I’m almost two weeks behind on the reading schedule I set for myself because I got really caught up with this one. But listen: every “extra” day spent with Barthes was totally worth it. I initially was most interested in how A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments is constructed as a text. Y’know, the container, the form, more so than the actual content and ideas communicated by it. Lover’s Discourse is precisely what its title says: fragmentary. In my work on my creative thesis, I am preoccupied by these kinds of fragmentary and/or hypertext-inclusive books – such as the “Dictionary of Accepted Ideas” chapter in Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, and Barthes’ Mourning Diary – in which the reader is able to construct a unique experience of the story from a pool of numerous potential stories. Where you don’t have to necessarily read the whole thing in order, or even read the whole thing at all, maybe just sticking to the entries that you find particularly captivating.
As such, my writing about Lover’s Discourse will be a bit fragmentary as well. I usually write in the books I read, but since I borrowed this from a professor (who generously let me borrow many, many books this past spring), I made notes on separate sheets of paper, jotting down certain lines I wanted to think about a little more, and some lines that I just thought were beautiful. Occasionally I even note my professor’s notes (as he writes in his books, too) – “H writes: ‘What does this mean?’ Perhaps…” – and extrapolate my own line of thought from there.
And we’re on our way.
1. “…the words are never crazed (at most perverse), but the syntax is” (6).
H writes in the margin: “the SYNTAX is crazed? what does this mean?” Perhaps Barthes is using an older definition of “crazed” that meant “full of cracks” or “broken.” (Sidebar: this definition is why I find “crazy” such a horrible word to use in discussing mental illnesses.) When the subject tries to use his words to find his place in the syntax, he fails. The script’s syntax is broken somehow, there is no viable space in it that the subject may inhabit? I imagine it to be like fixing up a house. The words are like old flooring in the kitchen, the syntax like the floor joist. You can replace the tiles as much as you want, but if the joist itself is damaged, the floor will never really be “fixed.”
2. “…his is a horizontal discourse: no transcendence, no deliverance, no novel” (7).
3. “…the love story (the ‘episode,’ the ‘adventure’), is the tribute the lover must pay to the world in order to be reconciled with it” (7).
I’ve heard it said that we move on “when our heart realizes there can be no going back.” We organize a failed love into the narrative of our life, fold it into our history, close it off in the timeline…we craft it into a story that helps us make sense of our lives so that we can move on. When we are able to close it off like that, are we then able to move forward?
4. “I am dissolved, not dismembered: I fall, I flow, I melt” (10).
5. “Amorous absence functions in a single direction, expressed by the one who stays, never by the one who leaves: an always present I is constituted only by the confrontation with an always absent you” (13).
I remember the summer before my junior year of college. Amongst other things, I had very vivid hallucinations in which I would converse with a person I thought I could love. I had some manner of feelings for him for nearly two years, and suddenly when I could no longer tell the difference between reality and my imagination, lost in the cracks that ran in my consciousness, there he was. More present (and absent) than ever. He was always there, and yet, always not. This is the closest I have been to being “haunted.”
6. “Someone tells me: this kind of love is not viable. But how can you evaluate viability? Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it better to last than to burn?” (23).
So many times someone has said to me: that relationship doesn’t count. Because it didn’t last x amount of months. I’ve never been in a relationship that made it to a year. But I have loved intensely within those small parts of time. The idea that my loves have not “counted” just because they were not eternal…I am angry about this. They counted. Do not cheapen them. I would rather have something that burns quickly than something that does not burn at all.
7. “Quite frequently, it is by language that the other is altered…” (26).
The Desired Object/Other is perfect until he or she speaks. Similar thoughts: in relation to this discourse, can the loved being speak, or can the loved being only be spoken for?
8. Atopos: “unclassifiable, of a ceaselessly unforeseen originality” (34).
Before my last partner, I always had the precise words to describe them, to describe my feelings for them. Why I loved them, or things I loved about them. The last person I dated, I had no words for him. All of my language felt too small, too inexact. It was infuriating, to not be able to define anything anymore. Infuriating, but a relief all at once. Learning that I couldn’t explain everything was the most difficult lesson.
9. “Is there, among all the beings I have loved, a common characteristic, just one, however tenuous (a nose, a skin, a look), which allows me to say: that’s my type!” (34).
