Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Reply to the Writer (or: "How come I end up where I started?")

Recently the Writer drew on one of my entries in his own blog, and I started to draft a reply in his comment page only to realize I was embarking on a full on entry. What follows is a reply of sorts, or, rather, the continuation of a conversation he and I have been having for the last four-plus months:

I am, of course, pleased to be featured on your blog--my second time now! I was, however, surprised that you while you quoted my anxiety, you didn't give much credence to my finding a provisional foothold in the quotidian moments J. and I have shared that served to dispel those anxieties. It's perhaps a minor point, but in thinking over what they amounted to, I was reminded of a conversation that you and I had the last time we visited the "Slums of Tokyo". That conversation gave rise to a (drunken) reflection on the value of fantasy (Freud), desire (Plato), and fiction (Nietzsche)--my (un)holy trinity, of sorts.

What I hadn't included in the entry you cite is that J., upon coyly letting slide that he lacks nothing when it comes to understanding the "Great Game" of gay cruising, very quickly asked that I not divulge any details about my own exploits with him. It would make him jealous, he said, to know specifics. As it stands, I feel the same way. Were he to tell me about his own past in any sustained manner I would constantly be measuring my own efforts against those of his phantasmic partners, sure that I was never quite as good as these mysterious men I was suddenly in competition with. At the same time, I would never be able to trust his own intentions: is he trying to replicate, and surpass, my own past anonymous fucks when he does X or Y? Suddenly, it seems, the intimacy of our shared space is invaded by so many fearsome phantoms. The only way to dispel them, to exorcise them, would be to have a drop-down, anxiety-laden discussion which ultimately affirms our trust in one another. Or, to never let them in in the first place.

This leads me to wonder about the conclusion you reach: "Mutual sharing is important for a sense that you and your partner are on the same page. It's important not to think naively of him and to attribute him innocence that you don't have either." Without sounding combative, isn't trust itself precisely the suspension of disbelief, the attribution of innocence to the other? Contra Rawls, doesn't trust always lie behind a veil of truth? To trust J., I must force myself to look only at the surface of what he says, to be superficial, as Nietzsche says of the Greeks, out of profundity. In the entry I wrote after our last meeting I was rather upset with you, mostly for being wholly unwilling to see my perspective as "objective"--as if such an ideal were even worth striving for! This time, however, I'll try to strike a more measured tone. At the time I was concerned to defend the importance of fantasy as the necessary mediating "force" between lovers. Your counter claim was, and I paraphrase, fantasy distorts the truth of a person such that you cease to see the person and begin to see only what you want to see of them. I suppose the counter- counter-claim would be to ask (rhetorically), you mean you think you've actually seen him "as such"? That's all polemics, however.

I think the real profound moment in J.'s request for ignorance lies in its negatively framed affirmation of the powers of fantasy. Yes, he was saying, I know you have been around, but let me pretend you are all mine. I was more than happy to go there with him. Details would have destroyed the ability to craft a necessary fiction that could bind us in our superficial trust. This is, I think, the redemptive moment in love: to be, as it were, "born again" as someone with no past to taint the future. But this, again, is wholly fabricated, and what the relationship is, in no small measure, amounts to the continued cultivation of this fiction we live. Thus, when the German says to me, "So, what, you have to trust him?" my response was, "Yes, but it's terrifying!" Terrifying, no doubt, because there is no "natural" ground, no "truth" to hold us up, other than that which we create, which ultimately rests nothing more than the good will to live together (Hannah Arendt).

Nietzsche was ambivalent about the "Will to Truth": on the one hand he saw its Christian origins, how it destroyed the "trust in life itself," but on the other hand, he saw how it was so corrosive it would eventually eat through itself: the Christian will-to-truth culminates in Darwin, in Einstein, in Science. The quest for origins, for the "first principle," the "ground" that supports, barbarizes men, he claims because ultimately it is a negative dialectic: it can only destroy everything it touches. Nietzsche's answer, as it were, was the will to power to untruth: to make the fictions we live binding such that we can live healthy lives. I suppose my response to J.'s history was to suddenly want to find out the "truth" of his past, probably so I could master it, neuter it, and make it less scary. That is, the fantasy I had, which was "natural"--after all, I had just assumed he was naive and innocent--now needed to be affirmed by me. But not exclusively, of course: he helped.

To be honest, it no longer bothers me that he has a past, just as it no longer bothers me that I do, too. That redemptive quality to love, I think, is like a new innocence, a new beginning. I think it's that dimension Plato (and Sappho!) bring to the fore in their accounts of love: it changes you, if you let it. And, perhaps, that change can be neither "true" or "false," nor can it be "good" or "evil".

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