freezes in the closed fullness of the fruit, in the open fullness of the flower, in the explosion of the blazing hand. That which occurs at this moment is love.”

As was stated before, love for Lacan is a kind of subjectivizing of the object. Or, apropos Zizek’s statements in the opening pages of The Parallax View, ‘the object objects,’ and it does so in such a way that we must subjectivize it and recode ourselves.

/3/ – …or Subject?

For Badiou, while the objet petit a is imperative to love it is not the ultimate end of it; the object is completely subsumed by the event and the fidelity that potentially results. This is not to say that Badiou rejects the object completely as he designates it “the obscure star” that guides the encounter, but that the object is ‘beneath’ the scene or the dual interpretation of the world. Further explanation of Badiou’s system is necessary here.

According to Badiou, love is always a process of investigations that occurs between two indeterminate, incomplete and non-symmetrical entities which he designates man and woman. Love begins with a chance encounter, eyes meeting across the crowded subway et cetera, and then leads to a declaration of ‘I love you.’ The declaration of love for Badiou begins the labor of love which is neither “trivial nor sublime” (“The Scene of the Two,” p. 7). This labor takes the form of a shared investigation of the universe (p. 6). The “indeterminate disjunction” of the two is the dance of the subjects tarrying with the real of sexual difference as well as the fundamental gap between their separate beings.

To swing back to the grander scheme of things, love is one of Badiou’s four fields of truth, meaning that being engaged in an amorous procedure makes one a subject. For Badiou the subject is never given, it only becomes such in pursuit of a truth. For Badiou the two of love move toward the infinite. Jottkandt takes this formula as describing one’s first love as a breaking into two of the already existent Lacanian subject in order for future love to be possible. Ultimately Jottkandt ends up at a Lacanian conclusion when she ends her essay by stating that love is “the infinitely generative source for the stories we tell about our selves which ultimately compose ourselves as narrative subject” (p. 285).

In terms of mathematical formulae, Jottkandt and Badiou also clash over the connection between love and politics. Jottkandt states that love is a political act because it transforms the very relations of power. Badiou states a different relation at the end of his text Metapolitics: he states that politics begins where love ends (p. 151). Whereas love proceeds from the one to the infinite, politics moves from the infinite to the one of equality (Ibid.).

/4/ – What is Love?

Following the Lacanian positing and the Badiouian themes, love is somewhere between a trickery of semblance which covers over the vulgarity of desire and the pursuit of a pseudo-transcendental truth. In the first example, love is a form of hallucination whereas in the second it is a militant attitude. In both cases the experience of being in love, the feelings of love, fall out of our analysis – love as affect is lost. To love as Lacan describes means to love something ‘in you more than you,’ but what does that mean for me, the subject? And, in Badiou’s case, the two headed march of love is militant but what does it entail affectively? What we find here is an interplay of affect and sublimity. To address the former we have to loop back to Kant by way of Brian Massumi.

In Parables of the Virtual, Massumi discusses the relation of affect to the body through various thought and body experiments. Apropos cognitive science, Massumi points out that thoughts in the brain are backdated, that there is always a half second delay between our thoughts and our actions but our brains trick us into thinking that the two coincide in the same moment. The radical conclusion of Benjamin Libet was that the brain, in a sense, already thinks the feeling; it already takes steps towards experience prior to experience.

At first, as Massumi discusses, it seemed that Libet had conducted a study which had grossly threatened free will. Making a Kantian move, Libet found that free will was possible in the form of a veto, the mind’s ability to stop the unconsciously created thought from becoming action. It is in this sense that human beings are both noumenal and phenomenal – we are betrayed and saved by the kernel of our being which is directly inaccessible to us (p. 29).

This balance may be why love is love, to put it naively. The affect of love, to assume that affect is a ‘discharge of thought,’ as Copjec puts it, may suggest that love is the very experience of thought, the act of a truly novel idea, a realization of what has been in front of us the whole time. While such an experience is usually aggravating because the knowledge of what we don’t know limits our action, it is not so in the case of love because the lack of that knowledge propels us to act. This is where love as affect comes into play. Massumi again:

“Love: the driving quality of a person’s self-activity that cannot be contained without remainder in any particular domestic context (even in monogamist terms, where love still figures as a kind of qualitative life-glow, a global excess of desired and desiring effect in essential surplus over the banal actuality of life’s conjugal details)” (p. 249).

/5/ – The Sublime labor of love

At the end of “The Scene of the Two,” Badiou quotes the poet Fernando Pessoa: “love is a thought.” As mentioned above, love is, paradoxically, what could be called an obvious novelty, functioning as a kind of unconscious happiness, as Massumi’s ‘glow.’ Or, looking at another definition of affect via Massumi, love is an unconscious openness to emotion (p. 220). While Zizek’s connection of love to a retroactive choice does well for initiation of love, it is Badiou’s work which discusses love’s ongoing relevancy. If we settle with Lacan, love remains, as Copjec points out in Read My Desire, a deception, an ongoing belief that the Other has ‘something more’ to offer us, that strange glow Massumi was talking about (p. 148-149). Or worse still, as Copjec discusses by way of Freud in Imagine There’s No Woman, love is at base narcissistic (p. 62). Copjec goes on to say that love, as narcissistic, places the subject in between their drive and the object of their desire.

Narcissism, as Alenka Zupancic has shown, is deeply tied to sublimity, and it is through sublimity that we can end up at Badiou’s view of love. As Zupancic argues, narcissism is not about thinking that one is better than everyone else but that they are better than themselves. In Kant’s description of the sublime, the viewing subject seeing something horrible (an approaching tidal wave, hurricane et cetera) experiences it as sublime because he is at a safe distance. This distance allows the subject to see themselves as above themselves, to effectively separate their consciousness from their body, to imagine their body as being subjected to the powerful force of unbounded nature.

