Desire and love

Desire is the wish to consume. To imbibe, devour, ingest and digest — annihilate. Desire needs no other prompt but the presence of alterity.

Zygmunt Bauman | December 2003 issue

Desire and love. Siblings. Sometimes born as twins; never, though, as identical (single egg) twins. Desire is the wish to consume. To imbibe, devour, ingest and digest – annihilate. Desire needs no other prompt but the presence of alterity. That presence is always and already an affront and a humiliation. Desire is the urge to avenge the affront and avert the humiliation. It is a compulsion to close the gap to alterity, as it beckons and repels, as it seduces by the promise of the unexplored and irritates by its evasive, stubborn otherness. Desire is an impulse to strip alterity of its otherness; thereby, to disempower. From the tasting, exploring, familiarising and domesticating, alterity would emerge with the sting of temptation pulled out and broken. If it survives the treatment, that is. The odds are, though, that in the process its undigested remnants will have fallen from the realm of consumables to that of waste.

Consumables attract; waste repels. After desire comes waste disposal. It is, it seems, the squeezing of alienness out of alterity and the dumping of the desiccated carapace that congeal into the joy of satisfaction, bound to dissipate as soon as the job is done. In its essence, desire is an urge of destruction. And, though but obliquely, the urge of self-destruction: desire is contaminated, from its birth, by the death wish. This is, though, its closely guarded secret; guarded mostly from itself.

Love is, on the other hand, the wish to care, and to preserve the object of the care. A centrifugal impulse, unlike centripetal desire. An impulse to expand, to go beyond, to stretch to what is ‘out there’. To ingest, absorb and assimilate the subject in the object, not vice versa as in the case of desire. Love is about adding to the world – each addition being the living trace of the loving self; in love, the self is, bit by bit, transplanted onto the world. The loving self expands through giving itself away to the loved object. Love is about self’s survival-through-self’s-alterity. And so love means an urge to protect, to feed, to shelter; also to caress, cosset and pamper, or to jealously guard, fence off, incarcerate. Love means being-in-service, standing-in-disposition, awaiting command – but it may also mean expropriation and seizing of responsibility. Mastery through surrender; sacrifice rebounding as aggrandisement. Love is a Siamese twin of power greed; neither would survive the separation.

If desire wants to consume, love wants to possess. While the fulfilment of desire is coterminous with the annihilation of its object – love grows with its acquisitions and is fulfilled in their durability. If desire is self-destructive, love is self-perpetuating.

Like desire, love is a threat to its object. Desire destroys its object, destroying itself in the process; the protective net which love weaves caringly around its object love enslaves its object. Love takes captive and puts apprehended in custody; it makes an arrest, for the prisoner’s protection.

Desire and love act at cross-purposes. Love is a net cast on eternity, desire is an stratagem to be spared the chores of net weaving. True to their nature, love would strive to perpetuate the desire. Desire, on the other hand, would shun love’s shackles.

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Desire and love

Desire is the wish to consume. To imbibe, devour, ingest and digest — annihilate. Desire needs no other prompt but the presence of alterity.

Zygmunt Bauman | December 2003 issue

Desire and love. Siblings. Sometimes born as twins; never, though, as identical (single egg) twins. Desire is the wish to consume. To imbibe, devour, ingest and digest – annihilate. Desire needs no other prompt but the presence of alterity. That presence is always and already an affront and a humiliation. Desire is the urge to avenge the affront and avert the humiliation. It is a compulsion to close the gap to alterity, as it beckons and repels, as it seduces by the promise of the unexplored and irritates by its evasive, stubborn otherness. Desire is an impulse to strip alterity of its otherness; thereby, to disempower. From the tasting, exploring, familiarising and domesticating, alterity would emerge with the sting of temptation pulled out and broken. If it survives the treatment, that is. The odds are, though, that in the process its undigested remnants will have fallen from the realm of consumables to that of waste.

Consumables attract; waste repels. After desire comes waste disposal. It is, it seems, the squeezing of alienness out of alterity and the dumping of the desiccated carapace that congeal into the joy of satisfaction, bound to dissipate as soon as the job is done. In its essence, desire is an urge of destruction. And, though but obliquely, the urge of self-destruction: desire is contaminated, from its birth, by the death wish. This is, though, its closely guarded secret; guarded mostly from itself.

Love is, on the other hand, the wish to care, and to preserve the object of the care. A centrifugal impulse, unlike centripetal desire. An impulse to expand, to go beyond, to stretch to what is ‘out there’. To ingest, absorb and assimilate the subject in the object, not vice versa as in the case of desire. Love is about adding to the world – each addition being the living trace of the loving self; in love, the self is, bit by bit, transplanted onto the world. The loving self expands through giving itself away to the loved object. Love is about self’s survival-through-self’s-alterity. And so love means an urge to protect, to feed, to shelter; also to caress, cosset and pamper, or to jealously guard, fence off, incarcerate. Love means being-in-service, standing-in-disposition, awaiting command – but it may also mean expropriation and seizing of responsibility. Mastery through surrender; sacrifice rebounding as aggrandisement. Love is a Siamese twin of power greed; neither would survive the separation.

If desire wants to consume, love wants to possess. While the fulfilment of desire is coterminous with the annihilation of its object – love grows with its acquisitions and is fulfilled in their durability. If desire is self-destructive, love is self-perpetuating.

Like desire, love is a threat to its object. Desire destroys its object, destroying itself in the process; the protective net which love weaves caringly around its object love enslaves its object. Love takes captive and puts apprehended in custody; it makes an arrest, for the prisoner’s protection.

Desire and love act at cross-purposes. Love is a net cast on eternity, desire is an stratagem to be spared the chores of net weaving. True to their nature, love would strive to perpetuate the desire. Desire, on the other hand, would shun love’s shackles.

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