Love & Desire

lacanian psychoanalysis melbourne

We always fall in love without knowing what it was that made us fall in love in the first place. It could be a first thought that passed through our mind that gave us a pleasant feeling. Have you ever had this when you met someone and you thought what a nice hair they have, or a particular movement, the way someone walked, the smallest details, that seemed unimportant at first. These very meaningless details often have a lot of meaning, when we analyse these details with a psychoanalyst over the course of one’s treatment we start to realise all the ways in which we fall in love.

Psychoanalysis is also about love. In fact all human interactions are about love. Think about it. What else would it be about if it wasn’t about love. What is it that we want that makes us different from an animal. Animals and humans have needs to be fed, reproduce, and have basic needs satisfied. But the thing that makes us different from animals is that we use language and so because we use language we complicate things for ourselves because language is limiting. We always struggle to say exactly what we want to say. How can we possibly say in words what we mean, or what we are thinking in so few words. Many years ago I learned that there are even fewer words in the English language for expressing love.

Courtly love: medieval tradition of love between a knight and a noblewoman

Love isn’t about the expression of it with words. This seems rather strange considering I just spent the previous paragraph saying the opposite. People say things about love language, oh such and such person has the love language of giving gifts. This is rather a simplistic way of describing someone’s actions. Someone who gives a gift may not be giving it for love, it may be for some other reason. But people read people’s actions with their own version of the internalised realities, somewhere between images and meanings, which can’t really be deciphered like that. People spend months and years thinking and labouring in analysis and they still cannot quite say why they were loved by a lover. We have to answer to our own desire. Can you say what you love exactly in the Other?

In discussion with a supervisor last week it was brought to my attention that even Lacan’s objet petit a is constructed. This object is not an object, for example it is not the way the people in the object relations school of psychoanalysis look at things. It’s not the whole parent, it’s more similar to Winnicott’s partial object. Object a, is the characteristic unknown to you, that creates the attraction. We don’t really know it is this characteristic, because it has unconscious meanings, and we don’t pay much attention to it very often because the feelings and affects that come often distract us, so we can’t see clearly why we feel particular feelings towards someone we just met.

Many years ago at one of my psychoanalytic classes I had a European teacher who taught psychoanalysis. The first thing I noticed about this teacher was her long thick hair. I had been in analysis for some years so I could recognise my thoughts. Seeing her hair I had the thought about the strangeness of the length. For many years hair dressers including my own mother had told me that I can only really maintain a short haircut because my hairs were thick strands, my mother would say that each strand of hair was double the thickness of other people. I would often check and examine my hair to see whether it was really that thick, and it was always a source of difficulty. My mother would brush my hair and she straightened it with a blow-dryer and pulled on the hair with a brush to straighten it out. I remember the uncomfortable hot hair blowing in my face for minutes at a time. Of course the first thing that I decided for myself when I was older was that my hair didn’t need any drying and I always tied it up. When I was a child my mother had hair dressing talents and she had completed a diploma, and she sometimes cut my hair herself and with her I always had short hair and she always had long hair. I used to look at people’s long flat hairs with envy.

This teacher in class, not only she had thick hair but she also had long hair. She hadn’t tied it up. It was light brown in colour. The sense of familiarity was uncanny. As far as I knew growing up this was a no go. Even professional hair dressers had confirmed that for my hair, because it was thick the best solution really was to keep it very short. The best style really, and one hair dresser even took the decision into his hands and cut my very long hair. Many years ago when I met this teacher, I had the thought, ‘who has such long hair anymore, no one, oh one person I know and that is my mother! can she wear it like that, and it is so thick, but she is not my mother! but it suits her, she is beautiful, and she even has the same hair colour… ‘

The next time I met her in another class, she was late. My mother would often have me walk home from school on my own. When I was in primary school my mother was very busy and among many activities she was studying psychology. No one was ever at home to wait on me, I was always waiting for my mother to come home. She did evening classes so we often missed each other. This teacher, who was not my mother, was late and I remember having similar thoughts return, ‘she is late because she knows she is pretty.’ These thoughts had affects with them, I would feel joy but also discontent. Later when I needed a supervisor I contacted her. The feelings with her were intense and then the fantasies came many months later which of course became very fruitful in my analysis.

So what made me notice this person in the room. This strange feeling towards this stranger, who of course I came to know to fit all the other characteristics of what I idealised and wanted for myself. She was beautiful like the city I was born in, the women who had raised me, and hair, it was the thing that connected me to this past. It was like a seedling that resulted in an analytic transference to grow from it to enable the fruitful analytic work to begin.

I have spent many many years in analysis so it is quick for me to recognise something of what I like, and we can never say with certainty because it is unconscious, and meanings are always constructed and reconstructed. Hair however has been a very solid visual signifier, a point of difference between me and the Other, and with many meanings which connected me to this woman. Meanings which I came to analyse with this analyst. The thing that made me fall in love, and in analytic transference it is not that we fall in love with the person to have it consummated, result in a relationship, marriage, friendship or whatever else like that. It remains untouched, there is an abstinence in the sense that desire is kept in suspense so the person keeps coming to talk about it, so they can find love somewhere else. This is talked in various papers of Freud, and I am reminded of the article analysis terminable and interminable (1937-1939). This is an excellent article and I think I will dedicate a post to this article next time about beginnings, exits and interruptions in analyses.



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