Love in all Three Dimensions: Notes Toward a Rethinking of the Concept of Love

I want to write a few notes that might contribute toward the construction of a new definition of love.

I will state up front what the three dimensions of love are:

  1. Hysterical Love (non-love or false love);
  2. Non-Hysterical Love (hatred);
  3. The Analyst’s Love (true love).

What prompted me to develop these categories of love?

I noticed a strong difference in the way that Lacan and Badiou have discussed the concept. I’ll return to this point at the end.

This much is clear: Lacan restricted love to the hysterical relationship between the analysand and the analyst. As a result he either: (1) missed the non-hysterical and analyst forms of love, or: (2) he reduced the non-hysterical and analyst forms of love completely to the hysterical form of love. For example, Jacques Alain Miller, adopting the Lacanian orientation, claimed that “love is addressed to the one you think knows your truth.” This is a profoundly hysterical orientation insofar as the analysand is presumed to be captivated by the Other. Recall that the hysteric is the one who strives to be the answer to the Other’s desire, but only inasmuch as the Other provides the answer to the hysteric’s truth. We know that this definition of love is a reduction because it only explains the hysterical form of love. What about obsessional neurotics?, what about perverts?, what about psychotics?, and, what about analysts?

Recall that obsessional neurotics do not care much about the Other’s interventions. Obsessional neurotics tend to work hard so that the Other’s interventions can be avoided. Also recall that perverts only care about the Other as a function. In other words, perverts reduce the Other to a boundary- or law- producing machine. What matters for the pervert is that the Other properly set boundaries; perverts are not ready for the true. Finally, psychotics do not even have an Other. As a result, for Lacan, love is always hysterical love.

Furthermore, Lacan does not have a conception of the analyst’s love. Or, if he does have a conception of the analyst’s love then it is once again reduced to the imaginary register. This occludes the function of the analyst – the analyst’s function is to intervene into the hysteric’s discourse. Failing the analyst’s function, the analyst ceases to be an analyst. Lacan therefore reduces the analyst’s love to the hysteric’s love, or, if you like, to the counter-transference.

In all cases, Lacan locates love firmly within the imaginary register. This means that love always involves a fantasy of exchange between two unitary and autonomous egos. Of course, this can only occur within the imaginary because unitary and autonomous egos are not the ideal of psychoanalysis (cf., my forthcoming translation of Lacan’s 1958 text, “True and False Psychoanalysis” in Re-Turn Journal). Lacan spent a lot of his time reacting to maternal varieties of psychoanalysis which constructed a model of therapy based off of the love that an analysand has for her analyst. In these models the analyst was obliged to adopt the role of the healthy mother-figure whom the analysand was to attempt to replicate or strive to mimic. You can see then how this sort of “false psychoanalysis” reduces love to the unitary and autonomous dimension of the twin egos (a and a’).

For Lacan, to love is to wish to be loved; love always involves a fantasy of a concrete exchange between two equals. In this understanding, love is nothing more than fantasy insofar as it masks that which each of the partners do not have, that which they each independently lack: love is giving what one does not have. When we give what we do not have then we give nothing but the semblance or appearance of something, we give the fantasy of exchange. It is for this reason that I call hysterical love a false love or non-love. It is false insofar as it is the failed movement in the direction of true love; false love, or failed love, continues to succumb to the temptation of the fantasy of exchange between two egos. It always occurs on the side of the image and in the direction of the truth. Failed lovers are still truth seekers.

The second dimension of love is much more simple. It is hatred. I claim that hatred occurs when the Other is reduced to his role in defining the boundaries of a situation or of the law or to the provocation directed by the analysand (perversion); I also claim that hatred occurs when the Other or partner is denied any intervening role in the ensuing affair or is reduced to a dead body upon which the analysand or partner is free to enact various forms of ignorance (obsessions); I also claim that hatred occurs when the Other does not exist at all and can not exist (psychosis). Admittedly the final point deserves further clarification, but I shall not spend any more time on it here. In all cases, the true test of psychoanalysis is to move those who are prone toward hatred toward those who fail at love.

Finally, the love of the analyst is the love of love. In other words, I claim that the analyst remains in a relationship with the analysand – like one life partner to another – because the analyst believes that the analysand embodies pure and deserving love. It is the false love of the analysand that the analyst himself loves. Moreover, the analyst’s love is the love of the promise of an eventual authentic (sexual) act; an act that occurs between the two of them, between the analysand and the analyst, which brings the analysand ever closer to that impossible true love. The analyst loves the possibility that true love might happen. This is why he signs the contract with the analysand in the first place.

Badiou is truly in love with Lacan. Badiou has an unsigned marriage contract with Lacan. It is our task to sign that contract. And I believe that I have made a great step toward signing it in this short and whimsically written blog. I invite you all to be the priests of this most holy occasion.

So where does that leave us?

Lacan reduced love to false love and Badiou reduced love to the analyst’s love.

The philosopher – who loves love itself, who loves false love, or the love of knowledge, or the hysteric’s love – provides a conceptual scheme, a map, for the lovers of the world of false love. This map charts a path against the world of hatred and toward the love of the world of love. We thereby have a cartography of love to accompany our definition of love.


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