March 2009


The following is a comment left by a friend much smarter than I. I needed more space than what the comments allow in order to respond, and besides, no one is reading this anyway.

So for you, Alan, my response point by point in conjunction with what you commented:

1. Love is something that people experience.

Yes, love is something that people experince. What I want to explore is how we put that experience (if we can) into language. How do we share that experience? How do we talk about love? If love is something that people experience then it is subjective and will be different for everyone. What concerns me the most here is langauge. I believe that there is no consciousness without language; that we cannot know we are experiencing love unless we can put it into some kind of sign system. And once we put love into language, once we go to share that experience with others, it is ruined.

I keep thinking of  T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin

Once you go to put any experience you have into language, you become formulated, sprawling on a pin. Not only does language pin you down, but putting anything in language (because language is social) gives you how you are going to experience the event. If I call something love, then I am going to be influenced by everything that i associate with love. If I do not feel butterflies in my stomach, then I will think it is not love, etc…

2. For any given instance of love, there is someone who feels or experiences it — the lover — and there are individuals with whom these feelings or experiences are associated in the lover’s mind: the beloved.

I agree with you here, but I think that these feelings of desire are problamatic. For one, it is what the youtube Zizek clip I have up is talking about. The someone who feels– the lover– “experiences” love… But what does that mean? Love, it seems to me, has been concieved of a possesion. Think of Valentine’s day, “Be MINE.” I came across this quote the other day by Robert Frost, which I think sums up “love” in a traditional sense:

Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.

Lacan talks about desire in this way too. Desire is not that I desire something or someone, but that I want to fullfill what the other desires. The thought is a little more complicated here, and it is what I am reading now. Basically that deisre is really the other’s desire. This is where we get this sense of “completeness” in love. That I can fullfill what the other wants or vice versa. This leads nicely into the next point:

All of the individuals involved are constantly changing, so it is a given that the love must also change. We tend to distinguish between requited and unrequited love.

I agree that all the individuals are changing, but how many people contemplate this and know it? Identity itself is a “self-sameness.” This concept we have of identity (a concept we have because of language) means that people do not change. How many times do you hear a couple break up because one or the other person “changed” or is not the same person “I knew” etc…

Furthermore, by saying that the “love must change”, while I agree– what does that mean? How does love change? By putting it in those terms, it implies that love is a thing that is capable of change.

The only difference between requited and unrequited is that in one the other desires you as you desire them… But how does that help us understand love?

3. Love is a phenomenon of thought patterns that take place in the brain. It involves memory, higher-level thinking, but also the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems, and by extension the entire body.

Yes…

Humans are almost universally-capable of experiencing this, and tend to do so regardless of culture or upbringing, making a strong case that there are aspects of love but are not cultural, but instinctive, hard-wired into the brain. Both requited and unrequited love are powerful experiences, but they are substantially different, even in biologically measurable ways.

I do not understand the actual science behind this, but I wonder if love were purely biological– then how do we still have all the abberant qualities you find in society (have you been to the DMV?). Wouldn’t ugly people and bad genes die off through evolution?

Science can tell us many things about our existence, but science does not have all the answers. We have come to think of science as infalliblem, but history has taught us that that is not the case. This is not to attack science the way some people do, but just to say that we cannot rely on science in such absolute, dogmatic ways. Science, is like any text, interrpretted by subjective opinions.

This is where I completely disagree with you when you say: “Humans are almost universally-capable of experiencing this, and tend to do so regardless of culture or upbringing”

Science could certainly distinguish between biological circumstances in the body when the body goes through certain things, but this does not tell me anything about how I experience love. And the way I experience love is completely influenced through culture and upbringing. I’m sure you can see this in grad school… How many people have put “love” on the back burner? Whereas others (especially here in Miami) are culturally indoctronated into thinking they have to “find love” (as if it is a tangible thing I can look under a rock and love), and get married.

When a girl who goes to college doesn’t find love, her experience of love will be different than a girl who is going off to grad school and doesn’t care about love as much.

I do not think that there is a single, pure experience that is not tainted by language, culture, upbringing, etc…

But I do believe in love… And I do believe in identity and some of these other things. I just don’t believe that these things have to be out under such restrictive categorizations where they are left “wringling on the wall.” Rather, as my professor says, I am working off a groundless ground.

I have some other thoughts in my head, so we’ll have to continue this.

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I just (finally) finished reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. After a slow start, I couldn’t put the book down. Yet, I wasn’t totally enraptured by the story either. I have come to realize that it is harder for me to get into a story if there are no characters or story line that I can relate to, and in this novel, I can’t relate to being a crumbling, rich aristocratic Southern family on its descent. 

Sure, you can say that as a Cuban-American, I should be able to relate to a family that goes from relative prosperity to having nothing and having to start over. But my families’ diaspora has different themes. Rather than corruption of Southern values, my family has stayed strong to the values they brought over from Cuba. They were all hard workers, honest, and “proper.’ They all swallowed their pride and worked any job until they got on their feet.  

The Compsons, on the other hand, are promiscuous (Caddy, Caddy’s daughter Quintin, Jason, and Uncle Muary—all have affairs), lying thieves (Jason), alcoholics (Jason Compson, Sr.), and self-involved, hypochondriacs (Caroline). 

