I googled ‘corporate values’. What came up was ‘integrity’, ‘creativity’, ‘diversity’. I applied for a job. My social image is good. I googled ‘friendship qualities’- ‘trust’, ‘care’, ‘loyalty’. This I think I can deliver. When googling ‘love’ I found nothing concrete. I ‘askgoogled’ my google phone. Nothing. Then I ‘askgoogled’ to recite me Sonnet 130. I am not sure Shakespeare knew that he was not clear in his definition of love. But…
‘Ilu’ says the text message to our loved one only because we are in a rush, we need mental shortcuts for expressing reality in this fast age. What results from it is that concepts such as ‘friendship’, ‘love’, ‘sexuality’ become detached from the domain of our comprehension. It is as though we no longer agree on the meaning of words because there is no concrete culture, religion, or point of intersection for language to create a sound-image in our head. And we need images, we want an image. A quick, sexy, juicy image.
We decode pornography in the news now…. but not too successfully. We still get ideologies shoved down our throats daily. We are trained to analyse the news and what is said to us. We are not easily gullible- that is what we think, at least. However … the moment we stop trusting words, our own words stop being trustworthy.
And that is when I turn to a book by the philosopher, linguist and psychoanalyst Roland Barthes. It is a dictionary of the language of love, which is the most undefinable, paranoiac maddening concept. I dare to philosophise about love and so I wish to use Barthes as a companion. Roland Barthes’ book A lover’s discourse describes instances of speech uttered by a person in love. Barthes seeks to display the fundamental connection between language and reality by giving significance to the most depreciated nuances of linguistic expression, nuances which are deeply concerned with the chaos of human passion. Perhaps taking inspiration from the Freudian notion of the ‘slip’ in the act of speech which reveals our unconscious desires, Barthes defines love-language as one of the most challenging social phenomenon because it is a subtly discernible mixture of convention and individuality.
Ludvig Wittgenstein talks about the language games in which we participate when we speak, stating that meaning is derived from the context. Language can only be used meaningfully if it is used in an appropriate way given its particular language game, according to Wittgenstein. But why, then, do two people who classify themselves as being in love with each other still fail to participate in a uniform language game?
In reference to love we use a concrete word- ‘love’. It is a signifier without a definite signified. It describes an abstract concept, so has to be spoken by an abstract lover, which Barthes invents. Moreover, love is concerned with feelings which revolve around the idea of impossibility. What is impossible in love are the concepts of desire and eternity.
Desire lies at the centre of love. We identify being in love with a person when he or she becomes a boundless fountain of intellectual and sexual discovery that prompts our curiosity and leaves our desire unsatisfied as we crave more. Love-stories never go beyond ‘and they lived happily ever after’. Love occurs when two people constantly re-invent and re-embody the whole spectrum of each other’s desires, once those primary desires are satisfied. Nowadays, the only desire which we need to be fulfilled by the other person is sexual, which is easily satisfied. In reality we do not desire the other person to help us to discover ourselves, really. Satisfied desire nullifies the feelings, strips the relationships of its significance so that we are left with a fictive concept of love.
Barthes’ book is a dictionary of emotions, analysed through philosophical literature. Literature in Barthes, like in the works of Socrates, Plato and Freud, becomes the medium for discussing the self. Such an approach can be explained through the lens of the psychoanalytical theory of the ‘mirror’. As infants, we form a fictive image of ourselves by identifying our own reflection in the mirror. In reality, it is not the real ‘us’ that we identify with the mirror-image. ‘Us’ is split, fragmented, and undefinable- like love.
Our individuality has been formed ‘at first sight’- before our ability to speak. Our first object of love is ourselves. Fiction is a different kind of mirror, it is good for philosophizing and eternalising concepts. But the ‘black mirror’ of the phone screen is better for an immediate execution. A narcissistic selfie, a desirable image of ourselves, is a counterpart of love. In the digital age, we do not have to discover ourselves through the other person; we have got a front camera.
Barthes de-codes the language of love in a psychoanalytical way, explaining what particular words mean in the language game of a lover. One of the works Barthes extensively refers to is The Sorrows of Young Werther by Wolfgang von Goethe. This autobiographical work works well in the context of A lover’s discourse as it is composed in a form of self-confessional letters. It is due to the impossibility of obtaining love that Werther is sorrowful. He resolves the love triangle between himself and a married couple by taking his own life. Death and love are extensively connected in literature. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one of the most iconic examples of how love is inadequate, of how it causes irrationality; taking your own life puts you on a spectrum of insanity. But in death we do not have to speak, death turns love into fiction.
Our desire for death is instinctive, and so is our desire for love. These desires are somehow connected, eternal and non-comprehensible. Perhaps ‘IIu’ does express love better. Perhaps the best language of love is silence. After all, this is the age of virtual reality. However A lover’s discourse restores my belief in that we need humans to become humans.