A Lover’s Discourse

A Lover’s Discourse (Fragments d’un discours amoureux, 1977) by Roland Barthes is a meditative non-fiction book that explores the language of love by examining the “outbursts of words” a lover employs to describe his feelings. With a philosophical narrative that sometimes blurs the line between fact and fiction, each of the book’s 80 chapters focuses on a different aspect of love. 

When we’re in love, we speak a different language. Barthes believes that we are compelled to cultivate toxic and unempathetic relationships because we lack a vocabulary for discussing love in contemporary culture. He, therefore, aimed to dissect one of the most profound human emotions—falling in love—by deconstructing the lover’s suffering into those fluctuating moods and feelings they experience when in love.

Barthes used the methods of structuralism for the first time in writing this book. In a series of short essays, he dissects the complexities of romantic love from every angle. He explains by “fragments” the lover’s point of view through concepts about love derived from literature and his own philosophical thoughts. Each brief fragment of the first-person narrative explores one concept or insight that may inspire a romantic dream.

This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever been in love, or even for those who believe they are immune to the power of love. Both those who’ve been infatuated and those who haven’t will find reading this book enjoyable and understandable. However, due to its sometimes difficult literary allusions and its stream-of-consciousness style, there can be a little mistake about its overall efficacy. Despite its relatively low word count, the book is dense and its content quite challenging, which makes reading it both hard and illuminating.

Memorable Quotes

I encounter millions of bodies in my life; of these millions, I may desire some hundreds; but of these hundreds, I love only one. The other with whom I am in love designates for me the specialty of my desire.

Page 19, A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

“Am I in love? —Yes, since I’m waiting.” The other never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.

Pages 39-40, A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

Nothing more lacerating than a voice at once beloved and exhausted: a broken, rarefied, bloodless voice, one might say, a voice from the end of the world, which will be swallowed up far away by cold depths: such a voice is about to vanish, as the exhausted being is about to die: fatigue is infinity: what never manages to end. That brief, momentary voice, almost ungracious in its rarity, that almost nothing of the loved and distant voice, becomes in me a sort of monstrous cork, as if a surgeon were thrusting a huge plug of wadding into my head.

Page 114, A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

As a jealous man, I suffer four times over: because I am jealous, because I blame myself for being so, because I fear that my jealousy will wound the other, because I allow myself to be subject to a banality: I suffer from being excluded, from being aggressive, from being crazy, and from being common.

Page 146, A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

Further Reading

“A Lover’s Discourse” Roland Barthes by Murr, The Lectern

Seven Notes on A Lover’s Discourse While Halfway Through the Book by Peter M. Ball, petermball.com

Roland Barthes: Love as a Language by The Artifice

A Valentine by The Eaves

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