The Fade-out

The Danaid

fading / fade-out

Painful ordeal in which the loved being appears to withdraw from all contact, without such enigmatic indifference even being directed against the amorous subject or pronounced to the advantage of anyone else, world or rival.

1.        In the text, the fade-out of voices is a good thing; the voices of the narrative come, go, disappear, overlap; we do not know who is speaking; the text speaks, that is all: no more image, nothing but language. But the other is not a text, the other is an image, single and coalescent; if the voice is lost, it is the entire image which vanishes (love is monologic, maniacal; the text is heterologic, perverse), The other’s fade-out, when it occurs, makes me anxious because it seems without cause and without conclusion. Like a kind of melancholy mirage, the other withdraws into infinity and I wear myself out trying to get there.

(When this garment was at the height of fashion, an American firm advertised the washed-out blue of its jeans by claiming: “It fades and fades and fades.” The loved being, in the same way, endlessly withdraws and pales: a feeling of madness, purer than if this madness were violent.)

(Lacerating fade-out [1]: just before dying, the Narrator’s grandmother, for moments at a time, neither sees nor hears; she no longer recognizes the child, and stares at him “with an astonished, suspicious, scandalized look.”)

2.         There are nightmares in which the Mother appears, her face hardened into a cold and severe expression. The fade-out of the loved object is the terrifying return of the Wicked Mother, the inexplicable retreat of love, the well-known abandonment of which the Mystics complain: God exists, the Mother is present, but they no longer love. I am not destroyed, but dropped here, a reject.

3.         Jealousy causes less suffering, for at least the other remains vivid and alive. In the fade-out, the other seems to lose all desire, invaded by the Night. [2] I am abandoned by the other, but this abandonment is intensified by the abandonment the other himself suffers; his image is thereby washed out, liquidated; I can no longer sustain myself upon anything, even the desire the other might experience elsewhere: I am in mourning for an object which is itself in mourning (which suggests how much we need the other’s desire, even if this desire is not addressed to us).

4.         When the other is affected by this fade-out, when he withdraws for no particular reason except an anxiety accounted for only in these wretched words: “I don’t feel well,” he seems to move away in a mist; not dead, but living without contour in the realm of the Shades; Ulysses [3] visited them, called them up, finding among them the shade of his mother; thus I appeal to and summon up the other, the Mother, but what comes is merely a shade.

5.         The other’s fade-out resides in his voice. The voice supports, evinces, and so to speak performs the disappearance of the loved being, for it is characteristic of the voice to die. What constitutes the voice is what, within it, lacerates me by dint of having to die, as if it were at once and never could be anything but a memory. This phantom being of the voice is what is dying out, it is that sonorous texture which disintegrates and disappears. I never know the loved being’s voice except when it is dead, remembered, recalled inside my head, way past the ear; a tenuous yet monumental voice, since it is one of those objects which exist only once they have disappeared.

(A voice asleep, a voice no longer inhabited, a voice acknowledging, at a great distance, the blank fatality.)

6.         Nothing more lacerating than a voice at once beloved and exhausted: a broken, rarefied, bloodless voice, one might say, a voice from the end of the world, which will be swallowed up far away by cold depths: such a voice is about to vanish, as the exhausted being is about to die: fatigue is infinity: what never manages to end. That brief, momentary voice, almost ungracious in its rarity, that almost nothing of the loved and distant voice, becomes in me a sort of monstrous cork, as if a surgeon were thrusting a huge plug of wadding into my head.

7.         Freud, apparently, did not like the telephone [4], however much he may have liked listening. Perhaps he felt, perhaps he foresaw that the telephone is always a cacophony, and that what it transmits is the wrong voice, the false communication…No doubt I try to deny separation by the telephone – as the child fearing to lose its mother keeps pulling on a string [5]; but the telephone wire is not a good transitional object, it is not an inert string; it is charged with a meaning, which is not that of junction but that of distance: the loved, exhausted voice heard over the telephone is the fade-out in all its anxiety. First of all, this voice, when it reaches me, when it is here, while it (with great difficulty) survives, is a voice I never entirely recognize; as if it emerged from under a mask (thus we are told that the masks used in Greek tragedy had a magical function: to give the voice a chthonic origin, to distort, to alienate the voice, to make it come from somewhere under the earth). Then, too, on the telephone the other is always in a situation of departure; the other departs twice over, by voice and by silence: whose turn is it to speak? We fall silent in unison: crowding of two voids. I’m going to leave you, the voice on the telephone says with each second.

(Episode of anxiety experienced by the Proustian narrator, when he telephones his grandmother [6] : anxiety conferred by the telephone: the true signature of love.)

8.         I am alarmed by everything which appears to alter the Image. I am, therefore, alarmed by the other’s fatigue: it is the cruelest of all rival objects. How combat exhaustion? I can see that the other, exhausted, tears off a fragment of this fatigue in order to give it to me. But what am I to do with this bundle of fatigue set down before me? What does this gift mean? Leave me alone? Take care of me? No one answers, for what is given is precisely what does not answer.

(In no love story I have ever read is a character ever tired. I had to wait for Blanchot [7] for someone to tell me about Fatigue.)

Roland Barthes
A Lover’s Discourse (1977)

Sculpture by Auguste Rodin: The Danaid (1885)

1 PROUST: The Guermantes’ Way

2 JOHN OF THE CROSS: “We call Night the privation of relish in the appetite for all things.”


4 MARTIN FREUD: Sigmund Freud, Man and Father.

5 WINNICOTT: “I explained to the mother that her son dreaded the separation he was attempting to deny by pulling on the string, just as we deny our separation from a friend by resorting to the telephone (Playing and Reality).

6 PROUST: The Guermantes’ Way

7 BLANCHOT: Conversation (long ago).


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