Book Review: Lacan on Love, by Bruce Fink (2017)

Lacan on Love, an Exploration of Lacan’s Seminar VIII, Transference

By Bruce Fink, 2016, Polity Press

          Over the past 20 years Bruce Fink has made valuable contributions to psychoanalytic literature by making the writings of Jacques Lacan accessible to the English speaking world through his essential texts which include A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis:  Theory and Technique (1997), Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique:  A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners (2007), as well as with his translation of Lacan’s Écrits (2006).  Fink explains Lacan’s concepts in ways that render the challenging theories both accessible and dynamic, while focusing on their clinical relevance in a contemporary psychoanalytic context.  

          Following his 2015 translation of Lacan’s Seminar VIII, Transference, Fink offers us Lacan on Love which integrates a close reading of Lacan’s text with writings on the subject of love from Freud, Plato, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, and other thinkers throughout the ages.  He organizes his book around Lacan’s three registers of the Symbolic (love as desire), the Imaginary (love as passion, love as related to narcissism) and the Real (love as related to the drives).  He then carries his exploration into general considerations on love involving the cultures of love throughout the ages before offering a detailed examination of Lacan’s reading of Plato’s Symposium in Seminar VIII.

          Bruce Fink begins each section by culling together what Freud wrote about love in different texts, walking us through their progressions of thought and coherently organizing their concepts.  He then shows how Lacan uses his own readings of these concepts to develop theories which involve his familiar ideas on desire, demand, lack and one’s relation to the Other.  Fink interprets and expands many of Lacan’s quoted passages from Seminar VIII, including the often quoted “love is to giving what you don’t have,” in terms of the structures of desire in Lacan’s thought.  He aptly relates these concepts around love to the hysteric and obsessional orientations and how they involve notions of femininity and masculinity.  Along the way he gives us both insightful clinical examples as well as applications of Lacan’s thoughts on love to cultural phenomena.  For example, he cleverly relates the contemporary trend of many women being preoccupied with thinness to an hysterically-oriented identification with fashion models.  In this example, Fink hypothesizes how this identification might involve a triangulation in which the hysteric individual imagines that the thinness the women in fashion magazines must have, while she lacks, represents femininity and must be what men desire.  He also extrapolates some of Freud’s statements on love and libido to address questions involving of why so many people are unable to have love and lust for the same object at the same time.  Fink touches on the Imaginary dimension of psychotic infatuation as well as the how the register of the Real might be involved in the compulsion towards love at first sight.

          In the section of the book regarding general considerations on Love, Bruce Fink works his way through an examination of many kinds of love including friendship, attachment, Christian love, courtly love, concupiscence, and even hatred, looking at the changing cultures of love throughout western history in a manner that relates to Umberto Eco’s History of Beauty (2004), and On Ugliness (2007).  In the final major section of the book, Fink’s close examination of Lacan’s reading of Plato’s Symposium explains how Lacan analyzes the text in a subtle manner which takes into consideration the relation of form to content in Plato’s work as well as the contents of each of the discussants’ speeches, from Phaedrus, to Socrates and Aristophanes.  He reveals Lacan’s insights into how the sometimes comic interplay between the characters in Plato’s narrative handles the paradoxes involved in the many notions of love each figure presents.   

          With Lacan on Love, Bruce Fink makes a contribution that extends far beyond a secondary text on Lacan’s Seminar VIII.  The breadth of what he touches on is vast and impressive, and at times sprawling.  He organizes and elucidates many of Freud and Lacan’s ideas on love, while relating them to a contemporary cultural context.  He demonstrates how Lacan’s insights on love can be applied in a clinical context, articulating the distinction between loving and being loved and describing how one can listen with love in an analytic setting.  He touches on the multifarious notions of love throughout history, involving both analytic texts and notions in popular culture in a way that is playful, curious and true to the spirit of Lacan’s own enigmatic readings of texts.  This book exceeds the scope of its title and promises to be a valuable text for anyone interested in exploring this essential element of the human condition, this thing called love.