Here is what I am working on in terms of a theory of heartbreak: The poems used here are read literally with none of the irony that Millay intended. I just want to use the words she writes to flush out ideas, so this is in no way meant to be a reading of Millay, but rather a thought experiment on heartbreak:

I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.”
– Ednay St. Vincent Millay “Time Does Not Bring Relief: You All Have Lied”

The Millay poem quoted captures a feeling of heartbreak and of what happens in heartbreak. After being in love and spending time with a loved one, when that loved one is no longer present, the memory of that person lingers. The heartbroken tries to forget, but in forgetting suddenly becomes aware that the ex-beloved has been forgotten and, in turn, the heartbroken is reminded of the loss, which turns the beloved into an object of contemplation. I believe Martin Heidegger can inform this feeling of heartbreak. The beloved is gone and forgotten, “there is no memory of him”; that is, until the heartbroken remembers that the beloved was forgotten, which leads to the heartbroken standing “stricken, so remembering him.” In the one heartbroken, the memory of the beloved resembles Heidegger’s present-at-hand. Furthermore, the heartbroken’s emotions lose their ontological definition or “ready-to-hand[ness].” Heidegger describes the interconnections of Being and all the things Being interacts with in the world. The tools that Dasein interacts with are what is ready-to-hand. As Dasein moves through the world in average everydayness, the things in the world, the ready-to-hand tools in the world, remain unnoticed. In other words, when things are going smoothly, we become absorbed in everydayness in the world, but when something breaks, we notice the interconnectedness of the world, and we also notice how that previously ignored tool relates to the world—that is, the tool becomes present-at-hand. The longer the tool is broken, the more the tool becomes an object of contemplation; as Charles Guignon describes the situation:

As we adopt a stance in which things are explicitly noticed, we can be led to believe that what have been there “all along” are value free, meaningless objects whose usefulness was merely a product of our own subjective interest and needs. Heidegger’s point, however, is that this conception of reality a consisting of essentially contextless objects can arise only derivatively from a more “primordial” way of being absorbed in a meaningful life-world (13)

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Guignon goes on to explain how this is a product of the “disworlding of the world” and is not how the world is actually built. I would argue this explanation Heidegger gives informs heartbreak. When heartbreak occurs, is there not a sense that something is being taken for granted in the relationship? People get comfortable and start to treat loved ones as mere objects in the world, as a tool that is merely ready-to-hand, and then with the dissolution of the relationship and the onset of heartbreak, suddenly, the relationship and the beloved become “a meaningless object” who was only used for our own selfish subjective interest and needs. The relationship and the other become objects of contemplation as if something was broken. However, the heartbroken’s contemplation can lead to a “more primordial way of being absorbed in a meaningful life-world.” In heartbreak, the heartbroken becomes aware of his/her world and the lack of the beloved in it.

In order to understand heartbreak and what happens in heartbreak, it is important to understand identity because heartbreak makes a subject confront his/her identity in a radical way. Heidegger posits identity as Dasein. Dasein is the being that asks about its own being. This being is a being-in-the-world-with-others-towards-death. Within this conception, Heidegger explains that Dasien is always a taking up of possibilities. The structure of being that Heidegger outlines is as an always-already being in the world thrown ahead of itself into its potentiality, but being thrown ahead of itself Dasein still has to deal with the past while always having the potentiality of the end ahead of itself. Heidegger describes it as such:

The ahead-of-itself presented itself as a not-yet. But the ahead-of-itself,
characterized in the sense of something outstanding, revealed itself to our
genuine existential reflection as being toward the end, something that in the
depths of its being every Da-sein is (Heidegger 292, italics in original).

In heartbreak, this ‘ahead-of-itself’ as a ‘not-yet’ is manifested because the not-yet—the possibilities that Dasein can take up in the future—is no longer possible. The other has left and with the other leaving, so to do all the possibilities Dasein had with the other. Heartbreak gives rise to the feeling of life being broken, of identity being changed, and of Dasein looking at its life in contemplation as an object present-at-hand.

— I have more ideas about this– so I am going to leave this here and come back to it. This might be what I explore in my dissertation.

