Oct 19, 2010

Notes on A Lover's Discourse

In A Lover's Discourse, Roland Barthes compiles a (non-exhaustive) list of "fragments" pertaining to the discourse oflovers. Barthes calls them "figures" -- gestures of the lover at work. I've listed them all below.  [source: A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.]

"I am engulfed, I succumb ..."

s'abîmer / to be engulphed

Outburst of annihilation which affects the amorous subject in despair or fulfillment.

The Absent One

absence / absence

Any episode of language which stages the absence of the loved object -- whatever its cause and its duration -- and which tends to transform this absence into an ordeal of abandonment.


adorable / adorable

Not managing to name the specialty of his desire for the loved being, the amorous subject falls back on this rather stupid word: adorable!

The Intractable

affirmation / affirmation

Against and in spite of everything, the subject affirms love as value.

The Tip of the Nose

altération / alteration

Abrupt production, within the amorous field, of a counter-image of the loved object. According to minor incidents or tenuous features, the subject suddenly sees the good Image alter and capsize.


angoisse / anxiety

The amorous subject, according to one contingency or another, feels swept away by the fear of a danger, an injury, an abandonment, a revulsion -- a sentiment he expresses under the name of anxiety

To Love Love

annulation / annulment

Explosion of language during which the subject manages to annul the loved object under the volume of love itself: by a specifically amorous perversion, it is love the subject loves, not the object.

To Be Ascetic


Whether he feels guilty with regard to the loved being, or whether he seeks to impress that being by representing his unhappiness, the amorous subject outlines an ascetic behavior of self-punishment (in life style, dress, etc.).


atopos / atopos

The loved being is recognized by the amorous subject as "atopos" (a qualification given to Socrates by his interlocutors), i.e., unclassifiable, of a ceaselessly unforseen originality.


attente / waiting

Tumult of anxiety provoked by waiting for the loved being, subject to trivial delays (rendezvous, letters, telephone calls, returns).

Dark Glasses

cacher / to hide

A deliberative figure: the amorous subject wonders, not whether he should declare his love to the loved being (this is not a figure of avowal), but to what degree he should conceal the turbulences of his passion: his desires, his distresses; in short, his excesses (in Racinian langauges: his fureur).

Tutti Sistemati

casés / pigeonholed

The amorous subject sees everyone around him as "pigeonholed," each appearing to be granted a little practical and affective system of contractual liaisons from which he feels himself to be excluded; this inspires him with an ambiguous sentiment of envy and mockery.


catastrophe / catastrophe

Violent crisis during which the subject, experiencing the amorous situation as a definitive impasse, a trap from which he can never escape, sees himself doomed to total destruction.


circonscrire / to circumscribe

To reduce his wretchedness, the subject pins his hope on a method of control which permits him to circumscribe the pleasures afforded by the amorous relation: on the one hand, to keep these pleasures, to take full advantage of them, and on the other hand, to place within a parenthesis of the unthinkable those broad depressive zones which separate such pleasures: "to forget" the loved being outside of the pleasures that being bestows.

The Heart

coeur / heart

This word refers to all kinds of movements and desires, but what is constant is that the heart is constituted into a gift-object -- whether ignored or rejected.

"All the delights of the earth"

comblement / fulfillment

The subject insistently posits the desire and the possibility of a complete satisfaction of the desire implicated in the amorous relation and of a perfect and virtually eternal success of this relation: paradisiac image of the Sovereign Good, to be given and to be received.

"I have an Other-ache"

compassion / compassion

The subject experiences a sentiment of violent compassion with regard to the loved object each time he sees, feels, or knows the loved object is unhappy or in danger, for whatever reason external to the amorous relation itself.

"I want to understand"

compendre / to understand

Suddenly perceiving the amorous episode as a knot of inexplicable reasons and impaired solutions, the subject exclaims: "I want to understand (waht is happening to me)!"

"What is to be done?"

conduite / behavior

A deliberative figure: the amorous subject raises (generally) futile problems of behavior: faced with this or that alternative, waht is to be done? How is he to act?


connivence / connivance

The subject imagines himself speaking about the loved being with a rival person, and this image generates and strangely develops in him a pleasure of complicity.

"When my finger accidentally ..."

contacts / contacts

The figure refers to any interior discourse provoked by a furtive contact with the body (and more precisely the skin) of the desired being.

Events, Setbacks, Annoyances

contingences / contingencies

Trivialities, incidents, setbacks, pettinesses, irritations, the vexations of amorous existence; any factual nucleus whose consequences intersect the amorous subject's will to happiness, as if chance conspired against him.

