Originally published in Ekleksographia, Summer 2011.
“And she considered the cruel necessity of loving.” I am stuck on this sentence. I reread it and sense that I recognize what I have always known to be true, but have never articulated. The one who has articulated this is Clarice Lispector and I have hunted her down, following the arrows and signposts left by Hélène Cixous who has traversed this jungle many times before I. Cixous says that “Clarice has the terrifying splendor of daring the real, which is not beautiful, which is not organized, of daring the living, which is not symbolized, which is not personal, of being in the kernel of the is that is without the self, of writing by the flow of signs without history” (Cixous, “Coming to Writing”… 76). The real is terrifying; it is splendor and daring. It is the death and the consumption of the self. To love is to lose my body and myself, to let myself be chewed apart, piece by piece. Pleasure and loss. Love is cruel, and cruelty, if complete, is desirable.
The story is “The Smallest Woman in the World.” It leaves me with an ache. The woman, a pregnant pygmy in Africa, is exoticized. I consider the story racist, but I also consider that perhaps it is only about racism in a small way. But mostly, it is about humanity, the need to love, to be loved, and the cruelty of needing, wanting, the pleasure of possessing—objects, persons, feelings. The mother in the urban world of Brazil recognizes to love is the desire to possess. But it is always to desire, always unsatisfied, always the pains of hunger.
And she considered the cruel necessity of loving. She considered the malignity of our desire to be happy. She considered the ferocity with which we want to play. And the number of times when we murder for love. She then looked at her mischievous son as if she were looking at a dangerous stranger. And she was horrified at her own soul, which, more than her body, had engendered that being so apt for life and happiness. And thus she looked at him, attentively and with uneasy pride, her child already without two front teeth, his evolution under way, his teeth falling out to make room for those which bite best. (Lispector 92)
I keep rereading, attempting to take in the words. I would like to eat these sentences. I feel in them something I hunger for, something that could perhaps satiate. I would like to know that which Lispector knows, but like love, like the pregnancy and love found in the pygmy woman, there is only more hunger to be bred, more knowledge to be desired. The mother projects her desire for love into the body of her child, born or unborn, but it can never be returned, not in the same capacity. The child materializes with his new teeth. He will love his mother, but he will eat her alive.
(HM: Like the mother who projects her love into the body of the child, I project my love into the body of the text, my child. The text and the child come from our bodies, but at some point they grow their own teeth. Is it then the hunger of the text that grows fangs and consumes me instead? I consider Umberto Eco’s concept of the “model author,” a representation of the writer that is born through the writing that has been produced, but essentially the model author is the epistemology of the text itself. The actual body, biography, and personal life of the author, or what Eco refers to as the “empirical author,” is no longer relevant for good readership. My body is erased once the words are birthed onto the page. Always the same question, when is the body of the text completely severed from mine? Never never never. I am a mother who cannot let go.)
The child imagines owning the small woman. To possess her, to love her. Isn’t this the language of the lover? His teeth are ready to emerge through the gums of his small mouth. He childishly recognizes his desire. It comes from his mouth, “we could play with her! We could make her our toy, eh” (91). But from his mouth, from the site of the teeth that will tear through flesh. There are no vegetarians of this sort in the world. The desire to consume and ingest another is always present. To love, to ingest, to take in the flesh of another.
Another example—Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. While Chinua Achebe cites the racism of the novel and I cannot deny his observations and assertions, Conrad, too, attempts to find the common element of humanity.
(HM: Achebe argues that the horror Conrad finds is the association between the white European culture and the dehumanized savages who are rendered as “devoid of all recognizable humanity.” The novel “celebrates this dehumanization” and “depersonalizes a portion of the human race.” Therefore, it cannot and should not be considered a great work of art.)
What Lispector calls the cruelty of needing love, Conrad calls cannibalism.
We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there—there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leapt, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend. (Conrad 32)
We all have the desire to eat the body of another. Passion has become horrifying. Repress. Structure. Ritualize. Passion and cannibalism must be put to order.
