“I have an Other-ache”

Love Is a Discourse

compassion

The subject experiences a sentiment of violent compassion with regard to the loved object each time he sees, feels, or knows the loved object is unhappy or in danger, for whatever reason external to the amorous relation itself.

  1. “Supposing that we experienced the other as he experiences himself – which Schopenhauer calls compassion and which might more accurately be called a union within suffering, a unity of suffering – we should hate the other when he himself, like Pascal, finds himself hateful.[1] ” If the other suffers from hallucinations, if he fears going mad, I should myself hallucinate, myself go mad. Now, whatever the power of love, this does not occur: I am moved, anguished, for it is horrible to see those one loves suffering, but at the same time I remain dry, watertight. My identification is imperfect: I am a Mother (the other causes me concern), but an insufficient Mother; I bestir myself too much, in proportion to the profound reserve in which, actually, I remain. For at the same time that I “sincerely” identify myself with the other’s misery, what I read in this misery is that it occurs without me, and that by being miserable by himself, the other abandons me: if he suffers without my being the cause of his suffering, it is because I don’t count for him: his suffering annuls me insofar as it constitutes him outside of myself.
  2. Whereupon, a reversal: since the other suffers without me, why suffer in his place? His misery bears him far away from me, I can only exhaust myself running after him, without ever hoping to be able to catch up, to coincide with him. So let us become a little detached, let us undertake the apprenticeship of a certain distance. Let the repressed word appear which rises to the lips of every subject, once he survives another’s death: Let us live!
  3. So I shall suffer with the other, but without pressure, without losing myself. Such behavior, at once very affective and very controlled, very amorous and very civilized, can be given a name: delicacy: in a sense it is the “healthy” (artistic) form of compassion. (Ate is the goddess of madness, but Plato[2] speaks of Ate’s delicacy: her foot is winged, it touches lightly.)

Roland Barthes
A Lover’s Discourse (1977)

Screen capture: “Emile Rousseau” (Jean-Pierre Léaud) in Jean-Luc Godard’s The Joy of Learning (1969)

1 Friedrich Nietzsche: The Dawn (1881)

2 Plato: Symposium

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