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Ok, so this is just a quick note to self that will be elaborated on later:

So a friend posted this excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “A Cocktail Party”

That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost The desires for all that was most desirable, Before you are contented with what you can desire; Before you know what is left to be desired; And you go on wishing that you could desire What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand. How could you understand what it is to feel old?

This is what I briefly glanced at the other day looking for the information for my Lacan post the other day… I came across a discussion of “missing” (for lack of a better word), which is basically saying what this poem is saying. That my desire, my nostalgia, my melancholy for some “thing’ stems from the melancholy of not missing it anymore, of getting over it… And then I read this quote… serendipity…

I will get to this when I have had some sleep and can read the passage again carefully.

I make everything into an object of study. I am constantly in Heidegger’s present-at-hand, always scrutinizing things…

As I drove south, a certain feeling lingered over me. Everything had gone great, for the most part, but now this feeling: melancholy.

My melancholy comes and goes. As I watched Paper Heart, staring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera, a certain melancholy struck me. The movie made me feel the on-screen’s couple’s melancholy. It was on Michael Cera’s happy face. Under his subtle jokes, which he is so good at, under his smiling happiness with a girl whose company he enjoys, the hint of melancholy was there. It is the phenomenologically same feeling after I have had leaving girls I cared for. This melancholy makes me think of Derrida in his “Rams” essay. He speaks about the melancholy (in a way):

“Mingled with the gratitude and affection that have for so long characterized this feeling. I sense, somewhat obscurely, an ageless melancholy” (135).

The melancholy is one that arises in the knowledge that after this meeting, after this dialogue I share with this person, one of us will eventually not be here anymore: “Death will no doubt have changed this melancholy—and infinitely aggravated it. Death will have sealed it. Forever” (155). Derrida goes on to explain how the melancholy is there, from the first interruption, and he explains how any dialogue is an interruption, a caesura. What happens then is that we continue an “interior dialogue” with the person… and he says a lot of stuff that basically mean that when someone close to me dies, I carry the world of the other. The memory of the other lives on in me, and I am then obligated (though I guess obligated is the wrong word; rather, how can I possibly not) carry the world of the other.

But what if the other is not gone(dead) , but rather just gone? What happens in heartbreak, or in the caesura of people separated in physical distance, not by death? Yes, Derrida says that death “changes” this melancholy (which means the melancholy is there, lingering, even before death), but I get the feeling that the melancholy is there because there is this underlying notion, this awareness, that eventually, one of you will not be there and that one of you will be left to carry the world of the other. But what happens when I don’t need to carry the world of the other who is still carrying his/her own world? What happens when the ceasura is brought about because one of the people does not want to mingle worlds, does not want to have anymore dialogue?

So when I leave an other (not dead, just leave), or when I feel a melancholy even in the midst of a wonderful moment being enjoyed with the other; I think there is a melancholy there, not of having to carry the world of the other that has passed, but in not being able to not carry the world of the other that is alive and just not here in dialogue. That is, the melancholy in Cera’s face, in having lunch with a person I cared so much for in the past (and suddenly desired her to desire me to care for her and vice versa, again), in the caesura of traveling away from dialogue with one I care for, comes in knowing that the dialogue has been interrupted.

While there is this melancholy of an interrupted dialogue, I think there is also a joy in knowing the other is not gone and that the dialogue can go on. And these feelings (melancholy and happiness) that vacillate during lunch with someone special, for instance, is one like waiting (link on waiting), it is the vacillation of Heidegger’s present-at-hand, it is the melancholy of knowing that this relationship can possibly come to an end (especially when you know for sure that it is coming to an end—that you are leaving on a plane, driving away in a car in just a couple of hours); it is a melancholy in thinking that maybe the next melancholy you feel will be the one Derrida talks about, but there is also the joy in knowing that the possibility for the dialogue to begin again is there (and here I need to really read “Rams” again, because I am sure Derrida must talk about this interruption, no?)

This is my fragment, my rough draft, my start before my caesura… I think Lacan has something to say about this too. There is an aspect of desire here that needs to be explored.

