Liebe. Eine Übung – Niklas Luhmann (1969)

My Blueberry Nights – Cat Power – The Greatest

Love is not just an anomaly but a complete improbability

Liebe. Eine Übung” emerged in 1969 as a seminar presentation for one of the first seminars Niklas Luhmann taught during the summer semester at the newly founded University of Bielefeld, where he was appointed full professor of Sociology. In it one can already find the core ideas that would result in his extensive eponymous book of 1982 “Love as Passion”, in which he defines love as follows: “liebe übermittelt Selektionsleistungen durch Orientierung an dem individuellen Selbstverständnis und der besonderen Weltsicht eines anderen oder einiger anderer Mensche”.

The author understands love as “a symbolically generalized communication medium”, a code, in everything similar to money or power. In this sense, love is a culturally produced – not a natural – concept and therefore changes historically even though its terminology may remain unchanged (Christoph Wulf 8 quoted by Karin A. Wurst). The idea that love is a code which has been evolving throughout History and may come to embody something different of what we understand it to be today is a very important one. Already in the nineteenth century Flaubert intended with Madame Bovary, that our conception of love is forged by our mediums and therefore a historically determined and evolving one. Cinema is the greatest responsable today in shaping what we understand as love.

In his book and recurring to literary texts, Luhmann argues that marriage life corresponds to a bourgeois epoch which has come about with the French Revolution, in which the notions of love and intimacy turned out to be essential components of married life for the first time. Before it was accepted and unproblematic that passionate love were to take place exclusively outside of the marriage.

Günter Saße, quoted by Karin A. Wurst (cited above), has resumed the historical paradigms in the relation between love and marriage. In the early Enlightment the “vernünftige Liebe” demanded a close and deliberate examination of the qualities of a potential marriage partner. Later with the disappearance of arranged marriages, the “zärtliche Liebe” bases marriage on emotional erotic attraction and friendship. This revealed central in the creation of modern subjectivity, but since it demands highly exclusive relationships finding a suitable soul-mate becomes unlikely and the possibility for the desiring subject to remain without response is very high. Finally the “romantische Liebe”, in which the fusion between emotion, sensuality and sexuality occurs and is not restricted to marriage.
A great contradiction in basing marriage in the erotic desire occurs from the fact that we desire what is forbidden or separated to us, by eliminating the obstacles which fuel desire, it is impossible for marriage to maintain desire over the course of a lifetime. Furthermore, the necessary basic condition for erotic love is equality, condition which given the social structure and gender-specific behaviour patters and value systems couldn´t be fulfilled before the XX century. Thus we come to understand how our notions of intimacy, love and marriage are a construction of modernity, historically determined and deeply influenced by the mediums available.


  1. Everytime i open my laptop, i look at your blog. Everytime I think what to comment this post. I don’t know what to write, what to say, what to think.

    I know just one thing….I think of you.

    Miss you my Sweet Lil.
    Hope to see you at Christmas.

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