Below the Radar Transcript
Episode 17: Psychoanalyzing love and desire — with Hilda Fernandez
Speakers: Melissa Roach, Maria Cecilia Saba, Jamie-Leigh Gonzales, Am Johal, Hilda Fernandez
Melissa Roach: You’re listening to Below the Radar, a knowledge mobilization project recorded out of 312 Main. This podcast is produced by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.
Maria Cecilia Saba: Below the Radar brings forward ideas to encourage meaningful exchanges across communities.
Jamie-Leigh Gonzales: Each episode we interview guests on topics ranging from environmental and social justice, arts, culture, community building, and urban issues. This podcast is recorded on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
Jamie-Leigh Gonzales: I’m Jamie-Leigh Gonzales and this week our topic is probably near and dear to many of our hearts. Hilda Fernandez joins us to talk to talk to Am Johal about love. Hilda is a clinical psychoanalyst doing graduate studies at SFU, and the former president of Lacan Salon, a group that meets biweekly to read and discuss the work of Freud and Jacques Lacan. Here she talks about love and desire from a psychoanalytical perspective; about the stages of love, how it’s sustained and reinvented, and also about the breakups and hatred that can come along with it.
Am Johal: Hi there! Welcome to Below The Radar; I’m really excited that you could join us today. We’re gonna be speaking with Hilda Fernandez, who is a practicing psychoanalyst and a founder of the Lacan Salon, also a doctoral student at SFU in Geography. Welcome, Hilda!
Hilda Fernandez: Thank you.
AJ: We’re gonna talk a little bit about love and desire, and a few other things; part of your practice, part of your thinking and the conferences that you’ve been involved in putting together. I studied with Alain Badiou, so I’m gonna throw out a few quotes from him. And, I know that you have been thinking a lot through other thinkers, but one of the things that Badieu writes in his book is, borrowing from Rimbeaud, the phrase that, “love needs reinventing”. And this question of how can we think about reinventing love today. And also in a world with technology, and speed, and the way that it unfolds that the sexual act itself ends in a kind of emptiness today, and how people deal with that observation. Badiou also says that love is a tenacious adventure, that the adventure side is necessary, but equally so is the need for tenacity itself in terms of the fidelity of love, and the working through of the challenges of relationships in the general sense. I’ll leave it at that for now, but I wanted to see how you wanted to open on this question.
HF: Yes, I very much like the way Badiou approaches love. I think that he really brings the Lacanian theory into a meaningful narrative --because Lacan was so interested in structure and really looking at positionality and language, and sometimes it didn’t give us some sort of narrative or content to make sense of those formulas, so I really like Badieu doing that. And I like his concept of “love is an event that we have to maintain fidelity to”, but it’s difficult to maintain fidelity to love because we have to deal with our narcissism. So love is very narcissist, right? There’s the first Cupid’s arrow, right? The encounter, and then you’re captivated by a gaze or a smile, and then everything around you starts to feel unreal and magical and you’re completely in this exuberance of feelings. And it’s a rupture of the quotidien. And Barthes says, “It’s all the delights of the Earth”, right? So this event starts to move into the ambivalence of love, and the difficulties of love because love is always kind of susceptible to be lost. The value of the object of love is that you can lose that loved one, and that’s the beauty of love. You enter love knowing that there’s the possibility of losing, and that creates a lot of ambivalence, a lot of anxiety. We want to hold on to that, and, as I was saying before, our narcissist gets in the way because we’re asking for reciprocity all the time as if it was an exchange. And this demand becomes quite voracious, quite insatiable, right? You want a proof, you demand a proof of love, and that’s one main difficulty, right? It’s almost like we capture our own image through the other. And Lacan says that love has to do with knowledge in the sense that the other can tell me about myself, the other can invent me as a better person through their eyes. And then we don’t want to lose that. We hold on to that, but that’s a capture of the imaginary, that’s kind of the first stage of love. And, yeah, I like when you said “reinvention” because that’s kind of like… I did this little map about the different stages of love, and the last one was reinvention, constant reinvention. Love works in the scene of the two Badiou and...
