pourquoi / why

Even as he obsessively asks himself why he is not loved, the amorous subject lives in the belief that the loved object does love him but does not tell him so.

1.        There is a “higher value” for me: my love. I never say to myself: “What is the use?” I am not nihilistic. I do not ask myself the question of ends.[1] Never a “why” in my monotonous discourse, except for one, always the same: But why is it that you don’t love me? How can one not love this me whom love renders perfect (who gives so much, who confers happiness, etc.)? A question whose insistence survives the amorous episode: “Why didn’t you love me?; or again: O sprich, mein herzallerliebstes Lieb, warum verliessest du mich? – O tell, love of my heart, why have you abandoned me?[2]

2.        Soon (or simultaneously) the question is no longer “Why don’t you love me?” but “Why do you only love me a little?” How do you manage to love a little? What does that mean, loving “a little”? I live under the regime of too much or not enough; greedy for coincidence as I am, everything which is not total seems parsimonious; what I want is to occupy a site from which quantities are no longer perceived, and from which all accounts are banished.

Or again – for I am a nominalist: Why don’t you tell me that you love me? 

3.        The truth of the matter is that – by an exorbitant paradox – I never stop believing that I am loved. I hallucinate what I desire.[3] Each wound proceeds less from a doubt than from a betrayal: for only the one who loves can betray, only the one who believes himself loved can be jealous: that the other, episodically, should fail in his being, which is to love me – that is the orgin of all my woes. A delirium, however, does not exist unless one wakens from it (there are only retrospective deliriums): one day, I realize what has happened to me: I thought I was suffering from not being loved, and yet it is because I thought I was loved that I was suffering; I lived in the complication of supposing myself simultaneously loved and abandoned. Anyone hearing my intimate language would have had to exclaim, as of a difficult child: But after all, what does he want?

(I love you becomes you love me. One day, X receives some orchids, anonymously: he immediately hallucinates their source: they could only come from the person who loves him; and the person who loves him could only be the person he loves. It is only after a long period of investigation that he manages to dissociate the two inferences: the person who loves him is not necessarily the person he loves.)

Roland Barthes
A Lover’s Discourse (1977)

Music: Why Don’t You Love Me? (1950)
Written and performed by Hank Williams

 1 NIETZSCHE: “What does nihilism signify? That the higher values are losing their value. The ends are lacking, there is no answer to this question ‘What’s the use?’ “

 2 HEINE: “Lyrisches Intermezzo.”

 3 FREUD: “We must take into account the fact that the hallucinatory psychosis of desire not only…brings concealed or repressed desires to consciousness but, further, represents them in all good faith as realized.”

Related: Love Means the End of Happiness

The Uncertainty of Signs

Painting by Auguste Renoir: Portrait of a Girl (1878)

signes / signs

Whether he seeks to prove his love, or to discover if the other loves him, the amorous subject has no system of sure signs at his disposal.

1.        I look for signs, but of what? What is the object of my reading? Is it: am I loved (am I loved no longer, am I still loved)? Is it my future that I am trying to read, deciphering in what is inscribed the announcement of what will happen to me, according to a method which combines paleography and manticism? [1] Isn’t it rather, all things considered, that I remain suspended on this question, whose answer I tirelessly seek in the other’s face: What am I worth?

2.         The power of the Image-repertoire is immediate: I do not look for the image, it comes to me, all of a sudden. It is afterward that I return to it and begin making the good sign alternate, interminably, with the bad one: “What do these abrupt words mean: you have all my respect? Was anything ever colder? Is this a complete return to the old intimacy? Or a polite way to cut short a disagreeable explanation?” [2] Like Stendhal’s Octave, I never know what is normal; lacking (as I well know) all reason, I would prefer, in order to decide on an interpretation, to trust myself to common sense; but common sense affords me no more than contradictory evidence: “After all, it’s not really normal to go out in the middle of the night and to come home four hours later!” “After all, it’s only normal to go out and take a walk when you can’t sleep,” etc. A man who wants the truth is never answered save in strong, highly colored images, which nonetheless turn ambiguous, indecisive, once he tries to transform them into signs: as in any manticism, the consulting lover must make his own truth.

