Patina of Desire IV
When an infinite reach, an infinite striving, is manifest in a finite
creature, so motivating a being of finite resources and powers, then illusion,
self-delusion (with its concomitant deluding of others) or philosophy result.
Enfolded in this infinite gift, infinitely unfolding all around us, how can our
finite being decide our return, calculate the extent or value of our debt,
measure up to the test we are faced with; what will we do with this plenitude?
How will we value our luck (if at all, for the option is always open, to those
who would refuse debt, to devalue life… to deny the gift, cancel the debt, lose
all interest). In what way will we receive our gift? And whom will we thank for
it? The answers (and they are many) constitute our religion and philosophy, our
metaphysics. And if we are consistent (which we are not) our attitude… to life,
to our kindred, to our desire, of ourselves as of others – of one another (of
one other…) if we are consistent… then our attitude will marry ‘is’ and
‘ought’, appetite and ethics, indicative and subjunctive, indeed all the infinite
and finite aspects of our experience in the usual impossible glossing over of
the cracks, so arriving at an (ideological) unity that permits us to function
(though rarely without contradiction). For time is short and the clock is
counting (as it must for every living, sentient, finite being).
something you could not have? Ever wanted someone you could not have? If we are
honest, the answer should be: always and often… quite simply, it is part of the
way in which we desire. Even at times when the focus is drawn in (highlighting
an object with great clarity against a blurred depth of field) there is still a
peripheral fuzz that escapes the fixed aim of a confirmed passion: but more
usually the focus is broad, encompassing everything, as other objects swim into
view; desire graces all things it touches. That it would like to touch…
Wanting something or someone one just cannot have... Setting
aside ones desire for someone; perhaps the better to aid them on their way. So
way beyond a defamation of the fruit beyond reach; the ‘sour grapes’ of the
embittered soul. And not just a loss of relation mourned for, a sad melancholy;
the creating of a twilight, Manichean world where we are forever exiled from
the Light we desire. But valuable as a lesson of how react to a world that will
not bow down before our every whim; of accommodating ourselves to this fact
with out harming others or ourselves; and so of how to interact with the world
in a non-destructive, less selfish way… So moving from individual conscience
and individual morality to a more general level, a lifestyle, a world outlook…
In the field of human relations it is not so much a question of what to do with
desire as such, as what to do with an unrequited or impossible desire - with
what was once rather quaintly called an ‘unrequited love’, but which may apply
equally to many other aspects of our desiring life (if such a concept is not
always already a tautology) and be extrapolated into all aspects of everyday
(Not just a
matter of Eros, or raw sexual desire, such that seizes us swiftly, and leaves
us with equal haste, an issue where contact with matter itself is the main
concern (as, in the process, we ourselves too become matter…). Such we all have
and enjoy! No; we are talking about feelings that go beyond the desire to hurl
someone down (or be hurled down) upon the nearest piece of level geography… So
not just about bodies (or parts of bodies) but rather the person, their habits
and manners, our connection and personal interaction with them; these are what
elicit the highest degree of admiration and respect – as well as the scratching
of the claws of Eros at our heart that tell us that friendship may never quite
infinite nature of our desires, for ourselves as for others, for things as for
people, an infinity which we maintain in the face of a certain tendency to
repetition, to a preferred repertoire and stage, given this eternal presence
(whilst we live) and infinite reach (even if only as a set of evolving variations),
we nevertheless require a means of dealing with this potential, if largely
By deferring something one could not, anyway, have, one is, in a
sense, taming reality along with ones own desires (insofar as reality is a
product of our own desire). Altering reality as one alters the self. An
investment to prove the coming of something better (reward of the pedestal, of
ones gentle abjection, of a sense of worship). Also: ones own value is
increased as an admirer of someone who must be valued, by valuing one becomes
one of those who can, who knows how to value… to exhalt.
One, unified in self, no longer divided between desire and its unattainable
provocation, and unified with the Beloved, as One, only on a more rarified
psychological plane (just as spiritual ecstasy is both utterly imaginary and
Consolation for the lack of attainment of the object of desire is
a tradition in the West (with its idealized, or anyway literary, notion of
romantic love) but also a plus, if generalized to other life relations (as in
Buddhism, for example, as in other philosophies of restraint and renunciation,
and as evinced in some degree in all religions). In this role it may act as a
cure for desire rather than its cheer-leader, its incitement; arousal under the
guise of containment (the open or ‘public’ secret of Transgression’s dependency
on the Law it would appear to affront).
