Love remains a relation with the Other that turns into need, transcendent exteriority of the other, of the beloved. But love goes beyond the beloved… The possibility of the Other appearing as an object of a need while retaining his alterity, or again,the possibility of enjoying the Other… this simultaneity of need and desire, or concupiscence and transcendence,… constitutes the originality of the erotic which, in this sense, is the equivocal par excellence.”
― Emmanuel Lévinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority
“Love is not a contract between two narcissists. It’s more than that. It’s a construction that compels the participants to go beyond narcissism. In order that love lasts one has to reinvent oneself.”
___Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love
By Roger Xavier
Philosophy has always been concerned about love. From Plato, in his work The Symposium, in which he tries to define what is love; to the most modern definitions by Derrida, Foucault and Alain Badiou.
People say that philosophy has nothing to do with the real world and with our ordinary lives, but in fact, great philosophers are “humans, all too humans” and have their minds and lives filled with problems such as love, sex, money and things like that.
One of my favorite contemporary philosophers who writes about the theme of love is the French philosopher Alain Badiou. Badiou was a student at the Lycée Louis-Le-Grand and then the Ecole Normale Supérieure (1957–1961). He taught at the lycée in Reims from 1963 where he became a close friend of fellow playwright (and philosopher) François Regnault, and published a couple of novels before moving to the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis) in 1969. In the last decade, an increasing number of Badiou’s works have been translated into English.
Badiou said the he have only once his life given up on a love. It was his first love, and then gradually he became so aware that this step had been a mistake. He tried to recover that initial love, late, very late: his beloved had died. For him, that love had a unique intensity and a feeling of necessity that have never disappeared. Since then, he said: “There have been dramas and heart-wrenching and doubts, but I have never again abandoned a love. And I feel really assured by the fact that the women I have loved I have loved for always.” This way love is a central subject in Badiou’s philosophy.
In a recent interview for The Guardian, Badiou said: “There is a kind of serenity in love which is almost a paradise”. Love is good, but people no longer know what love is. For Badiou love has become a product like everything else. The French anti-globalisation campaigner José Bové once wrote a book entitled Le Monde n’est pas une Marchandise (The World Isn’t a Commodity). Badiou’s book is, in a sense, its sequel and could have been entitled L’Amour n’est pas une Marchandise non plus (Love Isn’t a Commodity Either).
Badiou sets up love as a fundamental key in his philosophy. For him solving the existential problems of love is life’s great joy and it gives life a perennial meaning. If understand love is crucial for our lives, philosophy itself can’t ignore it either.
I think that it’s just amazing to think like that: to put Love in a special place in our lives, think about it and live, at last, to love.
The point here it’s to try to find an alternative way of thinking for the concept that we have of Love nowadays. For most of the people of our generation love has become such laborious commitment and pointless fuss. We live in the age of ready pleasures and easily disposable lovers.
For the French philosopher: “love focuses on the very being of the other, on the other as it has erupted, fully armed with its being, into my life that is consequently disrupted and re-fashioned.” In way we can all agree that love is not a simple matter, but it gives us a chance to be better. Love is, as Badiou said, a big adventure.
I know many people who are commitment-phobic, and the mere sing of the “L” word terrify them. It is, indeed, a common fear for all of us. What really scares me is the fact that we are forgetting what love is and the ideas of commitment, honesty and fidelity, which are all directly related with the idea of love, have no more meaning for us. For Badiou: “In love, fidelity signifies this extended victory: the randomness of an encounter defeated day after day through the invention of what will endure”.
It might seem that it’s all about romanticism or “romantic” love, but love in Badiou’s works is a bigger and broader concept and I think it’s worth taking a look. He follows up the great tradition of French philosophers who have given special attention to the human existence and to the problems and dilemmas common to all of us. French philosophy has its well-known reputation for dealing with these subjects in refreshing ways. And at last, if philosophy still matters in our time, it should help us to live better.
* all the quotes are extracts from the book Praise of Love.