Desire, Derrida says, can never be fulfilled. Following the trace, if desire is ever fulfilled, then it is no longer desire. For something to properly be desire, it must never be reached.

Lacan talks about desire as being the desire to be desired… Also, Lacan talks about melancholy, and melancholy is the feeling not of sadness for loss, but the sadness that you will no longer desire the thing you desire, the melancholy that comes from the future possibility of getting over the thing you wanted most…

More to come soon, but it is dinner time, I don’t have my books in front of me, and I’m tired…. this is why I called this thing fragments…

I am continued to be confused, baffled, and even entertained by Antunes. The breakdown in chronological time is fascinating and reminiscent of Faulkner, and I even read a review of ‘What Can I Do’ that points out Faulkner’s obvious influence on Antunes here:

Indeed, Faulkner presides over “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?” as a tutelary spirit. Here, for instance, is a legendary sentence, spoken by a death- befuddled child, from “As I Lay Dying,” published in 1930: “My mother is a fish.”And here, uttered by a baffled son, is a sentence from “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?”: “You’ve turned into a fish, father.” Like Faulkner in his great novels of the ’30s, Antunes deploys idiot monologues, garrulous, colloquial voices, superheated atmospherics and dismembered narratives that exalt not-knowing as a prime literary excitement.

Chapter two continues in the same manner as chapter one. The reader is given a little more background, and it becomes very clear that Paulo is on heroine and, maybe, other drugs.

There is a great image of Paulo going to sit on the beach so that the ocean waves and wild horses can drown out the noise of his parents fighting, but the arguments get so loud and intense that the image of relaxing, rolling waves becomes violent: “… I was the one hurt out there by the horses and the sea” (21).

The overwhelming motif (more so than in any Joyce novel) is the inter-mixing of all the images and symbols. Memory becomes a dream becomes reality becomes madness, and one symbol goes from being one of peace to one of horror from one page to the next.

This chapter elucidates some of the narrator’s problems: he steals for drug money; he feels guilt but uses drugs to forget; he feels guilt for taking advantage of his guardians, but then dismisses his feelings because they are not his parents and then feels guilty for taking advantage of them again.

There are wonderfully lyrical passages of using drugs and its withdrawal:

heat at first, followed by cold, followed by an urge to crush myself, I don’t know what dying is like but they’re disentangling me from my body, conversations that get away from me, scarecrows in smok holding a basin up against my chest
— Vomit” (29).

Here the story of the Neighbor Dona Aurorinha is told. She had a lover she would write to, but the lover died of some desease.

There is an interesting contrast between when Paulo says that he knows how to tell time and how his narrative doesn’t follow any chronological time. It goes back to the philosophy of waiting it seems. For Paulo, time is broken, but not in the sense that he has to wait—that waiting time in which one endures and “feels” time’s slow passage. Paulo’s time is, rather, broken in that its linear-ality has been destroyed. He has no way of telling past, present, or future, and this reflects his phenomenological experience of lived time. Just as he can’t tell time (or, maybe, more accurately put, BECAUSE, he can’t “tell time” as he claims), he can’t tell experiences apart from one another, whether real, imagined, resulting from madness/sickness, or dream.

Yet, at the same time, his “time” (his experience within time) becomes an object of analysis. Something he takes apart and tries to analyze. The story, what one is reading, his depiction of events, is his attempt to analyze his situation, but he is having trouble doing so because he is so lost in “time”.

What Can I Do When Everything is on Fire? (A Novel) by: Antonio Lobo Antunes

I am getting around to reading one of the books that I received for my birthday. The title of this one was enough to make it my next choice of books to read. I want to look at this book chapter by chapter because it is, as the book jacket suggest, “…a poetic masterwork that recalls Joyce’s Bloomsday with its dizzying farrago of urban images that few readers will forget.”

The basic plot, from what I understand from reading the jacket (and the first chapter), is the story of Paulo trying to piece together the bits of his existence, but that existence is one of madness, fragile memory, and a reality that includes the most successful, flamboyant drag queen of Lisbon, Carlos/Soraia and his wife, Judite and his lover, Rui. It seems that Paulo has a breakdown and is sent off to a hospital, and somewhere along the way his parents give him up to some guardians. It seems that we are getting these fragments of his story from a mental ward.

