Tenderness

tendresse

tenderness

Bliss, but also a disturbing evaluation of the loved object’s tender gestures, insofar as the subject realizes that he is not their privileged recipient.

There is not only need for tenderness, there is also need to be tender for the other: we shut ourselves up in a mutual kindness, we mother each other reciprocally; we return to the root of all relations, where need and desire join.[1] The tender gesture says: ask me anything that can put your body to sleep, but also do not forget that I desire you – a little, lightly, without trying to seize anything right away.

Sexual pleasure is not metonymic: once taken, it is cut off: it was the Feast, always terminated and instituted only by a temporary, supervised lifting of the prohibition. Tenderness, on the contrary, is nothing but an infinite, insatiable metonymy; the gesture, the episode of tenderness (the delicious harmony of an evening) can only be interrupted with laceration: everything seems called into question once again: return of rhythm – vritti – disappearance of nirvana.[2]

If I receive the tender gesture within the field of demand, I am fulfilled: is this gesture not a kind of miraculous crystallization of presence? But if I receive it (and this can be simultaneous) within the field of desire, I am disturbed: tenderness, by rights, is not exclusive, hence I must admit that what I receive, others receive as well (sometimes I am even afforded the spectacle of this). Where you are tender, you speak your plural.

(“L was stupefied to see A give the waitress in the Bavarian restaurant, while ordering his schnitzel, the same tender look, the same angelic expression that moved him so when these expressions were addressed to him.”)

Roland Barthes
A Lover’s Discourse (1977)

1 Robert Musil: “Her brother’s body pressed so tenderly, so sweetly against her, that she felt she was resting within him even as he in her; nothing in her stirred now, even her splendid desire” (The Man without Qualities, II).

2 Zen: Vritti, for the Buddhist, is the series of waves, the cyclic process. Vritti is painful, and only nirvana can put an end to it.

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