04 March 2010

the message of true love

"Love's highest need is to renounce its own power." This is what Lacan calls 'symbolic castration': if one is to remain faithful to one's love, one should not elevate it into the direct focus of one's love, one should renounce its centrality. Perhaps, a detour through the best (or worst) of Hollywood's melodrama can help us clarify this point. The basic lesson of King Vidor's Rhapsody is that, in order to gain the beloved woman's love, the man has to prove that he is able to survive without her, that he prefers his mission or profession to her. There are two immediate choices: (i) my professional career is what matters most to me, the woman is just an amusement, a distracting affair; (ii) the woman is everything to me, I am ready to humiliate myself, to forsake all my public and professional dignity for her. They are both false, they lead to the man being rejected by the woman. The message of true love is thus: even if you are everything to me, I can survive without you, I am ready to forsake you for my mission or profession. The proper way for the woman to test the man's love is thus to 'betray' him at the crucial moment of his career (the first public concert in the film, the key exam, the business negotiation which will decide his career)—only if he can survive the ordeal, and successfully accomplish his task although deeply traumatized by her desertion, will he deserve her and will she return to him. The underlying paradox is that love, precisely as the Absolute, should not be posited as a direct goal—it should retain the status of a by-product, of something we receive as an undeserved grace.

Slavoj Žižek, Why is Wagner Worth Saving? (intro. to Adorno, In Search of Wagner, xxii)