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Poetic Thinking 2016 | January 22, 2020

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This Love is a Gas Chamber

This Love is a Gas Chamber
Pensiero Liquido

Barthes writes:

Is it not indecent to compare the situation of a love-sick subject to that of an inmate of Dachau? Can one of the most unimaginable insults of History be compared with a trivial, childish, sophisticated, obscure incident occurring to a comfortable subject who is merely the victim of his own Image-repertoire? Yet these two situations have this in common: they are, literally, panic situations: situations without remainder, without return: I have projected myself into the other with such power that when I am without the other I cannot recover myself, regain myself: I am lost, forever. (p. 49)

Love as Catastrophe. It can be a all-encompassing feeling, without proportion, neither in time nor space.
It is like pain, as described by Emily Dickinson.


Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there was
A time when it was not.It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.



There is a sort of eternity intrinsic to pain. When we suffer, it is as if we always suffered, and we will always suffer. It is like we can’t understand any other situation, and even if we know there must be other situations (our memory is sure of it) we do not have the emotional capacity of truly grasping them. And love can be experienced as a peculiar type of pain.

This connects to another image of Barthes: waiting. He writes:

 Everything is solemn: I have no sense of proportions. (p. 37)

That is why the most absurd comparisons make sense. No proportions. Love in the body and love in the soul produces the same effect of destruction of fixed reality and leaves us in a pseudo-hallucinogenic state.

I was listening to this Italian song from the 80s by Gianna Nannini, kind of trashy, kind of interesting.

The text of a pop song is normally “decent”, but this one strikes me by producing a tension between the melody and the tormented lyrics, here the Italian version:

Se la sera non esci

ti prepari un panino mentre guardi la tv

anche tu?

Ti addormenti con qualcuno

che alla luce del giorno non conosci più

anche tu?

- Ti telefono o no, ti telefono o no,

ho il morale in cantina

- Mi telefoni o no, mi telefoni o no,

chissà chi vincerà!

Poi se ti diverti

non la metti da parte un po’ di felicità

anche tu?

Io vorrei sognarti, ma

ho perduto il sonno e la fantasia

anche tu!

- Ti telefono o no, ti telefono o no,

io non cedo per prima

- Mi telefoni o no, mi telefoni o no,

chissà chi vincerà…


Questo amore è un camera a gas

è un palazzo che brucia in città,

questo amore è una lama sottile

è una scena al rallentatore

questo amore è una bomba all’hotel

questo amore è una finta sul ring

è una fiamma che esplode nel cielo

questo amore è un gelato al veleno


Io non riesco a dirlo

è che ti vorrei soltanto un po’ di più

anche tu?

Io vorrei toccarti, ma

più mi avvicino più non so chi sei

anche tu?

- Ti telefono o no, ti telefono o no,

io non cedo per prima

- Mi telefoni o no, mi telefoni o no,

chissà chi vincerà…


After dealing with the site of waiting, Gianna Nannini describes the image of catastrophe.

I’ve translated the passage in bold:


“This love is a gas chamber

it is a building burning in the city,

this love is a thin blade

it is a slow-motion scene

this love is a bomb in the hotel

this love is a feint in the ring

it is a flame that explode in the sky

this love is a poison ice-cream


The gas-chamber, is the same preposterous analogy by Barthes involving Dachau.

I also would like to point at the “slow-motion”; another destruction of proportions, this time is a destruction of the homogeneity of time.

Then, the last image, which I always found fascinating, is to compare love to a poison ice-cream. Maybe not as subtle or poetic, but certainly this song conveys also a lover’s message: the unreality (maybe not the disreality) is transmitted in an absurd way, and everything framed by a pop song, which somehow pretends to be decent. We almost don’t notice, or pay attention to, the lyrics, until we do.


  1. “There is a sort of eternity intrinsic to pain.” You put it so plainly, and so elegantly. I’d rather read you than Barthes, maybe. Not that I didn’t enjoy the work, just to say I very much appreciated this post.

    Perhaps this is too much, but it feels relevant anyhow: whenever I am fighting with my partner, he’ll say “I love you,” and I can never say it back. I am too busy fighting with him! I can dimly see how I am not always angry with him, or locking horns in a gridlocked debate of who said what, but in the moment it feels so irrelevant so as to be nonexistent. The cloudy hue of our disagreement hangs too heavily in front of my eyes.

    Similarly, now as I write this, I see the version of myself who behaves that way, and “she” doesn’t feel like “me” either–”she” is the lover, who lives in an eternity of pain. “I” am someone–or maybe somewhere–else.

    As for the preposterous comparison, I’m not sure what to do with it yet, so I won’t touch it (The phrase “misery poker” feels like it’s floating above these threads). But I love the connection to the Italian pop song you reference. It makes me think of the fascination that some artists have with WWII/the Holocaust that borders on the fetishistic, almost, it seems to me. I am thinking of another music example, Neutral Milk Hotel, whose entire (phenomenal) album “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea” seems to be about or at least heavily reference Anne Frank, while at the same time it’s clearly also about love, and its particular sort of pain.

  2. Pensiero Liquido

    Thanks for your comment Audrey.

    These different points of self-observation, active and passive, outside and inside, remind me also of our discussion of Ovid today in class. Are we agents or possessed?
    A lot to think about there.

    Also, I really like your reference to the Neutral Milk Hotel, I have been listening to that album a lot recently and it is true that the reference to Anna Frank is ambiguous to say the least.
    I’ll have to think about it more. Strange also the tormented history of the singer…

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