Adam's Fall: A Love Story
by Harry Polkinhorn
The quality of love is a broken body that first must learn to crawl through grass, weeds, and the dappled shadows of an orchard. As is usually the case, only those whose memories are intact can expect to be chosen. This is free disjunction; the differential positions persist in their entirety, they even take on a free quality, but they are all inhabited by a faceless and transpositional subject. I know, as I've decided against all odds and the best advice I could find that my chances are slim. Still, the challenge has been put. Across the way heavy equipment clashes. The cement mixers go on grinding, and you can hear periodic beeping as vehicles roll backwards. It's cool here. I'm holding in my sadness again, thinking about lines of inquiry into a conjunction of bricks, flesh, and the inner essence of weeping. My heart has stored up the antidote. I have more than enough and am not worried about that. Sperm, river, drainage, inflamed genital mucus.
Really, a photograph would have sufficed, say, of a young woman legs crossed in an easy chair. It would not have been asking for all that much, but we don't always have quite the degree of choice we like to fancy ourselves as having. Not by a long shot. Not that I'm settling for a mere representation. Even that has become problematic, and rightly so. When the light doesn't meet one's exacting standards, for example-and these change daily-any talk of likenesses must be discounted accordingly. A photograph of a young woman I love! When generalized, [the photograph] completely de-realizes the human world of conflicts and desires, under cover of illustrating it.
She had been called for jury duty. This gave her the excuse, the cover she needed. She needed it, and she didn't, as she had decided to do what she wanted, that is, a gesture based on desire. She was fed up with what she considered his stifling behavior. Still, she felt a certain need for secrecy. She could never keep secrets very well. Dans la sphëre humaine, l'activitè sexuelle se dètache de la simplicitè animale. Elle est essentiellement une transgression. Afterwards, she'd tell him. It would then be a question of mouth and ear. In fact, the whole business, the way she was going to conduct it, had a double advantage: first she'd be able to have her cake and eat it too; and second, she would be able to break up the emotional log jam she found herself in, because she'd have to tell him, then live with the consequences. During a coffee break she reached for the pay phone. Hysterische Symptome immer nur unter der Mitwirkung von Erinnerungen entstehen. Of course I'll be the first to admit that I'm replaying all this through my imagination, a kind of camera as long as I don't forget the difference between a piece of paper and what it causes to happen inside me. All I ever seem to do is to imagine various scenarios dimly and sporadically populated by her or us. What are we doing? It doesn't matter. I may be looking at her; that is, she is present to my vision, and it's as if I wasn't there at all. The transparent Emersonian eye. What a laugh! How could I be transparent? Ugliness [and beauty] for its part is closely related to the subject-matter, so that it may be said that the principle of the characteristic involves as a fundamental feature an acceptance of the ugly [or beautiful] and its presentation.
So almost reluctantly I return to the photograph. It might also be said at this point that Engels' account demonstrates that Roman Jakobson's characterization of realism as connected to a "metonymic" bias in the use of a signifying system is not adequate. While "truth of detail" implies an inclination to synechdoche-a defining feature of the metonymic pole-this, as Engels says, is not enough. This alone would constitute naturalism. The importance of the "typical" in realism implies, on the one hand, a disposition to select the part which stands for the whole but, on the other hand, an ability to identify similarity and to substitute, that is, a metaphoric tendency. There's an aggressiveness in how I'm approaching it. Coyness be damned. I'm becoming an animale sexuelle with razor-sharp claws. I feel myself snarling, clawing whatever gets in my way. I claw her image to shreds and feel a deep pleasure in doing so. These things pass. In the process they help me to understand something-the women, their clothing, their laughter and tears (their tears and self-recrimination). Who could ever love her? She feels utterly worthless. En fait, le principal ècueil de la photothèrapie (qui lui donne en mÍme temps toute sa richesse) est la polysèmie de l'image. Therefore, according to the bizarre logic that governs the heart, anyone who loves her must be polymorphously crazy or misguided. In either case a few carefully placed blows will wake him up to the reality of her lovelessness.
