An Exploration of Lacan's Seminar VIII, Transference
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Lacan on Love
An Exploration of Lacan's Seminar VIII, Transference
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About This Book
Quintessentially fascinating, love intrigues and perplexes us, and drives much of what we do in life. As wary as we may be of its illusions and disappointments, many of us fall blindly into its traps and become ensnared time and again. Deliriously mad excitement turns to disenchantment, if not deadening repetition, and we wonder how we shall ever break out of this vicious cycle. Can psychoanalysis – with ample assistance from philosophers, poets, novelists, and songwriters – give us a new perspective on the wellsprings and course of love? Can it help us fathom how and why we are often looking for love in all the wrong places, and are fundamentally confused about "what love really is"? In this lively and wide-ranging exploration of love throughout the ages, Fink argues that it can. Taking within his compass a vast array of traditions – from Antiquity to the courtly love poets, Christian love, and Romanticism – and providing an in-depth examination of Freud and Lacan on love and libido, Fink unpacks Lacan's paradoxical claim that "love is giving what you don't have." He shows how the emptiness or lack we feel within ourselves gets covered over or entwined in love, and how it is possible and indeed vital to give something to another that we feel we ourselves don't have. This first-ever commentary on Lacan's Seminar VIII, Transference, provides readers with a clear and systematic introduction to Lacan's views on love. It will be of great value to students and scholars of psychology and of the humanities generally, and to analysts of all persuasions.
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Stepping back from the categories of the symbolic, imaginary, and real, let us now consider just how broad a field of human experience love covers. Some of the experiences often associated with it include:
Dependency (or so-called natural love)
Agape (or Christian love)
Fixation on the human form (beauty)
Physical love, sexual desire, lust, concupiscence, sex drive
Fin’amor (or courtly love)
Falling in love.
One could argue that love partakes of all of these, and we must be careful not to create overly sharp and inevitably artificial or spurious distinctions among them. When we try to grasp the meaning of a term, almost regardless of what that term is, we try to determine something about its semantic space, so to speak – that is, its various possible usages and the way in which it is distinguished from the other terms around it that hem it in, in a manner of speaking, that overlap it in certain respects, and that contrast with it or are considered to be its opposite.
As Saussure (1959, pp. 114–15) tells us, the value of a sign (a sign, for him, being the relationship between a signifier and its signified) is nothing but its difference from all other related signs. Each language covers the whole of the conceptual space of the people who speak the language, even if we are astonished, at times, that certain teenagers can get by with vocabularies of no more than 300 words (the way they are used, stressed, and combined being enough to cover the whole field of what they have to say).1 Now, the similarities and contrasts among signs change over time, and thus so do relations among signs: one term comes to the fore and begins to take up more semantic or conceptual space than it had previously, effectively pushing other related signs aside.
Even just 50 years ago, the English expression to “make love” signified the activity of courting or wooing someone. Today, the signification of the expression is almost completely different, implying sexual intercourse, though at least with more love involved than in the expression to “have sex.” “Wooing” and “courting” have almost completely disappeared, having been elbowed aside first by terms like dating and going steady, and more recently by terms like “hanging out,” “hanging” tout court, and “hooking up.” (A larger sociological question that might be raised is whether the activity of courting itself has actually disappeared or whether it is simply that the words to talk about it have changed.)
Just as the relations among signs change in one and the same language over the course of time, there is no one-to-one correspondence between signs in different languages. French, for example, does not have two different verbs corresponding to such importantly opposed notions in English as liking and loving, and thus relies on qualifiers and context to distinguish between them. The verb aimer in French, when applied to things, can be used to simply express fairly ordinary liking in English; when it comes to people, however, it requires the addition of bien (je l’aime bien) to specify that it is liking and not loving, or beaucoup, to specify that it is liking very much, not loving. J’adore implies that one does more than merely love, but loves extremely, whereas in English one may, I believe, adore someone without it necessarily being stronger than love. (You could say it to a person who does you a big favor: “You’re adorable” or “I adore you.”)
As we shall see further on, what Aristotle, Aquinas, and others understand by love may differ significantly from what we understand by love today, especially insofar as they did not write in English and used vocabulary that we still struggle to translate. In Greek, we find such overlapping and/or interconnected terms as “Eros,” philia, and agape (Reeve, 2006, p. xvi), to which Latin adds dilectio (“dilection”). Over the course of time, the Greek term agape, for example, gradually replaced philia in a great many written texts (Faraone, 1999).2
I will explore here a number of terms and notions that hover around the general vicinity of love, that border at times on love, but that we may want to distinguish from it at other times.
