Patina of Desire III (twilight, a covering of snow)
Of our desiring relations, their terrain and their representation: miasma of word and image, the shadow that follows in the wake of the event. Floating just above the contours of power, separated as by the force of magnetic repulsion. Patina of light, a veil thrown over the harsh glint that is the tell-tale sign of the armour of the actual.
If the centripetal forces of desire are mimetic and unite us, render our fantasies, and their faces, similar, shared, goods held in common, then centrifugal forces also exist which are defined against the centre’s force of attraction. These countervailing tendencies appear to work against the mimetic link to power, its structure and habits, its centralizing cast, which in the past exorcised a normative, if stabilizing, dead hand over communal social, sexual relations. Centrifugal forces have always existed, perhaps even in proportion to the force of attraction emanating from the centre (and carefully policed by most aspects of the social whole). Yet the home of these is also home to the fantasies generated by the pull of the centre, the rocky gradient of reality: so in our collective imagination; our dream world, our literature, our poetry (our fantasies, their problems and solutions incarnate in word and image) and so found throughout our culture, our media, our art as fed by this tension, this pull and this resistance to the icons of our time.
Reality and its shadow; in whose shade we nevertheless find our bearings, by whose light we navigate our course past the rocks of the coast into the home of a dry harbour. Sustained by the mirage of water. The illusion of choice. That we can swim with the glitter of the sun on the waves traversing the surface, and not negotiate the tangle of weeds, the spines of mutual defence, the lures of the predators below.
Mimetic desire pulls us in and homogenizes us; unites us as if around a totem. Unites us in the worship of idols. Does the opposite pole then individuate us? Perhaps, but only insofar as we are already individuals, capable of some measure of choice and criticism – for the pole of escape already includes the representations of power and its personifications as well as their putative cure. Indeed clinging-to of distant idols is often part of the resistance to the choices offered by proximate reality. Furthermore the opposing pole offers a kind of mirror image of our imitation of the peaks of our social formation, our ‘imitation of Christ’ (which however itself may not be as constricting as might be thought, a mimesis which may indeed be read as an appropriation, tailored for enablement, for individual use).
Gravity of mass and event, counter-pull of the disappointed yet hopeful imagination, both forces shape the contours of our tales, our depictions of desire, our thoughts on love, both forces feed the distortion… or moulding of the lines of our thought by reality and the reaction it calls forth from our bitter coming-to-terms - as is our desire itself, moulded and sent on its way by the same (and opposite) lines of force.
So it may be that the putative pole of escape may also be uniform, a uniform reaction as any reaction (as reactivity) often is… whence the uniformity of visions of escape and the tales of love we tell ourselves across cultures and civilisations and the tidal ebb and flow of history…
So our counterweight too configures, is configured by… a set of clichés… and non are more clichéd than those of desire, the sexual dance, sexual role play, the fantasies of love.
Witness: the history of the lyric. The love song, the love poem… all without doubt either championing free choice, the free choice of the Beloved, or bemoaning, indeed mourning, the loss of such… The tales we tell each other and their history; an image of the ideal different from that officially offered, or the fantasies of choice in the face of the realities of economic, family pressure and the weight of social norms (State, Church, Community).
The gentle cloth of the lyric, whose folds can never quite conceal the rough paving of the path of the everyday (and nor should it, for we might mistake the one for the other, and so doing fall… therefore the sharp edge of the real which obtrudes as ‘obstacle’ in our tales, and which triumphs, so offering a cautionary warning, in the genre we call tragedy). The gentle cloth of the lyric… wound around our wounds like the arms of a sleeping lover.
The organisation of a consolation. To make up for reality’s hard choices. Or their lack. The single path stretching out monotonously before us. And the ever-present gap between expectation and reality (which, in a terrible irony, may anyway be produced by something as unexpected as… satiety, the fruit of success… of always getting what we want).
Still true today. The arranged marriage, the past necessity of the stable reproduction of the social, may have produced many a genre of love poems, of loss, and disappointment, of mismatch (together with their development into renunciation or adultery). But does something about the nature of this restriction still hold true of our situation now – after all these genres, these plots, these self-same stories, continue to grow in popularity and consumption in ‘advanced’ (liberal) societies today. Are not the iron laws of economic choice, the normative bonds of class and status, still as powerful as before (if operating more indirectly, offering the illusion of choice)… Factors beyond desire still seem to restrict desire’s configuration - and so still configure its actual aim…
So after the force of attraction exerted by our genes, which we are told favours difference, smiles on opposites (whence the attraction across cultures and races, the attraction of the Other), in contradistinction and exerting an opposite and unequal (greater) force, we have the conservative seat belt of our learnt culture, which conspires to stop us hurtling headlong into the arms of the Other (unless that ‘significant other’ tends to be the approved ‘other’ of the opposite sex). Therefore the choice of object, or better, actual choice of partners, more particularly our long term ones, which tend to come from a similar class, cultural, economic and religious background (so showing the restraining force of the Mimetic, the retreat to the Same). In our dreams we may want the Other, but when life’s choices, the choices of face, reputation and brute (economic) survival come to the fore (and when do they not) then we all appear to choose the safe bet. (Outside of literature who really wants to starve for love? Rather it is the stomach for love that first atrophies when exposed to a daily diet of poverty)
Strangely for a culture which prides itself on individualism and the perennial fashion of rebellion (amounting at times to the compulsion of a religion) it would appear that when it comes to desire we require very little regulation: for when given the choice we conform. So the role of fantasy in art, in the lyric, in popular song, continues… (perhaps also fed by the same genetic push which would have us in the arms of the Other) still providing us with a consolation for the depredations of the Real, which it turns out, is never quite what we might have liked it to be…
Ideals will always rise above the pragmatics of power and the exigencies of the economic -and desire exceed its object- whence the need for art to interpose its consoling face between the representation and the real. Whence the need for art…
So the ‘love religion’ of the West (beloved of literary commentators, but itself the fruit of a feudal society that severely restricted sexual choice, a fact that should have already given us pause for thought) appears in all sorts of cultures (where its actuality may have been and still may be all but impossible) and persists to this day (when we might have assumed that its necessity was long past). Some notion of free object choice versus pre-determination, ideal versus actual, and romance versus marriage persists in most cultures, fueling the themes and genres of romantic comedy and tragedy alike… even if sometimes disguised as religious desire or some other oblique aim, or service of an ideal (or ‘corrected’, ‘cured’ in the moment of recognition when the obstacle is removed - just as tragedy seemed immanent, the Beloved is found to be safely outside of the realm governed by a given society’s taboos).
Entertainment, as usual, turns out to be a very serious business. The sugared medicine we take for our quiet amusement and our unquiet consolation. An amusement which, insofar as it plays with the salt of transgression as a source of its audience ‘pull’ (and which does not?) is also the transmission belt of the Law (so both lure and the mapping-out of the limits of pleasure). At once source of our fantasies of escape and the means to keep us (almost) happy in our real, everyday, ‘actually-existing’ roles and relationships… Consolation and condition for our negotiated life.
Bitter-sweet patina of desire, golden coverlet for the bed we have not made.
Copyright 2008, Peter Nesteruk