Thursday, October 9, 2008

Who Is My Nearest?

I believe without a doubt that Christianity has already deconstructed itself, that it has opened up a space to let us see something which was always present in it but unseen and unseeable until now. Among those things that perhaps remain from Christianity, belonging to it as a precondition that Christianity itself doesn’t know but at the same time is recovered by the repressive power of religion, is, of course, love. This is the famous Christian love, which is nothing but impossible love. Because, first and foremost Christian love is a command, a command to love everybody, which is obviously impossible. I simply ask myself about that — would not precisely the impossibility of this love be the very thing that produces the very concept, content and reality of this love? As every construction deconstructs itself in a certain way, so the command of love as impossible is one of those things on which Western thinking as Christian is structured, organized, and derived from. This is for me a reflection which started a long time ago, when reading "Civilization and its Discontents". There Freud writes about how civilization is sick, and how to cure it, because of course psychoanalysis can’t be used to cure the collective. In one place he writes that of course the anwer of Christian love seems to be the best answer, but I’m afraid, he writes with irony, that it is not practiceable. I thought that precisely this is the point: The fact that it is impossible is why it is the answer.

Now if you think about it, this is precisely the definition of love that Lacan gives. Lacan’s definition is that love consists in giving what one does not have. Of course this is a definition by impossibility, because how can you give what you don’t have? We don’t need to be Christian or to have a Christian faith to agree that Lacan’s definition is a Christian one. To give what I don’t have is precisely not to give something I would have, so it must mean not to give anything of the order of anything that could be given. No, to give something that doesn’t belong to the realm of give-able things, neither that nor to give myself, because one could be seduced by the idea "yes this means to give myself." If myself is once again something I could give, then this myself is only the myself which I have. Then this definition means that love consists in giving something which is nothing. Nothing has to do with what is not a thing, not at all a thing — then what is not a thing, what is not an object? If you want, this is a subject. But this doesn’t really mean to give the subject, as the subject would be once again some thing that I would be. Love consists in my giving from me what is not mine in any sense of a possible possession of mine, not even my person. So to love means to give what is behind or beyond any subject, any self. It is precisely a giving of nothing, a giving of the fact that I cannot possess myself. This is to abandon, because in that case I would say that to give is the same as to abandon. In French I would say donner is the same as abandonner

To give is to give up. So, yes, perhaps that could be meaning of "shattered", and thus of the title to this ancient text you refer to – that is to love means in one way to give the self as possession, the self as present to itself, and in another way to give and to abandon to the other something that the other himself has, to say that it is in the same way for himself because he is as well a self. In other words, love is to share the impossibility of being a self. I think that in that way this is perhaps a means to understand Christian love with all its impossibility, with all its absurdities, contradictions and denials, within the context of the church but outside of the church as well. So with all that has been done against this idea of love, this idea still did organize something in Western thinking and it is the point where we are today. I think that we all share something of this idea, even if we share nothing else with Christianity, and then I could say that for me it gives two further possibilities. One is to think of the community not as a totality in which the people would have to share a common being, that is, a common possession, a common body if you want, "body" taken in the sense of an organized whole, organized entity. We think the body of political thought not as an organicity, but of community as the living to share precisely an impossibility of being–in–common. I would say the community of love is a community living to share the absence of common being. Not the absence of being–in–common, but the absence of common being. There is no common property, and that is what we have to share. That’s the first extension of this idea of love. The second is that there is then a way from this idea to understand what Christianity meant by "loving one’s neighbor"...

"Who is my nearest, or my neighbor?"... The nearest is everybody, to the extent that everybody shares with me the same impossibility of being or becoming the fixed enunciation of a certain position. Of course everyone is different: the woman, the man, the blonde, this one is brown, is tall, is small, is… I don’t know, is French, is American, is intelligent, is stupid, is strong, is weak, etc. However, all those properties are precisely only properties, and if love consists in giving what is not a property, then it consists precisely in this common unproperty. Which means then that this love doesn’t say anything against love in the ordinary sense, but perhaps we should refer to ordinary love as predilection. One could say that the ordinary love of lovers is a predilection, a preference, which is based on distinction. This is this one I love and not the other one — but then we could analyse how even in this predilection the love as impossible is present. Or how predilection very quickly becomes a kind of possession. For now I would say that it makes understandable how impossible love consists in loving without any predilection, and that explains how it can become the idea "to love one’s enemy", which is the top of absurdity. To love my enemy does not mean that I should have a predilection for my enemy — as he is my enemy I hate him and I fight him. Instead, I should think of the enemy as my enemy but also as a subject who has no more or less properties than me, because he or she has no properties. I would just perhaps add a footnote regarding Lacan. Everywhere in Lacan’s system you have this haunting nothingness, which here gives perhaps a certain pessimistic or ironic sound to his definition of love, "to give what you don’t have", but perhaps this is not the only side of Lacan’s thinking here. Although there is so much in Lacan about an originary lack and so on, I just want to insist that I would underline that the impossibility of love should not be interpreted as a lack, as an originary lack, because every lack is to be filled if possible. Love means precisely to fill the emptiness with emptiness, and thus to share it.

... transcript from Love and Community - A Roundtable Discussion, Nancy Jean-Luc

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