“I can do everything with my language, but not with my body. What I hide by my language, my body utters. I can deliberately mold my message, not my voice. […] My body is a stubborn child, my language is a very civilized adult…”
—Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse (44)
Oh the lover’s discourse. I know it well. One hardly requires an other for the discourse to sustain itself. But I suppose the euphoria and bitter ruefulness would not quite be the same without X. Roland Barthes’ book, A Lover’s Discourse, is by turns a complicit exploration into the sometimes amusing, sometimes helplessly humiliating neurosis of the hall of mirrors that is the lover’s internal discourse with the other, and which—consumes.
(What is stupid is to be surprised. The lover is constantly so; he has no time to transform, to reverse, to protect. Perhaps he knows his stupidity, but he does not censure it. Or again: his stupidity acts as a cleavage, a perversion: it’s stupid, he says, and yet…it’s true.). (177)
The book’s purpose is driven by Barthes’ assertion (found in a sort of prologue) that “the lover’s discourse is today of an extreme solitude” and that it is “completely forsaken by the surrounding language: ignored, disparaged, or deride by them, severed not only from authority but also from the mechanisms of authority (science, techniques, arts).” The construction of the book too is a lovely thing. Fragments of discourse, organized by a word and the particular definition that word has to the lover, with running sidebars of the lover’s accomplices in forming the ideas within: Diderot, Lacan, Stendhal, Werther (oh lots of Werther!)Freud, Proust and many others…”So it is the lover who speaks and who says:”
To Be Ascetic
Whether he feels guilty with regard to the loved
being, or whether he seeks to impress that being
by representing his unhappiness, the amorous
subject outlines an ascetic behavior of
self-punishment (in life-style, dress, ect.).
1. Since I am guilty of this, of that, (I have—I assign myself—a thousand reasons for being so), I shall punish myself, I shall chasten my body: cut my hair very short, conceal my eyes behind dark glasses (a way of taking the veil), devote myself to the study of some serious and abstract branch of learning. (33)
It goes on, but…that one made me laugh. I can’t say I relate to the dark glasses (he has an entire entry on dark glasses) but that may just be because I’m near-sighted and need my regular glasses to see the world further than whatever book I have in my hand. But it could be possible to say my entire education is an offering at the alter of the lover’s discourse.
Barthes’ passage on Waiting is another quite funny rift on the harrowing heights and fathomless depths our discourse travels in the space of ten minutes.
The setting represents the interior of a café, we have a rendezvous, I am waiting. […] I discern and indicate the other’s delay; this delay is as yet only a mathematical, computable entity…[…] What is to be done (anxiety of behavior)? […] I am internally livid. That is the play; it can be shortened by the other’s arrival; if the other arrives in Act I, the greeting is calm; if the other arrives in Act II, there is a “scene” […] “Am I in love? —Yes, since I am waiting.” (38)
Am I in love? is a question fraught with anxiety, hope, excitement—but wait! it leads into another phrase, and moment of when—when does “I love you” come to sit on the lover’s lips dangerously threatening to be uttered at an unguarded moment? And, well, first, what, actually, does it mean to say “I love you” ? Barthes approaches the phrase as a single word (as a Hungarian—he explains that it IS a single word in Hungarian) There is a correlation between the difficulty of defining what the word “word” means and the single utterance of “I love you.”
3. The word (the word-as-sentence) has a meaning only at the moment I utter it; there is no other information in it but its immediate saying: no reservoir, no armory of meaning. Everything is in the speaking of it.” (149)
Barthes spends some time here. Diving into the waves of possible answers to I love you, after, of course, defining the dimensions of such an utterance: no real usage in the world, no nuance in its all-or-nothing clumsiness, no place to fasten itself to…but what do we know? We lover’s of the world? We know:
I-love-you is active. It affirms itself as a force—against other forces. Which ones? The thousand forces of the world, which are, all of them, disparaging forces (science, doxa, reality, reason, etc.) Or again: against language. Just as the amen is at the limit of language, without collusion with its system, stripping it of its “reactive mantle,” so the proffering of love (I-love-you) stands at the limit of syntax, welcomes tautology (I-love-you means I-love-you), rejects servility of the Sentence (it is merely a holophrase). (154)
So yes, this self-inflicted discourse is of endless fascination. The wonder and beauty of the word I-love-you is that— all Barthes says about it is true, but its meaning is in its activity: not its letters, not in its internalization. I-love-you alone connects, and connects to all the parts: the sensual, the emotional, the intellectual: it is the scaffold by which the lovers’ hands caress each other, the lovers’ hearts sing with the other, and the lovers’ mind builds castles in the air together.
4. The truth: what is oblique. a monk once asked Kao Tsu: “What is the unique and final word of truth?”…The master replied: “Yes.” (231)
*Monoprint— “Book XX, Homer” (unfinished) by J. Ryan 2015