She feels herself almost immediately moving in that direction. But I'm getting ahead of myself, which is part of the difficulty in mapping out these conditions, or behind myself. Believe me, I'm all too aware of the inadequacy of my performance-both with her, and here concomitantly. So I've made some classical executive decisions, for which I'll be criticized. There is never a shortage of that "element."
She reached for the pay phone thinking in a mild panic that I (he) would laugh in her face. Poetry was the pretext. And the text, although how could she have known that? How could she know it now? It was a good pretext, too. Could she show him (me) her poems? How could he (I) say no, being a poet? This was the second approach. The fetish (such as the daguerreotype of a dead child) evokes meaning by virtue of its imaginary status as relic-that is, by the transcendental truth of magic. The evocation is imagined to occur in an affectively charged arena, an arena of sentiment bounded by nostalgia on one end and hysteria on the other. Substitute your favorite medium, the poem, say, since that is what it is, a channel. In December she had invited him (me) out to dinner and showed him (me) three poems. He (I) had told her to settle her difficulties with her boyfriend, then to give him (me) a call. Now she was doing that, even though of course these difficulties were far from being resolved. Instead of arranging to meet her in a cafe, I (he) simply invited her to my (his) place. She was confused. She no longer knew anything about love. The hysteric's question is: Am I a man or a woman? A few words here and there-people have moved their things, over and over. A man steps outside for a smoke. The traffic rolls by incessantly on Convoy Street. Levels of light swell, fade, then swell again. A propeller airplane passes by-I hear its engine but don't look up. The tables are set, but very few customers have come (all this capacity, idling). Soon it will be my turn again. La camera obscura fonctionne ne pas comme un objet technique dèterminè qui a pour effet de prèsenter inversès les rapports rèels mais plutùt comme un apareil d'occultation qui plonge la conscience dans l'obscuritè, le mal, l'erreur, lui donne le vertige, lui fait perdre l'èquilibre; appareil qui rend ènigmatiques et secrets les rapports reels.
In the meantime, I'll practice stalling. A breeze gently rocks the white plastic table. A dull sheen coats cars and buildings. I'm floating through this sheen. No one I know knows where I am. The air thickens with a congealing light. The hysteric poses a question.
Steeped in a still liquid, I'm suspended, revolving about a musical line. This has taken on a greater sense of reality than the blistered physical world that gives rise to it so begrudgingly. Some small portion I've identified with her simply because beauty calls to beauty. A person cannot be possessed, so I go back inside, wondering. Born of desire, action tends to satisfy it, and can do so only by the "negation," the destruction, or at least the transformation, of the desired object.
She got into her black Toyota pickup with trash on the floor. She drove west on 8, then north on 5, following my instructions. Soon she was knocking on my door. I invited her in and offered her something to drink. "Tequila?" The three-dimensional quality of the panorama matched the stereoscope in its influence on spatial reorganization of easel landscape painting, especially in the lack of fixed perspective and the emphasis on depth. The artist was setting out in earnest to be "God's recording angel." Get out of the way. The outline blurred as if seen through marred thick glass.
