Friday, August 7, 2009

They Stole the Love From Our Lives and Put the Sex On... (There's Nowhere to Hide)

It is no surprise to those who have been following my posts that I've found a boy and fallen something awfully hard for him. We even use that word, "love". What that means, exactly, we are still working out. When I fell in love the first time in my life it was something like a blitzkrieg of emotion, intensity, passion, confession... It was, to borrow Plato's Socrates's example in the _Phaedrus_, like a "garden of Adonis": beautiful plants cultivated in hyper-accelerated manner that bloom for the festival to commemorate the beautiful youth's untimely death, and then, because the roots have not had the chance to plant themselves firmly, die after the eight days of the festivities--life imitates art, or art imitates life: the Greeks simply knew it was tragic: "I've made peace with the falling leaves, I see their same fate in my own body," sings Bright Eyes. Like these gardens, grown artificially in clay pots, our love withered very quickly.

Falling in love with J. has been like a slowly building orgasm, one that when it arrives rocks and shatters your whole body--la petite mort, Freud says. And this is true metaphorically on many registers: the "death" of the coherent subject in the moment of orgasmic loss of control, a moment of Dionysian ek-stasis: I am outside myself in such moments. At the same time, like death is so often the pre-requisite for a new birth, the moment of negation, of negativity in the Hegelian sense--the abyss of nothingness out of which emerges the future anterior (a futurity that rebounds upon itself: the moment of reconciliation in the dialectical developmental schemata). In the _Phaedrus_ Plato's Socrates continues the play of beauty, death, and love. Writing, he contends, is not a means of preserving life, but rather of preserving immortality: writing is an exercise in death. Death, he argues, is like a forgetting: writing allows your memory to atrophy. In contradistinction to the written text is the praxis of dialogue, which Socrates describes as a "living seed" that is "planted in the psyche": "The dialectician [ambiguously "the philosopher" but also the "rival lover" in this context: the rhetorician Lysias v. the philosopher Socrates both competing for the love of Phaedrus] selects a soul of the right sort, and in it he plants and sows his words founded on knowledge, words that can defend themselves and him who planted them, words which instead of remaining barren contain a seed wence new words grow up in new characters..." (Phaedrus, 277a).

It makes little sense to attempt to schematize a relationships dynamics, and that is not my intention. Such efforts often founder on the shoals of a hostility to contingency; all "systems" are efforts to hypostatize the flux of the earth from which all things come: systems as symptomatic of Nietzsche's priestly asceticism: a will to nothingness. Rather, I draw on Plato's own metaphorical deployments (who ever said Plato--that literary genius--wrote _literally_?!) to elucidate my own observations.

On Monday I saw a dear friend for the first time in months--she is a phd student of philosophy at one of our fine city's prestigious universities--let's call her Athena--and we spoke of the bizarrity of online dating. It strikes me as a phenomenon that is wholly antithetical to love itself, she observed. We mulled this over a bit: what is the flaw with online dating? Aside from the obvious Foucaultdian suspicion that the intricacies of constructing a profile resembles bio-power in a new and insidious iteration--after all, you are reduced wholly to a set of specifications, technical datum, "scientific" knowledge of one's body. And here we stumbled upon a more profound insight. Pushing this Foucaultdian line of analysis further, this knowledge meant is to reveal the "Truth" of oneself: the subject, subjected to the logic of the confession, is "subjectivated" (Foucault's neologism for subject formation).

Still, one can either approach this phenomenon from two directions: 1) from a Sartrean line one can insist on the impossibility of the subject ever being fully accounted for in/of/by/through the knowledge/power matrix; what I am I am not--to borrow the idea from Lacan, while jettisoning the structuralist binary, the "kernel" of the subject is the "objet petit a"--the uncanny remainder that cannot be synthesized into the symbolic order--the "plague of fantasy" Zizek insists upon, for it has no reality outside that of fantasy and shifts whenever one wishes to pin it down: what it _is_ in the process of articulation it is _not_, _no longer_. Hannah Arendt speaks of this in _The Human Condition_, also by approaching the problematic from the perspective of linguistics: whenever we wish to speak of "who" someone is our language betrays us and we say instead "what" they are like, qualities, characteristics shared by others such that the specificity of the "who" attempting to be presented is elided: the subject exists in the space metaphor opens: between the "who" and the "what": the gap between past and future.

The other line of analysis builds upon the first, and follows a more Platonic-Socratic line: 2) the dialectic of love that Socrates dramatizes in the _Phaedrus_ is one in which the "truth" of oneself is revealed through and by the beloved. Again, the fundamental opacity of the subject to itself, that we each exist in an onto-epistemological "blind-spot" such that all self-knowledge is always already second-hand knowledge, the knowledge others give-over to us through narrative, through his-story. The same dynamic through which the hierarchical dichotomy of lover (erastes)/beloved (eromenos) is dissolved such that both partners become lovers actively pursuing one another is the same dynamic that reveals, uncovers, discloses in reciprocal fashion the other. Through "back-love" (anteros)--a dynamism wherein love is "mirrored" back to it's initial initiator--the "who" of subjectivity appears: what is loved is emergence of the other. The emphasis here is on _becoming_, not _being_; love, Anne Carson writes, must move if it is to be love: one grows wings. The beauty of the dynamic lies in its insistence on the de-centering of the subject: each lover is revealed to himself by his other, a "mirroring" that is always already "clouded" by the fog of interpretation--the trace of the other who I now am, too, introjecting: myself always already as another.

