The reality, according to him and, always by extension, Lacan , is that we are in the midst of a universe that simply is not comprehensible to us: it neither answers to our most narcissistic desires such as to live forever without suffering nor makes sense when we press our questions beyond a certain point. Are they even capable of perceiving themselves in their entirety just once, stretched out as in an illuminated glass case? Does nature not remain silent about almost everything, even about our bodies, banishing and enclosing us within a proud, illusory consciousness, far away from the twists and turns of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream and the complicated tremblings of the nerve-fibers? Nature has thrown away the key, and woe betide fateful curiosity should it ever succeed in peering through a crack in the chamber of consciousness, out and down into the depths, and thus gain an intimation of the fact that humanity, in the indifference of its ignorance, rests on the pitiless, the greedy, the insatiable, the murderous—clinging in dreams, as it were, to the back of a tiger. The Lady is thus as far as possible from any kind of purified spirtuality: she functions as an inhuman partner in the sense of a radical Otherness which is wholly incommensurable with our needs and desires; as such, she is simultaneously a kind of automaton, a machine which utters meaningless demands at random.
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Th e imp ression that co ur tly love is out of date, long superseded by modern ma nn ers, is a lure blinding us to how the logic of courtly love still defines the parame ters within which the two sexes relate to each other.
This claim, howeve r, in no way implies an evolutionary mode l throug h which courtly love would provide the elementary matrix ou t of which wc gene rate its later. Our thesis is, inste ad , th at histor y has to be read retroactively: the anatomy of man offers the key to the an atomy of the ape , as Marx put it. It is only with the emergence of masochism, of the masochist couple, towards the end of the last century th at we can now grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love.
The Masochistic Theatre of Courtly Love Th e first trap to be avoided apropos of courtly love is the erro neous notion of the Lady as the sublime object: as a rule, o ne evokes here th e process of spiritualization, the shift from raw sensual coveting to elevated spiritual longing. In this poetic field the feminine object is emptied of all real su bsta n ce. The Lad y is never characteri zed for any of her real, concrete virtu es, for her wisdom, her pru de n ce , or even her competence.
If she is described as wise, it is only becau se she embodies an immaterial wisdom or because she rep resen ts its func tions more than she exerci ses the m. On the co ntrar y, she is as arbit ra r yas possibl e in th e tests she imp oses o n her se rvau t. The Lad y is thus as far as possible from any kind of purified sp iritua lity: she func tions as an inhuman p artner in the sens e of a radic al Otherness which is wholly incommensurable with our needs and desires; as such , sh e is simultaneously a kind of automaton, a machine which utt ers mea ni n gless demands at random.
Deprived of every real sub stan ce, the Lady fun ctions as a mirror on to which the subject projects his narcissistic ideal. But it also fulfills an other role, a role as limit. It is that Which cannot be crossed , And the only orga nization in which it participates is that of the inaccessibility of the obj ect. That is to say, if men are to project On to the mi rror th eir narcissistic ideal, th e mute mirror-surface mu st already be there.
The next crucial feature of courtly love is that it is thoroughly a tn auer of cour tesy and e tique tte; it has nothing to do with some elem e n tary passion overflowing all barriers, immune to all soc ial rul es. Among th ose features evoked by Del euz e to prov e the asymmetry between sad ism and maso chi sm , the crucial on e is th e oppositio n of th e modalities of negati on.
Closely depending on th is first oppositio n is th e opposition of institu tio n and con tract. Furthermore , violen ce is neve r ca rried o ut, b ro ught to its conclusion ; it always remain s suspended , as the end less repeating of an interrupted gestu re. It is precise ly th is logi c of d isavowal wh ich enables us to grasp the fund amen tal paradox of the masoch istic attitude.
T h at is to say, h ow do es th e typi cal masochistic scen e look? T h e man-servant est ab lishes in a co ld , busin esslike way th e ter ms of the co ntract with the woman -master: what she is to do to hi m , wha t scen e is to be reh earsed endle ssly, what d ress sh e is to wea r, how far sh e is to go in th e direc tion of real , p hysical torture h ow severe ly she is to whip him , in wh at pr ecise way sh e is to enc h ain him, where sh e is to stam p h im with the tips of her hig h he els, etc.
When th ey final ly pa ss over to the masochis tic game pro per, th e masochist constantly maintains a kind of reflective dis tance; he never really gives way to h is feelings or fully abandons himself to the game; in th e midst of th e game, he can suddenly assu me th e stan ce of a stage dire ctor, givin g precise in str u ction s pu t more pressure on th at p oin t, re p eat th at movement.
Sam e tim e next week? Towards th e end of P. He practically asked fo r it. I-Ie co uld have tried to sto p m e, plea ded , argued , p ili u p a figh l. Just th at o ne wo rd. He look ed aline with suc h co ntem pt. He knew then. Of course he kn ew. He was suppose d 10 he terrified. H e wa sup pose d to prev en t it from happening.
