why studying literature will break your heart, rot your brain, and destroy all your chances of happiness

Hey – yeah, you there. Did you know that the lover’s discourse is today of an extreme solitude? (1) * Oh, you weren’t aware?

Well, maybe you already knew that the whole time you were sitting, alone, at the bar, expecting your date to walk in any minute, you were in fact singing a syntactical aria. (6) No? You weren’t informed? Oh, well, have I got news for you. You weren’t actually furious at all. No, that was the syntactical fury belonging to a figure called Waiting. It felt like extreme anger and insecurity and sadness, but it was most definitely syntax.

Feel better? No?

It’s not so bad, because these bundles of sentences (7) eating your brain, have absolutely no horizontal order and have been thrown together at random. So, there’s that.

Novel? No, of course you aren’t writing the novel of your life! Ha! No, there’s no transcendence and no deliverance either.

Oh, you were expecting a great romance? I’m so sorry.

Well, cheer up! All these horrifically painful moments (combined, of course, with the fantastically beautiful ones) are episodes endowed with meaning!

No really, this is good. This is the love story.

Your love story? No, no, I’m talking about the love story subjugated to the great narrative Other.

What do you mean it’s got nothing to do with you? It’s got everything to do with you! In fact, you’re the only one it’s got anything to do with!

You’re right, that doesn’t sound too good.

Ahem…um… Is this seat taken?

*Did you say Barthes? Page numbers taken from the 1990 Howard translation of A Lover’s Discourse.

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2 thoughts on “why studying literature will break your heart, rot your brain, and destroy all your chances of happiness

  1. sztm says:

    Advocationes Diaboli

    The problem of the lover’s discourse is not that it manifests an extreme solitude as opposed to a communion. It is rather that this extremity is not extreme enough, it has not breached the barrier that keeps it from itself. Touched by that Other, awakened by it, it attempts to announce its own position relative to that other – it says “I love you” in order to announce a transitivity, a grammatical positioning such that discretion could be brought about. The gesture towards syntax is an attempt at exorcism – one is forced to the speech act, one is forced to the declaration of love by the imposition of the Other and enacts to bring an end to this imposition.It will fail; the I who speaks will always have been that of one who was forced to say “I love you,” and to do so without succeeding. The position of that statement cannot be occupied – too weak, handed down, alien, or merely rote, the speech act will not have been accomplished, the stigmata inflicted by the Other will remain. One finds oneself violated by the Other, one finds oneself by being violated by the Other and forced to speak. To say “I love you” is to manifest a desire for completion, for realization – enough of this gesturing at, this winking and hinting, let it be said, let it be done and no more!

    One says “I love you” at the point when one cannot say “auctor fio” – and one will never have been the author of the former. To put it another way, the “I love you” will never have been said, because there will never have been an I to say it.

    One suspects that, secretly, those words are only ever pronounced with an aim to disgusting the Other and forcing it to turn away; they are, after all, the most vulgar, the most banal, perhaps the least singular of all possible sequences.

    There’s nothing random about them. Pathetic fragments of a story that cannot be told, that will never have been told. The words have no meaning, or want to not have a meaning. Their sense is perhaps no more than the twitching of a hysteric’s jaw, the setting into motion of what would rather not have a meaning. Grammar which is not a grammar, syntax which is not a syntax, incapable of serving as the vehicle for any intended meaning. That is to say that the story isn’t so much subjugated to the Other – there’s no story according to which that relation could be established. Better to say that the story is the attempt to escape the subjugation of the Other, the futile attempt of narrative to break the bind of that double genitive. The narrative goes on in speaking, blubbering, crying, in order to attempt to find its own end – an end without which it could not announce itself as narrative.

    I’m not sure then that it only has to do with you – it has precisely nothing to do with anyone. If one pertains to the story of love, it is only according to the disgust one feels at having been compelled to tell it, the shame one feels in every utterance, the impossibility of invoking the same disgust in the Other, the possibility that it might release the obligation to speak. One more phrase, one more abasement, but never abasement enough; one speaks in order to announce one’s self as incompetent, incapable of speaking. To slip back into silence, to have nothing to say would be the escape, ever attempted anew though impossible: such would be to actually realize solitude.

    • Indirect Libre says:

      I might like your version better. But it is also more soul-throttling. Blame it on Barthes for being, perhaps, the optimist. Barthes is the guy who, despite it all, asks the stranger if he might buy them a drink.

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