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A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

“I encounter millions of bodies in my life; of these millions, I may desire some hundreds; but of these hundreds, I love only one.”

Roland Barthes - A Lover's Discourse book cover

The word “euphoria” prescribed to the universal human experience of love, its language, tonality, and nuance in the life of an individual has many mythical, historical, psychological, and philosophical connotations.

In Barthes’s “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments” this is the dismemberment of the very task of loving and being loved.

So if you’re willing to plunge into a feverish anatomy of desire, pleasure, longing, and all its contradictions, meditating on the aphoristic layering of love, expressed in words, along with their definitions, their inner lives, then you will not be disappointed.

Page after page, Barthes deconstructs the potency of love. He writes plainly and beautifully, assembling together different perspectives from literary sources of Proust, Goethe, Freud, Rilke, Nietzsche, and a few others. And never once straying from the unvarnished psychology of love in an incisive and puzzling manner.

Reminding his readers, time and again, how and why love’s self-willed affectability and its corporeality in our lives is ubiquitous. Love is an arrangement of sentences, an assemblage of barriers, compatible and incompatible, cryptic and intimate, and elusively possessive. It is true that we are barely familiar with love’s obscurity and yet we silently accept its permutations in our existence.

Whether or not you believe in this image of love is beside the point. The book is an insightful, enthralling, and succinct read. The understanding of love is quite symmetrically aligned not only with its (written and spoken) vocabulary but also its silences. Perhaps the gaps between the words in this book are more complete than the words Barthes has carefully plucked out for us.

The layering of human experiences, its pathos in relation to love, is, in essence, fully ripened. Though it may not seem so in the way we have been conditioned to perceive and express love using grandiose words and hollow gestures.

But Barthes shuts the door on such limitations, insisting on re-possessing what we lack (a deep inner life) to reconcile with much of what love is. It is, after all, a kind of “self-interrogation that gives us our existential catalog of likes and dislikes.”


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