Min d less, Bil l I did have a choice. And so did he. Christ h e cou ld havestopped me. The victim however, d id not give an y suc h sign. An obstacle is required in order to heighten libido; and where natural resistances to satisfaction have not been sufficient men have at all times erected convention al ones so as to be able to enjoy love.
P Within this perspective , cou r tly love appears as simply the most radic al stra tegy for elevating th e value of the obj ect by p u tt ing up co nven tion al obstacles to its attain ability. The techniques involved in courtly love- and they are pr ecise enough to allow us to perceive what might on occasion become fact, what is properlyspeaking of the sexual order in the inspiration of this eroticism - are techniques of holding back, of suspension, of amor interruptus.
In a homologous way, we could speak of temporal ana morp hosis: the Obj ect is attai na ble on ly by way of an in ce ssan t po stp onem en t, as its absen t poi n t of refe re nce. The Obj ect, therefore, is liter ally some thing tha t is cre ated - whos e place is en circled - th ro ugh a networ k of detou rs, approximatio ns an d nea r-misses.
Her ein resid es the fun ction of those art ificial obsta cles th at suddenl y hinder our access to some ordinar y obj ect: th ey elevate the object int o a stand-in for th e Th ing. This is how the impossible ch anges into th e pro h ibited : by way of th e short circuit between th e Thing and some positive obj ect rendered inaccessible through ar tificial obstacles.
The tradition of Lady as the inacc essible object is alive an d well in our cen tury - in surrealism, for example. Her e we find the logic of courtly love and of su blimatio n at its purest: some common, everyd ay obj ect or ac t becom es innacc essible or impossible to accomplish on ce it finds itself in th e position of the Thing - although the thing should be easily within reach , the entire universe ha s some h ow been adjusted to produce , again and again, an unfathomabl e co n tingency blocking acces s to the object.
In his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant offers a parable about a libertine who claims that he cannot resist the temp tatio n to gratify his illicit sex ual d esire , yet when he is informed that the gallows now await him as the price to be paid for his adultery, he suddenly discovers that he ca n resist th e temptation after all proof, for Kant , of the pathological nature o f se xual de sire But for the faithful servant of a Lady the choice is structured in a totally different way: perhaps he would e ven prefer th e gallows to an immediate gratification of his desire for th e Lady.
That is to say, precisely th e same paradox characterizes the phallic signifier qua sign ifie r of castration. There is only one solu tion to this problem: the phallus, the signifier of enjoyment. IS Back to the Lady: are we, therefore. O n closer examination, what co nstitutes this metaph ysical or simply philosophical hubris?
Let us take what might app ea r to be a surprising exam ple. He gel made the same point in asserting that every genus has two species, itself and its species - that is to say, the genus is always one of its own species.
Let us mention two approaches to language: that ofJohn L. Austin and that of Oswald Ducrot. An d now, back to the Lady again: th is is why the Lady is not another name for the metaphysical Ground but, on the contrary, one of the names for the self-retracting Real which, in a way, grounds the Ground itself.
YetI am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart. Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong It isa radical, a primitive impulse - elementary.
This reference to Kant is far from accidental. According to Kan t, the faculty of desiring does not possess a transcendental status, since it is wholIy dependent upon pathological objects and motivations.
Exemplifications From the thirteenth century to modern times, we encounter numerous variations on this matrix of courtly love. The paradox here turns on the nature of the task the servant must perform in order to earn the promised gesture of Mercy: he must seduce other ladies. His Ordeal requires that, even at the height of passion, he maintain a cold distance towards his victims: in the very moment of triumph, he must humiliate them by abandoning them without reason, thereby proving his fidelity to the Lady.
Another variation on the matrix of courtly love emerges in the story of Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxane. Ashamed of his obscene natural deformity his too-long nose , Cyrano has not dared to confess his love to the beautiful Roxane; so he interposes between himself and her a good-looking young soldier, conferring on him the role of proxy through whom he expresses his desire.
As befits a capricious Lady, Roxane demands that her lover articulate his love in elegant poetic terms; the unfortunate simple-minded young soldier is not up to the task, so Cyrano hastens to his assistance, writing passionate love letters for the soldier from the battlefield.
The denouement takes place in two stages, tragic and melodramatic. Roxane tells the soldier that she does not love his beautiful body alone; she loves his refined soul even more: she is so deeply moved by his letters that she would continue to love him even if his body were to become mutilated and ugly.
The soldier shudders at these words: he realizes that Roxane does not love him as he really is but as the author of his letters - in other words, she unknowingly loves Cyrano. Unable to endure this humiliation, he rushes suicidally in to an attack and dies; Roxane enters a cloister, where she has regular visits from Cyra no , who keeps her informed about the social life of Paris. During one of these visits Roxane asks him to read aloud the last letter of her dead lover. Deep ly shaken, she recognizes in this crippled merrymaker her true love.
But it is already too la t e : Cyrano has come to this meeting mortally wounded He has attained what he really wanted: not the act itself, just her consent to it, he r sym b olic humiliation. When, on the drive from the hotel to the studio, a car tyre blows, the assistant cameraman and the script-girl find themselves alone on a lake shore.
