I want to ask one question which sums up all the rest, a question which only I would ever ask, probably, but which has at least once found a reply worthy of it: ‘Who are you?’ And she, without a moment’s hesitation: ‘I am the soul in limbo.’
Do not be surprised, she said. It is I, and it is not I;
You shall find me again, and you shall lose me;
Once more shall I come among you; for few have have seen me, and none has understood me;
And you shall forget me, and you shall recognize me, and you shall forget me.
I pity you, I pity you, my love.
Even so, I shall return to the night; for it is necessary that you lose me before you find me again. And if you find me again, I shall elude you once more.
For I am she who is alone.
And you yourself shall find me, and I shall find myself; and you shall lose me, and I shall lose myself.
For I am she who is lost as soon as she is found.
(THE BOOK OF MONELLE, Schwob)
Old wives, if there are any left, will tell you that, if someone stares through a window persistently enough, that person’s image will faintly remain in the glass. Her face in my memory is just like that, I imagine. Only her expression stays with me, of which the music, and the voice if not so much the words, are a part. I want to go back!
(THE GREAT LOVER, Cisco)
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THE FIRST TIME I heard Her:
a total crystallizing FLASH with living force
in what til then had always pressed me into shape
as an atmosphere, and in my clay
the churning storms and currents stilled,
gave up their walls and met Her voice
sounding the tone of light coming clean thru a faceless prism,
in itself very self including in infinite expanse a total folding into core.
Within my heart my heart was being drawn out seen
and known in singing, an impossible promise
long-forced forgotten sudden & miraculously fulfilled. It ran
her fingers thru all my savage math and I was quieted.
Tho this was music it spoke from my silence
to which it was a half, the moment that we were
in the flame of a search ending in unition. Every
vulnerable doubt that arose in fear of its truth was met
synchronously with certainty til then unknown, and I wept
in disbelief then bliss both during the album and after.
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Once I was asleep on my sick-bed, when a spirit approached me. It was a very beautiful woman. Her hair fell down to her shoulders in short black tresses. Other shamans say they have had the vision of a woman with one half of her face black, and the other half red. She said: ‘I am the ayami of your ancestors, the Shamans. I taught them shamaning. Now I am going to teach you. The old shamans have died off, and there is no one to heal people. You are to become a shaman.’
Next she said: ‘I love you, I have no husband now, you will be my husband and I shall be a wife unto you. I shall give you assistant spirits. You are to heal with their aid, and I shall teach and help you myself. Food will come to us from the people.’
I felt dismayed and tried to resist. Then she said, ‘If you will not obey me, so much the worse for you. I shall kill you.’
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In the months that followed I saw signs in nearly every instant’s sights and sounds, guided by an hysterical, unshakable expansion. All phenomena was benevolent, and my contact therewith was the fruition of all that had ever been and intended solely for me as I moved thru the world on a path I paved in my walking. Holy madness. I’d enter a crowded room and the snatches of many parties’ conversations would form a single polyglot sentence that described the house inside it. I’d stand drunken with eyes closed on the ledge of my building’s roof at night and chant incantations as I did on the empty stage of the movie theater, stripped naked after closing and echoing before the many seats now empty.
But that was years ago.
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In the aftermath of my most recent break-up, I read GLORIOUS NEMESIS by Ladislav Klíma (Twisted Spoon Press, 2011). Although I always read voraciously, I choose my material at times like these more carefully than usual. The time previous, for example, I’d read Hélène Cixous’ first novel, ANGST, which begins like this:
The worst is upon me. This is it: The scene of Great Suffering. During this scene the impossible takes place: my death attacks me, life panics and splits in two; one life tears at the other which has it by the throat, biting. You struggle. […] You fall and the earth is no longer there.
The book’s sustained brutality was perfect, and proved auspicious for that particular heartbreak, there being a resonance between a project the art school girl I’d been seeing had done involving cartography (“Here be Lions, Here be Dragons” she’d written in her artist statement), and Cixous’ novel’s name for the monsters the Mystic encounters: “lion-dragons”.
I’d tried re-reading the book this newest instance, hoping perhaps to establish a tradition of sorts, but the book was not, this time, as useful. In hindsight, my impulse to read the Cixous book seems predicated in gaining access to the archetypal feminine imagination, which would in turn bring me somehow closer to my absent object of desire. But the flux, this time, made me sea-sick, and I decided it would be better to read books by dudes in my time of (dis)repair.
