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Every week, we invite you to explore a striking quote from a great psychoanalyst to reveal all its depth and richness. These lapidary, often provocative formulas open up new perspectives on the intricacies of the human psyche. By deciphering these quotes with rigor and pedagogy, we invite you on a fascinating journey to the heart of psychoanalytic thought to better understand our desires, anxieties and relationships with others. Ready to dive into the deep waters of the unconscious?

Love is giving what you don’t have to someone who doesn’t want it.” Although we have already developed this dazzling formula by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, we are once again coming back to it because it has strongly marked minds with its evocative power and conceptual density.

A major figure in 20th century French intellectual life, Lacan revolutionized psychoanalysis by fertilizing it with linguistics, anthropology and philosophy. His work, which is of a dizzying scope and complexity, has constantly auscultated the arcana of the unconscious and the springs of desire. At the heart of his thinking, love occupies a key place, as evidenced by his famous aphorism. Far from romantic commonplaces and mirages of passion, this formula opens up new perspectives on the dynamics of love, which it illuminates in a new light.

At the heart of Lacanian thought lies a fundamental paradox: love as a gift of what one does not possess. Far from the fantasized completeness and idealized fusion, love reveals and puts into play the lack that constitutes us as subjects. For Lacan, the subject is a being of desire, traversed by an original gap that nothing can fill. As he says in his Writings, “The desire of man is the desire of the Other.” In other words, our desire is fundamentally the desire to be recognized and loved by the other, in a quest as vital as it is impossible. Love, therefore, can only be the theater of a missed encounter, a structural misunderstanding. To give what one does not have is to offer the other the spectacle of our own incompleteness, in the senseless hope that they can heal us of our constitutive division. But this expectation is doomed to disappointment, because no one can bring to the other what is lacking in himself. As Lacan further points out, “Love is the embarrassment in front of the sexual non-relationship.” True love can therefore only be a lucid consent to lack, a recognition of the secret wound that founds us and at the same time exiles us from ourselves.

To give what one does not have is also to love the other in their radical otherness, beyond imaginary projections and mirror games. Too often, we love in the other the reflection of our own fantasies, in contempt of their irreducible singularity. Basically, love would be to accept to live the torment of difference, because to love authentically implies renouncing mastery, trading fusion for creative separation. It is to accept that the other always escapes us in some way, that they remain forever a mystery and a challenge to our understanding. As the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas points out, “Love is a relationship with the other as other, a relationship with a mystery.” We must see in true love less the promise of happiness than a formidable adventure, an experience of limits and a testing of oneself. It invites us to stand in the fertile discomfort of an asymmetrical relationship, where giving and receiving are never quite equivalent.

The Lacanian aphorism exhorts us to think of love in the present of the intersubjective encounter. Too often a prisoner of ghosts of the past or stretched towards an idealized future, love struggles to anchor itself in the reality of the relationship with its rough edges and shaded areas. We can even go so far as to declare that love would be to consent to live together a creative disappointment. For, to love is to stand in the open, to welcome the unpredictable, to embrace the unknown that is drawn in the gaze of the other. It is to bet on vulnerability and incompleteness, against the logic of mastery and self-closure. For Lacan, love is always “love of unconscious knowledge,” an adventure at the edges of oneself and the other. Beyond the mirages of passion and the fantasy of fusion, it is a matter of recognizing that love is a transformative experience, which shakes up our bearings and reveals our lacks to better learn to assume them.

Ultimately, love is the learning of a relationship made of lucidity and courage. Lacanian thought, of unheard-of radicality and subtlety, invites us to tame the lack in us to better open ourselves to the other in their irreducible difference. By reminding us that love is less fullness than promise, less possession than self-giving, the psychoanalyst restores us to our most intimate freedom and desire. It is a matter of getting rid of romantic clichés and comforting myths in order to embrace our fundamental incompleteness to make love not a golden prison, but a path of emancipation and discovery. As the poet René Char writes, “Love is the ever-torn veil that lets us glimpse the brilliance and beauty of the world.”

An impossible bet? Not at all, provided we consent to a salvific tearing by accepting the risk of reconnecting with the living enigma that is at the heart of every encounter with love.

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