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The Topography of Love1

David Cooper

I think that in talking about the family and marriage we have to play tricks with language until finally we generate a certain vertigo in ourselves through which words, falsely assumed to transmit knowledge, lose their apparent meaning until a more real discourse is possible - implying ultimately the invention of a new language, a language that does not only have to be spoken and written.1 In the future I believe books will never be written again, books will be done, thus literalizing the clichéd metaphor that writing is an act.

All verbal language is impositional in a way that nonverbal communication is not. The weight of assumed meaning in words is considerably more than in the case of, say, para-linguistic and kinesic modes of expression where ritual runs surface-deep only, and the assumption is twofold: in the first place from the past accumulated connotation of each word and, secondly, from the writer or speaker's present syntactical deployment of each word.

So one tricks words because if one does not one will be tricked by them. As is the case with all institutionalized systems, one has to counter-play the system's game; firstly to elude it in personal terms, secondly to transcend it in historical terms. Now, as regards talking about the topography of love - that is to say where love is at, if anywhere, today - I shall take, as a paradigmatic case, the word 'marriage'.

Beyond the obvious legal and social-contractual senses of the word, marriage can mean any sort of more or less lasting, socially objectified conjunction between personal entities. If we recognize that each of us is filled with a world of others who are not quite them and at the same time not quite us, we can envisage the possibility of some marital arrangement within one person. If we go back in the tradition of phenomenological investigation of human experience we recall the definition of intentionality running through the work of Husserl and Sartre in particular. Any primary datum of experience arising as a thinking, feeling, striving movement is of something, towards some object that both constitutes and is constituted by the initial movement in consciousness as a unitary and self-uniting entity in the world.

At this point we have to deviate because we cannot talk about marriage without talking about love and we cannot talk about love without talking about instinct. Probably, in psycho-analytical literature, the most dubious and obscure verbal entity is 'instinct' or, worse, the 'instinctual drive'. So far the use of this term has been little more than a deceptive aid to theoretical writing, something that has unfortunately made writing possible when a historic act of waiting and silence might have been more appropriate. In the whole field of its usage it is the violent inruption of pure abstraction into almost any concrete experience of need and desire. I would suggest that the word 'instinct' might disappear into a unity that has been falsely split up, although of course in the way one has to talk about it now one can only reflect the split.

If we talk about an instinctual urge to have a good feed we are talking about something that comes from nothing. Something may come from nothing if the nothing is a particular nothing. In this case the particularity of the nothing is the line of its circumscription by the world as an absence, lack, what is not there. The world here includes certain edible objects; the distance and obstacles between us and the objects, and our bodies as objects in the world that can be observed by others; the hunger contractions in our stomachs; the neuro-chemical alterations in the hunger state that can be recorded; and so on. It's a bit like running one's finger across a table and then letting it drop off into nothing at the edge. The edge is neither the table nor is it the 'nothing' one's finger drops into, but both the table, which is something, and the nothing, which is not, define the edge as non-existent but as a specific non-existence. If we can extend our metaphysical imagination to the point of desubstantializing our finger so that it becomes a non-finger we get closer to what an instinct 'is'.

But then one must go farther and I think go farther in this direction: there is, I would maintain, no logically justifiable and certainly no real distinction in experience (until we begin to be analytic and fragmenting in relation to our experience) between the 'instinctual urge' and its object. Of course, as I have said, the language one has to use about this betrays the realization; but let us say just this: the instinctual urge that carries us in the direction of a good feed is nothing less than the good feed itself in its full significance. This is true, in terms, however, as we shall see, of a lying antithesis, of 'both' the 'external' dinner on our plate 'and' the 'internal' good breast (which of course is one condensed way of expressing a myriad of appetitively fulfilling internal images). The phrase 'instinctual gratification' means simply the coalescing consciousness of the inner and the outer object, and this in turn means a decisive dissolution of the experienced boundary of one's self.

Ungratified instinct is the experience of being poised on the boundary of one's self, frightened of the precariousness of this position, but, even more, unable to relinquish the security of a clearly felt egoic consciousness.

In talking about instinct I have deliberately chosen an oral situation first because a genital sexual instinctual situation might, deceptively, seem too simple. It is commonplace now to speak of the death experience of orgasm and the loss of self-boundaries in that 'state'. The threat of instinctual gratification is I think more striking in the oral case. This threat assumes the proportions it does because, of course, it is an ontological ultimate. Instinctual fulfilment means in every instance the breakdown of self-boundaries and thus becomes an equivalent to madness if not madness 'itself'. If, then, we wish to find the most basic level of understanding of repression in society we have to see it as a collectively reinforced and institutionally formalized panic about going mad, about the invasion of the outer by the inner and of the inner by the outer, about the loss of the illusion of self.

The Law is Terror put into words.
Because of the terror the words have to be deprived of any personal reference.
Because of the terror anyone who is no one judges no one who might be anyone.
Because of the abstract nature of the judgement the crime becomes abstract. So that courts and prisons and all our institutions may go on. So all that remains is suffering - in no one, about nothing. The unlocatability of suffering is what we suffer from. And this is true of all of us. All the judges and all their victims. The actual suffering of the punished person is an arbitrary gratuitous fact thrown into the world to lend false substantiality to an etheric System.