AJ: In a way, Badiou and Lacan are talking about the movement of the one to the two, and kind of the impossibility of that as kind of built into an idea of love.
HF: Right. Right, right. right. Yes, and it’s from the one to the two in Badiou, yeah. I’m coming from Lacan. I was just thinking for Bataille, for example, the erotic encounter has to do with this impetus toward the one, toward the continuity, because between you and me there’s a gulf, right? Between me and the other there’s a gap that the erotic act tries to shorten and become one. But Bataille says, “That’s death”, right? Continuity, being one with the other, is losing yourself fully, so that could be the field of Death. So, the erotic act in a way is somehow embracing death, but instating life in spite of that desire of becoming one, right? So, yeah, the scene of the two is pretty much love.
AJ: So, a couple of years ago, the Lacan Salon --which you were involved in founding here in Vancouver--, was involved in a conference on love. And, I wonder if you could maybe just begin by talking a little bit about what the Lacan Salon is and what you’re trying to do with it as somebody coming from Mexico – and Lacanian psychoanalisis, particularly in the US and Canada, not having a mainstream landing in the way that it does in parts of Latin American, Europe and other places.
HF: Yes. I came here in 2000, and then it took me seven years to realize that there was nothing Lacanian (laughs). Seven years! No, I was connected to other groups of psychoanalysis that are from other schools of thought. For example, object relations; the Western Branch at that time was Western Canada Psychotherapy Association; and then 2007 I was working with a guy, Michael McConkey, working on how we can invite Lacanian thought into discussion, and then we started the Lacan Salon. He disappeared after the third session. And then there was the Clint Burnham, Paul Kinsbury and Jesse Proudfoot. They contributed to founding the Lacan Salon that now has been working for eleven years, believe it or not!
AJ: There’s a very SFU-heavy contingent there.
HF: Yeah, very heavy, very SFU-y. But, we have people from UBC and from anywhere, really; you don’t have to have any credential or any allegiance to any institution, it’s very free, open to anyone. And, you have supported us very much with the space at SFU Woodward’s, so we meet there every other Tuesday, and we discuss different texts of Lacan and Freud. And two years ago, it was 2016 in the summer, we had a collaboration with the APW Association of Psychoanalytic Workgroups, and we organized a conference on love. They have every year a different theme and that theme, obviously, is a dear one for everyone (laughs). So, it was a lot of psychoanalysts from different parts of the world –Lacanian psychoanalysts—and then there was all the constituency of the Lacan Salon, which is very much academics and grad students that are not necessarily clinicians, so it was a very good encounter. And in that occasion, I had the greatest pleasure of knowing a dear friend, that was a very short friendship, unfortunately: Anne Dufourmantelle. We had a kind of instant connection and had wonderful conversations over those three years (laughs)–that was a slip of the tongue (laughs). Three days. I wish they were three years, that’s my desire. So, it was wonderful to have her here, she had such an amazing presence. And I’m talking in the past because, unfortunately, she tragically passed away the year after. Exactly one year. And her passing away has been very shocking for the community, right? She was such a wonderful philosopher…
AJ: And interestingly, in the talk that she gave at SFU, she talked about the notion of a drowning child. The act of doing that, in the sense of how she passed away, as well, attempting to save these two children... I had a chance to study with Anne at the European Graduate School and, you know, she was a remarkable thinker, a really great thinker on love. And the work that she did through Derrida and other places on hospitality was really essential to thinking… and she was just such a forceful participant in places like the European Graduate School, but also as a guest at this conference. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that correspondence and conversations you were having with Anne on this topic.
HF: Yes, uhm. She presented a case. We talked about the case. I’ll briefly say it was the love relationship, or kind of (love) story, of a young man, that was very young, like a child, and was drowning in a lake. And there was an adult man that save him. And there were some questions by the family about whether or not, in the rescue, he was sexually abused or molested, by this man. So that was something that happened long, long ago, And, then, these two men encounter, many, many, many years later, when the child became an adult, and they –she said-- incarnated –that was the word she used--, incarnated that love. So, there was some love there. So, we talked about that case more in depth. But we talked about all sorts of things. About the patriarchy in philosophy, and how to subvert that phallic knowledge that permeates in all academia. And we talked about our love stories (laughs), that was fun. I was going to visit her the following year in Europe, exactly in the place where she died. And I always lament –yeah, you know, my omnipotence (laughs)—I think, “Oh, if I had been there things would be different”; “What if”, right? I don’t know why I think that it would be different, but I lament not having visited her; else we’d had a plan together. But it was, for me, a great encounter. I think a lot of her, in my life.