"Sure." I poured us each one, pondering distantly the role of liquids in our lives. After a couple of swallows she said she didn't like it, wanted a glass of water. We talked about this and that. She pulled out a few poems, different ones from what she had showed me at the California Club in December. I read them and made a few comments. She has a good sense of imagery but hasn't read and written enough. One never has, I suppose. Everything is obscure when one has not thought out the negative; everything is clear when one has thought it as negative. Then she spoke about her recent liberation from her previous boyfriend and how his attitudes and behavior had oppressed for two and a half years. It was a gender question, even if somewhat brutal. Now, finally, she was doing what she wanted, having fun and not having to worry about his judgmental disapproval. The ambiguity of the hysterical revelation of the past does not depend so much on the vacillation of its content between the Imaginary and the Real, for it locates itself in both. It was a fine act of rebellion. That she had hurt him grievously by suddenly packing up and moving out was just too bad. In a way he deserved it, after all. She had left him, if not exactly "for" me then because of her feelings for me. I listened to her talking about aspects of my dress, mannerisms, things I had said, and the like which she had found fascinating. This was all part of the flirtation. After all, who was I? What is at stake in artistic language today is experimentation. And to experiment means, in a way to be alone, to be celibate. How could this matter now? "But don't forget; I'm no longer the teacher," I pointed out, perhaps needlessly. Consequently drained of substance and ideality, language becomes the border between subjective and objective, and also between the symbolic and the real. It is understood as the material limit against which the one and the other are dialectically constituted She looked at me with her icy blue eyes. She described how she and her foster brother, who is gay and to whom she is legally married for reasons of health insurance, had gotten drunk, then driven to the Rosecrans area to get tattoos. Hers was a black widow, on her ass. The simplistic Formalist literary credo professed by the Russian Futurists inevitably propelled their poetry toward the antithesis of Formalism-toward the cultivation of the heart's "raw cry" and uninhibited frankness. Formalist literary theory placed the lyrical monologue in quotes and disguised the "ego" of the lyric poet under a pseudonym. But what unbounded horror results when suddenly you see through a pseudonym, and the phantoms invade reality.
"Would you like to see it?" Now she was openly flirting, aggressively. This now no longer bothered me as it had in December. Art as a separate sphere was always possible only in a bourgeois society. On the contrary, I mistakenly took it as an expression of her feelings. She peeled down her jeans so I could see the tattoo. In a trice she was in my arms. [pause] Then I drove her into La Jolla for dinner at George's. Style considered as mere aesthetic regularity is a romantic dream of the past. Later, that spider would bite me. But I've already built up an immunity, having been bitten before. Her bite can't do me any real damage. It is certainly no accident that questions of subjectivity and authorship have resurfaced with a vengeance . . . it does matter who is speaking or writing. At that point, however, there was little thought given to such gloomy prospects. The aesthetic act is itself ideological, and the production of aesthetic or narrative form is to be seen as an ideological act in its own right, with the function of inventing imaginary or formal "solutions" to unresolvable social contradictions. For a few weeks we went out here and there-a movie, dinners, a walk down the cliffs at Torrey Pines State Park, an opera. The pure and simple internal requirement of totalitarian power, the pure and simple requirement of the absolute, entails-analytically speaking-its totalizing, absolute narrative, without a remainder and without exteriority. Lucia goes mad and beautiful at the same time.
I sit here quietly, delighted at the profusion of jacaranda blossoms outside the window. They openly receive the clean early morning sunlight. Each pinkish white petal against a bed of red-brown leaves seems content to make its statement. They remind me of Japan, which I've never visited, but she lived there for a year. The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning, democracy. When one is threatened, the other is too. And it is not enough to defend them with the pen. Her Navy "husband" had been transferred, so off they went. It's the only time in her life she has traveled, aside from a weekend in New Jersey with one night in New York City. In pursuing "black on white," the poet works in a world of pure darkness and light, the exact negative of the stars against a black sky. The cherry blossoms-my petty will in abeyance,a quality of peace emerges from things. The furniture accepts itself, its role and place. Their [Montaigne, Bacon] sense of the authority of the layered hermeticism of the written word-from surface level to anagogical mystery-has much in common with an earlier, almost pictorial or "iconic" view of meaning. There would have been a pattern of unease, but here, now, even the dust particles are joyful. I'm living in some other time half-way between flesh and jacaranda blossoms. I'm returning to love down a long slow painful path. It's in a field I've never really left after having been here so long I've lost sight of the surroundings. Things had gone gray, as they will do again, are doing. I'm moving in both directions at once. She came along eager and young, wanting me to want her. Once I had been persuaded by her to do that, to openly want her, then she almost immediately changed. The impact of my wanting her worked to vitiate her interest, derailed her. It is with the advent of (German) romanticism that the notion of literature is established in its autonomy, and this is also the beginning of literary theory in the strict sense (without quotation marks). The concepts of representation and imitation no longer play a dominant role, being replaced at the summit of the hierarchy by the concept of the beautiful, and those related to it: the absence of external finality, the harmonious coherence among the parts of the whole, the untranslatable character of the work of art. Where did she go? I can't say: she's gone. But love remains because it's a world apart, but one which suffuses ours with its force. This urge to use all the means of illusion in the theater as well as in religious imagery, to try and transport the individual into another reality, seems ultimately connected with the polarity between self-reliance and authority, reason and faith, which afflicted western man seriously for the first time in the seventeenth century: it was the road of escape for those who began to doubt. That glow of energy then changes us. It is changing her, in ways she cannot now comprehend. Instead, thinking she knows, she has left, with the cover story of trying to understand herself. Isn't that all anyone of integrity ever does and all their lives? We have fallen outside of history and are speaking in the desert. It is not the desert of the real.
