The Symbolic Without the Father
Woman is one of the names-of-the-father
La Can-Can Française
A Visit to East Wallingford, Vt.
Hoboken Palace Gardens
The way the subject deals with its own radical lack could be a cause of its constant failure in love relationships. One encounters such a failure in a hysteric who desperately searches for the Other that would eternally love him or her and thus annihilate his or her radical lack.
As an example of this attitude, I will take a short story by Edith Wharton, "The Muse's Tragedy." In this story we encounter two unrealized love relationships: first between the famous poet Vincent Rendle and a married lady, Mrs. Anerton; and second, between Mrs. Anerton and a young writer, Lewis Danyers. Here is the summary of the story: Danyers is a great admirer of the late poet Vincent Rendle, about whose work Danyers had written an excellent study. One of the most distinguished of Rendle's works is the Sonnets to Silvia. As a widespread rumor holds, Silvia is actually Mrs. Anerton, with whom Rendle presumably had a secret love affair. Danyers has a strong desire to meet this woman who had been such an inspiration for the famous poet. Once, during a vacation in Italy, Danyers happens by chance to run into Mrs. Anerton, who is now widowed, living a lonely life. Through their long conversations about Rendle's poetry, Danyers and Mrs. Anerton quickly become close friends. At the end of the holidays, they decide to meet again in a month, ostensibly so that Danyers can start writing a book on Rendle with the help of Mrs. Anerton. This project, however, is more an excuse for them to see each other again. The last part of the story consists of a long letter that Mrs. Anerton has written to Danyers, and from which we discover that when they actually met in Venice, they spent a wonderful time-not once mentioning the dead poet. At the end of their stay, Danyers had asked Mrs. Anerton to marry him, and in this letter she explains why she cannot accept his offer. Mrs. Anerton confesses that contrary to widespread belief, there was never anything but friendship between her and Rendle; she had never been Rendle' s lover, although she had been very much in love with him. Since she never was Silvia, the object of Rendle's love, she cannot accept Danyers' proposal; although she is very much taken by him, Danyers cannot take the place of the unattainable love object that Rendle was.
What is common to all the protagonists of the story is their love for poetry. But poetry also represents the object of love through its own elusive character. Rhythm and form capture the "something else" that makes a poem a work of art, an object that has no price, both beautiful and horrifying, which sets in motion our desire. The object of love also shares with the art object a framed quality. Mrs. Anerton was, for example, described to Danyers as being like "one of those old prints where the lines have the value of color.1 For Danyers the Sonnets to Silvia were the frame into which Mrs. Anerton was placed as the object of his desire long before he met her. Symptomatically, Mrs. Anerton becomes the object of Danyers' love because he assumes that she was the great love of the famous poet. At work here is the Lacanian maxim that desire is always the desire of the Other.2
1. Edith Wharton, "The Muse's Tragedy," Souls Belated and Other Stories (London: Everyman, 1991), p. 29.