I remember a phone conversation with a friend (let’s call him K). I was describing to K a person I thought I might be interested in when I said, “But, I don’t know, I mean, he isn’t my usual type.” K replied: “And what good has your usual type gotten you?”
10. “Waiting is an enchantment: I have received orders not to move” (38).
11. “No one wants to speak of love unless it is for someone” (74).
12. “And once the amorous subject creates or puts together any kind of work at all, he is seized with a desire to dedicate it. What he makes he immediately, and even in advance, wants to give to his beloved, for whom he has worked, or will work” (78).
I am curious about this. Is there a difference between writing about someone and writing for someone? I have written many scrappy little poems about loved ones, but I wouldn’t dare deliver them.
13. “A long chain of equivalences links all the lovers in the world” (131).
14. “‘I can’t get to know you’ means ‘I shall never know what you really think of me.’ I cannot decipher you because I do not know how you decipher me” (134).
When we want to understand someone, it is a reflection of our desire for them to understand us. I do not desire you – I desire your desire for me.
15. “Mass culture is a machine for showing desire: here is what must interest you, it says, as if it guessed that men are incapable of finding what to desire by themselves” (136).
The goal of advertisements today is to generate desire. Also: men desire a natural look for women, but are often turned off by very natural things like leg hair and menstruation. What does it mean, now, to be or look “natural”?
16. “Like a bad concert hall, affective space contains dead spots where the sound fails to circulate” (167).
17. “From the loved being emanates a power nothing can stop and which will impregnate everything it comes into contact with, even if only by a glance” (173).
I think of The Things They Carried: the picture of Martha; the pebbles from the beach; the memory of how it felt to touch her knee, however briefly. These things, some physical, some intangible, distract and confound him. I used to hold on to things from my past boyfriends, like little notes, a T-shirt, a ring. I kept them all mixed together in a box in the bottom of my closet in Virginia. When I graduated high school, I threw out the box and everything in it. I didn’t date for almost four years, and with that boyfriend, the only pieces I had left from us were things written onto papers. Notes from him. Poems by me. He gave me flowers after a performance but they died within a week. I kept the vase, though I do not use it.
18. “Love at first sight is always spoken in the past tense: it might be called an anterior immediacy” (194).
Paraphrased from an episode of Bones: “Humans change through incremental adjustments in patterns of behavior that are only recognizable in hindsight.”
19. “What is a hero? The one who has the last word. Can we think of a hero who does not speak before dying?” (209).
In every break-up, I’ve been the one who is being left. But in every break-up talk, I’ve gotten the last word. In my last relationship, I said “I love you” first. I’ve never said it first before. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever done. He (we’ll call him Z) did not say anything in the moment. Or that day. The following afternoon we met in the park in my hometown and Z asked me if I’ve “ever had the experience of kissing someone and it felt like kissing a friend.” I told him no, that I haven’t, that I am always very careful about who I kiss. Z said he didn’t love me, and that since he didn’t have romantic feelings for me at all, then he likely never would love me. He said that he didn’t think the relationship through until it was (“apparently”) too late. I asked: “Why didn’t you consider this when I asked you if you wanted to be my partner in the first place?” Z said he just didn’t think. My last words: “I do not understand how a person as remarkably intelligent as you could go so long without using his brain.” I left Z sitting there alone on the park bench. I immediately called my best friend (we’ll refer to her as S) and all I could do was cry. Before I could reign myself in and start to speak, S asked, “What did he do? Did he break up with you? I’ll kill him.” I knew I was going to be fine when I responded: “Don’t. He isn’t worth it.”
20. “Such is love’s wound: a radical chasm (at the ‘roots’ of being), which cannot be closed” (189).
Re: how does one mend a broken heart? They say you have to live through a year of everything to really get over someone. Here I sit, writing about my loves, some of them almost eight years ago, and when I think hard to describe them, the wounds feel fresh as ever. I have lived through eight everythings since my first love, one everything since my last. I think “they” are wrong. I don’t think we are ever really over what we felt for someone. We can close it off in a neat little chapter in the story of our lives, but that chapter doesn’t disappear when we start writing the next one. Re: Grosse Pointe Blank: “Some people say forgive and forget. I say forget about forgiving, and just accept.”
Thanks y’all. Next up, a little narrative theory with Seymour Chatman’s Story and Discourse.