[Extract. Appeared in New Left Review I/202, November-December 1993]
Why speak about courtly love (amour courtois) today, in the age of permissiveness, when sexual encounter is often nothing more than a ‘quickie’ in some dark corner of an office?1 The impression that courtly love is something out of date, long superseded by modern manners, is a lure which blinds us to the fact that the logic of courtly love still defines the parameters within which the two sexes relate to each other. This, however, in no way implies the evolutionary model in which courtly love would provide the elementary matrix allowing us to generate its later, more complex variations. My thesis, on the contrary, is that history has to be read retroactively: the anatomy of man offers the key to the anatomy of ape, as Marx puts it. It is only the emergence of masochism, of the masochist couple, towards the end of the last century, which enables us to grasp the libidinal economy of courtly love.