The Other's Body

corps / body

Any thought, any feeling, any interest aroused in the amorous subject by the loved body.


déclaration / declaration

The amorous subject's propensity to talk copiously, with repressed feeling, to the loved being, about his love for that being, for himself, for them: the declaration does not bear upon the avowal of love, but upon the endlessly glossed form of the amorous relation.

The Dedication

dédicace / dedication

An episode of language which accompanies any amorous gift, whether real or projected; and, more generally, every gesture, whether actual or interior, by which the subject dedicates something to the loved being.

"We are our own demons"

démons / demons

It occasionallly seems to the amorous subject that he ispossessed by a demon of language which impels himto injure himself and to expel himself -- according to Goethe's expression -- from the paradise which at other moments the amorous relation constitutes for him.


dépendance / dependency

A figure in which common opinion seesthe very condition of the amorous subject, subjugated to the loved object.


dépense / expenditure

A figure by which the amorous subject both seeks and hesitates to place love in an economy ofpure expenditure,of "total loss."

The World Thunderstruck

déréalité / disreality

Sentiment of absence and withdrawal of reality experienced by the amorous subject,confronting the world.

Novel / Drama

drame / drama

The amorous subject cannot writehis love story himself. Only a very archaic formcanaccommodate the event which he declaims without being able to recount.


écorché / flayed

The particular sensibility of the amorous subject, which renders him vulnerable, defenseless to the slightest injuries.

Inexpressible Love

écrire / to write

Enticements, arguments, and impasses generated by the desire to "express" amorous feeling in a "creation" (particularly of writing).

The Ghost Ship

errance / errantry

Though each love is experienced as unique and though the subject rejects the notion of repeating it elsewhere later on, he sometimes discovers in himself a kind of diffusion of amorous desire; he then realizes he is doomed to wander until he dies, from love to love.

"In the loving calm of your arms"

étreinte / embrace

The gesture of the amorous embrace seems to fulfill, for a time, the subject's dream of total union with the loved being.

Exiled from the Image-repetoire

exil / exile

Deciding to give up the amorous condition, the subject sadly discovers himself exiled from his Image-repetoire.

The Orange

fâcheux / irksome

Sentiment of slight jealousy which overcomes the amorous subject when he sees the loved being's interest attracted or distracted by persons, objects, or occupations which in his eyes function as so many secondary rivals.


fading / fade-out

Painful ordeal in which the loved being appears to withdraw from all contact, without such enigmatic indifference even being directed against the amorous subject or pronounced to the advantage of anyone else, world or rival.

At Fault

fautes / faults

In various contingencies of everyday life, the subject imagines he has failed the loved being and thereby experiences a sentiment of guilt.

"Special Days"

fête / festivity

The amorous subject experiences every meeting with the loved being as a festival.

"I am crazy"

fou / mad

It frequently occurs to the amorous subject that he is or is going mad.

"Looking embarrassed"

gêne / embarrassment

A group scene inwhich the implicit nature of the amorous relation functions as a constraint and provokes a collective embarrassment which is not spoken.


Gradiva / Gradiva

This name, borrowed from Jensen's book analyzed by Freud, designates the image of the loved being insofar as that being agrees to enter to some degree into the amorous subject's delirium in order to help him escape from it.

Blue Coat and Yellow Vest

habit / habiliment

Any effect provoked or sustained by the clothing which the subject has worn during the amorous encounter, or wears with the intention of seducing the loved object.


identification / identification

The subject painfully identifies himself with some person (or character) who occupies the same position as himself in the amorous structure.


image / image

In the amorous realm, the most painful wounds are inflicted more often by what one sees than by what one knows.

The Unknowable

inconnaissable / unknowable

Efforst of the amorous subject to understand and define the loved being "in itself," by some standard of character type, psychological or neurotic personality, independent of the particular data of the amorous relation.

"Show me whom to desire"

induction / induction

The loved being is desired because another or others have shown the subject that such a being is desirable: however particular, amorous desire is discovered by induction.

The Informer

informateur / informer

A friendly figure whose constant role, however, seems to be wound the amorous subject by "innocently" furnishing commonplace information about the loved being, though the effect of this information is to disturb the subject's image of that being.

This can't go on

insupportable / unbearable

The sentiment of an accumulation of amorous sufferings explodes in this cry: "This can't go on ..."

Ideas of Solution

issues / outcomes

Enticement of solutions, whatever they may be, which afford the amorous subject, despite their frequently catastrophic character, a temporary peace; hallucinatory manipulation of the possible outcomes of the amorous crisis.


jalousie / jealousy

"A sentiment which is born in love and which is produced by the fear that the loved person prefers someone else" (Littré).

