State of Being in Love

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
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The concept of "being in love" was investigated by Christian David in L'État amoureux, published in 1971, at a time when his ideas about psychosomatics were changing. David continued to believe in the importance of questioning the fluctuations to which mental processes were exposed, but he now stressed those generated through the encounter with the other rather than those implied by a physical presence.

Overall, his study attempts to point out the internal behavior of the subject confronted, through this encounter, with the state of "being in love." For David this state is characterized by a form of subjectification that has two components: the subjectification of the drive in the face of the specific trauma caused by love, and the ability to integrate the narcissistic release implied by the encounter with the loved one. With respect to the subjectification of the love trauma, Sigmund Freud, who is quoted by David, sees it as similar to the work of mourning or dreaming. The analogy enables him to emphasize the singular quality of this type of activity, where the drive is immobilized at the crossroads of destiny and constantly re-released through the encounter with the other. Through this encounter the subject is constantly forced to confront the necessary death of the ego. "Where love is awakened, ego, that somber despot dies," writes David, repeating Freud's quote of Jalal el Din (1911c).

One of the basic premises of David's book is to explain love as a narcissistic disturbance. The concomitant risk of forcing the subject to confront the most primitive dimensions of the drive is one that may restore the condition of narcissism. These aspects are at work in the tragedy of Penthesilea by Heinrich von Kleist, a text for which David provides a psychoanalytic reading. In the myth Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, is in love with Achilles and loved by him. In the end she kills her lover and devours him with the help of her dogs. However, the violence of the drama underscores the necessity of a two-sided abandonment: abandonment of proximity to the being onto whom the subject projects his ideal, and abandonment of preserving intact the contours and limits of the ego. While the work of mourning flattens the contours of experience, the mental work required by the love trauma restores to it the variety and truth of its nuances. But to do this requires subjectification. At the extreme, this subjectification can assume the aspect of an "affective perversion," like that expressed by Nathaniel in Gide's The Fruits of the Earth, when he exclaims, "My desires have given me more than the possession of the object of those desires." In a sense the work implied by being in love, including "affective perversion," mirrors the effort therapy demands of the patient caught up in transference love.

LAURENT DANON-BOILEAU

See also: Empathy; Friendship; Racker, Heinrich.