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We Love the One Who Responds to Our Question: Who Am I?

Interview with Jacques-Alain Miller published in the French Edition of Psychologies


Magazine !ctober "##$ Issue "%$ pp& ''(-'"#&

Hanna Waar Does psychoanalysis teach us something about love?
Jacques-Alain Miller A great deal, because its an e!perience "hose mainspring is
love# $ts a question o% that automatic and more o%ten than not unconscious love that the
analysand brings to the analyst, and "hich is called trans%erence# $ts a contrived love,
but made o% the same stu%% as true love# $t sheds light on its mechanism& love is
addressed to the one you thin' 'no"s your true truth# (ut love allo"s you to thin' this
truth "ill be li'eable, agreeable, "hen in %act its rather hard to bear#
H# W# )o, "hat is it to really love?
J#-A# M *o really love someone is to believe that by loving them youll get to a truth
about yoursel%# We love the one that harbours the response, or a response, to our
question& +Who am $?
H# W# Why do some people 'no" ho" to love and not others?
J#-A# M# )ome people 'no" ho" to provo'e love in the other person, serial lovers as
it "ere, men and "omen ali'e# *hey 'no" "hat buttons to push to get loved# (ut they
dont necessarily love, rather they play cat and mouse "ith their prey# *o love, you have
to admit your lac', and recognise that you need the other, that you miss him or her#
*hose that thin' theyre complete on their o"n, or "ant to be, dont 'no" ho" to love#
And sometimes, they ascertain this pain%ully# *hey manipulate, pull strings, but o% love
they 'no" neither the ris' nor the delights#
H# W# +,omplete on their o"n& only a man could thin' that-
J#-A# M Well spotted. /acan used to say, +*o love is to give "hat you havent got#
Which means& to love is to recognise your lac' and give it to the other, place it in the
other# $ts not giving "hat you possess, goods and presents, its giving something else
that you dont possess, "hich goes beyond you# *o do that you have to assume your
lac', your +castration as 0reud used to say# And that is essentially %eminine# 1ne only
really loves %rom a %eminine position# /oving %eminises# *hats "hy love is al"ays a bit
comical in a man# (ut i% he lets himsel% get intimidated by ridicule, then in actual %act
hes not very sure o% his virility#
H# W# $s loving more di%%icult %or men then?
J#-A# M 1h yes. 2ven a man in love has %lashes o% pride, bursts o% aggressiveness
against the ob3ect o% his love, because this love puts him in a position o%
incompleteness, o% dependence# *hats "hy he can desire "omen he doesnt love, so as
to get bac' to the virile position he suspends "hen he loves# 0reud called this principle
the +debasement o% love li%e in men& the split bet"een love and se!ual desire#
H# W# And in "omen?
J#-A# M $ts less common# $n most cases, theres a doubling-up o% the male partner#
1n one hand, hes the man that gives them 3ouissance and "hom they desire, but hes
also the man o% love, "hos %eminised, necessarily castrated# 1nly its not anatomy
thats in the driving seat& there are some "omen "ho adopt a male position# *here are
more and more o% them# 1ne man %or love, at home4 and other men %or 3ouissance, met
on the net, in the street, or on a train-
H# W# Why +more and more?
J#-A# M )ocio-cultural stereotypes o% "omanliness and virility are in the process o%
radical trans%ormation# Men are being invited to open up to their emotions, to love and
%eminise themselves4 "omen on the contrary are undergoing a certain +push to
masculinisation& in the name o% legal equality theyre being driven to 'eep saying +me
too# At the same time, homose!uals are claiming the same rights and symbols as
heteros, li'e marriage and %iliation# Hence a ma3or instability in the roles, a "idespread
%luidity in the theatre o% love, that contrasts "ith the %i!ity o% yesteryear# /ove is
becoming +liquid, as noted by the sociologist 5ygmunt (auman#678
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2veryone is being led to invent their o"n +li%estyle, to assume their mode o% 3ouissance
and mode o% loving# *raditional scenarios are slo"ly becoming obsolete# )ocial pressure
to con%orm hasnt disappeared, but its on the "ane#
H# W# +/ove is al"ays reciprocal said /acan# $s this still true in the current conte!t?
What does that mean?
J#-A# M *his sentence gets repeated over and over "ithout being understood, or it
gets understood the "rong "ay round# $t doesnt mean that its enough to love someone
%or him to love you bac'# *hat "ould be absurd# $t means& +$% $ love you, its because
youre loveable# $m the one that loves, but youre also mi!ed up in this, because theres
something in you that ma'es me love you# $ts reciprocal because theres a to and %ro&
the love $ have %or you is the return e%%ect o% the cause o% love that you are %or me# )o,
youre implicated# My love %or you isnt 3ust my a%%air, its yours too# My love says
something about you that maybe you yoursel% dont 'no"# *his doesnt guarantee in the
least that the love o% one "ill be responded to by the love o% the other& "hen that
