Prelude 10, Silvia Migdalek

The paradox of desire and love

Playing with the delights of etymology and the dictionary, we read that the term ‘paradox’ comes from the Greek (para and doxos) and means ‘beyond what is credible’, and also refers to something opposed to ‘common opinion’. Currently the word ‘paradox’ has numerous meanings. Let us consider one of them, given the resonances it has with analytic practice: a statement whose veracity or falsehood is unsayable.

It is perhaps in the clinic of amorous life where the paradox of desire becomes singularly tense, shaping what we may also call the paradox of love. The latter, love – let it be clear from the start – is not desire: desire is its anchoring in the drive. Freud says that we are reluctant to conceive of love as another partial drive – we believe that we perceive in it an aspiration to a totality. The ego loves or hates, but the relation between the drive and the object is called fixation: the fixation to an autoerotic rim, or the perverse trait of neurosis. As a consequence love carries the ballast of its origins in the drive. When Freud establishes the foundations of his theory on love, he inverts the ‘common opinion’, which does not hit the target regarding the cause of love: one does not love because one desires; it is, rather, because one desires that one loves. Desire reveals that the structure is with a hiatus. Freud illustrates the point early under the guise of a mythical experience of satisfaction that inscribes the irreducible loss of the object whose result is the emergence of desire, the very first motion of a psychical nature. In the words of Lacan, in Seminar VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, at stake there is ‘an unfortunate start”.

The unsayable, das Ding as the non-predicable nucleus of the Other, does not allow any identification. The Thing, as the vacuum of the saying, will nest on everything that can be said. Thus, the logic of the not-all is introduced in the saying, and of course in all amorous discourse. This is the paradox of the love that aspires at the totality, since it does not want to know anything about castration or, to put it in Lacan’s terms, about the impossibility of writing the sexual relation/proportion; yet, paradoxically, nothing makes so present this dimension of an impossible real than the amorous experience. Both in Freud and in Lacan we can find the use of this dimension as an original and fertile logical impossibility. That obscure ‘object of desire’, incompatible with speech, in amorous life, always appears with a certain dramatic tension: one is never more at the mercy of the other than when one loves… that is the tragicomedy of love…

The problematic question concerning the paradox of desire in the field of love opens the path to a large series of interesting articulations, one of which is the relation it has with what after Freud we call transference love. This is a modality of love that emerges in the transference, which Freud identifies as something ‘unwilling to accept the interpretation’, a recalcitrant and indomitable love, the erotomanic border of love that frequently appears in the clinic of some ‘women of elementary passions’. One could think that in this case an impasse of the unconscious manifests itself.

In its dimension of repetition, transference love veils the object of the trauma. In its beginnings, transference evolves in the direction of identification. In this process, Lacan proposes that what must be at work is the analyst’s desire, which leads precisely to the traversing of the plane of identifications, which does not takes place without the analyst’s desire as its operator:

In order to give you formulae-reference points, I will say—if the transference is that which separates demand from the drive, the analyst’s desire is that which brings it back.[1]

Thus, this is a desire that aims at revealing the origin of all demand in the drive, initially veiled by transference love itself. This desire is not a pure desire, and Lacan names it as the desire to obtain ‘absolute difference’. The question arises at that point as to how the subject experiences a crossing-over that is produced exclusively by an experience of analysis. In the testimonies of the pass it is verifiable that it is around the vicissitudes of the experience of love that decisive moments of inflection occur. At those moments the subject has to assume a position in the face of what of his desire and – to open a connection with another possible articulation of the topic – his jouissance has been elaborated in the analysis.

What articulations and differences could we establish between transference love and the Freudian ethical precept of the law of abstinence, and the analyst’s desire? Undoubtedly they are not the same thing.

We might say that in the work of Lacan, from Seminar XX onwards, there appear a widening and a few new developments as to how he conceived this absolutely essential dimension of human experience. Perhaps we may summarize this movement as an extension in which the precedent continues to be true, but the new developments compel us to include new perspectives that in their ensemble represent a certain re-evaluation of love.

Our next encounter, therefore, will be the occasion to ascertain the new lines of tension derived from the teaching of Lacan in the 1970s. It is interesting to note how Colette Soler summarizes the new perspective in her book Los afectos lacanianos:

Love comes to reveal the impasses of the unconscious as knowledge which remains unknown, obscurely learnt and presenting an obstacle to the sexual relation. Love is an index, not of an intersubjectivity, but rather of an inter-recognition between two speakingbeings, made of two lalangues.[2]

As from Seminar XX, Encore, there is a new approach to love: it becomes the sign of an affect of the unconscious. To conclude, I share with you the final paragraphs of that Seminar, so as to prepare the ambience for our Rendezvous of Paris, 2014:

[…] I will say that what is important in what has been revealed by psychoanalytic discourse – and one is surprised not to see its thread everywhere – is that knowledge, which structures the being who speaks on the basis of a specific cohabitation, is closely related to love. All loved is based on a certain relationship between two unconscious knowledges.

If I have enunciated that the subject supposed to know is what motivates transference, that is but a particular, specific application of what we find in our experience. I’ll ask you to look at the text of what I enunciated here, in the middle of this year, regarding the choice of love. I spoke, ultimately, of recognition, recognition – via signs that are always punctuated enigmatically – of the way in which being is affected qua subject of unconscious knowledge.

There’s no such thing as a sexual relationship because one’s jouissance of the Other taken as a body is always inadequate – perverse, on the one hand, insofar as the Other is reduced to object a, and crazy and enigmatic, on the other, I would say. Isn’t it on the basis of the confrontation with this impasse, with this impossibility by which a real is defined, that love is put to the test? Regarding one’s partner, love can only actualize what, in a sort of poetic flight, in order to make myself understood, I called courage – courage with respect to this fatal destiny.[3]



Freud, S. (1950a [1895]). Project for a Scientific Psychology. SE 1:281.

Freud, S. (1900a). The Interpretation of Dreams. SE SE:4 & 5.

Freud. S. (1915a). Observations on Transference-Love. SE 12:159.

Freud, S. (1915c). Instincts and their Vicissitudes. SE 14:111.

Lacan, J. (1992). The Seminar, Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960. New York, Norton & London, Routledge.

Lacan, J. (1973-1974). The Seminar, Book XXI, Les non dupes errant. Unpublished transcript.

Translated by Leonardo Rodríguez



[1] Lacan, J. (1977). The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. London, Tavistock, p. 273.

[2] Soler, C. (2011). Los afectos lacanianos. Buenos Aires, Letra Viva, p. 109.

[3] Lacan, J. (1998 [1972-73]). The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, Book XX, Encore 1972-1973. New York and London, Norton, p. 144.