cacher / to hide
A deliberative figure: the amorous subject
wonders, not whether he should declare his love
to the loved being (this is not a figure of avowal),
but to what degree he should conceal the
turbulences of his passion: his desires, his
distresses; in short, his excesses (in Racinian
language: his fureur).
1. X, who left for his vacation without me, has shown no signs of life since his departure: accident? post-office strike? indifference? distancing maneuver? exercise of a passing impulse of autonomy (“His youth deafens him, he fails to hear”)? or simple innocence? I grow increasingly anxious, pass through each act of the waiting-scenario. But when X reappears in one way or another, for he cannot fail to do so (a thought which should immediately dispel any anxiety), what will I say to him? Should I hide my distress — which will be over by then (“How are you?”) Release it aggressively (“That wasn’t at all nice, at least you could have . . .”) or passionately (“Do you know how much worry you caused me?”) Or let this distress of mine be delicately, discreetly understood, so that it will be discovered without having to strike down the other (“I was rather concerned. . .”)? A secondary anxiety seized me, which is that I must determine the degree of publicity I shall give to my initial anxiety.
2. I am caught up in a double discourse, from which I cannot escape. On the one hand, I tell myself: suppose the other, by some arrangement of his own structure, needed my questioning? Then wouldn’t I be justified in abandoning myself to the literal expression, the lyrical utterance of my “passion”? Are not excess and madness my truth, my strength? And if this truth, this strength ultimately prevailed?
But on the other hand, I tell myself: the signs of this passion run the risk of smothering the other. Then should I not, precisely because of my love, hide from the other how much I love him? I see the other with a double vision: sometimes as object, sometimes as subject; I hesitate between tyranny and oblation. Thus I doom myself to blackmail: if I love the other, I am forced to seek his happiness; but then I can only do myself harm: a trap: I am condemned to be a saint or a monster: unable to be the one, unwilling to be the other: hence I tergiversate: I show my passion a little.
3. To impose upon my passion the mask of discretion (of impassivity): this is a strictly heroic value: “It is unworthy of great souls to expose to those around them the distress they feel” (Clotilde de Vaux); Captain Paz, one of Balzac’s heroes, invents a false mistress in order to be sure of keeping his best friend’s wife from knowing that he loves her passionately.
Yet to hide a passion totally (or even to hide, more simply, its excess) is inconceivable: not because the human subject is too weak, but because passion is in essence made to be seen: the hiding must be seen: I want you to know that I am hiding something from you, that is the active paradox I must resolve: at one and the same time it must be known and not known: I want you to know that I don’t want to show my feelings: that is the message I address to the other. Lavatus prodeo: I advance pointing to my mask: I set a mask upon my passion, but with a discreet (and sily) finger I designate this mask. Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator: at the moment of his death, Captain Paz cannot keep from writing to the woman he has loved in silence: no amorous oblation without a final theater: the sign is always victorious.
4. Let us suppose that I have wept, on account of some incident of which the other has not even become aware (to weep is part of the normal activity of the amorous body), and that, so this cannot be seen, I put on dark glasses to mask my swollen eyes (a fine example of denial: to darken the sight in order not to be seen). The intention of this gesture is a calculated one: I want to keep the moral advantage of stoicism, of “dignity” (I take myself for Clotilde de Vaux), and at the same time, contradictorily, I want to provoke the tender question (“But what’s the matter with you?”); I want to be both pathetic and admirable, I want to be at the same time a child and an adult. Thereby I gamble, I take a risk: for it is always possible that the other will simply ask no question whatever about these unaccustomed glasses; that the other will see, in the fact, no sign.
5. In order to suggest, delicately, that I am suffering, in order to hide without lying, I shall make use of a cunning preterition: I shall divide the economy of my signs. The task of the verbal signs will be to silence, to mask, to deceive: I shall never account, verbally, for the excesses of my sentiment. Having said nothing of the ravages of the anxiety, I can always, once it has passed, reassure myself that no one has guessed anything. The power of language: with my language I can do everything: even and especially say nothing.
6. … so that a long series of verbal contentions (my “politenesses”) may suddenly explode into some generalized revulsion: a crying jag (for instance), before the other’s flabbergasted eyes, will suddenly wipe out all the efforts (and the effects) of a carefuly controlled language. I break apart:
Connais donc PhÃ©dre et toute sa fureur.
Now you know Phaedra and all her fury.
— — A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments Roland Barthes