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Readers familiar with Lacan’s Seminar VIII, Le transfert, will have noticed that what is at stake in the subjectifying of an object position that is explicated both in “Logical Time” and Lol V. Stein is similar to what Lacan calls the miracle of love. To explain love, Lacan makes use of what he names “a metaphor of love.” Metaphor, in this instance, should be understood in the loose sense as “the use of an image.” In a rare moment in Lacan’s teaching he tells us a “myth,” as he calls it, in order to illustrate an aspect of his theory. This myth

is as follows:

This hand—which extends its gesture of awaiting, attracting, and stirring toward the fruit, the rose, and the bush suddenly enflamed—is closely tied to the maturation of the fruit, the beauty of the flower, and the enflaming of the bush. But when the hand has gone far enough in this movement of awaiting, attracting, and stirring, and a hand comes out of the fruit, the flower, and the bush, and stretches itself toward your hand, at that moment it is your hand that freezes in the closed plenitude of the fruit, the opening of the flower, and the explosion of a hand that enflames—well, what produces itself there is love.23 Two moments are discernible. First, the hand that stretches out toward the object changes the object in a surprising way, becoming mature, beautiful, or enflamed. In this moment the attractive qualities of the object become clearer, and one could even say they are created by the hand that reaches— which, as one can imagine, makes the hand even more eager to hold the fruit in its palm. The second moment is more difficult to discern. At first sight it looks as if one hand stretches out for an object and, along its path, encounters another hand. This would suggest that love consists of a desire for an object that humanizes itself. Love, if this were true, would be the meeting of two hands. Lacan warns his audience, however, that he is not talking about what happens when two hands meet, rather he is describing when and where love takes place. The moment of love, according to Lacan, is not in the meeting of 162 Penumbra the two hands, but the moment when out of the fruit, the flower, the bush, a hand rises. As we will see, Lacan’s idea of love is contrary to any idea that takes it as something that happens between “equal partners” for whom love would be, simultaneously, the effect as well the cause that makes it possible for an amorous meeting to take place. According to Lacan, in love there must be a fundamental disparity at work.

Lacan constructs this short parable amidst his reading and analysis of Plato’s Symposium. In order to explain love he adopts the Greek terminology of eromenos (the beloved) and erastes (the lover), given that “love” is at the root of both words, which nicely parallels his double understanding of the term. The eromenos is the one confronted with the Other’s desire, who positions himself and is positioned by another as a beautiful object. From this perspective, one could equate eromenos with Lacan’s idea of narcissistic love. The beloved is the one who, in thinking of himself as lovable, interprets the Other’s desire, thus reducing love to an infantile stage of wanting to be loved. Things get more interesting, however, when we follow what Lacan has to say about the erastes.

Strictly speaking, the erastes is not this desiring Other (to whom I can position myself as the beloved object) but the one who can emerge only after first being placed in the position of the beloved. This is what Lacan calls the miracle of love: that someone who is positioned as the object of desire for the Other is able to subjectify this object position and desire in return.


The status of this object position can now be questioned. In Seminar XX, Lacan returns to his argument in “Logical Time” during his discussion of the work of Richard de Saint Victor, a twelfth-century mystic and theologian.24 In his De Trinitate, Richard de Saint-Victor asks the question whether God needs to be thought as one or as a trinity. Starting from the thesis that love is an essential aspect of God and that love always concerns an other,25 he believes there must be a second divine being who would be worthy of this divine love, namely the Son. The Son, insofar as he too is a divine being, must love God in return. This relation sounds like a perfect dyad, but according to Saint Victor this love can only be qualified as pleasing, but not as perfected. Perfect love—and, it must be emphasized, divine love cannot be but perfect—implies that one wants to share the love one receives from the other.

If the Son receives divine love from God, his own love can be pleasing when it loves God in return. His love, however, is perfected when the love that he receives is shared. According to Saint Victor, one needs a third person, namely a condilectus (a co-loved), that comes to be identified as the Holy Spirit.

When Lacan refers to this passage in Saint Victor’s work he emphasizes that this third term, the Holy Spirit, is not a subject but an object—more precisely, an object a. This object a is necessary insofar as it is the one factor that When Love is the Law functions as the condition of possibility for the love relation between the One and the Other.

In the moment of falling in love, the fantasmatic support for the lack-ofbeing (the desire that one effectively is) is temporarily suspended, as one is placed in the position of the object of desire for the Other. The metaphor of love qua creative act is a response that pulls one out of that object position— that is, through our very lack. One needs two operations for this to occur.

First, it is necessary to fantasize what that object position could, in fact, be.

Second, one needs to castrate (or bar) oneself from that position.26 Lol V.

Stein, as we have seen, is caught in an endless inquiry concerning this object position. After the eventful night at the Casino she slumbers for years, until she meets her old friend Tatiana Karl and her secret lover, Jacques Hold.

Whereas Lol was fascinated by Anne-Marie Stretter’s black dress, or more precisely what it envelopes, Lol later becomes attached to watching the secret meetings between Tatiana and Jacques. What now intrigues her is Tatiana’s nudity “under her black hair.” Parallel to the infinite quest to know what one is in the desire of the Other, Lol is convinced that one word is missing. This lack, however, is not to be understood as pointing toward a signifier that could name what it means to be desired. Rather, the only effect the missing signifer would have is the separation of her from such an object position.

Lol’s investigation can now be understood as a quest for divinity and pure love. As soon as Anne-Marie Stretter enters the scene with Michael Richardson, Lol is able to take up the position of the object a that is necessary to install a relation between the three of them. Just as in the prisoner’s sophism, where one of the prisoners thinks of himself as radically different from the others, he is still needed in order to allow the others to relate to one another. This position leaves two options: either one remains in that object position, and is left behind, or one joins the others by leaving the position behind. The first option remains within the (divine) infinity of the time for comprehending, but comes upon an obstacle when encountering the finitude of the others (the fact that they will leave, and act as if time is not infinite).

In the second option, one embraces finitude by subjectifying this infinity. To assume finitude requires the operations of separation and castration: abandoning one’s position as object, one must subject oneself to an order in which one can only persist as a lack-of-being.

Reading Lacan through Lol V. Stein demonstrates how the most problematic moment, the moment of concluding, is made present in the logic of love. Love consists in the switching of position, from the object to the subject of desire. This is why love cannot exist without a loss: in order “to give what one does not have” one must invent what one could be in the desire of the Other, and thus lose what one “really” is. To love is to desire with this loss. Lol reveals that in order for this work of mourning to be possible there must be a basic, 164 Penumbra unjustifiable, belief in a point of identification. To love is to question this point, realizing that one can only perform its existence.


I hope to have shown how an obscure, “third” position of objective waste is inherent to any “miracle of love.” In order to do something with this object position one must perform an anticipatory identification with an element, a signifier, from an existing symbolic order. In addition, what Lol V. Stein shows us is that remaining faithful to this object position is possible. What we cannot learn from Lol is her mystical dereliction, or her way of escaping the “hold” of Jacques Hold’s understanding. Nor can we come to know how she was able to experiment with “love” in such a way that she turned the notion of a “love relation” into a ridiculous oxymoron, effectively qualifying it as “true” in contradistinction to the normal, married, adulterous couples that surround her. What we can learn from Lol is that her position is a logical and necessary moment in any love-event. If we consider the formal structure of this love as equivalent to any “true” political act, it is Lol who forces us to ask these final questions: Where is the object in the “act”? Is it to be found as the militant who, in a tragic way, is exploited by an obscure desiring Other? Is it to be found as “the Jew” (Rom. 11) who functions as the necessary exclusion to the positing of a universal, Pauline truth?

I wish to thank Marc De Kesel, Sigi Jöttkandt, and Andrew Skomra for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this text.


1. See Slavoj Žižek, The Fragile Absolute—or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting for? (New York: Verso, 2000), 113-130; The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 92-121.

2. Jacques Lacan, “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty:

A New Sophism,” Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. Bruce Fink (New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), 161-175.

3. See Ed Pluth and Dominiek Hoens, “What if the Other is Stupid? Badiou and Lacan on ‘Logical Time,’” in Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, ed. Peter Hallward (London: Continuum, 2004), 182-190.

4. Lacan, “Homage to Marguerite Duras, on Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein,”

trans. Peter Connor, in Marguerite Duras, Marguerite Duras (San Francisco:

City Lights Books), 125, 129. [Translation modified.] This text is notorious for Lacan’s remark that “Duras knows, without me, what I teach” (124). It has been said that upon meeting Duras, Lacan’s introductory exclamation was: “You do not know what you are saying.” It was Michèle Montrelay who brought The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein to the attention of Lacan’s group, When Love is the Law giving a presentation on the novel in the last session of Seminar XII. See Lacan, Problèmes cruciaux pour la psychanalyse (1964-1965), unpublished seminar, 23 June 1965. This paper was revised for publication as the first chapter of her L’ombre et le nom. Sur la féminité (Paris: Minuit, 1977), 9-23. A very informative chapter on Lacan’s reading of Lol V. Stein can be found in JeanMichel Rabaté, Jacques Lacan: Psychoanalysis and the Subject of Literature (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 115-134.

5. Lacan, “Homage to Marguerite Duras,” 125.

6. The others are Creon and Jacques Hold, but such leprosy affects the reader as well. Julia Kristeva has warned that “Duras’s books should not be put into the hands of oversensitive readers,” in Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 227. Recall Jacques Hold admitting that, Lol, “has us in her hands.” Marguerite Duras, The Ravishing of Lol Stein, trans. Richard Seaver (New York: Pantheon, 1966), 82. Subsequent references will appear parenthetically within the text.

7. Fénelon’s theses, for instance, were condemned by Pope Innocent XII in his Cum alias, 12 March 1699. For the relation between Fénelon and Madame Guyon, see Jacques Lebrun, Le pur amour de Platon à Lacan (Paris, Seuil, 2002), 131-160. One could perhaps argue that Lacan positions himself in a similar relation to Duras.

8. Michel Foucault, Dits et écrits. Tome II, 1970-1975 (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), 765.

9. Another important shift for Duras are the films she made in the 1970s, which are known for their disjunction of sound and image. This shift was anticipated, in my opinion, by Lol V. Stein, which is clearly marked by a preoccupation with visuality—one could even argue that the gazes are the agents of the novel. One should not overlook, however, the importance of the aural. After her illness, Lol gets married. Her highly structured, empty life takes a new turn the moment a couple passes her house, when she hears the woman say, “Dead maybe.” At that moment, the reader is unclear to whom or what this refers, but Lol seems to understand it as a message concerning her own existence. Later on, when Lol is speaking of what happened at the Casino, she claims that she heard Michael Richardson and Anne-Marie Stretter saying, “‘maybe it will kill her.’” Duras, The Ravishing of Lol Stein, 28, 95. At that moment, Lol’s friend Tatiana insists that this is impossible, since she was with her the entire night and is certain they were too far away to hear what the couple was saying. But Lol, indeed, seems to hear what others cannot, or do not want to hear. The scene “made” by the visual contains an additional, auditive element that opens it up and refers it to a future. The book version of Duras’ India Song is also organized around a scene, between the vice-conPenumbra sul and the same Anne-Marie Stretter, but this scene appears amidst “rumours” (voices that tell the story of their own love, the love stories of others, as well as the comments made by other guests at the party). See India Song, trans. Barbara Bray (New York: Grove Press, 1976). Finally, having watched the film version of India Song, there is one element that cannot be forgotten: the vice-consul’s cry.

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