٠ Can love restore the ‘primitive-ego’? ٠

opnamedatum: 26-10-2006© Sanne Sannes, The face of love, 1965

SanneSannes16© Sanne Sannes, Untitled, 1962-65

Can love restore the ‘primitive-ego’? is obviously not a question I have the answer for but, nonetheless, it is one that is worth revisiting now and then. It’s not difficult to understand that ‘falling in love’ is an event that messes with the boundaries of the ego. However, it’s not as easier to grasp what exactly happens to us when a lover alternates between subject and object. In Civilization and its Discontents (1929), Freud argues that there is only one state (non-pathological) where the ego seizes to keep itself clearly and sharply outlined and delimited. Freud is referring to the state of ‘being in love’, to which he adds that: Against all the evidence of his senses, the man in love declares that he and his beloved are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact.

Having a sense of one’s own ego means that, somehow, one manages to distinguish between internal and external stimuli. A construction of an ego also implies the recognizance of things existing in the external world as objects, as well as the abidance to the pleasure-principal, meaning to avoid events and things that might cause harm or pain. What interests me is this freudian idea that the primitive pleasure-ego gives way to a more mature ego because it ‘succumbs’ to the reality-principle:

Originally the ego includes everything, later it detaches from itself the external world. The ego-feeling we are aware of now is thus only a shrunken vestige of a far more extensive feeling – a feeling which embraced the universe and expressed an inseparable connection of the ego with the external world. If we may suppose that this primary ego-feeling has been preserved in the minds of many people – to a greater or lesser extent – it would co-exist like a sort of counterpart with the narrower and more sharply outlined ego-feeling of maturity, and the ideational content belonging to it would be precisely the notion of limitless extension and oneness with the universe. (Freud)

Freud then goes on to explain that when faced with the question of ‘what does a man demands of life’ – the answer being happiness -, one easily comprehends that there is a deep struggle at the core of our being, since we live by the pleasure-principle and we desire to experience intense satisfaction but the ways through which we attain pleasure are often criticized/outlawed by society.

If we accept the notion that love is, today, a kind of healthy way to restore the ego, i.e., to restore its harmony with the external world, opening a whole new sort of possibilities; and if love, sexual love, gives us our most intense experience of an overwhelming pleasurable sensation, then, Freud asks, why abandon this path for happiness? The answer being: We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love, never so forlornly unhappy as when we have lost our love-object or its love. 

Though it may seem over-simplified, Freud argues that it’s this genuine search for happiness that drives humanity to center its life around ‘genital love‘. The problem arises when one reflects upon what this does for the ego, since such a subject leads a life that is very dependent on an external object – the object of love. But this isn’t the only reason for shortening the experience of ‘sexual love’, for love opposes the interests of culture; on the other, culture menaces love with grievous restrictions.[…] culture obeys the laws of psychological economic necessity in making the restrictions, for it obtains a great part of the mental energy it needs by subtracting it from sexuality.

A lot more could be said about the restrictions imposed by the so-called civilized societies upon the sexual behaviors that fulfill the pleasure-principle. Overall, this is just illustrates the process of evolution that served the reality principle and the functioning of an organized and capitalist society at the expense of human happiness. If when a love-relationship is at its height, no room is left for any interest in the surrounding world; what would happen to society if, in fact, it valued the time needed to love?

SanneSannes3© Sanne Sannes, Untitled, 1962-65

Sanne Sannes 1963 Lovers© Sanne Sannes, Lovers, 1963

٠ on the quest for [visual] intimacy II ٠

JEAN-LUC GODARD: Le Petit Soldat (1963)


excerpts from: Being Singular Plural, by Jean-Luc Nancy, Stanford University Press, 2000, pp.10-81:

“As a consequence, gaining access to the origin, entering into meaning, comes down to exposing oneself to this truth.

