The Sublime Object of Love
Before a subject desires, it is always-already a desirous subject. Thus can a pure desire par excellence forgo a regime of production and consumption. Here we witness the radical departure of love from the pleasure principle ⸺ in every “falling in love,” the base of subject itself is disrupted and dissolved into a storm of sensations which are violently superimposed and fluctuating. Is not love a complete disregard for the consequences, representations, and social orders?
This article is written for an in-class presentation as an analysis of a picture book, which can be read here.
Eve and Adam, the first crush in human history. As we all know, it is said that God made woman from the rib of man. Now I would like you to forgive me for quoting such an old and patriarchal story. For what is worth, it is an exemplary story for Freudian insights. Let’s recall in what terms Adam expresses himself when meeting Eve, “She is the bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh. She is called woman because she was taken from man.” It is unfortunate that Adam had not read Freud. For anyone familiar with Freud, it is immediately noticeable that Adam’s expression is the object choice called narcissism. He recognizes himself in Eve, in what they have in common.
In Contributions to the Psychology of Love Freud develops his theme of love. The prototype of any romantic or erotic relationship, for Freud, is the child being fed by the mother’s breast. Love is revealed to merely be the repetition of the primary satisfaction. The relationship we have here is the one between a subject lacking satisfaction and an object that embodies that satisfaction. Therefore, it must be said that the object of this kind of love is the breast, an object, not a person. I would not call this love, or at least we should say, this kind of love is not the whole story. Developed love needs to love a person, not a pure object.
It should be noted that two radically heterogeneous kinds of objects appear in the story of the picture book, which we should not confuse. The fellow frogs tried offering bodily pleasures, like playing together and a chocolate cake. In other words, the direct satisfaction of needs with pleasure. However, when describing the smile of the moon, it is described as the following: “It was like music. It was like the loveliest fireworks… It was like all his favorite food, all yummy together, marshmallows and chocolate cake and strawberry trifle, all at the same time.” We should note that that little frog cannot have all his favorite foods all at once. It would be too much for him to eat. The overwhelming, excessive, and dizzy enjoyment embodied in the moon reveals to us the dimension of desire, rather than needs. Needs can be satisfied, but the desire is excessive in its nature. Although presented in the disguise of pleasures, desire is never about direct pleasures, otherwise, it would stop with one chocolate cake. It is rather in the process of desire itself that one finds enjoyment. The little frog enjoys this fantasy, the continuation of desire. Here we arrive at an important insight that it is only desire that can free itself from the dependency of objects.
But would not fantasies be bad for the little frog? After all, the moon is inaccessible. The frog is dreaming about something impossible. Would not this impossibility bring the frog unbearable dissatisfaction, causing some mental problems? Now let’s take a quick look at the importance of the functionality of desire. It should be noted that what we really want has never been pleasure. An excellent example would be anorexia, the eating disorder of the refusal of foods, is a radical strategy that by refusing the bodily pleasures of eating, one asks for the love and attention from parents, the satisfaction of desire.
Fantasy is a natural psychological activity, which we repeat countless times. Fantasy does not simply realize a desire in a hallucinatory way; rather, it constitutes our desire, provides its coordinates ⸺ it literally “teaches us how to desire.” To put it in somewhat simplified terms: fantasy does not mean that when the frog desires the moon and cannot get it in reality, he fantasizes about the moon smiling to him; the problem is rather how the frog knows that he desires the moon in the first place? It is not as simple as the moon smiled at him for once, then he started his fantasy. We all know the moon has never smiled. It is rather that his fantasy tells the frog what to desire.
The role of fantasy hinges on the fact that our desire has never been possible. Therefore, it is not that the moon, the object of his fantasy, is out there but inaccessible, but rather that by positing an unattainable object with hindrances, we create the illusion that without such hindrances, if the moon didn’t hang high in the sky, the object would be directly accessible. In other words, through external obstacles, we conceal the inherent impossibility of attaining the object, the fact that our desire is the desire without objects, and thus can never be satisfied once and for all. The place of the moon is originally empty: it functions as a kind of “black hole” around which the subject’s desire is structured. In this way, it is justified to say that our fantasy functions, instead of as an illusionary force that drives us towards the impossible, but already as a protection of our mental. We can also find the support of this in melancholic experience, which is usually described as the loss of the object of desire.
Up to now, I have presented my defense of the frog’s fantasy towards the moon. To some extent, he should not turn around when other frogs try to distract him. If he had done so, with enough honesty, he should tell other frogs, “I turn around because of the pleasures you offer. And I will leave you if there are bigger pleasures elsewhere.” The frog turned around in the end, with subtle but crucial detail. “There before him were a hundred smiles… The smiles were like a hundred little lights going inside him.” The homogeneity should be emphasized between the object of fantasy, the smile of the moon, and what he sees in other frogs. The frog didn’t give up his desire, but instead stuck to his desire until the end. The external obstacle in the fantasy is internalized into his love as an ontological impossibility.
In Freud’s article Fetishism, he tells us about the accidental and contingent circumstances of fetish. The choice of fetish is not any material thing, but something rather unsubstantial: a gloss on the nose, which cannot stand the light of day and exists only in hiding. In the same vein, the smile should be understood as the side effect of the distortion of desire, like the ethereal aura of the partner of our love. It does not really exist. In other words, the frog loves his peers for what they don’t have, for a mysterious nothing. Here we finally see the love for the sake of love, not for what distinguishes its objects. This is the unconditional love par excellence. The little frog is able to accept the full identity of both the common fellow frog and the sublime moon. For true love to become possible, the sublime and impossible object has to exist first and then overlaps directly with our partner of love.