Nothing

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Marc De Kesel

When someone has been left by her beloved, nothing remains but the feeling of being ‘nothing’. What have I been to him? Was I anything at all in his eyes? Why didn’t he see that my love for him was everything for me? Alas, for him, my everything was nothing. How cruel can love be! 

To be nothing: it is not only the feeling you have when your love relation breaks down. It accompanies its start as well. Before, you were alone, but once touched by Eros’ arrow, you really feel lonely. For what else you are, then, but your desire for your beloved. Nothing else interests you. You stop eating and sleeping, you lose interest in the job you perfectly liked; your friends are worried about your seeming asocial behavior. Yet, for all this, you do not care for one second. You are nothing, nothing other than your desire for your prospective beloved, about whose desire for you you know nothing . But you do love him, you are nothing but that love, and even if your love will remain unrequited, you prefer to stay nothing rather than to give up your love. 

Or, more exactly, your desire. For love is requited desire. It only emerges when the beloved has the same feeling of being nothing himself because of his longing for you. This is the thing you desire in him: that he desires you; that, because of you, he feels as much being nothing – nothing but desire. 

Anton Sorg, Tristan and Isolde, woodcut, 1484

Anton Sorg, Tristan and Isolde, woodcut, 1484

So, the base of erotic love is to be found in that ‘nothing’, that ‘void’ the lover wants to be filled by  only her beloved. And the only thing the beloved has to offer is his own ‘nothing’, his own void, the unfulfilled condition of his own desire. The lack of one’s desire is filled up by the lack of the other’s desire. 

This is why love can be so strong. Not only does it satisfy the lovers’ desires, it keeps them unsatisfied at the same time. Every moment of satisfaction – of jouissance, as Lacan would say – makes them long even more strongly for one another; for the only thing they get from one another is ‘nothing’, is a ‘lack’ or ‘void’ that again and again inflames their desire. ‘L’amour, c’est donner ce qu’on n’ a pas’, ‘Love is giving what one does not have’:  one of Lacan’s definition of love. The beloved does not possess the answer to the lover’s demand for love, he has in fact nothing to give, but it is precisely that precious ‘nothing’ which he does give to his beloved. Only this ‘nothing’ satisfies her demand for love. As long as lovers give one another the precious nothing they ‘are’ (having become but desire), nothing can break their love.

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Except precisely that very nothing. For love’s strength is due to its blindness, as the Antiques told us – or to repression, as Freud would later indicate. Which is to say that love’s strength is at the same time its weakness. It is blindness that holds the lovers together. A blindness for the nothing holding lovers together.

This goes even for divine love. For what does man and God share with one another, once the mystical heart has reached the aim of his desire? What do they share once man is at the top of the Mount Carmel? Juan dela Cruz cannot be misunderstood in this: it is ‘nothing’, the ‘nothing of the six times “neither this nor that”, the “nothing” of “the absence of the way” once one’s way to God has reached its end.