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Umberto Galimberti

The things of love: Love is madness, it is lack, it is regeneration of self

Written by Monica Landro

Among the events of the ‘Festival of Beauty’ held last summer, there was a much-awaited one. Umberto Galimberti, philosopher and psychoanalyst, gave a lecture on ‘The Things of Love’, from the title of one of his books published in 2004, at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, in front of an audience of over 2000 people. There is no word more equivocal than ‘love’ that penetrates the meanders of feeling and desire with the idealisation of the other only to turn, perhaps, into the bitterness of disillusionment.

But what is Love?
“Plato says that love is madness, a madness coming from God and far more beautiful than human reason” So begins Umberto Galimberti’s lecture.

But how, Plato himself, who founded reason in the West, tells us that madness goes beyond human reason?
“All of us, in addition to the rational dimension, also have the insane dimension. Every time we go to bed, consciousness is pacified, reason is extinguished and dreams begin, which are the theatre of madness because in the dream the principle of reason, which is that of non-contradiction, does not work,’ explains the philosopher.- In the dream in fact I am the spectator but I am also the protagonist and reason does not allow this. Or the protagonist of the dream is a woman, I am a man but I know that that woman is me. The principle of non-contradiction, which states that that thing is itself and nothing else, is totally eliminated in the dream. The proof of this is that in the morning, when we get up, the first half hour we are still not exactly in control of ourselves, we are recovering the rational, conscientious part, relying on our habits which are carried out rigorously in absolutely the same way every morning. This allows us to become conscious again. Consciousness is not something that assures us of its continuity, it can be interrupted at any time by the madness that inhabits us, because we are also inhabited by madness, indeed, if in the use of reason we are more or less all the same, which is why we can understand each other while we speak, the quality of our personality is given by the tone of our madness. This makes us truly different’.

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So reason is governed by the principle of non-contradiction which says that something is itself and not something else?
‘Plato, who invented reason, warns us that it is nothing more than a system of rules to be able to communicate and to be able to predict behaviour, but it is not the truth,’ explains Prof. Galimberti. ‘In truth, it is children who do the most disparate things before they reach the age of reason. How do they arrive at reason? Through NO. Reason is arrived at through teaching but it is not the place of truth. And so the place of truth ends up being madness’.

According to Plato, even Love is madness, it is the confusion of all codes.

The I does not control Love

“When someone says ‘I love you’ who is speaking? My passion, my desire, my idealisation, the anguish of loneliness? Who is that ‘I’?” asks Galimberti.  ‘It is a pseudonym, we are many other things. The ‘I’ is just the rational part that governs us in habitual communication. Love is not at the disposal of the I, quite the contrary: it is Love that disposes of the I, that overwhelms it, that overcomes it. The I does not control Love’.

If we want to speak of Love, we must therefore leave the place of the I and enter a dimension in which it is permissible to speak of Love.

In Ancient Greek Έτσι, δεν γνωρίζωmeans ‘I know I don’t know’

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Prof. Galimberti explains: ‘Socrates, famous for his phrase “I know that I do not know” is the philosopher of learned ignorance. Ignorance means you know nothing. Dotta means you know you know nothing. Dotta ignorance is the characteristic of all philosophers. Philosophy knows nothing. The task of the philosopher, from Socrates’ point of view, is not so much to instruct someone but to put the ideas in your head into play to see if they are well-founded or not. If they are not well-founded they must be discarded. Doing philosophy means cleaning up the ideas in your head to see if they are well-founded or if they are the product of faith, persuasion, common sense. Philosophy is critical work’

The term ‘episteme’ (ἐπιστήμη) refers to the knowledge, science or understanding of a scientific subject or field.

“τα ερωτικά” the things of love

Well, Galimberti explains that Socrates has ‘episteme’ of only one thing, that is, only one founded knowledge and it concerns “τα ερωτικά” the things of love

The philosopher at this point gets to the heart of the matter of Love and the dynamics of love relationships. Man and woman do not coincide with their thoughts.

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The man has logical mathematical thinking, which is then what is taught in all schools. The woman besides this also has intuitive thinking, which is irrational so that many times she understands how things will turn out. And then the woman also has sentimental thinking, which is not only about something that is felt but also touches the cognitive aspect.

“When you love, you understand much more of the other’s words than someone who listens but does not love that person. When two people are in love they use common language to which they give an excess of meaning that only the two of them understand,’ Galimberti elaborates. ‘What happens is that when a woman uses her intuitive as well as rational dimension, a man does not understand her and says to her “reason!” which means “stick to rational logic, otherwise I don’t understand anything” and here many scenarios come into play. One no longer understands. Except for those men who have a relationship with their feminine side and are able in turn to be intuitive and sentimental, in the sense of feeling as a cognitive faculty’.

The essence of Love is essentially the absence

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Another aspect that Plato emphasises is that the essence of Love is essentially lack.

“What is desire? Desire is lack. You desire the things you don’t have. Those you have you enjoy. Love is the time of lack, of desire, the time when you do not possess what you aspire to. Love is the incessant search for what you lack. Love is not possession,’ the philosopher emphasises. ‘We should acquire the concept that the person we live with is other than us. This otherness fuels the desire for knowledge of the other. If the other is really other, I will always be searching for that inaccessible secret core that stimulates me towards the other’.

And what of that I, overwhelmed by Love? Of that I which cannot control Love?

“When a relationship ends, your ego is no longer the same as before. Anyone who has been through a love affair knows that however it ends, the I that comes out of that affair is not the same I that went in, it is an enriched, new, regenerated I.

A Lectio magistralis that leaves us with a great lesson. The I is a journey that we make every day, that changes its appearance every day and that we hope will one day lead us to the destination we desire. Whether it is Love, whether it is madness or perhaps even knowledge of ourselves.

After all, one of the most beautiful phrases of all time remains that of Socrates: “γνῶθι σεαυτόν”, know yourself.

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