The bourgeois state is a tranquillizer pill with lethal side-effects.
The socio-historical understanding of repression has been impressively worked out; what we now have to do is to reflect on and act from a realization of its ontological infra-structure.2

Staying a while with the oral case, let us consider phenomena such as the hallucinated good breast of the infant and transitional objects. These are usually taken to mean a sort of grudging or half-protesting movement towards 'reality'. Of course (perhaps with 'analytic help') one gets beyond all this and it joins the rest of our duly resolved unconscious baggage in the left-luggage office of our minds. But what if the protest becomes less halfhearted and we cease to equate the resolution of conflict with adequate social adjustment? What if the hallucinated good breast is an attempt to maintain a transpersonal identity of the inner and the outer, the one successful moment of madness that most of us have and have to lose all sight of very quickly? What if the corner of the rag that the little girl sucks is more real than her mother's breast (which 'is' the breast she no longer sucks) or the internal good breast that she projects into the rag? Can we not conceive of a sense in which the rag as what it is in fact, neither subjective nor objective, that is to say inner-and-outer-good breast, comes first? In other words, the search of the little girl for the right corner of the rag is not in the little girl, nor between her and the rag, nor anywhere else in the world but in the rag itself. The rag itself is constituted as a breast substitute by the child, but this is a false hermeneutic in so far as it is a non-reciprocal explanation that comforts, primarily, only the explainer (although of course, as is true of much heavily interpretative psycho-therapy, the child may derive a certain comfort from the feeling that at least the explainer is explaining something to himself). The world in this sense is full of miraculous objects that precede the person who witnesses or makes miracles. The man who talks of magic is superfluous.

The only point in being born is to discover that 'one' already has been.
The only point in dying is to experience this fact of one's birth.
This point is the geometric point.
Geometry is hard work.
After these considerations of the relation of the inner to the outer and of both of these to what is neither, let us return to love and marriage - if for a while we can support this particular conjunction of terms.

From some partly assumed, partly appointed locus in the world one has to see through one's family into the inviting but somewhat murky world of other people outside it. One has to see through one's parents' marriage and one's own state of, in some sense, being married to their marriage and one's own marriage to each of one's parents in turn. Also one's marriage to each of one's siblings and to each of the 'other significant persons' (and to their marriage to oneself, since marriage can be entirely non-reciprocal - one can feel married to someone who does not feel married to oneself). Then, before one arrives at any marital relationship with other people in the world outside one's family one has to go through a whole lot of divorce proceedings with each of these people to a more or less partial or total degree. One may have to get finally divorced from one's relationship with one of one's parents or divorced from one's infatuation with their marriage and so on seriatim through the sibling ranks and the ranks of 'significant others'.

After one has gone through this more or less successfully one is left on one's own ready to face the possibility of marriage, yet once again, with someone else from outside the system, but no doubt within their own comparable if not identical system.

Ultimately to avoid going through endless repetitions of what one has already gone through, but using new (i.e. unoriginal) other people instead of the original other people (i.e. the even less original others of one's family) one might decide on a return to oneself - and then to see what sort of relationship one might wish to have with oneself. One may further marry oneself or get further divorced from oneself, and maybe divorce and estrangement from oneself are not quite the same thing. So one retraces one's steps and reaches a point of either hating oneself enough to generate yet another repetition of the ancient scheme of half made-up minds and lives, or of loving oneself enough through a serial divorce from the relationships of all other half-married, half-divorced people in one's mind, in order, fully enough, to meet oneself and then decide what, if anything, one wants to do with oneself in relation to all these other relationship possibilities.

One may attain a point of sufficient 'narcissism' to reevaluate that 'psycho-pathological' category in the direction of a realization that one can never love another person until one can love oneself enough - on every level including the level of proper (i.e. full orgasmic) masturbation - that is, to masturbate at least once with joy.

Without a secure enough base in self-love one inevitably and repetitively acts out the whole mass of implanted guilt in one's relations with others. In the earlier part of this century mental hospitals in England supplied their staff with a large poster listing the causes of mental disease. Prominent at the head of this list was masturbation. The progress of liberal psychiatry has made this attribution seem ridiculous, but this is simply to displace a lie by a lie. Of course masturbation drives people mad if one begins to see it as a form of sexuality that denies the family one has to prepare oneself to set up, if it is seen as a denial of the socially desired loss of oneself into otherness - but above all if one masturbates properly, that is to say in the sense of a limitless exploration of one's own body, including every form of anti-social withdrawal that might be entailed by this anti-epistemology of carnal knowledge of one's self that moves towards the other when it is ready.

I think it worth while at this point to distinguish between a loving relationship and a love relationship, although we may always hope for a merging of the two. A loving relationship is a relationship in which each person makes it possible for the other to love themselves enough to precondition a development of the relationship. It's all a matter of how one doesn't stop the other person being nice and kind to herself or himself. These phrases are banal to the point of emotional idiocy but we may have to become emotional idiots with a full respect of this need in ourselves, first, and then in the other. My experience has been that one can do no good work with a group until one can preconditionally catalyse the possibility of being nice and kind with each other. This always takes time and it takes work. But then to love we have perhaps to sweat out the disillusionment of love.

Let us try to put this in slightly different terms.


1 One reflects on the difference in historical effect of the written and the oral Torah. The former became a humanly restricting but socially cohering teaching; the latter, transmitted by face-to-face confrontation situations in which every small gesture and intonation became part of the message, became a dangerous source of joy and liberation that all the time had to be drawn back into the verbal capsule.

2 I am not disputing the classical Marxist distinction between the infra-structure as materiality in the sense of means of production and relations of production interacting and interpenetrating with the supra-structure which is consciousness, and its products which ,reflect' the infra-structure. By ontological infra-structure I mean the source of the interaction and interpenetration, the unanalysable but locatable precondition of analysis.

"The Topography of Love"
by David Cooper.
From The Death of the Family, (Allen Lane 1971

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