AJ: And, in terms of how you’re thinking about love today, who are you reading? And how are you thinking about it today? And, also, in terms of your practice, because I imagine a lot of issues of relationships and love come into your clinical practice as well.
HF: It’s absolutely central, right? Lacan says the demand –any demand, like “I want that coffee” or “I want you to get in time”, or “I want to go to Europe”--, all those demands are demands for love. So, there’s always at the core this concept of love. And, also, it’s often the endpoint of the horizon of desire for the analysant: “I want to find love, it’s just that the problem is that there’s not like a store” (laughs). In our consumerist kind of approach. There is no “love store”; like, there’s nothing you can really do purposely as in these all-affirmative, ego-psychology, “you can do it by yourself”. Actually, love doesn’t come that way. Love is this encounter that we don’t really know how it happens, but it happens because there’s some openness, right? As I said before, you enter losing, in a way. Lacan says, “Love has to do with giving what you don’t have”, so you have to make a space in your psyche, in your heart. You have to acknowledge there is a lack so you can take the other as your lover. If you are full, if you are sutured, you are never going to find love, right? And how you get to that point is a process of understanding why we are mentalized to denying our lack and seeing that as a negative, but it’s really that what allows the other to enter. I approach, in the clinical, from the perspective of Lacan obviously, who… he didn’t do, really, a lot of theory about love. He theorized sexuation, he theorized desire, the unconscious, language, all those things, but love… I mean, love is all-permeating his work, but he doesn’t have a specific formalization as Badieu points out. He talks about this lack, but also how that love that we were talking about –in Freud was the (german word), this inamoration is also linked to hate, right? We love and hate. And often, often, when we are super in love, as soon as the other one disappoints us --or leaves us, which is really not fun--, then we get really pissed, and we hate the other, like, hate it, like, deeply, right? So, usually the hate that comes after love is in proportion to the intensity of the love that you experience.
AJ: Yes. I think Glen Coulthard talks about the relationship between love and hate, and the relationship to politics. That when somebody takes something away that you love, or something that needs to be preserved as a part of a way of being in the world, a natural response to it is a kind of hatred, it is a kind of resentment, and there’s a kind of productivity to that, as well. And the way Badieu talks about politics, science, art, as being a kind of truth-procedure… He talks about love in the same way, as a kind of material production between people. How would you characterize that in relation to how Lacan approaches it? Do you see differences there or do you see some connection between their approaches?
HF: Yeah, I see a connection, I mean, with this truth procedure. Lacan would say something like the “imaginary love”, which is this… He calls it “enamoration”, énamoration (in French), which means “hate and love, together”, that can be transformed to a symbolic love that is imaginary love by, sort of, the Oath –that in Barthes is the Oath, or in Marion--, which is the “I love you”, “I give you my lack”. That is more a symbolic pact, right? The symbolic element subdues a little bit that intense narcissism that is at the core of love. And, also, he moves it towards the sexual non-relation. Lacan says we cannot… that the sexual relation doesn’t exist, and it means that we cannot have this “One” that Bataille says. We can never achieve that One, so we have to try to come to terms with that discontinuity, with that separation. So, for Lacan, in terms of the sexual relationship, love is what makes desire and jouissance condescend, like, kind of getting to certain agreement. It’s a way of writing, in spite of that fatality –he says-- of the non-relation, is trying to relate subject-to-subject, rather than subject-to-object, which is the way that we do. But there was something else I wanted to say there about… Yeah, the subject-to-subject relations… Oh, yeah, also, in terms of the truth procedure, is this back-and-forth between Erastes and Eromenos, which are the positions that Lacan takes from Plato in The Banquet or The Symposium. The Erastes is the one that loves, is the lover; it’s the one that gets the best deal in spite of the fact that men stray with the thing. You want to be loved, but is that truth procedure of the lover, that labour of the lover, that is transformative of the subject. Whereas the Eromenos, which is the default position that we have –we all want to be loved no matter what, right?--, and that passive demand doesn’t allow any transformation, just the receiving. And, that’s the story, for example, of Don Juan, Don Giovanni, right? The compulsion, repetition of seduction, or the women or men who are trying just to seduce, or serial daters… They just want that high of the first stage of the arrow. They fabricate, in a way, this first stage of love, in this énamoration, and they just exit every time. So, they are just looking for that, they just want to be loved. They don’t want to enter that exchange, which is, “I give you my vulnerability in hope that you take it, in hope that you host it”.