Here is where Badiou and Kant meet. The self distancing, or what could be called mental evacuation, happens because the subject forfeits their mortality, or at the very least recognizes the weakness of their self. Badiou’s definition of love as a march effectively extends this motion of distancing outwards. Where the Lacanian reading of love can only be viewed in terms of subject to object or semblance to semblance, Badiou argues that love is an investigation into the very terms of subjectivity. For Badiou, subjectivity is not the empty form it is for Lacan but is the operator in a procedure, a chaser of errancy.

What separates this from Lacan’s remark that love is a deception covering over the stupidity of desire is that Badiou’s amorous subjects are pursuing the truth of their encounter via an investigation of the world. Such an investigation is objectless since for Badiou, the world is not an object that can be grasped by thought because, contra to Kant, the world is fundamentally incomplete. But, against our discussion of love, love is not at a distance as the sublime object is, but as close as possible. At such close proximity it becomes possible for the loving subjects to see through one another’s being.

Perhaps it is here that Zizek and Badiou come to agreement against Lacan. In a recent video circulating the net, Zizek, strangely dressed in construction worker attire, rambles briefly about love, that we love not despite faults but because of them. The subject is a subject of love because they do the work of love towards an interpretation of the world, and because they recognize, at some level, that the other’s love goes beyond their status as object, and that the subject’s love does the same.


3 Responses to “The Enigma of Love’s Affect”

  1. The main thing i’m enjoying while reading your blog is the way you write, you are a really charismatic person and your posts are wonderful, keep it up!

  2. Great, accesible article. I can honestly say it is one of the best introductions to these theories on love i’ve seen around; you have a wonderful grasp on concepts and great style. Keep it up!

    Now, onto some specific questions/comments:

    1) With regards to this passage:

    “Where the Lacanian reading of love can only be viewed in terms of subject to object or semblance to semblance, Badiou argues that love is an investigation into the very terms of subjectivity. For Badiou, subjectivity is not the empty form it is for Lacan but is the operator in a procedure, a chaser of errancy”

    I am not sure why you present this antagonism: Lacan’s view of the ’empty form’ of subjectivity, as opposed to the procedure found in the truth-process of Badiou.

    Clearly, Lacan thinks out fixation upon the object of love is one that is ultimately impossible to attain: love can only function insofar as the ‘deception’ masking desire allows us to remain fixated in the object. But this is a process, of course, the process of the mutual deception consists in this constant giving of ‘something which one does not have’ (their substantial self) to someone who doesn’t exist (the loved objet as objet a, the impossible object of desire). This is a deception, formally, since the gap of the two subjectivities is absolute and insurmountable: what I am giving in the form of an offering (my-self as an object of love for the Other) remains closed of to the Other just as for me the abyss of Otherness forever separates the Other. This gap is precisely what determines our relationship to the Other in love, it is how the loved-object remains impossible, since it is sustained in the promise of an eventual closure.

    But here Lacan is in total agreement with Badiou. The process of deasiring the love object, as sustained in deception, is formally what Badiou calls a truth-process, or an Event of truth (as he likes to call it nowadays). Here I must quote you again:

    “What separates this from Lacan’s remark that love is a deception covering over the stupidity of desire is that Badiou’s amorous subjects are pursuing the truth of their encounter via an investigation of the world. Such an investigation is objectless since for Badiou, the world is not an object that can be grasped by thought because, contra to Kant, the world is fundamentally incomplete. But, against our discussion of love, love is not at a distance as the sublime object is, but as close as possible.”

    Here you must remember two things:

    a) For Lacan, the objet a, is not substantial as it is in the Kantian sense. The objet a approaches is impossible in that it cannot ever be brought-to-presence (only retrospectively).

    b) Badiou’s notion of the event of love certainly takes place within this ‘incomplete’ ontology’, from the void of inconsistent multiplicity. Truth is INFINITE insofar as brought to being in the act of declaration, it begins a process of knowledge. This truth process is infinite insofar as the knowledge that can be learned cannot ever consumate itself in the aggregate of facts declared within the situation. One can at most, retrospectively cite these facts and add the name ‘love’ to it. This is analogous to his point about the French Revolution being an event in the sense that to it belongs, in retrospective determination, all the elements that belong to its site AND its name. Thus the mathema of the event ex (x € X, ex)

    But Badiou tells us that this infinite truth is indeed guided by an ANTICIPATION of its completion. This anticipation of completion is what, for Lacan, is objet a: the Other of the other, the gap between being as such and void.

    So, I honestly do not see, in this respect a crucial separation between Badiou and Lacan, or Zizek for that matter.

  3. 3 naughtthought

    Thanks for the comment.

    I think the issue here is mostly a problem of clarity on my part but I could easily be mistaken. For me the difference lies in the localizability of the void. In the final chapter of Being and Event, Badiou (via Descartes) distances himself from Lacan’s sense of void which, I believe has ramifications for their discussion of love. For both the object of desire is a formal insubstantial one (objet a) in the literal sense (it could be a haircut, a look et cetera) but I think the problem of narcissim in psychoanalysis distances the ultimate use of the object a from Badiou. Badiou is quick (in “The Scene of the Two”) to subsume the objet a to the amorous event. For Badiou love is a disjunction between two whereas for Lacan, there is a disjunction, but is not one ultimately focused on the separation of the two lovers but each lovers disjunctive focus on differeing objet as. Put vulgarly – for Badiou the lovers run into and bounce off one another – for Lacan they consistently miss one another.

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