A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments – Roland Barthes (1977)


“In the slim volume of A Lover’s Discourse, French philosopher and literary critic Roland Barthes attempts to deconstruct one of the most powerful of human experiences: that of falling in love. Barthes claims that modern society lacks a language with which to discuss love – a notable change from times past in which it was the sexual, rather than the emotional aspects of love that were considered taboo. This should concern us as, without a system with which to analyse and interpret amorous experience, we are left to practice an unhealthy and unreflective form of love, which can do immense damage to all the parties involved. The stakes are particularly high: when tended properly, love can blossom into a deep and lasting contentment, or become a source of inexhaustible energy and inspiration. If mistreated, however, love can become a source of intense psychological pain, the cause of suicide, or of wounds so deep that it may leave one permanently disfigured. As the Vietnamese Zen master, Thich Nhat Hahn once put it: to love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. Barthes goal, therefore, is to make love utterable and intelligible once more. In A Lover’s Discourse he seeks to provide readers with ways that they can reflect upon and analyse their own experiences, and so learn to love better. As a forerunner of post-structuralism, Barthes approach to this task is rather unique. The book is comprised of a number of ‘fragments’, each a sketch of a particular experience from the point of view of the lover-protagonist – say, the blissful feeling of lying in the arms of a loved one, or the anxiety and seeming suspension of time that accompanies the wait for a lover’s phone call. After each scene is constructed, Barthes subjects it to a battery of intense deconstructions, bouncing between philosophical, psychological and linguistic perspectives to mine each for insight. This technique can come across as both relentless and stream-of-consciousness, but in such powerful hands, there can be no doubt as to its effectiveness. Through the analysis of each ‘fragment’, Barthes develops two meta-themes: first, the role and operation of psychological projection on the part of the protagonist (who constructs an idealised image of the loved being), and second, the manner in which love can become a source of intense personal (and quasi-religious) meaning. These are complex psychological phenomena to be sure, and Barthes does an excellent job at illuminating the processes and dynamics governing each. The book follows a protagonist through the various stages of a relationship. He is an apt example of someone who loves badly, for he has constructed an idealised image of his lover and consistently mistakes the projections of his psyche for an actual human being. …”
The Big Smoke
W – A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments
[PDF] A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

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