AJ: One of the things that Anne talks about in a really interesting way, Anne Dufourmantelle, is, sort of, when one goes past the initial infatuation of love and there is a loss, or a lack of trust, that happens to surpass and to get around that, what a new beginning might look like. And, I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, in terms of the people that you’re reading and… Because if love is to endure and to have a sense of fidelity, there’s breakdowns that inevitably occur in any relationship. How does one embark on a new beginning as part of the process of love?
HF: Right. Yeah, I really like very much the fidelity to the event. Badieu talks about how we can honour that moment of encounter, overcoming that kind of narcissistic trap. Lacan mentions at some point that love is comical (laughs). Love is comical because you can see the person that is in love and is absolutely in the clouds, and then the following week they’re like, “This motherfucker!” (laughs). So, very hateful, and that kind of thing. So, I mean, observing from the outside is comical, right? But then it’s how you can accept the person not as an object that is going to reproduce the beloved image of yourself, but accept that person with their perspiration, and their smell, and their… as Lady Gaga says, “with their ugly and disease”. Can we love that? That is the question. Can we reinvent love? And I think that’s the… I mean, I have been married for a long time, more than 20 years –long time!—and it’s always these encounters, and then encounters, but it is the willingness of both, right? I always… When I go to weddings, in the card I always say the same: “May you never lose the willingness to reinvent love”. Because if one of them, of the couple, is not willing… there’s not much to say. And that’s so painful for the other because you want to continue with the labour of love, you want to continue building but the other can’t, or doesn’t want to. And then, yeah, that’s the difficult part, if you’re on the other side.
AJ: Yeah, I just want to press this for a second (presses toy unicorn which sounds like fairy bells). This is a little unicorn that Hilda got me when I was recently at the hospital. But, I wanted to change the topic for something new, which is that you’ve recently started working as a grad student. In terms of bringing some of the psychoanalytic work to geography, a discipline which is very open and takes on other disciplines, and this type of thing. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the research that you’re embarking on right now.
HF: I have been working in Vancouver Coastal Health since 2004 as a psychotherapist in one program that is called “Safer”, that now is under the umbrella of Outpatient Services at Vancouver General Hospital. I work there as a psychotherapist with people that have been touched by suicide, either because they have had attempts, suicidal thoughts, or they have lost someone through suicide. So, quite a lot, I see people with trauma, trauma histories. So, then, I decided to do something about investigating what are our beliefs in the system, and I’m doing an institutional critique on how the different levels of service provision conceptualize trauma and healing. And it has been an interesting journey; I’m in the middle of the field work and I am interviewing managers and clinicians, and I’m also interviewing patients. I have had a little bit of difficulty to gather some patients because the ethics review has certain procedures that you cannot exert on due influence, but at the same time it doesn’t provide you relations. I’m working with the aboriginal wellness team, I’m working with one mental health team, and addiction services as well as outpatient services. So, it’s very interesting to see, for example, the indigenous ways. I’m absolutely amazed by the way of working with them, it’s so different, and I’m so privileged and so happy to work with them. So, my intention is to bring some understanding of how these structural discourses shape the way we see trauma. I think that we can do a way better job, right? But, I am very glad that the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute is funding my research, actually.
