"Everything follows from this principle: that the lover is not to be reduced to a simple symptomal subject, but rather that we hear in his voice what is "unreal," i.e., intractable. Whence the choice of a "dramatic" method which renounces examples and rests on the single action of a primary language (no metalanguage). The description of the lover's discourse has been replaced by its simulation, and to that discourse has been restored its fundamental person, the I, in order to stage an utterance, not an analysis. What is proposed, then, is a portrait--but not a psychological portrait; instead, a structural one which offers the reader a discursive site: the site of someone speaking within himself, amorously, confronting the other (the loved object), who does not speak."
[. . .]
So it is a lover who speaks and who says:
"I am engulfed, I succumb . . ."
s'abîmer / to be engulfed
Outburst of annihilation which affects the amorous subject in despair or fulfillment.
1. Either woe or well-being, sometimes I have a craving to be engulfed (1 Werther). This morning (in the country), the weather is mild, overcast. I am suffering (from some incident). The notion of suicide occurs to me, pure of any resentment (not blackmailing anyone); an insipid notion; it alters nothing ("breaks" nothing), matches the color (the silence, the desolation) of this morning.
Another day, in the rain, we're waiting for the boat at the lake; from happiness, this time, the same outburst of annihilation sweeps through me. This is how it happens sometimes, misery or joy engulfs me, without any particular tumult ensuing, nor any pathos: I am dissolved, not dismembered; I fall, I flow, I melt. Such thoughts--grazed, touched, tests (the way you test the water with your foot)--can recur. Nothing solemn about them. This is exactly what gentleness is.
2. The crisis of engulfment can come from a wound, but also from a fusion: we die together from loving each other: an open death, by dilution into the ether, a closed death of the shared grave. (2 Tristan, 3 Baudelaire)
Engulfment is a moment of hypnosis. A suggestion functions, which commands me to swoon without killing myself. Whence, perhaps, the gentleness of the abyss: I have no responsibility here, the act (of dying) is not up to me: I entrust myself, I transmit myself (to whom to God, to Nature, to everything, except to the other). (4 Ruysbroeck)
3. Therefore, on those occasions when I am engulfed, it is because there is no longer any place for me anywhere, not even in death. The image of the other--to which I was glued, on which I lived--no longer exists; sometimes this is a (futile) catastrophe which seems to remove the image forever, sometimes it is an excessive happiness which enables me to unite with the image; in any case, severed or united, dissolved or discrete, I am nowhere gathered together; opposite, neither your nor me, nor death, nor anything else to talk to.
(Strangely, it is in the extreme action of the amorous Image-repertoire--annihilation as a consequence of driving out the image or f being identified with it--that there occurs a fall of this Image-repertoire: for the brief interval of a vacillation, I lose my structure as a lover: this is a factitious mourning, without work to do: something like a non-site.)
4. In love with death? An exaggeration to say, with Keats, half in love with easeful death: death liberated from dying. Then I have this fantasy: a gentle hemorrhage which flows from no specific point in my body, an almost immediate consumption, calculated so that I might have the time to abate my suffering without yet having died. Fleetingly I establish myself within a false conception of death (false the way a key is "falsified" by warping): I conceive of death beside me: I conceive of it according to an unthought logic, I drift outside of the fatal couple which links life and death by opposing them to each other.
5. Is the abyss no more than an expedient annihilation? It would not be difficult for me to read the abyss, not as a repose, but as an emotion. I mask my mourning by an evasion; I dilute myself, I swoon in order to escape that density, that clogging which makes me into a responsible subject: I come out: it is ecstasy. (5 Sartre)
Rue du Cherche-Midi, after a difficult evening, X was explaining very carefully, his voice exact, his sentences well-formed, far from anything inexpressible, that sometimes he longed to swoon; he regretted never being able to disappear at will.
His words were saying that he meant then to succumb to his weakness, not to resist the wounds the world inflicted upon him; but at the same time he was substituting for this failing strength, another affirmation: I assume toward and against everything a denial of courage, hence a denial of morality: that is what X's voice was saying.
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1. Werther: "In such thoughts I am engulfed, I succumb, under the power of these magnificent visions . . . I shall see her . . . Everything, yes, everything, as though engulfed by an abyss, vanishes into this prospect."
2. Tristan: "In the blessed abyss of the infinite ether, in your sublime soul, boundless immensity, I sink and am engulfed, unconscious, O bliss!" (Isolde's death).
3. Baudelaire: "Some pink and blue evening, we shall exchange a single impulse, a kind of long sob, heavy with farewells" ("La Mort des amants").
4. Ruysbroeck: ". . . The repose of the abyss."
5. Sartre: On swooning and anger as evasions, The Emotions.
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From Roland Barthes "A Lover's Discourse: Fragments", translated by Richard Howard.
- From "A Lover's Discourse: Fragments", by Roland Barthes