Of those who
say they always get what they want… how narrow an imagination this betrays; it
is impossible that human desire be this stunted, this limited in imagination…
such declarations are anyway more a question of attitude than actuality.
infinity guarantees no aim or arrival as sufficient or final…
Cast adrift on this sea without a Pole Star. Without a compass on
this ocean of infinite striving, ocean without compass, we have a choice… To
occupy a place in the world as seen though a veil of willful beautification,
gift of painter to canvass, fruit of effort; or, through an equal and opposite
effort, to wander amongst the many layered veils of hypocrisy (endlessly,
self-interestedly, deluding oneself as to the nature of ones relationship to
people and to things). An apportionment of value, the choice of which renders
reality, not only bearable, but beautiful. Or else, in the withdrawal of such,
a vision of a fallen world, offspring of sour desire. To be used as, as in the
revenge plot, model for much of our current (fictional and non-fictional)
narrative, a justification for lesser motives, cynical appropriations. To use
the ideal as the enemy of the real (the Romantic trap, through Baudelaire and
beyond) as a means of projected abjection, economic despoilment or corrective
terror, a double insult to a reality redeemable by the effort of people of good
will and balanced manner of vision. In a public world dominated by
media-conscious ‘attitude’, this transformation, too, is a question of
Making the best of doing (what is anyway) the right thing … so at
once making for one a better self and for our ‘betters’ a better world. For
’making a virtue of necessity’ leaves one with a gain in virtue (where
otherwise one would only have had the experience of a loss or a fall).
perhaps still… leaving behind the ever-so-slightly bitter-sweet taste of
The Obstacle is one key to the literary life of the West and, in
the form we inherit it, may even be part of a significant psychological trend
arising out of the confluence of monotheism and feudalism – so more than just a
cultural consolation for arranged marriage The Christian West, in turn,
inherited the suspended reproduction or marriage plot from Classical Greek
Comedy and Romance (the earliest novel) together with an important input from
Islamic poetry (fruit of a shared linguistic culture in Mozarabic Spain and a
Norman penchant for Moslem culture in Sicily). The Obstacle: awakening blow
struck by reality at our dream of guilt-free desire ; thorn in the heart of
shared emotional plenitude. This third corner of the triangle, an unfortunate
interposition between would-be lovers (but one without which narrative is
well-nigh impossible), is not one entirely absent from other world
literary-cultural traditions: all have their version of this block or
fore-fending off of a sensuous aim (at its most basic in the most universal of
poetic genres, the Complaint). An impediment to satiety that is felicitously
removed in Comedy, but fatally insistent in Tragedy (but also, most cogently
with the arrival of the Romantics, the obstacle may provide an apt, if ironic,
defense against the dizzying fall into a endless hunger that feeds on itself,
making a mockery of the notion of contentment, of the possibility of
contentment). Making use of the Obstacle… can this configuration, which gives
us much of our literature, our drama, our poetry, also give us our morality,
our sense of a moral self? Is it possible to move from entertainment, mimetic
representation of reality’s bounds, the acting out of our everyday agon, to guiding principle?
The Obstacle is ineluctable in the encounter of finite and
infinite. The wall (or chasm) that separates the two, is their point of
contact, the membrane brought to birth by their touching. Condition of life for
the finite self in its short swim in the sea of the infinite; living its
infinity as the illusion of eternity -in the eternal ‘now’- a fool’s paradise
to be dissolved by the thought of death, instant, if second hand, awareness of
ones finite being. Scant figure on a ground. Ones porous boundaries, the very
membrane of the meeting of heterogeneous realms; of our life as guided by the
obstacle, proof of reality - and its most treasured, and most reviled, product.
So more than just a mild impediment to desire: rather a continuous condition of
being. Wisdom would suggest a conscious approach to this glass wall of the self
(or else the stubborn accumulation of cuts and bruises that result from our
hurling our uncomprehending selves at its patient and -equally stubborn-
unmoving presence). A conscious life: an accommodation to this fact.
