UPDATE: [Theory] Reminder-The Limits of Love: Psychoanalysis Conference at Cornell University

full name / name of organization: 
Rebecca Colesworthy
contact email: 

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 projectsâ€"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 limitsâ€"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

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 parg_at_cornell.edu.
Notices of acceptance will be sent by January 31, 2008.

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Received on Fri Nov 30 2007 - 08:40:45 EST