I Love You

je-t'-aime / I-love-you

The figure refers not to the declaration of love, to the avowal, but to the repeated utterance of the love-cry.

Love's Languor

langeur / languor

Subtle state of amorous desire, experienced in its dearth, outside of any will-to-possess.

The Love Letter

lettre / letter

This figure refers to the special dialectic of the love letter, both blank (encoded) and expressive (charged with longing to signify desire).

The Loquela

loquela /

This word, borrowed from Ignatius of Loyola, designates the flux of language through which the subject tirelessly rehashes the effects of a wound or the consequences of an action: an emphatic form of the lover's discourse.

The Last Leaf

magie / magic

Magic consultations, secret rites, and votive actions are not absent from the amorous subject's life, whatever culture he belongs to.

"I am odious"

monstreux / monstrous

The subject suddenly realizes that he is imprisoning the loved object in a net of tyrannies: he has been pitiable, now he becomes monstrous.

No Answer

mutisme / silence

The amorous subject suffers anxiety because the loved object replies scantily or not at all to his language (discourse or letters).


nuages / clouds

Meaning and employment of that darkening of mood which overtakes the subject under various circumstances.

"And the night illuminated the night"

nuit / night

Any state which provokes in the subject the metaphor of the darkness, whether affective, intellective, or existential, in which he struggles or subsides.

The Ribbon

objets / objects

Every object touched by the loved being's body becomes part of that body, and the subject eagerly attaches himself to it.

Love's Obscenity

obscène / obscene

Discredited by modern opinion, love's sentimentality must be assumed by the amorous subject as a powerful transgression which leaves him alone and exposed; by a reversal of values, then, it is this sentimentality which today constitutes love's obscenity.

In Praise of Tears

pleurer / crying

The amorous subject has a particular propensity to cry: the functioning and appearance of tears in this subject.


potin / gossip

Pain suffered by the amorous subject when he finds that the loved being is the subject of "gossip" and hears that being discussed promiscuously.


pourquoi / why

Even as he obsessively asks himself why he is not loved, the amorous subject lives in the belief that the loved object does love him but does not tell him so.


ravissement / ravishment

The supposedly initial episode (though it may be reconstructed after the fact) during which the amorous subject is "ravished" (captured and enchanted) by the image of the loved object (popular name: love at first sight; scholarly name: enamoration.


regretté / regretted

Imagining himself dead, the amorous subject sees the loved being's life continue as if nothing had happened.

"How blue the sky was"

rencontre / encounter

The figure refers to the happy interval immediately following the first ravishment, before the difficulties of the amorous relationship begin.


retentissement / reverberation

Fundamental mode of amorous subjectivity: a word, an image reverberates painfully in the subject's affective consciousness.


réveil / waking

Various modes by which the amorous subject finds upon waking that he is once again besieged by the anxieties of his passion.

Making Scenes

scène / scene

The figure comprehends every "scene" (in the household sense of the term) as an exchange of reciprocal contestations.

"No clergyman attended"

seul / alone

The figure refers, not to what the human solitude of the amorous subject may be, but to his "philosophical" solitude, love-as-passion being accounted for today by no major system of thought (of discourse).

The Uncertainty of Signs

signes / signs

Whether he seeks to prove his love, or to discover if the other loves him, the amorous subject has no system of sure signs at his disposal.

E lucevan le stelle

souvenir / remembrance

Happy and/or tormenting remembrance of an object, a gesture, a scene, linked to the loved being and marked by the intrusion of the imperfect tense into the grammar of the lover's discourse.

Ideas of Suicide

suicide / suicide

In the amorous realm, the desire for suicide is frequent: a trifle provokes it.


tel / thus

Endlessly required to define the loved object, and suffering from the uncertainties of this definition, the amorous subject dreams of a knowledge which would let him take the other as he is, thus and no other, exonerated from any adjective.


tendresse / tenderness

Bliss, but also a disturbing evaluation of the loved object's tender gestures, insofar as the subject realizes that he is not their privileged recipient.


union / union

Dream of total union with the loved being.


vérité / truth

Every episode of language refers to the "sensation of truth" the amorous subject experiences in thinking of his love, either because he believes he is the only one to see the loved object "in its truth," or because he defines the specialty of his own requirement as a truth concerning which he cannot yield.

Sobria Ebrietas

vouloir-saisir / will-to-possess

Realizing that the difficulties of the amorous relationship originate in his ceaseless desire to appropriate the loved being in one way or another, the subject decides to abandon henceforth all "will-to-possess" in his regard.