:: Article

Romance Cannot Write Itself

A Philosophical Demonstration.

By David van Dusen.

Of course Søren K. wrote a Diary of the Seducer: seduction is reflexive, & the seducer is self-aware. Not so the romancer, & not so romance.

The hypothesis, then, is this: romance cannot write itself. Not in the present tense, at least. (Søren K. left Regine so that he could write his love.) Or said differently: The Diary of a Romancer could only be a memoir or a fake.

A brief demonstration of this will follow. But first, several other stage-setting remarks are in order.

If the cogito of René D. assures him, or any ego, that he exists: the cogito proves to the romancer that he does not exist, or rather, that he exists as something other than a romancer. For a romancer only exists when, & because, he is not thinking.

& if, with Socrates, we accept that the uninterrogated, undeconstructed life is infra dig. – then the romancer’s life is not worth living. For the man who asks himself what he is doing is already asking himself why he is not doing something else. & the man who asks himself that has already begun to do something else – in this case, something other than romance. But a romancer can only, & unthinkingly, do romance.

Romance, in other words, is a state of innocence. & when it is a return to innocence, then it can only be a triumph of innocence over experience. In the cliché, “Love conquers all” (Amor vincit omnia), the first victim in that infinite set, ‘all’ (omnia), is most definitely ‘experience’ (experientia).

Accordingly, romance – as a ‘return to innocence’ – risks all the excess & violence of any utopian venture. This ‘return to innocence’ is a revolution – & as such, risks the Terror. & for the same reason, any romancer risks losing his head – like Robespierre – to the machine his revolutionary ‘state of innocence’ devised, & then relied on (viz. to that most-modern Aphrodite, Mme Guillotine).

But perhaps there is no possibility of return. No real return to innocence (from experience), & therefore no real return to romance (from seduction).

In any case, it is simple enough to construct a proof – like so – that romance cannot write itself.

A seducer is always, either: (i) convinced that he is a romancer (until the seduction is over), or (ii) perfectly clear about the fact that his rôle is a rôle, his task is a task. (Don Juan – like Judas – can only betray with a kiss.)

On this basis, we can begin to sketch a more complicated typology. For instance:

The perfect romancer has a clear & distinct perception that he is what he is – i.e. a romancer – precisely because he is not thinking.

The imperfect seducer believes – out of inexperience, or a perverse psychological imperative – that he is, rather, a romancer.

The perfect seducer knows himself clearly & distinctly: his being secures his knowledge, & his knowledge secures his being.

Because of this: for the perfect romancer, the imperfect seducer, and the perfect seducer there is no possibility of doubt. It is therefore only an imperfect romancer who could doubt that he is a romancer.

But doubting – to return to “our René” (as G.B. Vico calls him) – is nothing but thinking before it has seen the diamond-hard certainty that comes with thinking (e.g. for René, the cogito). & if “a romancer only exists when, & because, he is not thinking” (as I have claimed), then an imperfect romancer can know that he exists only because he is not yet thinking – which is to say, because he is still doubting.

What the imperfect romancer experiences as doubt, he wants to call ‘love’. But the doubter cannot call his doubt ‘love’. Nor, of course, can the doubter even call his love ‘love’ – not until his doubt is dispelled.

Because of this, the imperfect romancer cannot write romance, while the perfect romancer – since he is perfectly unreflective – cannot write at all.

Thus, The Diary of a Romancer could only be written by a disillusioned romancer, or by a seducer. That is to say, The Diary of a Romancer could only be a memoir or a fake. Q.E.D.

for Orfee D., with love

David van Dusen is a doctoral fellow at the University of Leuven. His first book, The Space of Time, appeared in 2014. He writes with some regularity for Radical Philosophy, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Times Literary Supplement, and he skives at @DuseVanDuse.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, August 4th, 2014.