(HM: Nor do I want to suggest that love and the violence of racism are the same. However, the line between love and hate is rather fine as both love and hate lie in the unknown. We can hate what we don’t know as much as we love what we desire to know…but to desire is always to lack. In The Heart of Darkness, the reader is equally guilty of consuming the black bodies of the cannibals as he is of attempting to consume the knowledge of the artist, Conrad. Reading is a search for intimacy and must ultimately, at the root, be violent.)
We recognize our pulse in the rhythm of the native who threatens to eat us alive. But, while Conrad uses the word “man,” I believe the desire must be stronger for women. Men speak of possessing women, to take her they say, but it is our bodies that are made to absorb, to ingest. I want to take you in. I want to swallow you whole.
The head of John the Baptist was served on a silver charger, a royal platter for dining, his lips to be sucked by the lusting and loving Salome.
(HM: See Oscar Wilde’s Salome.)
But this is a trope we have heard before. Remember the woman-eating wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood.” Is there anyone left who would insist that this tale is not about sex? Beware of strangers in the woods, little girls. They will eat you up, unless, of course, your appetite is larger than theirs, as Angela Carter reminds us in “The Company of Wolves.”
To eroticize is the desire to eat, and a pattern much older than that found in twentieth-century literature (or nineteenth-century Oscar Wilde texts) is established. Go back to the beginning. Go back to the genesis of all stories, the site of the first characters and the first dramatic conflict, the Garden of Eden and the original sin. The original sin is to eat, to ingest, to consume. It is the source of our guilt.
(HM: A French man tells me that the French gave up religion over a hundred years ago. They have no shame, no guilt. To eat is good. To have sex is good. But we Americans, we feel both shame and guilt on both counts. We count calories and diet. Sex is sinful. We deprive our bodies and thus we are obsessive. We attempt to repress, but the result is obese perversion, food and pornography slipped in on the sly.)
The source of our shame.
(HM: There is a blond Jewish boy from California who is a part of my life. He tells me that I am incapable of loving. I deny the accusation and respond with evidence of past loves, deep loves, loves that ended abruptly and still pain me, but the comment still torments me.
I’ve been dreaming of teeth. My teeth are loose and out of place, crooked and pushed together, forming rows and I am a shark girl. But these are not the teeth of a carnivore, a cannibal fish eater-of-fish. These teeth are loose and wobbly; they wiggle as I attempt to put them back into place. If I cannot bite, perhaps it is true. I cannot love.)
The source of our desires.
(HM: My earliest sexual dreams were about vampires. Even now, the majority of erotic dreams/nightmares involve running from men with fangs, hiding in coffins. The men are attractive, but they cannot be trusted. They are not interested in recruitment. Becoming another vampire is not an option they are willing to bestow. What they are interested in is murder. They are interested in sucking the meat off of my bones. On the occasion when I am caught, I attempt seduction, a “why don’t we do it first?” in hopes of achieving a few more moments in life. I am fearful, but aroused. I alleviate my guilt. After all, it is self-defense. But my desire is there, the desire for someone to want my body served upon a dish, the desire to be ravished.)
Our knowledge is our shame. It is the first taboo. It is the first erotic form. Adam and Eve ate and they knew that they were naked. Food, knowledge, lust, and God’s shadow falling over the tree that bursts with fruit. We know lust and we lust to eat knowledge; we lust to eat God; we lust to eat the body of another. We eroticize all that we wish to eat. Peter Greenaway’s film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover parallels sexual passion with food preparation…of the body…sucked in. The wife and the lover savor the flavor of their bodies and do not gluttonously stuff themselves like the thief, but like the thief, they always return. Hunger is always insatiable. But, yet, let’s not forget the final scene: the wife avenges the murder of her lover by having the dead body cooked and prepared by the cook and then served to her husband, the thief. At gunpoint, he is forced to eat that which he despises—a symbol of cultural refinement and knowledge, a man who was loved because he knew how to love. The thief was ordered to begin with the penis.