AJ: Yeah; and how are you finding taking this work within the field of geography, which has its own histories, lexicon things, to organize the discipline itself. How does psychoanalysis and geography –and that encounter-- fit together?
HF: Right. In geography there’s a lot of things that you can study from a different perspective –in human geography, I’m part of human geography--, and I’m particularly there from psychoanalytic geographies, there’s kind of a scholarly work around psychoanalytic geographies that has to do with thinking relations of proximity, relations of space, relations of scale… So, it has a very strong theoretical framework that I can incorporate to my understandings of the unconscious within the structure of an institution. So, it was the best deal that I could get to do my PhD because I didn’t want to go into Psychology nor having the opportunity of working on the theories that I have studied forever (laughs), for 20 plus years.
AJ: Where do you see future conferences that the Lacan Salon will organize in Vancouver? Are there some ideas around themes that the group is interested in investigating?
HF: Well, we have this year, actually, the conference, La Conference, that we have been organizing… I think 2009 was the first, it’s every other year. And this year we have Lacan and the Environment. But, I’m not the president anymore, the clinical director…
AJ: The Queen Bee of Lacan Salon (laughs).
HF: (Laughs) But now, I’d like to propose something regarding politics. I think that, in the world, psychoanalysis is moving more into really how can we talk about political change more pragmatically, more practically. There’s a lot of groups, everywhere, from all the different schools of thought, obviously as a response to the rise of neo-fascist groups, climate change crisis that we have ten years, of so, to do something dramatically different. So, I think I would like to propose that as a possibility for a conference.
AJ: So, Hilda, let’s maybe delve a little bit into the breakup and what comes up in the realm of love.
HF: Hm. One time, I twitted something that says, “Unbeknownst of his ways, love starts and ends. You just know it did”. So, yeah, breakups happen. Some are able to be healed and you can reconnect with the loved one, and sometimes that is not possible. And this is the most devastating for people, their heart broken, as we said before. It causes a lot of hate, and that hate can often be addressed to the ex-lover, but also against yourself. And, I see that often in the context of suicidal crises, people are so shocked by the loss that they attempt against themselves. And, this catastrophic hurt can be healed once that you are willing to let go of the narcissistic image that that one provided you. So, at the core of this horrendous hate and hurt, you are complicit, in a way, by trying to hold so hard on that beautiful image of yourself that the other provided for whatever time the love lasted. And then, that grief can be healed once you put yourself on your own side, because when you are trapped in that imaginary state of the love object, you are on the side of the other, and you are under its control, but it’s gone. Like, move on, right? Just recover yourself, recover your project, recover what is important for you rather than dwelling in this thing. But, yeah, it requires some process of understanding. As Barthes says, it’s also those tears and that drama… it has its enjoyment, right? It’s like, “I love”, it’s a demonstrative act, right? “I was in love, look at me, I’m a mess!”. And, that’s enjoyable, a little bit, but the problem is that, as everything else, we are entropic beings, right? And we go right into destruction. So, it’s important to remind ourselves that, yeah, it’s just an image of your own self. Just let it go. Concentrate on what is really important.
AJ: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us, Hilda. Is there one last thing you’d like to tell us about love and desire?
HF: To… Also, to love, you have to be aware of the split that is within you. The split between what you say you want, and the other part of you that is your body and your unconscious. And whenever you are able to accept that split. Because it’s a split mainly because of censorship, because of internalized malignity, in a way, that is within you. So, often we are our worst enemies. And, the more you can understand that split between those parts of you, the easiest it is to accept yourself, and then accept the other, and then find love.
AJ: Thank you so much, Hilda.
HF: (sound of fairy bells from unicorn) Thank you! (laughs) I love it!
JLG: Thank you, Hilda, for discussing your work with us and doing some demystifying on what exactly might be going on when we find and lose love. To learn more about what Hilda is up to with her fellow Lacanians, you can check out the Lacan Salon website, which we link to in the description, or join them any other Tuesday at SFU Woodward’s. Thanks to our team here, that produces this show, including myself, Melissa Roach, and Maria Cecilia Saba. Thank you to Davis Steele for our theme music, and thanks to all the listeners.