“The Mirror of Your Words:” Desire and Identity in Saariaho’s and Maalouf’s L’amour de loin

Matthew Reeder


In 1999, the Finnish-French composer Kaija Saariaho and the Lebanese-French writer Amin Maalouf teamed up to create L’amour de loin (“Love from Afar”), premiered in 2000. The work quickly became a sensation, and is still being performed frequently, most notably in December 2016 as the first opera written by a woman to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera since 1903. The plot is based on the life of the medieval troubadour-prince, Jaufré Rudel, famous for his poetry detailing his desire for his “love from afar.” His vida, or legendary biography, tells that as he sailed to Tripoli to meet the woman he thought was his “love from afar,” he fell ill, and, upon reaching Tripoli, died in her arms. While the work has generated a decent amount of academic discussion, that discussion has so far failed to comment on the connection between the processes of identification and desire within L’amour de loin. Perhaps no theorist has explored this connection more deeply than the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. In this paper, I trace the connection between desire and identification throughout L’amour de loin. Finally, I try to contextualize this work within the overwhelming body of culture exploring the connection between desire and identity, as well as comment on the Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s exploration of this connection as it relates to the presence of courtly love structures in contemporary popular culture.


Kaija Saariaho; Amin Maalouf; Opera; Desire; Identification; Jacques Lacan; Slavoj Žižek; Courtly Love

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