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Book Review: Lacan on Love: An Exploration of Lacan’s Seminar VIII, TransferenceLacan on Love: An Exploration of Lacan’s Seminar VIII, Transference. By FinkBruce. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016, xii + 253 pp., $69.95 hardcover, $22.75 paperback.

  • Boston Psychoanalytic Institute
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Book Reviews
Lacan on Love: an expLoration of Lacans seminar viii,
Transference. By Bruce Fink. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016,
xii + 253 pp., $69.95 hardcover, $22.75 paperback.
DOI: 10.1177/0003065117695262
Bruce Fink is a distinguished author, translator, and practitioner of
Lacanian psychoanalysis. In this recent work he explores concepts of love
in psychoanalysis, philosophy, and literature, with an emphasis on the
theories of Freud and Lacan. His wide-ranging approach takes up ques-
tions of desire, passion, infatuation, sexuality, durable love, and their cul-
tural and historical variations. Along the way, he comments on popular
culture and clinical material to convey the myths and mysteries of these
universal human experiences. Fink does not attempt a comprehensive
review of the subject, omitting, for example, Bergmann’s important work
on repetition and regression in relationships (1982, 1988) and Kernberg’s
object relations approach to love (1998). Nor does he cover the varied
formulations suggested by Lacan over his long career. Fink focuses prin-
cipally on Lacan’s reading of Plato’s Symposium in his Seminar VIII, in
which he develops a model of transference love.
Both Freud and Lacan had a lot of things to say about love and its role
in psychoanalysis. Freud famously discussed love triangles, the tension
between object love and narcissism, the separation of sexual from tender
feelings, and the residues of oedipal conflicts in intimate relationships. In
his early period, Lacan replaced libidinal motives with the phenomeno-
logical notion of a desire that cannot be reduced to drives or object rela-
tions, but is inherent in intersubjectivity. “Man’s desire is the desire of the
Other,” he wrote, borrowing from Hegel’s ambiguous phrase. To imitate
or fulfill the Other’s desire, however, evokes a childish wish for union,
not the limited satisfactions of an actual relationship with another subject.
In this regard, Lacan distinguished between imaginary love, seeking
fusional mirroring of an ideal self, and symbolic love, which accepts
incompleteness and separation. The tension between the two makes inti-
mate encounters threatening to our narcissism; the powerful other can
bestow a total recognition and affirmation of our ideal self, or can
695262APAXXX10.1177/0003065117695262Book ReviewsExperiential Knowing
Book Reviews
disconfirm and negate us. Fink expresses in non-Lacanian language the
vulnerability of patients with a fragile sense of self and personal worth.
The clinician’s goal, he writes, should be “to help them consolidate a
sense of self that will allow them to love themselves” (p. 89). The sym-
bolic object (the everyday neurotic other in our lives) remains other, not
the reflection of a narcissistic image, but what then makes another subject
specially desirable?
The theme of foundational desire persisted in Lacan’s writings, long
after his interest in recognition and encounter ceded place to a focus on
the real of the body. Early life experience “in the real” becomes precipi-
tated in the emerging subject as an unconscious fantasy of physical loss,
creating what he called the objet a (object a) as the virtual remnant of
separation. In his discussion of the Symposium, Lacan equated Plato’s
analogy of the agalma, the hidden treasure inside a figurine, to the object
a, the fantasized cause of desire within the love object. A sense of lack
motivates the desiring lover, who seeks something he doesn’t possess and
perhaps didn’t even know he missed until something about another per-
son awakens his interest. He may believe he looks for certain specific
qualities or features in a partner, only to be regularly disappointed by his
choice of the wrong person. Either the object of attraction turns out to be
nothing like the unconsciously sought cause of desire (the object a) or
else the unobtainability of the other’s affection heightens the imaginary
attachment to a fantasy.
Failures in love relationships motivate many patients to enter analysis,
often expecting guidance and explanations, but transference love (or its
absence) readily becomes the focus. For Fink it is “absolutely crucial that
the analyst show love for the analysand in the form of intense listening and
curiosity” (p. 50) directed toward the patient’s unconscious, but he must
not seek a response. The analysand, however, does expect to be loved.
Fink quotes Lacan’s comment about a patient “having the good fortune,
the incredible luck, of meeting the right person” in analysis, which he
interprets as the good fortune of finding someone who will not repeat
another failed relationship (either explicitly, as in boundary violations, or
implicitly, by other forms of enactment). The analyst evokes love by rep-
resenting the cause of desire, by being the willing carrier of the agalma,
not by being a good love object. An analysand can then face the weaving
of his own unconscious fantasies into the experience of transference, gain-
ing knowledge of the conditions of love that determine his object choice.
Analysis when successful breaks the repetition and enables the patient to
be freer in his choices. But, Fink argues, the process cannot teach a mature
or healthy path to successful love, and all attempts to define such solutions
have been at best quite incomplete. Each person must work out his own
balance between imaginary, symbolic, sensual, and moral impulses within
his specific cultural context. Our contemporary idealization of romantic
love, for example, imposes a standard that may be hard to live up to, given
the intrinsic limitations of relationships.
The variations and conundrums of love outlined by Fink do not lend
themselves to tidy explanations. I found discussion of the roles of lover
and beloved in psychoanalysis (important in Lacan’s discussion of the
Symposium) lacking consistency, in part because Lacan said different
things over the years. Apart from unethical behavior, the analyst’s proper
role is difficult to specify. Fink observes that the analyst must find some-
thing to love in each analysand, but referring to the unconscious as his
true object strikes me as unrealistically impersonal. The entire book reit-
erates the problem as posed by novelists and scholars across the centuries
since Plato. There is no perfect love story, but every form arises from each
subject’s unconscious and life history. Fink concludes by quoting Emma’s
remark in the Austen novel that there must be a hundred different ways to
be in love. Every theorist of love falls short, whether by positing an ideal
type, abstract spiritual beliefs, or a biological reductionism. Indeed, this
debunking of positions returns us to the Symposium, with its succession
of contradictory and sometimes foolish speeches, by Socrates and his
guests, in their attempts to explain love. As Fink makes clear, neither
Plato himself nor Lacan’s interpretation of the Symposium are immune
from ambiguity and contradiction. Can love, which is irrational and self-
ish in its motivation, recognize the unique subjectivity of a partner? Can
altruism be separated from narcissism and masochism? Do men and
women love differently or pursue different kinds of satisfactions? Fink
reminds us that we generalize about these matters at our peril.
Although scholarly in some parts and clinical in others, Fink mostly
avoids pedantic or didactic stances by his digressions, personal comments
about experiences as an analyst, and reflections on the arts and literature.
The result is an informative and readable book that reminds us of the
failed pretensions of psychoanalysis to provide definitive answers or for-
mulae. From the fascinating history of courtly love explored by Lacan, to
Kierkegaard’s tortured reasoning about a higher love freed from crude
Book Reviews
desire, to a dissection of de Rougement’s magisterial Love in the Western
World, and returning finally to Plato, the study of human desire and pas-
sion offers a seemingly inexhaustable source of problems and mysteries.
Fink takes us on a lively journey, reviewing familiar territory (all those
Freudian explanations we once accepted), introducing Lacan’s ideas
about love, of which “giving what you don’t have to someone who doesn’t
want any of it” may be the best known, and along the way providing
ample food for thought to clinicians struggling to make sense of them-
selves and their patients.
Bergmann, m.S. (1982). Platonic love, transference love, and love in real life.
Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 30: 87–111.
Bergmann, m.S. (1988). Freud’s three theories of love in the light of later
developments. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 36:
KernBerg, O.F. (1998). Love Relations: Normality and Pathology. New
Haven: Yale University Press.
Lewis A. Kirshner
3517 Duck Pond Road
Waterford, VT 05819
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Evidence is presented that Freud developed three very different theories on love. These theories were not integrated into a coherent theory. In subsequent developments each theory had its own history. The paper discusses the history of the controversy on the genital character, the relation between love and gender identity, between love and narcissism, the hierarchical structure of the capacity to love, and the relation between love and object loss. The impact of some concepts such as symbiosis and the rapprochmente subphase on the understanding of conflicts in loving is raised. While at present differences in emphasis make it difficult to build a coherent psychoanalytic theory of love, it is productive to bring divergent views in touch with each other. A unified theory of love based on psychoanalytic observations is suggested.
Plato and Freud transformed our way of looking at love. In Plato's Dialogues one can trace the transition and transformation of the mythical view on love into philosophical conceptualizations. The waning of the mythical point of view created the demand for man to know himself, and love became a puzzle. Plato was the first to propose that erotic impulses can undergo sublimation to higher and desexualized aims. Freud was not a Platonist, but if we trace the history of certain ideas it becomes evident that Plato's influence on Freud went further and deeper than was assumed by previous psychoanalytic writers. Freud's conceptualization of the libido can be seen as a Latinized version of Plato's Eros. Some of the difficulties associated with the psychoanalytic use of the term sublimation go back to the Platonic origin of the term. Freud's conviction that tender and aim-inhibited love was a later transformation of sexual impulses also went back to Plato, as did his belief that aim-inhibited love endures longer than sexual love. Because erotic love impulses can be sublimated, transference love can be harnessed in the service of cure based on insight. Erotized transference is not based on the refinding of an early love object and therefore is less capable of yielding the therapeutic climate required for psychoanalytic treatment. Freud's treatment procedure confirms Plato's belief in the plasticity of Eros.
Love Relations: Normality and Pathology
  • O F Kernberg
KernBerg, O.F. (1998). Love Relations: Normality and Pathology. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Kirshner 3517 Duck Pond Road Waterford, VT 05819 E-mail: lewis_kirshner@hms
  • A Lewis
Lewis A. Kirshner 3517 Duck Pond Road Waterford, VT 05819 E-mail: