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).
Ever wanted 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 life.
(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 be enough…)
Given the 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 imaginary, plenitude.
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.
So becoming 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 utterly real).
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.
Desire’s 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 attitude…
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).
…‘though perhaps still… leaving behind the ever-so-slightly bitter-sweet taste of renunciation.
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.
Inventing the 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.
The rhetoric 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.
A course diverted…
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.
Spirit 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 imagining.
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.
Spirit possessions. In mind alone; not alone. Possessing beauty in spirit.
Beauty in 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