Philosophy Kitchen

CFP#16 \ Desiring Bodies. Practices and Knowledge in the Love Experience

love experience
Ketty La Rocca - You (1975)

PK#16 Marzo 2022

Edited by Veronica Cavedagna and Giovanni Leghissa

“You lovers, contented with one another, I am asking you about us”


The lover’s discourse, as the lover’s experience that is supported on it (of course in various ways and in forms that are far from obvious), can be observed from different perspectives. Here we intend to consider three of them.

The first perspective intends to exploit the intersection of history, sociology and anthropology. It seems appropriate to start from here because love occupies a place in the affective life of individuals only starting from culturally codified behavioural models, which manifest the weight of their performativity even when the subject is not looking for love or has not yet had the chance to be overwhelmed by the power of love passion. Specifically, this perspective allows, on the one hand, to highlight the invariants of the phenomenology of love: both in the compositions of ancient Egypt and in those of ancient China, not unlike the popular songs, it is shown how love happiness consists – first and foremost and for the most part – in loving and being loved by the loved one, while not seeing one's feeling of love reciprocated leads to unhappiness, pain, even depression and loss of the sense of self (but with this, we must not forget the happiness enjoyed by those who love without being reciprocated, either because the object of love is no longer there, or inhabits the heavens, like the god loved by the mystics, or because the beloved simply does not want to know about the lover). On the other hand, this perspective makes it possible to show how such invariants receive different declensions from time to time according to the semiospheres in which they manifest. The function of Beatrice in Dante's discourse is not identical to that of the beloved in Provençal lyrics; the love of the Princess of Clèves for the Duke of Nemours, described by Madame de Lafayette, is not the love that Madame Bovary feels for her lovers. Falling in love with the future husband or wife in Victorian England is not like falling in love with the person you quickly correspond with through a dating site (Meetic, Tinder, etc.). So, in the first place, we would like to articulate here the following question: what forms and what codes does the universal experience of love take, depending on latitudes and epochs? To what canons of expression does this codification give rise? What relationship is there between the performativity of these canons and the uniqueness of the feeling of love experienced and lived by lovers?

It should be immediately added that the historical-cultural perspective referred to above must necessarily host a look at the love experience that is capable of questioning how the power between the partners of the love relationship has been articulated – and is still articulated today. In this regard, two considerations are essential. First of all, lover’s speech was thought and written almost always and almost everywhere by men (mostly free adults, well-off, able to occupy dominant positions) who turned to other men (and this regardless of the gender to which the object of desire belonged). Second, love relationships were born in social and cultural contexts marked in an all-pervasive way by male and patriarchal domination. To ask oneself how love between humans is born and dies without wondering how and why the love relationship can be coalescent with male violence would be meaningless. Equally meaningless would be a historical-anthropological reconstruction of the semantics and rhetoric of love that did not know how to put into question the way in which the object of love was, almost always, an object that is articulated discursively in function of a male gaze.

The second perspective from which to observe love refers to the triangulation between love, desire and sexual enjoyment. Sex is not always a sign of love; sometimes, however, it is; in any case, it should be noted that, even when the experience of love is separated from sexual jouissance, it nevertheless develops and unfolds as an amplification of desire. This applies not only when lovers experience impossible love, or forced separation, or the impossibility of having sexual intercourse due to some disabling pathology. This also applies when the object of love is far away and structurally unreachable, as in the case of love experienced for a deity. Mystical discourse, for example, amply attests how love for a divine figure is as intense as that experienced by one human for another human. In this context, it is essential to refer to the knowledge of psychoanalysis, which opens up from the work of Freud and Lacan. It is precisely psychoanalysis that authorises the establishment of a structural analogy between love between humans and the love that a human can feel for a non-human figure. From a psychoanalytical point of view, the encounter of love is always, in fact, an encounter with a phantom - or rather, with the phantom of one's own desire, with what, lacking the subject, restores to the subject from outside that imaginary completeness without which life, after all, would be sad if not unliveable.

No less important is the fact that psychoanalysis emphasises the impossibility of placing sexual intercourse as that what guarantees and stabilises love union, as that what serves to establish unity and fusion between lovers. In the phenomenology of love the desire of lovers to merge and become one plays almost always a very important role. However, it is not only a matter of acknowledging that this very aspiration to absolute union sometimes hides, on the part of one of the partners, a more or less conscious will to dominate, but above all it is a matter of showing how "successful" love is always confronted with death, with mourning, understood both as an early acceptance of the possible end of the love story and as recognition of the radical extraneousness and irreducibility of the other. But there is more. The psychoanalytic discourse, in insisting on highlighting the non-obvious nature of that "having sex" with which lovers sometimes delight, stresses the structural impossibility of understanding sex as that component of human experience that would serve to give some ontological stability to the subject. If sex has any relevance in the conscious life of individuals, it is precisely because the radical extraneousness of jouissance to any order, coherence or law makes the ontological unfoundedness of subjectivity uncovered.

Finally, we want to bring a political perspective to the scene. It cannot be said, in fact, that the experience of love is a purely private affair, which is consumed in the most intimate and responsible sphere of individual existence, of which the subject would be the sole repository, the undisputed holder of successes or failures. The existence of lovers and their intimate relationship coimplicates the material conditions in which the plot of their lives unfolds. The question therefore arises as to whether the experience of love cannot also be evaluated as a field of practices that concern both the individual and the collective: is it possible to experiment - against the inequalities and subordinate relationships that distinguish almost all the models of love life known so far - new models of freedom, capable of enhancing, even within the bond of love, the proliferation of differences and local, contingent, innovative ethics? Finally, can love be a way to define, even in the local dimension of private life, an "ecological" proposal to re-articulate relationships within collectives? In contrast to a tradition that has not been able to keep cosmopolitanism and friendship together, and which has relegated respect for the conspecifics to a vague philanthropic ideal, perhaps it is legitimate to ask lovers to become promoters of a sharing based on new models of sensitivity to the uniqueness of the other.


- rhetoric, codes and semantics of the love experience

- the representation of love stories in art, literature, cinema

- ecology and politics of the choice of the object of love

- the dream of love, the impossible love and the separation of lovers

- life and works of the mystics and mystics

- representation of the gender difference according to the love experience

- love at the time of social media

- sexual freedom and ethics of love encounter

- love, desire and sexual enjoyment

- pornography, postporn and contemporary sexual practices

- the question of love in queer thinking

- love, sexuality and disability, sex working: rights, means and claims today

Accepted languages: Italian, English, French and German.


Procedure: send an abstract of up to 6000 characters, including the title of the article, an outline of its structure and theorical frame, an essential bibliography and a short biography of the author to redazione@philosophykitchen.com by July 15th 2021. Proposals will be evaluated by the editors and editorial board and the results will be announced, by email, by September 15th 2021. Selected papers are to be sent by November 31th 2021 for a double-blind peer review. The issue is scheduled for publication in March 2022.


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