In Plato’s The Symposium, Socrates claims that the lover must be a lover of wisdom. This is Eros. This is divine love. Pausanias clarifies the difference between divine love and common love by defining divine love as mental love, homosexual love. Common love may be either homosexual or heterosexual, but the mental connection is missing. Uneducated women and men cannot share in divine love because they do not have the capacity to give and share knowledge. Eros—to enter the body, the site of wisdom; to be entered in exchange of knowledge. To enter, to be entered; to eat, to be eaten; to merge bodies; to attempt to experience and know the other, the unknowable. Failure is constant. The knowledge we seek is not findable; it moves too quickly for us. Our appetites are never satisfied.
We lust to eat God, the ultimate unknowable. Eroticized—the body of God, Christ on a cross, displayed for our sins, displayed for our pleasures.
Consider: St. Teresa of Avila, the inspiration for Bernini’s 17th-century Baroque sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, rendered from a statement made in her autobiography, a description of a vision:
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of his goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.
(The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila 266)
To see the statue is to “immediately see that she is coming,” says Lacan (Lacan 76).
Consider: The Song of Solomon, an erotic text, a holy text. Kristeva asserts the text blurs and shifts the pronouns, creating interchangeable roles for Solomon, his wife/lover, and God. “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s / Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. Your love is more delightful than wine. / Delicate is the fragrance of your perfume, your name is an oil poured out, and that is why the maidens love you” (Kristeva 88). According to Kristeva, Solomon is simultaneously the loved one and the author. But the song is also a dialogue between lovers, Solomon and his wife, Solomon and God, and while at times the text can be interchangeably read as a love song from Solomon to the woman or as a love song from God to the people of Israel. God is an erotic figure, “seen and heard by chosen ones, by lovers” (Kristeva 98).
Consider: The Virgin Mary, mother and lover of God. The most revered woman, the woman who would fuck only a god. The woman closest to God, the woman with the most intimate knowledge of God.
We, the other mortals God has not descended upon, we eat him up instead. Our jealously will be avenged. We take him into our mouths, the body and blood of Christ. We will know him yet. We will merge the body with ours, know holiness, satisfy our lust.
The association between love and death, or sex and death is ambiguous, and perhaps it works the same way for writing. On the one hand, we would like to believe that love, sex, and writing will save us. Brigitte Bardot’s character Juliete Hardy in Et Dieu…Créa la Femme (…And God Created Woman) infers that her wild sluttish behavior is an attempt to help alleviate the pains and fear of approaching death. Ultimately, the film suggests that it is the recognition of love, and not sex, or any other desperate attempt to feel alive, that saves us from fear, and from death.
(HM: Taming the wild woman by slapping the shit out of her also seems to be important for rendering order and happiness back into life, according to this film.)
And as God’s love will save us from death with his offer of eternal salvation, the 1970s band Blue Oyster Cult tells us not to fear the reaper. They inform us that Romeo and Juliet are “together in eternity.” “Come on baby…Don’t fear the reaper / Baby take my hand…Don’t fear the reaper / We’ll be able to fly…Don’t fear the reaper / Baby I’m your man” (Blue Oyster Cult). Love offers eternal salvation and the ability to escape the fear of death, if we can buy into bad ‘70s rock ballads and scandalous French films.
In his autobiography, The Words, Jean-Paul Sartre claims that God has become the Great Spectator, the one who sits quietly, preparing to pass judgment. Perhaps the days of creation have passed and to write and to birth is no longer godly. In fact, perhaps it has become the most human thing one can do. Cixous, you must no longer feel your anxiety toward naming. To be human now is to go down through the depths of language, of art, in order to find God, to know God, to feel death. But, it is an experience we must create ourselves. We must create ourselves in order to transcend creation, transcend ourselves.
Kathy Acker writes, “Remember: it all comes down. One must go down to see. Down into language. Once upon a time there was a writer; his name was Orpheus. He was and is the only writer in the world because every author is Orpheus. He was searching for love” (Acker 62). Or, remember the first line of Robert McLiam Wilson’s novel, Eureka Street: “All stories are love stories.” All language, all art, is the search for love. Perhaps it is the only way to search. We create in order to know God, to know the first knowledge, to know love, but we must go through the land of the dead in order to be reborn.