The break-down of the online dating scene, Athena and I tentatively posited, is two fold: 1) It presumes that the "Truth" of oneself can be willfully displayed, and, more profoundly that this truth is known to the subject. It is the pretension to self-knowledge, the disavowal of what Butler terms "precarity"--vulnerability and finitude as fundamental conditions of human existence--that leads to a foreclosure of the dynamism of self-discover through the other that Plato makes central to eros. 2) Following this foreclosure, what _is_ discovered in the process of face-to-face interaction is always a disappointment, the discovery of the falsity, the hyperbole of the online account/presentation. That is, rather than discover who the other _is_, when meeting in person one discovers who the other is _not_. Truth is revealed to be falsity, and only betrayal, disappointment--a feeling of being scammed--can follow.

The other night J. was scammed by some kids we'd met a few nights earlier. It was very disheartening, to be honest: the kid got lost being an Indiana resident whose friend just disappeared leaving him whole disoriented. He didn't have his phone with him and after circling the block a few times I finally asked if he was ok and needed help. He asked if he could use his phone and once he found out where his friend was, we gave him directions. A promise of a gift in exchange was made and then a few nights later he re-appeared. We four sat on the curb talking--they seemed like decent enough kids, the one more than the other, but still. When they showed up in an oversized white car, left rearview mirror shattered, and J. got in I felt a knot clench in my stomach. I knew something wasn't right. The friend's eyes were too cold, too impassive to be friendly; there was something hard, sharp in his demeanor, like a boxer preparing himself before he steps in the ring. I didn't say anything--I trusted J. to keep his wits about him. When I saw him walking back I was so relieved. I smiled, even though I saw his anger on his face, and beneath that the gravity of being hurt. But he was walking, not physically hurt, and so when he said the kids scammed him, took his money and drove off I couldn't immediately empathize with him. I knew he was angry at himself, frustrated that he'd been duped, and also pained that those kids had taken advantage of him, but I had only assumed the very worst. The knot unwound in my gut, I could breathe again with full, strong inhalations.

It is terrible what happened, not that the money was so important, but to see J. so frustrated, angry. Disappointed. To see him this way and know there was nothing I could do about it. I tried--I told stories of cosmic karma, I told him that he was better than them, and I told him I would never exploit his trust. Still, when he left a voicemail on the kids phone he said, "you're better than this--I trusted you and you took advantage of me." I would have said something like, "If I ever see you again I'll kill you." I told J. as much, and added immediately that this is why I respect him, one of the innumerable reasons I love him: you have a beautiful capacity to seek out in people the best of who they are; I, on the other hand, am far more pessimistic: you burned me, and you won't change. I don't know which of these ways of thinking about people is better--though the idea of "better" in this context is somewhat absurd--but suffice it to say, the kids didn't come back even though they said they would. What transpired instead was our spending an hour together on that street corner. It was a beautiful time together, our dialogue intimate, as if my simply listening to him allowed him to open-up again, knowing he would be received, welcomed, cared-for.

There is a beautiful sensitivity to J. I fell in love with it immediately--I feel safe with him, comfortable, knowing that I can open myself to him without the perpetual fear that has become so habitual for me that I am about to be hurt, maligned, exploited. Of course, there is no such this as absolute safety--there will be moments when J. says something intentionally hurtful just as there will be moments when accidents happen. But I know that when these moments happen they won't be shattering, that I can confront them with him, and that we will move through whatever storm stirs our less-humorous spirits.

I was once like that, I think. Too sensitive for my own good, I think I would say now. I got burned too many times. When this armor came up I can't be sure, but I know that in the last two years it has appeared with a new sophistication--an ironic distance that keeps everything at arms length. No, at the length of a spear, the point at your throat. With a smile, a cynical laugh, a wicked grin--and then I'll skewer you: answer now and stay fashionable. Spending this time with J., the increasing intensification of my affection, and respect, for him--all of this is being to render increasingly porous my armor. I'm letting him in and he is bringing along all the introjected others that compose the wholly unique society of his psyche. This is taking some getting used to, as one can imagine. But is the most wonderful discovery.

Today it was beautiful in the city. The sun was out, and as I write this now (8.6.09) as the sun is slowly lowering itself onto the pillows of tree tops. I am happy, healthy, safe. I have a job I like and am good at. I have purpose. And I have the most amazing boy who loves me, and who I love. I don't want anything more, but to keep dancing.

No comments: