Book Reviews, Love, Sociocultural Phenomena

Roland Barthes (1915–1980): Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977)[1]

«A mandarin fell in love with a courtesan. ‹I will be yours,› she told him, ‹when you have spent a hundred nights waiting for me, sitting on a stool, in my garden, beneath my window.› But on the ninety-ninth night, the mandarin stood up, put his stool under his arm, and went away.»

«Waiting: Tumult of anxiety provoked by waiting for the loved being»

Photography: Youssef Limoud

«Am I in love? – Yes, since I’m waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I would like to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.

The being I am waiting for is not real. Like the mother’s breast for the infant, I create and re-create it over and over, starting from my capacity to love, starting from my need for it: the other comes here where I am waiting, here where I have already created him/her. And if the other does not come, I hallucinate the other: waiting is a delirium.

The setting represents the interior of a café; we have a rendezvous, I am waiting. In the Prologue, the sole actor of the play (and with reason), I discern and indicate the other’s delay; this delay is as yet only a mathematical, computable entity (I look at my watch several times); the Prologue ends with a header: I decide to “take it badly”, I release the anxiety of waiting. Act I now begins; it is occupied by suppositions: was there a misunderstanding as to the time, the place? I try to recall the moment when the rendezvous was made, the details which were supplied. What is to be done (anxiety of behaviour)? Try another café? Make a telephone call? But if the other comes during these absences? Not seeing me, the other might leave, etc. 

Act II is the act of anger; I address violent reproaches to the absent one: ‹All the same, he (she) could have…›, ‹He (she) knows perfectly well…›. Oh, if she (he) could be here, so that I could reproach her (him) for not being here! In Act III, I attain to (I obtain?) anxiety in the pure state: the anxiety of abandonment; I have just shifted in a second from absence to death; the other is as if dead: explosion of grief: I am internally livid. That is the play; it can be shortened by the other’s arrival; if the other arrives in Act I, the greeting is calm; if the other arrives in Act II, there is a ‹scene›; if in Act III, there is recognition, the action of grace: I breathe deeply, like Pelléas emerging from the underground chambers and rediscovering life, the smell of roses.

The anxiety of waiting is not continuously violent; it has its matte moments; I am waiting, and everything around my waiting is stricken with unreality: in this café, I look at the others who come in, chat, joke, read calmly: they are not waiting.

To make someone wait: the constant prerogative of all power, ‘age-old pastime of humanity.’» 


[1] Taken from Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, Richard Howard trans., New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010, pp. 37–40

See also my previous entry on Barthes, “The Absent One”, August 26, 2023

Photography: Youssef Limoud

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