Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Elaborating on Love and Law

In a culture in which love and sex have become synonymous, the need for questioning the concept of love becomes ever greater. To equate love with sex is to make love an act, something engaged in only under specific circumstances. However, a more traditional concept of love that centres on an emotional state is no more adequate; emotional states come and go. If love is to have some place in our lives, it must be at home in the subject as subject. Love must find a place in the subject that is not affect, emotion or action. If love is to be rooted in subjectivity, at least in Lacanian terms, it must have a relationship to the Borromean knot structure of the subject.

To describe love as an active force rather than a passive trait, we must have an idea of how love affects the tri-part structure. How does love interact with the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real? This is a broad question that one could say Lacan arguably struggled with his entire career. The question will have to be narrowed, then. What relationship does love have to desire, and that which institutes desire, the Law? This is one of Lacan’s questions in his seminar concerning ethics, and it is the driving question of Slavoj Zizek’s book The Puppet and the Dwarf. Love does not eliminate the Law, or mitigate the Law. Neither does it guide the Law. Love, here, suspends the Law. This suspension is not the Bataillan festival, the madness that overtakes a social group and sees social norms disintegrate. This suspension has a very specific meaning: love suspends the Law’s ability to produce transgression and morbid guilt. The subject of love continues to find themselves under the Law, but with a lurking nothing, an element that prevents the excess that does nothing but foul life.

As Kant opens his Critique of Practical Reason, a footnote appears tucked off onto the margin of the page. Here, Kant claims that freedom is the essence of morality, and that morality is the condition that makes us aware of freedom. This mutually conditional relation cannot help but bring to mind the relationship Lacan develops between the Law and the Thing; “I can only know of the Thing by means of the Law.” This explicit use of St. Paul highlights the fact that the Law produces its own transgressions. Our desire is aroused by the Law; to understand how this works a brief description of the logic of castration is necessary. Žižek, in The Puppet and the Dwarf, offers a useful explanation of this idea. He begins by critiquing the usual interpretation of the fort/da story. The boy’s spool is not the compensation for the mother’s absence, but rather her presence. The boy is working out his anxiety over her overbearing, infinitely encroaching desire, her jouissance. The mother’s desire crowds out the boy’s own desire. The boy’s solution is, in effect, the acting out of his own castration. The insistence that he is incapable of fulfilling his mother’s desire is what provides the necessary space for his own desire. The boy’s desire, then, is only sustainable by means of the institution of the Law. The boy has to assert his own incompleteness, his own split subjectivity.

This version of the fort/da game is a picture of how the Law sustains desire. If the boy was not subject to the Law, he would be forever suffocated by his mother. This arousal of desire by the Law is specifically read into the Biblical text Romans 7:8-18 by both Lacan and Žižek. In this text, St. Paul argues that “sin, seizing and opportunity in the commandment, produces in me all kinds of covetousness.” In other words, the Law produces its own transgressions. The Law is an enticement, an enticement to an object that is always beyond it. The very fact that this object is forbidden only makes it more attractive.

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