Merleau Ponty on Real and Illusory Love

Citing from the “Cogito” chapter of “Phenomenology of Perception”, my translation.

It is already manifest that we can distinguish in ourselves between sentiments that are “true” and those which are “false”, so that all that is felt by us and in ourselves does not find itself on one plane of of existence or true in the same way, and that there are instead degrees of reality in ourselves just as concerning things outside of ourselves there are reflections, ghosts, and things. There is on one side real love, and on the other a love that is false or illusory. This second case must be distinguished from errors of interpretation where I might assigned the name of love to emotions that did not merit it. Illusory love is not the semblance of love, not as if I believed in one instant that my life was engaged in this sentiment, and I avoided surreptitiously asking the question in order to avoid the answer that I already knew, that my “love” was in fact only complicity or bad faith. On the contrary, in false or illusory love I am voluntarily joined with the one who is loved, she truly is for a time the mediator of all my relations with the world. When I told her I loved her, I was not “interpreting” anything, my life was truly engaged in a form which like a melody produced the utterance. It is true that after the revelation of my illusion to myself, and when I try to understand what had happened, I find underneath this false love something other than love: the resemblance of the loved one and another person, boredom, habit, a community of interests or convictions, and this is what permits me to speak of illusion. I loved only the qualities (the smile, which resembled another smile, this beauty which imposed like a fact, this youth of gesture and conduct) and not the manner of the person’s singular existence. Correlatively, I was not fully taken, regions of my life, past and future, escaped the seizure of love, I guarded in myself places reserved for other things.


…real love colonizes all the resources of the subject and interests its whole being, whereas false love concerns only one of its personas. “The forty year old man” if it is a late love, “the traveler” if it is an exotic love, “the child” if the love is carried by the memory of its mother. A real love ends when I change or when the loved person changes; a false love reveals itself as false when I return to myself. The difference is intrinsic.


…Our natural attitude is not to express our own sentiments proper but to adhere to the sentimental categories of the situation…


…for the lover, love is not a name, not a thing can discern and designate, it is not of our own love which we speak – it is not the same love which is spoken of in books and magazines, because it is the manner by which the lover establishes all its relations with the world, it is an existential signification. Just as the criminal doesn’t see his crime, the traitor his own treason…. If we in a situation, we are circumscribed, we cannot be transparent for ourselves, and our contact with ourselves can only occur through equivocation.


(P437-441 selections)


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