What this means is that we do not gain access to the origin: access is refused by the origin’s concealing itself in its multiplicity. We do not gain access; that is, we do not penetrate the origin; we do not identify with it. More precisely, we do not identify ourselves in it or as it, but with it, in a sense that must be elucidated here and is nothing other than the meaning of originary coexistence.


The “outside” of the origin is “inside” – in an inside more interior than the extreme interior, that is, more interior than the intimacy of the world and the intimacy that belongs to each “me.” If intimacy must be defined as the extremity of coincidence with oneself, then what exceeds intimacy in inferiority is the distancing of coincidence itself. It is a coexistence of the origin “in” itself, a coexistence of origins; it is no accident that we use the word “intimacy” to designate a relation between several people more often than a relation to oneself. Our being-with, as a being-many, is not at all accidental, and it is in no way the secondary and random dispersion of a primordial essence. It forms the proper and necessary status and consistency of originary alterity as such. The plurality of beings is at the foundation [fondment] of Being.

In and of itself transcendent, the subject is born into its intimacy (“interior intimo neo”), and its intimacy wanders away from it in statu nascendi (“interfeces et urinam nascimur”). “To exist” is no longer “to be” (for itself, in itself), to-already-no-longer-be and to-not-yet-be, or even to-be-lacking, that is, to-be-in-debt-to-being. To exist is a matter of going into exile. The fact that the intimate, the absolutely proper, consists in the absolutely other is what alters the origin in itself, in a relation to itself that is “originarily plunged into mourning.” The other is in an originary relation to death and in a relation to originary death.


Proximity is the correlate of intimacy: it is the “nearest,” the “closest,” which is also to say “the most approximate” or “infinitely approximate” to me, but it is not me because it is withdrawn in itself, into the self in general. The proximity of the nearest is a minute, intimate distance and, therefore, an infinite distance whose resolution is in the Other. The nearest is that which is utterly removed, and this is why the relation to it presents itself as an imperative, as the imperative of a love, and (3) as a love that is “like the love of myself.” The love of self, here, is not egoism in the sense of preferring oneself over others (which would contradict the commandment); it is an egoism in the sense of privileging oneself, one’s own-self [le soi-propre], as a model, the imitation of which would provide the love of others. It is necessary to love one’s ownself in the other, but reciprocally, one’s own-self in me is the other of the ego. It is its hidden intimacy.


This is why it is a matter of “love”: this love is not some possible mode of relation; it designates relation itself at the heart of Being — in lieu of and in the place of Being — and designates this relation, of one to another, as the infinite relation of the same to the same as originarily other than itself. “Love” is the abyss of the self in itself; it is the “delectation” [“dilection”] or “taking care” of what originarily escapes or is lacking; it consists in taking care of this retreat and in this retreat. As a result, this love is “charity”: it is the consideration of the caritas, of the cost or the extreme, absolute, and, therefore, inestimable value of the other as other, that is, the other as the self-withdrawn-in-itself. This love speaks of the infinite cost of what is infinitely withdrawn: the incommensurability of the other. As a result, the commandment of this love lays out this incommensurability for what it is: access to the inaccessible. Yet, it is not sufficient to discredit such love as belonging to some intemperate idealism or religious hypocrisy. Rather, it is a matter of deconstructing the Christianity and sentimentality of an imperative the openly excessive and clearly exorbitant character of which must be read as a warning to us; I would even go so far as to say that it just is a warning to us. It is a matter of wondering about the “meaning” (or “desire”) of a thinking or culture that gives itself a foundation the very expression of which denotes impossibility, and of wondering how and to what extent the “madness” of this love could expose the incommensurability of the very constitution of the “self” and the “other,” of the “self” in the “other.”

Guest blogger André Carapinha ٠ Plato, Love & Image ٠

Introducing Nihilsentimentalgia’s newcomer André Carapinha with an essay about the veil of shadows that stands between our perception and “reality”.

Photographs illustrating the essay all belong to Trish Morrissey‘s project Front (2005-07), where she sets out to find families that she joins temporarily, in an “as if/has-been” moment, at the same time manipulating reality and attributing to it the statue of memory.