3.         Freud to his fiancée: “The only thing that makes me suffer is being in a situation where it is impossible for me to prove my love to you.” [3] And Gide: “Everything in her behavior seemed to say: Since he no longer loves me, nothing matters to me. Now, I still loved her, and in fact I had never loved her so much; but it was no longer possible for me to prove it to her. That was much the worst thing at all.” [4]

Signs are not proof, since anyone can produce false or ambiguous signs. Hence one falls back, paradoxically, on the omnipotence of language: since nothing assures language, I will regard it as the sole and final assurance: I shall no longer believe in interpretation. I shall receive every word from my other as a sign of truth; and when I speak, I shall not doubt that he, too, receives what I say as the truth. Whence the importance of declarations; I want to keep wresting from the other the formula of his feeling, and I keep telling him, on my side, that I love him: nothing is left to suggestion, to divination: for a thing to be known, it must be spoken; but also, once it is spoken, even very provisionally, it is true.

Roland Barthes
A Lover’s Discourse (1977)

Painting by Pierre Auguste RenoirPortrait of a Girl  (1878)

 1 BALZAC: “She was learned and she knew that the amorous character has its signs in what are taken for trifles. A knowledgeable woman can read her future in a simple gesture, as Cuvier could say, seeing the fragment of a paw: this belongs to an animal of such-and-such a size,” etc. (The Secrets of the Princess of Cadignan).

 2 STENDHAL: Armance.

 3 FREUD: Letters.

 4 GIDE: Journal, 1939.

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).

On Giving Up the Self


The primal choice, the fork in the road, is between others’ and one’s own self. If the only way to maintain the self is to lose others, then the ordinary child will give up the self. Safety is a most basic and prepotent need for children, more primarily necessary by far than independence and self-actualization. If adults force this choice upon him, of choosing between the loss of one (lower and stronger) vital necessity or another (higher and weaker) vital necessity, the child must choose safety even at the cost of giving up self and growth.

Abraham H. Maslow
Toward a Psychology of Being (1968)

The impulses of a soul are the mark of its authenticity.

Roland Barthes
On Gide and His Journal (1942)
A Barthes Reader

“We are our own demons”

Woman and a Devil Puppet

démons / demons

It occasionally seems to the amorous subject that he is possessed by a demon of language which impels him to injure himself and to expel himself – according to Goethe’s expression [1] – from the paradise which at other moments the amorous relation constitutes for him.

1.         A specific force impels my language toward the harm I may do to myself: the motor system of my discourse is the wheel out of gear: language snowballs, without any tactical thought of reality. I seek to harm myself, I expel myself from my paradise, busily provoking within myself the images (of jealousy, abandonment, humiliation) which can injure me; and I keep the wound open, I feed it with other images, until another wound appears and produces a diversion.

2.         The demon is plural (“My name is Legion,” Mark 5:9). When a demon is repulsed, when I have at last imposed silence upon him (by accident or effort), another raises his head close by and begins speaking. The demonic life of a lover is like the surface of a solfatara; huge bubbles (muddy and scorching) burst, one after the other; when one falls back and dies out, returning to the mass, another forms and swells farther on. The bubbles “Despair,” “Jealousy,” “Exclusion,” “Desire,” “Uncertainty of Behavior,” “Fear of Losing Face” (the nastiest of all the demons) explode in an indeterminate order, one after the next: the very disorder of Nature.

3.         How to repulse a demon (an old problem)? The demons, especially if they are demons of language (and what else could they be?) are fought by language. Hence I can hope to exorcise the demonic word which is breathed into my ears (by myself) if I substitute for it (if I have the gifts of language for doing so) another, calmer word (I yield to euphemism). Thus: I imagined I had escaped from the crisis at last, when behold – favored by a long car trip – a flood of language sweeps me away, I keep tormenting myself with the thought, desire, regret, and rage of the other; and I add to these wounds the discouragement of having to acknowledge that I am falling back, relapsing; but the French vocabulary is a veritable pharmacopoeia (poison on one side, antidote on the other): no, this is not a relapse, only a last soubresaut, a final convulsion of the previous demon.

Roland Barthes
A Lover’s Discourse (1977)

Illustration: Woman and a Devil Puppet, Hungarian postcard, 1915

1 Goethe: “We are our own demons, we expel ourselves from our paradise.” (Werther, notes).




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.

“I have an Other-ache”

Love Is a Discourse


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