Book Reviews, Love, Philosophy, Sociocultural Phenomena

Roland Barthes (1915–1980): Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977)

Roland Barthes’s texts on love are incredibly beautiful, profound, and always radically to the point. With love for detail and relentless analytic precision, he unveils all our joys and fears, as well as our sophisticated systematics of self-deception that we develop on the way to love faute de mieux.

A lover speaking from experience

«So it is a lover who speaks and who says:» is Roland Barthes’s introduction to his texts on love in 1977. He was speaking from his own experience when he expressed his short, witty, at times anecdotal remarks on many dozens of catchwords related to love. Unfortunately, there are only few authors who are able to report from their own experiences when writing about love. Roland Barthes is one of those few, and that is what makes his texts so infinitely prolific and worth reading.

Barthes’s style is wonderfully poetic, making it a true pleasure to follow him time and again to the limits of what is possible to express in language. He takes us with sovereign power by the hand and leads us into the most subtle, usually unspoken, secret spheres of intimacy. He gives words to deep human wisdom, feelings, and innermost sensations (which are so abundant in love), and he presents it all to us with extraordinary openness. He undulates elegantly between poetry and everyday reality.

«The necessity for this book is to be found in the following consideration: that the lover’s discourse is today of an extreme solitude. This discourse is spoken, perhaps, by thousands of subjects (who knows?), but warranted by no one; it is completely forsaken by the surrounding languages: ignored, disparaged, or derided by them, severed not only from authority but also from the mechanisms of authority (sciences, techniques, arts). Once a discourse is thus driven by its own momentum into the backwater of the «unreal», exiled from all gregarity, it has no recourse but to become the site, however exiguous, of an affirmation. That affirmation is, in short, the subject of the book which begins here …» (Roland Barthes, Foreword to A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments)

About «The Absent One» Roland Barthes writes: 

«Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the Woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys; Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). It is Woman who gives shape to absence, elaborates its fiction, for she has time to do so; she weaves and she sings; the Spinning Songs express both immobility (by the hum of the Wheel) and absence (far away, rhythms of travel, sea surges, cavalcades). It follows that in any man who utters the other’s absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized. A man is not feminized because he is inverted but because he is in love. (Myth and utopia: the origins have belonged, the future will belong to the subjects in whom there is something feminine).

Sometimes I have no difficulty enduring absence. Then I am «normal»: I fall in with the way «everyone» endures the departure of a «beloved person»; I diligently obey the training by which I was very early accustomed to be separated from my mother—which nonetheless remained, at its source, a matter of suffering (not to say hysteria). I behave as a well-weaned subject; I can feed myself, meanwhile, on other things besides the maternal breast.

This endured absence is nothing more or less than forgetfulness. I am, intermittently, unfaithful. This is the condition of my survival; for if I did not forget, I should die. The lover who doesn’t forget sometimes dies of excess, exhaustion, and tension of memory (like Werther).»

Photography: Samuel Herzog


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