I have no time to go into a full discussion of this story. There are many things I would love to explore. The multiple points-of-view present a fascinating narrative in that the same basic story is told three times, but it is a completely different story each time. Faulkner shows how language falls short of conveying a “True” meaning. Caddy’s voice is explored in a great essay I have in this Norton edition. The essay is “Hearing Caddy’s Voice” by Minrose C. Gwin. Gwin explores the mystery of Caddy, and tries to listen to what Caddy “says.” Of course, what Caddy says is given to us through male perspectives as Gwin points out: 

…we…are aware that Eric Sundquist is right in saying, ‘There is probably no major character in literature about whom we know so little in proportion to the amount of attention she receives… 

[…] 

What we seek in seeking Caddy Compson is not only the lnguage and force and mystery of woman within Faulkner’s text and consciousness. This is also an inquiry into the nature of female subjectivity to what language can and cannot say (407) .

I would love to explore the language used about Caddy, and I would love to look at the language we get Caddy using. Also, if consciousness is within language, what can we say about Caddy’s language? 

The quick remark I want to make about this story has to do with time. After just reading On Waiting, I saw moments of enduring time throughout the novel. I would love to further explore time endured “waiting” by Benjy as compared to Quintin.

Recalling the Schwietzer’s thesis about waiting, and I’m mixing paraphrase with quote here, please forgive my academic sloppiness, “time is supposed to serve as a door or hallway which we pass through unaware, but in waiting, the door jams. Time must be endured rather than traversed; felt rather than thought. 

Benjy can’t endure time. Benjy has no conception of time; consequently he moves through time always unaware, and for him, a memory of a past event is him experiencing the past event again. Benjy does not, like the waiter, vacillate between consciousness and forgetfulness; he does is unable to feel time protract and contract. In waiting the waiter is both: restless and not in action; relaxed and also in action; he notices the time on his watch and forgets that time. Benjy has none of this. He just is… always, just, in abstract time that does not stop for him because he never feels, or rather, endures time. For Benjy, time does not matter. 

Quintin, on the other hand, is consumed with time. It engulfs him and enslaves him as he endures it throughout the entire day he narrates. His chapter starts off with the very idea of time:

and then I was in time again, hearing the watch (48). 

[later, Quintin narrates the moment his grandfather’s watch was given to him]:

 

I give it[the watch] to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all you breath trying to conquer it (Ibid.). 

Quentin then turns the clock upside down so that he can forget the time, but he spends the next couple of paragraphs talking about time, how he can guess the time, and then he moves trough time thinking of his father, his sister, and the past. Quentin, ends up enduring time rather than “forgetting it now and then” because he has no way of ever coming back into time after he breaks his watch. WIthout time, without being able to tell time, Quentin has a harder time forgetting it because he constantly wonders what time it is. And rather than conquer time, by making it a mechanical instrument for his use, he has to endure time. As Shwietzer points out, the waiter glances at his watch in order to make time relative–objective–something of use, but without a clock, time objectifies Quentin instead and makes him endure. 

Quentin then breaks the clock, which leaves him enduring time the rest of the day. The ticking the clock in his pocket is making constantly haunts him. Quentin has taken himself out of the movement of life and time and this is manifested at the end of the chapter when Quentin kills himself. Quentin does not want to be put back into time (this is why he does not ask for the correct time in the clock shop); rather, he wants to no longer  “…be the martyred slave of time” as Baudelaire would say. Although, rather than be drunk as Baudelaire suggest to escape “ the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth” Quentin will end his life and feel nothing any longer—not even time. 

As Shwietzer points out, “The waiter’s agitation is the agitation of wanting to be put back into life that waiting has taken the waiter out of…” (paraphrase). For Quentin, though, this waiting he endures, somewhat due from bot having a watch to make time mechanical again, will be the last time he has to endure time. 

But this is where this fragment ends. I’m sure someone out there has written on time (waiting) in this novel, so this is another fragment I will have to return to soon. 

 

So I post this in order to go back to it.

Here, we go back again to time.

Again, here is a fragment that I must come back to and contemplate.

I want to return to the subject of love. I had a proposal accepted for a conference and the subject/theme is love.

My proposal is going to explore Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Invisible Monsters as modern day love stories.

What I mean by that is that love, as the previous post discusses, is usually conceived of as a “who” or a “what” (this is what the Derrida youtube piece discusses). In Palahniuk, though, there is no who or what that falls in love, nor is there ever a clear-cut definition (a satisfactory definition) about love. Old fashioned love stories usually conceive of love as a thing to be “won.” Love in many of these artificial stories is presented as a person who “finds” what he/she has been looking for all his/hers life. And I wonder where did this conception come from? Since Plato’s dialogues (specifically The Symposium), Socrates tells us that love is not about this “thing” that is supposed to complete me in some way. This is the idea that Zizek critiques in the previous post– this idea of  ‘I love you all or nothing’– which makes love an objectified thing. It totalizes love.

In Palahniuk, though, there are these characters without a fixed identity. In Fight Club, the unnamed narrator (let’s call him Jack, as in “I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise”), has no fixed identity as we learn that he is both the narrator and Tyler; also, love is never fixed nor defined. Marla tells Jack at the end, “It’s not love or anything but I think I like you.” (Citation needed- it is towards the end…).

In Invisible Monsters we have the same basic concept. Shannon ends up loving Shane so much that she gives Shane her identity, and Shane never really had an identity as he continually changes “who he “is.””

These two examples are a more ethical love; one that does not fixate on a who or what that goes away when that who or what changes.

Love, then, is like bearing witness. Derrida talks about bearing witness in Sovereignties in Question. There Derrida states how poetic language doesn’t claim to accurately portray the event. I am overly simplify his argument here because I am writing this as my students are in a library session, and I am almost out of time.

The best way to talk about love is through this poetic language: “It’s not love or anything, but I think I like you.” If Marla says “This is love,” then she has totalized love and claimed to have grasped it. The “this is” pigeon holes “what” love is– as if it is a thing to have. Palahniuk shows how his characters make no direct claim to “have” love.

Another fragment– my time is up.