‘Amour’ by Michael Haneke, 2012, @ 1h 37mins 42s.

Amour (Love) by Michael Haneke, 2012, @ 1h 37mins 42s.

In the sequence illustrated by the stills shown above, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) answers his daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert). She wants to know what is going to happen next. Her mother Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) –Georges’s wife– suffered a serious stroke, and is returning from the hospital both physically and mentally diminished:

EVA–What’s going to happen now?

GEORGES (with a little ironic laugh)–What’s going to happen now? The nurse comes twice a week, and every two weeks Dr. Bertier and the hairdresser come. That’s what you want to know, right? Things will go on as they have done up until now. They’ll go from bad to worse. Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over. (Amour by Michael Haneke, screenplay, p. 61; PDF)

In conversation with Nicolas Truong for the “Theatre of Ideas” series held at the Avignon Festival, in 2008, Alain Badiou had made some relevant remarks about Beckett’s exploration of the endurance of love in aging couples:

However, it is precisely in the writing of Beckett, that renowned chronicler of despair, of the impossible, that we find something very apposite: he is also a writer of the obstinacy of love. Take for example the play Happy Days, the story of an old couple. You only see the woman, the man is crawling off-stage, everything is degenerating, she’s in the process of sinking into the ground, but she says: “What happy days they were!” And she says that because love is still there. Love is the powerful, unchanging element that has structured her apparently catastrophic existence. Love is the hidden power within that catastrophe. In a splendid short text called Enough, Beckett relates the wanderings of a very old couple in a scenario that is at once mountainous and desert-like. It is a story of love, of the enduring of this old couple, that doesn’t at all hide the disastrous state of their bodies, the monotony of their existence, the growing difficulty of sexuality, etc. The text narrates all that, but it sets the story within the ultimately magnificent power of love and the endurance it embodies. (In Praise of Love, tr. by Peter Bush, London: Serpent’s Tail, [2009] 2012, pp. 82-83)

I first came across Alain Badiou’s remarks via an essay by Troy Bordun: “Michael Haneke’s Oscar Winning Picture Amour at Market Hall” (Nov. 25, 2013; see also his blog).

The sequence also brings to mind –with a quiet and poignant intensity– the relationship between love and finitude, the fact that love as to do with the finitude of existence1: “Love unveils finitude”, writes Jean-Luc Nancy in his essay “Shattered Love” (The Inoperative Community, [1986] 1991: 98). In Haneke’s film, Georges is dramatically confronted with the finitude of his wife’s existence. It is likely that this experience also brings forth the finitude of his existence as well.

For all that, if it follows that “authentic Being-toward-death always includes Being-toward-loss as a central constituent”, as the psychoanalyst Robert D. Stolorow once suggested following the work of Martin Heidegger2, it does not entails that love is necessarily about possession. On the contrary, in the strongest sense of the word –or the most intense form of the experience– love is always also about the eventual disappearance of the loved one. In this regard, presence and absence are not contradictory, but instead allow for one another to take place. To love is not to possess because what love grasps is always fleeting: in a sense, it is the fleeting itself. This is why in regard to Stolorow’s observation, one must add that existence is not constituted by the loss of something in particular, but by loss as such: a primordial loss, without anything lost in the first place. Here, we may begin to understand how love has to do with existence as the experience of properly grasping the impropriety of someone else’s existence. In Haneke’s film this experience is given as the appropriation of the ultimate inappropriable: death.

This may be another way of thinking about what the experience of the “exappropriation” in the work of Jacques Derrida3. It also open an atypical path towards the interpretation of the concept of Ereignis in the work of Martin Heidegger. In On Time and Being (Zeit und Sein, 1962; GA14), Heidegger states “Expropriation [Enteignis] belongs to Appropriation [Ereignis] as such.” (tr. Joan Stambaugh, 1972: 23). Giorgio Agamben explored this path in his essay on “The Passion of Facticity” where he argues that “the problem of love, as passion, shows its proximity to that of the Ereignis”.

