For Jean-Luc Nancy, love’s meaning is to be found entirely in the act of its utterance. To define the term further, to elucidate the qualities that one loves or declare the amount or degree of one’s feelings, is to diminish its uniqueness—to universalize that which finds its power in its individuation. In a lecture given to a group of children and reproduced in the collection God Justice Love Beauty, Nancy contends that, “When I say ‘I love you’ to someone the sense of love is there, but not necessarily in a complete or immediate way” (66). It is then love’s incompleteness and unlocatability that, for Nancy, accounts for its potency.
But there is also an insurmountable tension at love’s core. In discussing saying “I love you” for the first time, Nancy proposes that, “The more afraid we are, the more we put off saying it and the more we enter into the truth of how a lover feels” (82). This central conflict is rendered as follows: love’s form is constituted in saying “I love you,” but it is in the absence of this utterance that we feel it the most. This is love’s paradox.
This paradox too extends to hatred, a term that, for Melanie Klein and indeed the accompanying clip, is so obviously linked to love. In Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968) Harmonica (Charles Bronson) and Frank (Henry Fonda) are united in a not-yet fully acknowledged bond, a union that if professed would immediately lose its power. But despite its sharing the shape of Nancy’s love, theirs is a relationship of hatred; Frank has long ago killed Harmonica’s brother in a particularly sadistic way but has since forgotten the event, and it is Harmonica’s goal to have Frank remember this incident without Harmonica himself declaring it. Here, the two finally agree to consummate their union in a duel, the outcome of which will result in the pronouncement of their relationship.
For Harmonica and Frank it is in the preamble to their declaration, what here takes the form of a gunfight, that their emotions are most available. But it is in the declaration itself where the form of their love/hate is finally constituted (indeed through a literal coming into focus), a moment that illuminates but diminishes their feelings. It is in this way that something of hate (and love) always dies in its birth.