In the wonderful French philosopher’s reflections on The Erotic Phenomenon, he points out the poverty of a Cartesian ego which operates by certainty – certitude of objects and of itself. Why does Descartes undertake his project of doubt and demonstration in the first place? We desire to know, and this word – “desire” – indicates an intention toward something far greater than knowledge or certainty: an assurance beyond the self. This happens in his “erotic reduction”, in which we are “led back” to the human as lover:
Thus in the erotic reduction, nothing and no one assures me – the lover that I have become under the erotic reduction – except myself, who by definition cannot do so. By agreeing to hear the question “Does anyone love me?” it is as if I have opened beneath my feet an abyss that I can neither fill, nor cross, nor perhaps even sound – an abyss that I risk enlarging even more by developing the logic of the question “Does anyone out there love me?” For the question “Does anyone love me?” will in effect only be able to receive a response (if it ever could) by coming upon me from elsewhere than myself; it thus assigns me an irreversible dependency upon that which I can neither master, nor provoke, nor even envisage – an other than myself, eventually someone other for me (alter ego), in any case a foreign instance, coming from I know not where – in any case, not from me. So, while the search for certainty (“Of what am I certain?”) may still hope to lead me back to myself, by certifying to me that at the least I am, even if I am still deceived, the request for an assurance (“Does anyone out there love me?”) exiles me definitively outside of myself: even if it eventually winds up reassuring me against the threat of vanity (“What’s the use?”) by assuring me that someone loves me, it would assign me all the more to this “someone” (whosoever he or she may be) that I will never be, and whose foreignness nevertheless will always remain more inward to me than my most inward part. The very one who could assure me must estrange me. In short, certainty can lead me back to myself, because I acquire it by subtraction, like a poor phenomenon, while assurance separates me from myself, because it opens within me the separation of an elsewhere. Whether it remains an empty request or, instead, fills me with its excess, it always marks me with a lack that is my own. By opening the very question of assurance, I become a lack to myself.