happens its al"ays o% the order o% a miracle, its not calculable in advance#
H# W# We dont %ind him or her by chance# Why that guy? Why that girl?
J#-A# M# *heres "hat 0reud called /iebesbedingung, the condition %or love, the
cause o% desire# $ts a particular treat or a set o% traits that have a decisive %unction in
a person %or the choice o% loved one# *his totally escapes the neurosciences, because its
unique to each person, its do"n to their singular, intimate history# *raits "hich are
sometimes minute are at play# 0or instance, 0reud singled out in one o% his patients a
cause o% desire that "as a shine on a "omans nose.
H# W# $ts hard to believe in a love %ounded on these tri%les.
J#-A# M# *he reality o% the unconscious outstrips %iction# Hou cant imagine ho"
much in human li%e is %ounded, especially "here love is concerned, on little things, on
pinheads, on +divine details# $ts true thats its above all in men that you %ind causes o%
desire li'e that, "hich are li'e %etishes "hose presence is indispensable to spar' o%% the
love process# *iny particularities, reminiscent o% the %ather, the mother, a brother, a
sister, someone %rom childhood, also play their role in "omens choice o% love ob3ect#
(ut the %eminine %orm o% love is more readily erotomaniac than %etishist& they "ant to
be loved, and the interest, the love thats sho"n them, or that they suppose in the other
person, is o%ten sine qua non %or triggering their love, or at least their consent# *his
phenomenon lies at the base o% the practice o% men chatting "omen up#
H# W# Do you not attribute any role to %antasies?
J#-A# M# $n "omen, %antasies, "hether conscious or unconscious, are decisive %or the
position o% 3ouissance more than %or the choice o% love ob3ect# And its the opposite %or
men# 0or e!ample, it may happen that a "oman can only achieve 3ouissance orgasm,
lets say on condition that she imagines hersel%, during intercourse itsel%, being beaten,
raped, or imagines that shes another "oman, or even that shes else"here, absent#
H# W# And the male %antasy?
J#-A# M# $ts very much in evidence in love at %irst sight# *he classic e!ample,
commented on by /acan, is in Ioethes novel6?8 9mhtml&:;(<0772(-02=,->;7?-
@A<0-2@2DA><?>BA>Cmid&DD;;;;;;@7DEF%tn?G , the sudden passion o% young Werther
%or ,harlotte, at the moment he sees her %or the %irst time, %eeding the rabble o% 'ids
around her# Here its the "omans maternal quality that spar's o%% love# Another
e!ample, ta'en %rom my practice, is the %ollo"ing& a boss in his %i%ties is seeing
applicants %or a secretarial post4 a young "oman o% t"enty comes in4 straight a"ay he
declares his love# He "onders "hat got hold o% him and goes into analysis# *here, he
uncovers the trigger& in her he met traits that reminded him o% "hat he had been at the
age o% t"enty, "hen he "ent %or his %irst 3ob intervie"# $n a "ay, hed %allen in love "ith
himsel%# $n these t"o e!amples "e see the t"o sides o% love distinguished by 0reud&
either you love the person "ho protects, in this case the mother, or you love a
narcissistic image o% yoursel%#
H# W# $t sounds li'e "ere puppets.
J#-A# M# Jo, bet"een any man and any "oman, nothing is "ritten in advance, theres
no compass, no pre-established relationship# *heir encounter isnt programmed li'e it is
bet"een the spermatoKoon and the ovum4 its got nothing to do "ith our genes either#
Men and "omen spea', they live in a "orld o% discourse, thats "hats decisive# *he
modalities o% love are e!tremely sensitive to the surrounding culture# 2ach civilisation
stands out %or the "ay it structures the relation bet"een the se!es# Jo", it so happens
that in the West, in our societies "hich are liberal, mar'et and 3uridical, the +multiple is
"ell on the "ay to dethroning the +one# *he ideal model o% +great li%elong love is
slo"ly losing ground %aced "ith speed dating, speed loving, and a "hole %lotilla o%
alternative, successive, even simultaneous amorous scenarios#
H# W# And love in the long term? $n eternity?
J#-A# M# (alKac said, +Any passion that isnt eternal is hideous#6L8
9mhtml&:;(<0772(-02=,->;7?-@A<0-2@2DA><?>BA>Cmid&DD;;;;;;@7DEF%tnLG (ut
can the bond hold out %or li%e "ithin the register o% passion? *he more a man devotes
himsel% to 3ust one "oman, the more she tends to ta'e on a maternal signi%ication %or
him& more sublime and untouchable than loved# Married homose!uals develop this cult
o% the "oman best& Aragon sings his love %or 2lsa4 as soon as she dies, its hello boys.
And "hen a "oman clings on to one man, she castrates him# )o, the path is narro"# *he
best destiny o% con3ugal love is %riendship, thats essentially "hat Aristotle said#
H# W# *he problem is that men say they dont understand "hat "omen "ant4 and
"omen, "hat men e!pect o% them-
J#-A# M# Hes# What ob3ects to the Aristotelian solution is the %act that dialogue %rom
one se! to the other is impossible, as /acan said "ith a sigh# Meople in love are in %act
condemned to go on learning the others language inde%initely, groping around, see'ing
out the 'eys 'eys that are al"ays revocable# /ove is a labyrinth o% misunderstandings
"hose "ay out doesnt e!ist#