CFP: [Theory] The Limits of Love: From Eros to Ethics in Psychoanalysis

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Rebecca Colesworthy
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“The Limits of Love: From Eros to Ethics in Psychoanalysis”

The Psychoanalysis Reading Group at Cornell University invites submissions
for its upcoming conference:

“The Limits of Love: From Eros to Ethics in Psychoanalysis”

Featuring Keynote Speaker:
Renata Salecl, Centennial Professor of Law, London School of Economics,
and author of (Per)versions of Love and Hate, The Spoils of Freedom:
Psychoanalysis and Feminism After the Fall of Socialism, and On Anxiety

March 7-8, 2008
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

Discourses of love have gained prominence in a variety of philosophical
and political projects—from Badiou’s articulation of love as a “truth
procedure” to Hardt and Negri’s recuperation of love as binding the
multitude, from the renewed interest in neighbor-love to valorizations of
love beyond heteronormative ideals. Amid the proliferation of so many
theoretical deployments of love, we seek to consider its ethical stakes
within psychoanalysis, which may be unique among these different
discourses in foregrounding the question of limits: the limits of the
subject, of language, of knowledge, and of relation.

Freud suggests that the fundamental function of love is to deny limits—to
defy mortality, to refuse the non-relation between the sexes, and even to
deflect onto others the ethical responsibility for our solitude. Building
upon Freud’s account of the fantasy of seduction, Lacan suggests that in
the mirror stage the child attempts to build an ideal ego by identifying
with what it takes to be the object of the Other’s love, seeking in its
gaze a unified body image that would allow it to repress the fragmented
body of the drives. Freud finds a similar mechanism in the group
psychology, arguing that groups are bound by the love each member feels
for the leader, who takes the place of the ideal ego. In characterizing
love in terms of identification and idealization, he implies that our
capacity to love is invariably limited by narcissism: the other is
deserving of love only if “like me” or “more perfect” than me. At the
same time, he exposes love’s intolerance of real difference, its tendency
toward the aggressive and incorporative.

Lacan follows Freud in maintaining that love is an attempt to avoid or
repair the non-relation between the sexes. But he also suggests that men
and women seek in love different kinds of solutions, which result from
their distinct ways of encountering and responding to castration. While
the masculine subject is confronted with the lack of any object that would
satisfy the drive (a lack that compels him to seek a narcissistic solution
in the pursuit of phallic jouissance and the reduction of his sexual
partner to a phallic object), the feminine subject is confronted with the
absence of the Other of the address; her denial of castration takes the
form of a complaint concerning the inadequacy of the phallic signifier,
which determines her quest for words of love that would make up for the
failure of language to provide a limit to jouissance. These distinctions
have consequences that extend beyond the sexual relation, shaping our
attitudes toward truth and knowledge. For Lacan, the questions of how to
approach truth and how man approaches woman “constitute the same
conundrum,” since what woman, in being “not-all” inscribed within the
phallic function, reveals is that the truth cannot be “wholly spoken.”

For Lacan in particular, however, love is not merely a symptom of the
subject’s avoidance of castration or a way of getting around lack. Under
certain circumstances love manages to transcend narcissism, and to
acknowledge (or even celebrate) the distance or non-relation implied in
castration. Hence, in the tradition of courtly love immortalized by the
troubadour poets, man encounters woman “through the door of privation”;
the barriers surrounding the Lady mean that she no longer functions for
man merely as a phallic object, but as the addressee of a poetic speech
that unfolds in the gap between them. Rather than promising to mitigate
or undo his castration, the Lady comes instead to represent the emptiness
at the center of the real, the lack that gives rise to a desire without
object that only the signifier can sustain. In the process of
sublimation, the feminine object is “raised to the dignity of the Thing,”
giving fleeting expression to the empty object-cause of desire. In a
similar vein, Lacan argues that the feminine capacity for an “other
jouissance” derives from an experience of the lack or incompleteness of
the symbolic Other (and thus an engagement with language and its limits)
that is no longer the object of a complaint, but a source of pleasure that
is not unrelated to the j’ouïs-sens (“I hear meaning”) of the analyst.

While he insists that the analyst does not respond to the patient’s demand
for love, Lacan also suggests that the analytic discourse is itself a
discourse of love: “talking about love, we analysts do nothing but that.”
In defining the transference as a love for the savoir of the unconscious,
Lacan suggests that love is structurally integral to the analytic
experience and the ethical transformation of the subject’s position it
seeks to effect.

How, then, might we speak about the ethical effects of analytic discourse
and the kinds of knowledge it generates? To what extent is the problem of
truth inscribed within the impasses of the sexual link? If the whole
truth is what cannot be told, what can we say about the love that sustains
the articulation of an unconscious knowledge? How does a love of truth
animate philosophical, religious, or scientific discourse, as well as
artistic creation? How does psychoanalysis converse with or revise the
emphasis put on limits and the necessity of distance to the subject’s
contemplation of the sublime in other discourses on aesthetics and
sublimation? If for Lacan the paradigm of courtly love both constitutes a
privileged example of a lover’s discourse that transcends narcissism and
draws out the importance of sublimation, how might other examples from the
world of art rewrite or respond to the relationship psychoanalysis posits
between love and artistic production? What are the stakes of Lacan’s
formulation of love as a love between two subjects? Does Lacan’s
postulation of sexually different ways of treating castration mean that
the love that “makes up for” the non-relation between the sexes is
heterosexual, or what would it mean to call that love “heterosexual”?
What is the place for the castration at stake in the non-relation between
the sexes and the limits it entails in discourses of gender studies and
queer theory? Following psychoanalytic distinctions between those forms
of love that either deny or account for limits, what are we to make of
those political projects and identitarian claims that are staged within
the imaginary?

The deadline for submission of abstracts is January 15, 2008. Abstracts
should not exceed 250 words; presenters will have 25 minutes each for
their presentations with ample time for discussion afterward. Please send
abstracts to the Psychoanalysis Reading Group at
Notices of acceptance will be sent by January 31, 2008.

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