Obstacle. It anyway will haunt one, will invent one (invent ones self). Let us
invent one. The means to a measured life… Awareness of the ever-presence of the
Obstacle as our guiding thread… offering a path through the labyrinth; a
labyrinth whose walls are made of a crystal sharp as shards of freshly-broken
glass. Made of another kind of obstacle. It takes a thief…
The infinite call of the patina of desire may, by dint of
adaptation, be civilised into a glowing patina of care covering all things, a
mode of existence, a personal ‘philosophy’, something the world as it seems to
us (and which received philosophy and ideological or religious systems never
quite seem to exhaust) needs as a matter of some urgency. How one orientates
one self in it and in the endless round of temptation that constitutes human
existence, its infinity of demands, of us upon it, or, as we often experience
it, of it upon us (an infinite temptation, an eternal incitement)… this is the
question our desire poses for us. One of the secrets of the success of advanced
capitalism is its mimicking of the desire of other’s bodies so marrying the
desire of community and identity (or recognition) to the commodity form. Desire
after all is the key to the economic category of ‘marginal utility’ as to the
turning points of the trade cycle – or perhaps the term consumption cycle is
more appropriate to modern mass society… Already we see the link between
wanting bodies and wanting things, and of both of these to wanting a self
(sexual desire, desire of objects and experiences and the desire for
recognition). Desire writ large (Lacan’s what is left after need and drive are
subtracted, desire and product of our body and its point of consciousness, a
self lost in language) may be read as either the sum of these, or of
recognition expanded out to cover, as it indubitably does, all the others…
(regardless of originary priority, genealogies are redundant here, and anyway
only serve those in search of the delusions of ‘authenticity’). Who we are
always inflects what we want (and who we want…) the infinity of wanting may be
no more than the (very prosaic) persistence of our life force and its
periscope, our consciousness… its point of contact with the sea of matter. The
insistent buzz of our life… (noise of our blood in our ears, or the uninvited
yet insistent motivator of our attention and awareness). Symptom of its
persistence – proof of our continued existence.
No need for
anything more metaphysical here.
The long tradition of writing on desire in the West is dominated
by the notions of Eros and Agape; desire and love in their exclusive aspect.
These terms, in reality, admit of many degrees of co-implication… the
disposition or weighting that forms the real balance of feeling of our everyday
life (so beyond the naked binary, the emotional antinomy of ‘selfless’ care and
‘blind’ desire – in many traditional societies mapped on to the difference of
gender). So is it a case of the sacrifice of one for the gain of the other (of
ones desire for the love of the other)? An exchange which produces a new
identity? In part. Yet these polar twins are anyway only two points on a map
made up of complex and often contradictory feelings and impulsions. So we often
find combined destructive possession and the possession of care. Passions
constituting different selves; or different aspects of the self. In the case of
paired existence we would expect an intertwining of these complementary poles.
In the case of a desire which can find no place of rest, however, the settling
of accounts may resemble a negation of aspects of the self. Of self-denial.
Care, after all, still requires a recipient. Stilling passions may seem to
imply a stilling of the self.
of self-denial/the denial of the self? Yet even in sleep our self remains
present to us in dreams. The tap of the self cannot be turned off. Not this
side of death.
As generations of monks and nuns, hermits and recluses have
always found; putative denial of self (of its desire) is in practice the source
of a new spiritually improved self (and not its evaporation). The desire for
no-self configures a new form of the self. So desire for no desire is the formation
of a new manner of desire. The tap of desire itself can not be turned off. Not
this side of death.
So denial in one area of human life, the casting of the negative,
yields a positive in another zone of personal experience. The river otherwise
diverted, irrigates new ground, brings forth new crops.
One kind of
not having, not possessing (or possessing otherwise) may be taken as a model
for all our desiring relations, for all our earthly passions.
passions. Possessing beauty in spirit.
Spirit possession: possession in the spirit. Possession in the
image alone, perhaps the only kind we really have… a meeting of image
repertoires is, after all, the usual apogee of the sexual relation. Otherwise,
a marriage of minds. Even if on the grounds of the fantasy of each. Of ones own
As the ghost
of the Beloved stalks the halls and mirrors of the Lover’s mind so the
realization dawns that this faint relation is nevertheless proof to all the
falls, the disillusionments that attend the progress of any real relation…
Spirit possession: possession in the spirit. To be possessed by
that which one wants; without possessing it… an attitude in the life of the
mind, which lets the world go and stay; to find paradise and resist the urge to
despoil it (so to turn it into the living image of our private -and not so
private- our collective, social, human… hell).
As the utopia
of social desire, so the utopia of personal desire; the attainment suggests to
us that the promise or prognosis of an unfettered plenitude was from the
beginning fatally flawed.
possessions. In mind alone; not alone. Possessing beauty in spirit.
Spirit. Light sufficient cast into the darker corners of the soul.
Light of the heavens; heaven’s thought; a sense of infinity as
the cure for our unquiet sense of infinitude.
Possessing desire (for someone) would be enough (if understanding
would be enough). Possession in spirit. A marriage of minds. The finitude of
spiritual intimacy taming the infinite. All the wisdom I would need.
(For someone - if
understanding would be enough).
Copyright, Peter Nesteruk, 2010