Descartes infers a separation of body (erotics) and mind (spiritual love) that I would argue against. It is never that simple. Yet, while I argue that the mind is part of the body and therefore love and erotics must surely be connected, I change my mind again. It is never that simple. To simplify: the erotic is bodily and sensual. Love is spiritual. The body and the spirit are united only through death and pleasure.
For Georges Bataille, pleasure must then be found in death and in violence. “Eroticism, like cruelty, is premeditated. Cruelty and eroticism are conscious intentions in a mind which has resolved to trespass into a forbidden field of behaviour” (Bataille 79). In a philosophy that emphasizes taboo as essential to eroticism, it is clear that death is the last taboo, the last forbidden space, the last forbidden knowledge for our taking at our pleasure.
To die, to lose ourselves, to be reborn. Not as ourselves again, but in transcendence, to be the is that is beyond the ego. For writing, for Sartre, it means “being born. More deeply: it mean[s] dying” (Sartre 120). The author transcends herself and like Roland Barthes, becomes character. To become God. To become quiet creation. To be still.
(HM: I resist. I resist. I resist. Eckhart Tolle who tells me in The Power of Now that peace is found in quiet and solitude, from the self that is not myself, not from my ego, but rather from the self of me that is interconnected with the cosmos, the self of me that is part of God Himself. There is no language to explain this. It cannot be structured into an order prepared for the mind, or the ego. I try to move beyond myself and I can no longer speak clearly. I am not ready to kill myself off.)
I return to the vampire—sex and death. I communicate only through my body and not through words, through the desire to be served on a dish, eaten and loved. Bataille points out that the act of love and the act of sacrifice both reveal the flesh (Bataille 92). He attempts to clarify, “I have been trying to talk a language that equals zero, a language equivalent to nothing at all, a language that returns to silence. I am not talking about nothingness, which sometimes looks to me like a pretext for adding a specialized chapter onto speech; I am talking about the suppression of whatever language may add to the world” (Bataille 264). It is not a vacuum that he seeks, but that which is beyond the speaking subject, that which produces language, that which orders civilization. He claims that violence is silent and violence is erotic. “Eroticism is silence, I have said: it is solitude” (Bataille 264). In A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes says the same. “[T]he lover’s discourse is today of an extreme solitude.” The subject is reduced to a character and language is reduced to an utterance. We have eaten the flesh of the other and now that we are one, we are alone. We are quiet.
Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. 5th ed. Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. 1411-1416.
Acker, Kathy. Bodies at Work. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1997.
The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila: The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus. Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1997.
Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death and Sensuality. Trans. Mary Dalwood. San Francisco: City Light Books, 1986.
Blue Oyster Cult. “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.” Agents of Fortune. Sony Music, 1976.
Carter, Angela. “The Company of Wolves.” The Bloody Chamber. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. 110-118.
Cixous, Hélène. “Coming to Writing” and Other Essays. Ed. Deborah Jenson. Trans. Sarah Cornell, Deborah Jenson, Ann Liddle, and Susan Sellers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover, 1990.
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Dir. Peter Greenaway. 1989.
Eco, Umberto. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994.
Et Dieu…Créa la Femme. Dir. Roger Vadim. Perf. Brigitte Bardot. 1956.
Lacan, Jacques. On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973. Trans. Bruce Fink Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.
Lispector, Clarice. “The Smallest Woman in the World.” Family Ties. Trans. Giovanni Pontiero. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972. 88-95.
Kristeva, Julia. Tales of Love. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.
McLiam Wilson, Brian. Eureka Street. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.
Plato. The Symposium. Trans. Christopher Gill. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Words. Trans. Bernard Frechtman. Greenwich: Fawcett Publications, Inc, 1964.
Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Novato, California: Namaste Publishing & New World Library, 1999.
Wilde, Oscar. Salome. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2002.