Just like that? Although he docs not yet kn ow who she is, he has already decid ed to ma rry h e r i. T he fin al sce ne takes p lace several yea rs later. T he hero, now happily mar ried to the blon d e, encou nters Maud on a beach ; when his wife asks hi m who th is u nknown woman is, the hero te lls a lie - apparen tly to his detrimen t; he informs h is wife that Maud was his last love adven ture before marriage.
Why th is lie? Because t. By means of his involvemen t with her, the hero betrays the pa te rnal figu re who is also hi s boss in The Glass Key, Killers, Criss-cross, Out of the Past, e tc. This lin k be tween the co ur tly Lady and th e JemmeJatale fro m the noir universe ma y ap pear surprisin g: is not th e femmef atale in fil m noi1,the ve ry opposite of the nohle sove reign Lad y to who m the kni ght vows service?
Let us re call the o utl ines of th e story: Fergus, a member of the IRA guarding a cap tu red b lack British soldier, develo ps friendly links with him ; th e so ld ier asks h im, in the event of his liquidation, to pay a visit to hi s girlfriend, DiI, a hairdresse r in a Lo n d on suburb , and to give he r hi s last regar ds.
Sick ened cr udely pushes her away. Afte r th is painful revelatio n, the relationship between th e tw reversed : n ow it tu rn s o ut tha t Oil is passio nately in love with Fer although she knows her lo ve is impossible.
Fro m a capricious and ir sovere ign Lady she ch an ges in to the pa thet ic figure of a delic sensitive boy who is despera tely in love. Wh a t doc s the o the r see in me causes his love? We thus co nfro n t an asymmetry - not o n ly asymmetry be tween subj ect an d o bject, but asymm e try in a far m radical sense of a discord be tween wha t the lover sees in the loved an d what the lo ved one kn ows himself to be.
Here we find the inescapab le dea dl ock that defines th e position of loved on e: th e oth er sees so me thing in me and wants something f me , but I ca nnot give hi m what I do n o t possess - or, as Lacan put there is no rela tio n ship be tween wh at the loved one possesses and w rhe lovin g one lacks. This reversal designates the po int of su bjectivizatio n : the object of love changes into the su bject th e mo m e nt it answers th e ca ll of love.
And it is only by way of this reversal tha t a genuine love e merges: I am tr uly in love no t when I am simply fascinate d by the agalma. We must be especially atte n tive here so that we do not miss th e point of this rev ersal: although we no w have two loving su bjects instea d of the ini tia l duality of the lovin g o ne and the loved o ne, th e asymmetr y pe rsists, sinc e it was th e obj ect itself that, as it were , confe ssed to its lack by m eans of it.
Something de epl y embarrassing an d tr u ly scan d alous abid es in this reversal by means of wh ich the myste riou s, fasci nating, elusive objec t of love discloses its d ead lock, and th us acquires th e sta tus of an o ther subj ect. At th e end, whe n the IRA again tries to involve him in a terrorist act, he even-sacrifices himself for Dil a n d assumes respon sibil ity for a killin g she co mmitted.
The last scene of the film takes place in th e prison where she visits h im , again d ressed up as a provocatively seductive wom an , so that every man in th e visiting room is aroused by her looks. Althou gh Fergu s has to endure more th an fo ur thousan d days of prison - they coun t them up tog eth er - she cheerfu lly pledges to wait for h im and visit h im reg ul arly.
From Courtly Love to the Crying Game
This, however, in no way implies the evolutionary model in which courtly love would provide the elementary matrix allowing us to generate its later, more complex variations. My thesis, on the contrary, is that history has to be read retroactively: the anatomy of man offers the key to the anatomy of ape, as Marx puts it. It is only the emergence of masochism, of the masochist couple, towards the end of the last century, which enables us to grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love. In this poetic field the feminine object is emptied of all real substance. The Lady is never characterized for any of her real, concrete virtues, for her wisdom, her prudence, or even her competence. If she is described as wise, it is only because she embodies an immaterial wisdom or because she represents its functions more than she exercises them.
From Courtly Love to 'The Crying Game'
Th e imp ression that co ur tly love is out of date, long superseded by modern ma nn ers, is a lure blinding us to how the logic of courtly love still defines the parame ters within which the two sexes relate to each other. This claim, howeve r, in no way implies an evolutionary mode l throug h which courtly love would provide the elementary matrix ou t of which wc gene rate its later. Our thesis is, inste ad , th at histor y has to be read retroactively: the anatomy of man offers the key to the an atomy of the ape , as Marx put it. It is only with the emergence of masochism, of the masochist couple, towards the end of the last century th at we can now grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love. The Masochistic Theatre of Courtly Love Th e first trap to be avoided apropos of courtly love is the erro neous notion of the Lady as the sublime object: as a rule, o ne evokes here th e process of spiritualization, the shift from raw sensual coveting to elevated spiritual longing. In this poetic field the feminine object is emptied of all real su bsta n ce. The Lad y is never characteri zed for any of her real, concrete virtu es, for her wisdom, her pru de n ce , or even her competence.
Zizek and Courtly Love