So, GLORIOUS NEMESIS. This guy Sider sees a woman at a resort he’d seen in his dreams. He follows her up a mountain called Stag’s Head, where she beckons him to jump across a gap in a cliff that would almost certainly prove fatal. He chickens out on the lovers’ leap and she curses him. In the many years following, he sees (or seems to see) her everywhere, and the book, which spans decades, is full is metaphysical rumination about whether or not this woman is dead, or a divinity, or what, and what it means to love and be loved by someone like that, who appears, as often as she doesn’t, in an antagonistic aspect.
GLORIOUS NEMESIS was originally published posthumously in 1932, and it has affinities with works like Breton’s NADJA or Nerval’s AURELIA. I began to wonder about the nature of the phantasmal lovers of these narratives: the mechanics of projection, founded, perhaps, on the notion of woman’s unknowability, a quality that, no matters what, renders the object of desire opaque in a way that ultimately prevents the possibility of her ever, ultimately, being stripped bare.
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This painting, LE PASSAGE by Kay Sage, could have been the last shot of Von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA.
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O Absentee, there is so much to decry!
Even now I pursue you, unsure if we exist at once on the same plane or if we shall ever look into each other’s eyes over anything but torturous interval.
See this, if you can, and send a sign.
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So, I finally got around to watching INCEPTION.
The protagonist’s projection of his dead wife, Mal (!?!), keeps sabotaging the unconvincingly lucid levels of dreamtime that give the movie its plot. Apparently for a while they lived together in Limbo, where she died one time too many, slipping down out of his reach to the Hell that’s never mentioned. This final death of hers involves an unbridgeable gulf and her inviting our man to jump. He doesn’t. She plunges into the depths.
Luckily, in the end, even her murderous shade is confronted, redeemed, and freed. We can’t really say about her soul. This is a Hollywood film, after all.
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Pursuing a bit further the theme of doubles, replicants, the-idea-of that eclipses and renders opaque the actual,
we’ve got SOLARIS, which involves a far more interesting scenario in which the female projection becomes aware of itself as a non-human shade,
or even, reaching a bit further, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, in which, with the exception of a handful of scenes, we are dealing with one man’s subjective memories of his lover as they’re being erased. Mostly we know only how this sad sack thinks of his girlfriend, without getting to know her as a character outside of those parameters.
This, however, is not a problem dealt with explicitly.
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What exactly sets the precedent for this type of thing?
Obviously, we’ve got Eurydice and Orpheus. Duh. That particular myth being somewhat played tho, I decided to revisit Pierre Klossowski’s brilliant essay DIANA AT HER BATH, which provides an interesting clue to the whole business of the Goddess existing at an impenetrable remove:
Argument: Diana makes a pact with a daemon who intercedes between the gods and humanity, in order to appear to Actaeon. Through his airy body, the daemon simulates Diana in her theophany and inspires in Actaeon the desire and mad hope to possess the goddess. He becomes Actaeon’s imagination and Diana’s mirror.
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O Absentee, see this as a beckoning!
Whether you exist or not,
it was you who awakened me to realms theretofore unknown.
Let us wait no longer.
Our mystical marriage, my love, is now.
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I have yet to see, in all my reading, this whole phenomenon presented in a reversal of genders. The male spirit, possibly, does not possess the same degree of impassibility. Nonetheless, perhaps we may find a variation in a passage from my favorite book, Maurice Blanchot’s THOMAS THE OBSCURE, as well as a mirror to Breton’s question that served so well to spawn this line of inquiry:
Distracted as she was, how could she have interrogated a being whose existence was a terrible question posed to herself? But she seemed to find it surprising and slightly shocking, yes, really shocking, not yet to be able, not to understand him (which in itself would have been extremely presumptuous), but (and this time the rashness went beyond all limits) to get information about him. And this boldness was not enough for her, for the regret she felt at not knowing him, rather than trying to justify itself in its bizarre form through the violence and madness of its expression, emerged rather as a relaxed and almost indifferent regret. It was, beneath the benign appearance all such operations have, an actual attempt to tempt God. She looked him right in the face: ‘But, what are you?’
‘What I am….’
What was going to happen? She did not know, but devoting her entire life to waiting, her impatience melted into the hope of participating in a general cataclysm in which, at the same time as beings themselves, the distances which separate beings would be destroyed.