Reciprocally, if what one takes from love is (also) the finitude of the loved one –even or especially in its presence: “it is in life itself that that absence of someone else has to be met”, writes Maurice Blanchot4–, then what one gives through love is not something either. One does not even gives oneself in the experience of love, for love precisely is an opening in which something other than the self is experienced. What then is given through love? Nothing, suggests Jean-Luc Nancy: to love is to give up or, in French, ce qui est donné c’est l’abandon:

Nancy: Love consists in my giving from me what is not mine in any sense of a possible possession of mine, not even my person. So to love means to give what is behind or beyond any subject, any self. It is precisely a giving of nothing, a giving of the fact that I cannot possess myself. This is to abandon, because in that case I would say that to give is the same as to abandon. In French I would say donner is the same as abandonner. Because to give in French is donner

Schirmacher: To give up.

Nancy: Ah, that is wonderful. To give is to give up. So, yes, perhaps that could be meaning of “shattered”, and thus of the title to this ancient text you refer to [“Shattered Love”] […] In other words, love is to share the impossibility of being a self. (The European Graduate School: “Love and Community: a round-table discussion with Jean-Luc Nancy, Avital Ronell and Wolfgang Schirmacher”, August 2001; [UPDATE–Dec. 7, 2016] Page is down at the time of writing this update: cached version can be accessed here or grab a PDF copy of the discussion).

What may be given to experience in Haneke’s film then, is the aporia of this “shattered love”: the coming into presence, through love, of the finitude. From this perspective, what Georges is telling his daughter may also be heard in an another way. It may be less about the fact that “everything comes to an end”, than it is about the fact that the end is what allows everything to take place in the first instance.

• • •

Previously: ‘Amour’ wins director Michael Haneke his second Palme d’Or at Cannes (2012).

• • •

1. And not about the finitude of love itself. The question of considering if an infinite love is possible within a finite existence is worth musing upon. Maybe Bardamu –the protagonist of Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night– had something similar in mind when, in the very opening pages of the novel, he answers Arthur who brings the topic of love:

“There’s love, Bardamu!”

“Arthur,” I tell him, “love is the infinite placed within the reach of poodles. I have my dignity!” (tr. by Ralph Manheim, New York: New Directions Books, [1932] 2006, p. 4) ↩︎︎

2. “Love, Loss, and Finitude”, Janus Head, Vol. 13, Issue 2, 2014, pp. 35-44 (open access).↩︎︎

3. Derrida coined the word “exappropriation” in Signsponge (tr. Richard Rand, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984, p. 132). He develops the idea in various interviews. See in particular his interview with Jean-Luc Nancy, in 1988: “‘Eating Well,’ or the Calculation of the Subject” (in Points…Interviews, 1974-1994, tr. by Peter Connor and Avital Ronell, Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 255-287), “Istrice 2. Ick bünn all hier” (with Maurizio Ferraris, 1990) for the relationship with mourning (Ibid.: pp. 300-326), and with Bernard Stiegler in Ecographies of Television. Filmed Interviews (tr. Jennifer Bajorek, Cambridge: Polity, [1996] 2002, specifically p. 111). For the relationship between Derrida’s “exappropriation” and Heidegger”s Ereignis, see François Raffoul’s The Origins of Responsibility (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010, p. 36). ↩︎︎

4.Maurice Blanchot provided this crucial experience –experiencing the possibility of the other’s death in life– with one of its most beautiful expression in his book The Unavowable Community:

(…) the possibility of a major communication, “linked to the suspension of what is nonetheless the basis of communication.” Now “the basis of communication” is not necessarily speech, or even the silence that is its foundation and punctuation, but the exposure to death, no longer my own exposure, but someone else’s, whose living and closest presence is already the eternal and unbearable absence, an absence that the travail of deepest mourning does not diminish. And it is in life itself that that absence of someone else has to be met. It is with that absence —its uncanny presence, always under the prior threat of a disappearance— that friendship is brought into play and lost at each moment (…) (tr. Pierre Joris, New York: Station Hill Press, [1983] 1988, p. 25) ↩︎︎


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