A short essay about the importance of the act of remembering in photography, but not exclusively

Things are even more real when we remember them. When we experience them, they come wrapped in a veil of unreality, which is the constant fluxus of the becoming – that keeps us from grabbing them with both hands, that shapes their plastic and mutant character, which makes for everything to be always, always, changing. But when memory comes into play, that is where all the pieces seem to come together and that which is not important, that which distracted us, that whose function of emergence is that of confusing, finally abandons the thing, and the thing is revealed to us in the greatest purity that we ever manage to achieve. Our knowledge is always regional, imperfect, and dominated by an insurmountable and confusing principle, but the moment when we are closer to reality – that is the moment when we remember things.

Plato has shown that the way we apprehend reality takes the form of a picture. Nowadays, most people may find it difficult to understand this definition. It does not only apply to the Plato-ready-to-wear conclusion one often finds in “Plato’s Cave” (commonly the only thing an average person knows, or is convinced of knowing, about Plato), that reality is an image because it comes to us wrapped in a veil of shadows, contrasting with the “true reality” one could access beyond the shadows or the fogs (therefore diminuishing the status of the image as an “ilusion”). In fact, as one understands from reading the book V of the “Republic” and “Theaetetus”, the image is the fundamental status for the apprehending of reality, it is the alpha and the omega of knowledge. Resuming, what this means is that in fact there is a veil of shadows between us and the “real”, but that such veil of shadows is not like a fog that we dissipate but a permanent event in the apprehension of the real; and that the human mind, which is guided by a constant attention to the real, is capable of little more than the production of images of the real, and when we say pictures, we really mean the picture, as it is understood in the realms of aesthetics and art history – in fact, there is no better point of comparison to understand what Plato means by “images”.

KatyMcDonnellAristotle, who rejected Plato’s idea that there are “models” fixed in our mind for the production of images, and for that appears to be more accessible to the “modern” eyes, didn’t failed to admit that for the human observer  the original state of reality is that of “confusion” – a concept that owes much to Plato’s “shadows”. It also didn’t stop him for coming up with a concept such as “categories”, which works as an organizer, permanently present in the act of knowing. And also for Aristotle “true reality” was understood as something inaccessible except by “mediation”, which is something much more profound and complex than the simple mediation of the “senses”, given that it incorporates constitutive structures of the very essence of the act of knowing.

However, I do believe what we owe most to Plato is precisely the idea that the knowledge of “pictures” is brought to us as a “memory” – “memory” of the “pure forms”, that is, of models that guide and shape the act of knowing. What I mean is forms that organize the act of knowing given the fuzz that underlines the essence of reality, when we are first confronted with it. What this suggests is that the best way to understand our surroundings is not by what is happening in the present, always ruled by the volatile and confusing character of the becoming, but through another moment, which in itself is a “memory” (consider the act of “thinking”: when we think seriously about a subject, do we not summon to our mind the whole set of experiences, knowledge, norms, we already have? And isn’t that the moment when the object of our thinking tends to present itself with the most clarity?) Curiously, contrary to Plato’s conclusion, this may also suggest that “artistic production” is more in conformity with the real than the so-called “scientific knowledge”, given that, in Kantian terms, the former has a more “synthetic” character than the latter, which is mainly “analytical”.

It isn’t foreigner to me that this conclusion isn’t very popular – after all, the “scientific model” (of which Aristotle could be considered the precursor, since he inaugurated the “regionalization” of knowledge) has enormous advantages: besides the fact that it seems to “result” (its conclusions may and should be subject to examination and provide evidences), it presents itself as a movement “towards the” real, and assuming that the “fog” is likely to be dissipated, which is a much more comfortable hypothesis. But what is a paradox is that nothing, absolutely nothing in the evolution of scientific knowledge, in the amazing expansion that this “region of knowledge” has had in the curse of history, nothing as I was saying, diminished the status of the real as Plato and Aristotle defined about 2400 years ago. It is not because we know “more” about reality that it ceases to appear confuse, and that the image ceases to be its fundamental status as it is apprehended.

