Marc De Kesel

“I am the way and the truth and the life.” This is one of Jesus’ most famous sayings (John 14: 6). And since his Father is love, and he himself, because of his sacrifice, is the evidence par excellence of that love, it is love which is “the way and the truth and the life.” Love is what characterizes the post-messianic realm which Christ inaugurated. In that realm, love is all there is. Love, not in the sense of eros, but of agape

‘Love is all there is.’ We moderns have kept that saying and sing it in the billions of songs that daily blow over the planet. Yet, it is not agape we sing about, and neither is it mere eros: it is agape and eros, inextricably mixed up with one another. 

Jean Bellegambe,   Mystic Bath of Souls  , 1505-10 

Jean Bellegambe, Mystic Bath of Souls, 1505-10 

Is modern love, then, still ‘the way, the truth and the life’?  Is there truth in love, even when eros is involved? 

Jacques Lacan’s answer is not simply positive. According to him, there is truth in love, but only as being repressed, denied or veiled by that very love. The truth of love is not to be found in love itself, but in desire, in the unsatisfiable eros underlying the love relation. In order to function properly, in love, the underlying eros must be lived as if it is satisfied. Which is why the beloved, who is reduced to the (impossible) object of desire, represses that reduction and does so by longing for the lover’s desire from this very (impossible) object position. Although it is humiliating to be mis-recognized in my subjectivity and, thus, objectified by the other’s desire, I like it, since as his object I long for him as my desired object. The satisfaction of both the lover and the beloved is built upon the repression of being one another’s (impossible) object of desire. 

Truth emerges when one acknowledges the lacking ground of her love and takes upon her the unsatisfiable nature of the desire that binds her to the other. Truth is the recognition of love’s ‘lie’, i.e. of the fact that it represses its erotic ground, its condition of unsurpassable desire.

Lady Bertilak, ca 1310

Lady Bertilak, ca 1310

Alain Badiou’s definition of love seems similar to Lacan’s, but rather indicates the opposite. According to Badiou, too, the starting point of love is the position of abject object: of not belonging to the world, i.e. to the ‘set of set’ of representations constituting reality as we suppose it to be. Love emerges beyond all that-is-what-we-think-it-is. Love is an ‘event’, an experience that escapes all settled representations constituting our world. Nothing necessitates me to love my beloved. There is never a sufficient reason for this. She falls apart from all the women I know, but yet, in all her singularity, she is the one and only, she is my ‘event’, and I cannot but show full commitment to her. 

And what is truth here? Not the acknowledgment of the fake, fictitious character of my love, i.e. of the unfulfillable desire underlying my love – as Lacan says. For Badiou, love is the acknowledgment, precisely, of the truth of that event and of the full commitment with respect to it.  

Love is ‘eternal’, be it ‘for the time being’, thus Badiou. Based in the singularity of an event, I love my lady ‘forever’ (“from her to eternity”, as an Australian poet put it), perfectly knowing that there is no such thing as ‘for ever’. Yet, truth is precisely that commitment in favor of that singular event. It unconditionally acts as if love is eternal and eternally true. In the eyes of Badiou, in that ‘as if’, there is more being than in all we commonly consider so.