Another night, another day-I live alone in a depthless solitude. The false edges of my self blend into the atmosphere. Only with an effort can I keep myself from dissolving. Going outside is getting more difficult, especially at night. I could be mugged so easily. Perhaps in order to become efficiently subversive, the experimental text has to run the risk of cooption, because it cannot circumvent the social and political organization of desire if it wants to enter into the economy of desire at all, and without that economy there are no human effects. After a while, it all changes. With age, the loving gets more complicated. I remember how much easier it seemed before. Now I'm visibly older. People react differently. The intensity of feeling increases, daily, to the point where I'm like a baby again, but able to reflect upon it, after a fashion. In the case of Courbet's Origin of the World, as in that of the founding myth of Oedipus, the search for lost origins leads ultimately to blindness Each moment stands out, or floats in a nimbus of light. Each person has become godlike, a pool of power that draws me in. And she? She, too, I suppose, although it's all supposition from this distance. The text is a practice that could be compared to political revolution: the one brings about in the subject what the other introduces into society. The history and political experience of the twentieth century have demonstrated that one cannot be transformed without the other-but could there be any doubt after the overturning [renversement] of the Hegelian dialectic and especially after the Freudian revolution? My dreams have spoken: the music accompanying our slow dance became an earthquake that shook down the house. I emerged miraculously unhurt, but she was eliminated. I called her name, looking under pieces of debris, but she couldn't be found, gone into the oblivion she created through her uncontrolled desire. Feminine "hysteria," rather than male coercive self-control, then becomes the sign of moral and philosophical goodness. The deconstructive displacement of this hierarchy would entail allowing neither side to have a monopoly on either of the poles. The poles of expressive violence and implosive control would be seen to pass into each other. Male theoretical detachment in the face of feminine "hysteria" is, like all theory that succeeds always in balancing all the equations, simply a less evident form of hysteria and violence. And "female" hysteria might be a "rational," therapeutic, and potentially revolutionary form of violence. We learn the game rules very slowly as we go along, and they cannot be ignored for long without consequences, the consequence of losing. And if you want what you can't have? Then you must learn to sacrifice-The Hanged Man. I'm still alive but suspended, and I accept it. Physical love is for others. I'm lost in a vaster field and can't find myself on the landscape of her body. My heart keeps breaking open. Regularity and symmetry as the abstract unity and determinacy of what is inherently external, alike in space and time, govern principally only the quantitative, the determinacy of size. What no longer belongs to this externality as its proper element therefore discards the domination of purely quantitative relations and is determined by deeper relations and their unity. Thus the more that art fights its way out of externality as such, the less is its mode of configuration ruled by regularity, to which it ascribes only a restricted and subordinate sphere. Survival is not a possibility, much less intimacy. To love that way one must be supremely selfish. At least they have that kind of happiness.