Angela-ReynishLet’s consider a past love that is still very present in our minds. How much noise, how many mistakes, how crazy – everything we call as to not understand who that person was, to not understand what was going on, to instantly begin the process of loosing him/her. But now, as I remember her/him, I am left with the light, the spirit, the grace, the youth – in short, everything that made me love her/him, but that in order to truly recover I needed to remember. Only by losing can one love what has been lost, but moreover, only then can we fully grasp the Other that was lost. It is necessary to get undressed of the daily yoke and of the current noise to fully know the person one once loved – when we locate her/him in the past. And so the Other is revealed to us closer to his/her essence than we could ever achieved.

Love is a strange process. In-depth, it’s such a process that consists in starting, from day one, to lose the loved one. Or else it is a commitment that immediately begins by putting love aside in the name of its sustainability. A strange paradox, therefore. No wonder it remains the most inaccessible human act to the “scientific knowledge” and, on the other hand, the one that art most finely understands, if we compare it to all other types of intellectual production. Short essay by André Carapinha


┐ we’re all in deep shit IX └

We’re all in deep shit but at least in Portugal, TODAY, we know what to do!

“As Pedro Passos Coelho, Portugal’s center-right prime minister, prepares to announce a new budget on Monday — filled with still more steep tax increases and public sector job cuts — he faces the kind of popular backlash that was, until recently, absent from the political and social landscape here.
Taking a page from the playbook of their Spanish neighbors, Portuguese protesters are planning to encircle the Parliament building here in the capital for the budget announcement.”

excerpt from the article Austerity Protests Are Rude Awakening in Portugal, by Raphael Minder, in NYTimes

┐ Julie Hascoët └

@ Julie Hascoët, Untitled, from the project Tenir/Rester

@ Julie Hascoët, Untitled, from the project Tenir/Rester

@ Julie Hascoët, Hug, from the series 4 Months

@ Julie Hascoët, Emilie, from the series 4 Months

More of her work here

┐ Love as a political concept └

© Brea Souders, French Bed and Moon

“When I get confused about love, or other things in the world, thinking about Spinozian definitions often helps me because of their clarity. Spinoza defines love as the increase of our joy, that is, the increase of our power to act and think, with the recognition of an external cause. You can see why Spinoza says self-love is a nonsense term, since it involves no external cause. Love is thus necessarily collective and expansive in the sense that it increases our power and hence our joy. Here’s one way of thinking about the transformative character of love: we always lose ourselves in love, but we lose ourselves in love in the way that has a duration, and is not simply rupture. To use a limited metaphor, if you think about love as muscles, they require a kind of training and increase with use. Love as a social muscle has to involve a kind of askesis, a kind of training in order to increase its power, but this has to be done in cooperation with many.
When we engage in love we abandon at least a certain type of sovereignty. In what ways would sovereignty not be adequate in explaining a social formation that was grounded in love? If we were to think of the sovereign as the one who decides, in the social relation of love there is no one who decides. Which does not mean that there are no decisions but, rather, that there would be a non-one who decides. That seems like a challenging and interesting question: what is a non-sovereign social formation? How is decision-making then arrived at? These are the kinds of things that require modes of organization; that require, if not institutions, customs, or habits, at least certain means of organizing the decision-making process. In a politics of love, one of the interests for me is a non-sovereign politics, or a non-sovereign social formation. By thinking love as political, as somehow centrally involved in a political project, it forces us to think through that non-sovereignty, both conceptually, but also practically, organizationally.”

Michael Hardt, excerpts from interview by Heather Davis. Complete interview here

║ Zanele Muholi (South Africa – part III) ║

© Zanele Muholi, Being series, 2007
© Zanele Muholi, Being series, 2007

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