Dependency (or so-called Natural Love)
Love and cupidity cannot coexist in one and the same person. If love does not stem from a purely gratuitous sentiment, if it is granted only in expectation of something in return, it is not love, but a mere simulacrum thereof that profanes and falsifies it.
Chapelain, 2004, p. 20
Dependency might be associated with what Saint Thomas Aquinas (1952, p. 312) called “natural love,” which according to him is “found in all things, even those lacking reason,” including animals. It is the kind of love found in the animal kingdom between a cub and its mother, for example, and is clearly related to what Freud called “anaclisis”; as we saw in Chapter 2, anaclisis literally means leaning up against or propped up by, and anaclitic love is propped up by or is based on the self-preservative or life drives – namely, the drives for nourishment, warmth, and care. A baby animal has this natural sort of love for its mother (or parents, in cases where both parents participate in raising it) owing to the care it receives from her.
Although in the human world love and dependency are not complete strangers to each other, and dependency at times gives way or paves the way to love, we are aware that a mother might complain of her children that they are happy to have her cook for them and wash their clothes but do not really love her. Here a simple form of dependency is sharply contrasted with some other, perhaps more exacting, notion of love.
As there are some minds whose affections [. . .] are solely placed on one single person [i.e., themselves], whose interest and indulgence alone they consider on every occasion, regarding the good and ill of all others as merely indifferent [. . .], so there is a different temper of mind which borrows a degree of virtue even from self-love. Such can never receive any kind of satisfaction from another without loving the creature to whom that satisfaction is owing, and without making its well-being in some sort necessary to their own ease.
Fielding, Tom Jones, IV. 6, pp. 117–18
Similarly, we might talk about certain forms of attachment as related to love. But they might also be characterized as mere liking that has grown out of habit, out of being thrown together, or out of feeling familiar or comfortable together owing to long proximity. Some might wish to contrast that with love. You may feel attached to your neighborhood, your school, your home, and even your fellow classmates or neighbors without loving them per se, and you may not even miss them terribly much once you have left them.
We can wonder, for example, whether a bear cub – which has clearly been attached to its mother for about two years of its life, having played with her, depended completely on her, nuzzled and napped with her – experiences the effects of separation from a loved one the way human beings do. Although young bears often resist being chased away by their mothers at around age two, we do not know if they pine away for her afterwards, mourn her loss, experience separation anxiety, or call her memory to mind with fond, regretful feelings and an intense sense of desolation (whether in dreams or daydreams). Fond, regretful feelings and/or desolation – leading to mourning which may last years, if not a lifetime – are often, however, associated by authors with separation from a loved one in human beings.
If we are not to call what the bear experiences “love,” are we then claiming that love requires the kind of memory that only human beings have, the kind of memory that is linguistically structured for the most part, allowing us to conjure up thoughts and images and feelings related to the beloved simply by repeating his or her name? Is what we are calling love, then, characteristic of human beings alone? Or do we want to have a conception of love that includes the attachments and affections that animals clearly have for one another, whether they be cats and dogs that – against all odds – become best friends, or horses that stand alongside each other head to tail in pastures, each swishing the flies off the other’s face with its tail?
I am mentioning “attachment” in particular here because “attachment theory” has become one of the major thrusts of contemporary psychological and psychoanalytic research, and one of the explicit tenets of attachment theory is that love between human mothers and human children can be understood at least in large part by studying the interactions of primate mothers and their young. In attachment theory there seems to be no threshold or jump required to differentiate between animal love and human love.3
Note that in a good deal of British literature in the nineteenth century – when courting was something that often took place over the course of quite a long period of time, and it was not unusual for engagements to last several years, often for financial reasons, as it was thought that couples should not marry before the man was able to earn (or otherwise receive, from rents, for example) a certain amount per year, but not always for financial reasons – one of the commonly used terms for relationships was “attachment.” Jane Austen, for example, very often speaks of one person being “attached” to another, and it appears in certain instances that nothing like what we would call romantic love or passion is involved – indeed, attachment is often contrasted with intense romantic love in Austen’s books (for example, Marianne’s very slow-to-develop attachment to Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, as opposed to her lightning-fast, head-over-heels love for Willoughby).
We might imagine that, in the best of cases, people whose marriages have been arranged for them by their families eventually grow to feel quite attached to each other. In the play Fiddler on the Roof, the question is raised in the song “Do You Love Me?” whether it is merely attachment or whether it deserves to be called love. Our literary tradition is such, I believe, that this ki...
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Citation styles for Lacan on Love
APA 6 Citation
Fink, B. (2015). Lacan on Love (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1504060/lacan-on-love-pdf (Original work published 2015)
Fink, B. (2015) Lacan on Love. 1st edn. Polity Press. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1504060/lacan-on-love-an-exploration-of-lacans-seminar-viii-transference-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).