The book opens up to the main character, Paulo, mixing a dream, an analysis of the dream, memory, and reality together in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness narrative that reveals very slowly the plot of novel. Paulo, at times, has a hard time separating what his dream was and what his memory was; he also has trouble remembering what reality is, as is seen when he mixes his parents with his guardians and his reality with his dreams and has obvious trouble with memory:

“my mother judite, my father carlos, the doctor, not this one, a fatter one,
I remember the doctor’s red necktie when they brought me in, a Gypsy woman who was hollering
or was I the one hollering?
the doctor
–What’s your mother’s name?
along with that I remembered the attendants, who were holding me by the wrists, from the ambulance Dona Helena had called
–Take it easy fellow
[…]
maybe it was the attendants who had helped me instead of the fat doctor with the red tie, not in this office bu in a room with no windows or a closet where the gypsy woman or I was hollering or maybe neither one of us, the noise of the dishes
–What’s your mother’s name?” (Antunes 2-3).

There is an interesting play of memory and dream and reality here, which raises interesting questions of what “reality” is? After all, aren’t our dreams part of our reality? And how much is a fragmented, unreliable memory reality?

We get that Paulo’s parents are dead (as well as Rui), that Paulo had a breakdown in which he broke lots of plates. These images are mixed superbly in a language that becomes easier to follow, but a language that is meant to be opaque. It becomes hard to decipher how much of the story is a memory and how much is madness.

There are images of fights between Paulo’s parents in which Judite is asking her husband about the bra she found, “Do you wear this, Carlos?” (17); along with images of Paulo’s drag queen father being described as a clown, and later, Paulo’s denial of his parent’s when he calls his guardians, the Couceiro’s, his real parents.

This narrative is quite a force that does more than merely convey a Joycean stream-of-consciousness. The reader is left wondering what can be trusted as the chapter ends:

“–I’m asleep
and since I’m asleep I don’t worry, everything is a lie, aware of the pillow sliding between the mattress and the trunk they were slamming me against” (19).

I look forward to see where all this is going. It is thus far an exploration of a person’s history of slipping into madness and blurring reality with dream and memory. It seems that Paulo trying to put this story into words is his way of trying to remember who he is. We are, after all, just what we were and what our future possibilities are. So what happens when we do not have a clear memory, or a broken memory, of the past?

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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. 

 

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I just finished Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart (you can read the beginning here). 

This is a love story that deals in loneliness–as is represented in the image of Sputnik II (which had Laika, a poor dog that was lost in space in the name of science). The story follows Sumrie through the eyes of a simply named narrator “K”. K tells the reader how Sumrie fell in love for the first time to an older, sophisticated, Korean wine seller, Miu. 

K was madly in love with Sumrie, but comes to appreciate the pilgrim soul in her and realizes what a good friend she is when she disappears while on holiday with Miu. 

Sumrie wants nothing more than to become a novelist (she likes  Keorac though, so how good could she really be?). She quits college to pursue her goal and not waste time in class. While in college she meets K and they bond over discussions about books and art and music. 

K is a history schoolteacher who loves books. He pines for Sumrie but has girlfriends (mostly older MILFS) keep him distracted. He is Sumrie’s best friend, and he is often awoken in the middle of the night when Sumrie has ideas lingering in her head that she wants to talk about right then and there. 

Miu is the woman with whom Sumrie falls in love with for the first time. She is (or was) a piano virtuoso but had to give up the piano and run the family business when her father got sick and eventually died. She is a strong and assertive woman, but we come to learn that she is cold because she is missing “somthing.”

The plot moves along from past to present as K recalls how things happened. He tells the story of how Sumrie meets Miu at a wedding. They instantly hit it off, and Miu offers Sumrie a part time job. Since Sumrie jobless, she decides to take the job to make some extra money, but Sumrie lets Miu know that for her (Sumrie’s) writing comes first. The two hit it off and care deeply for each other.

Later, while away on business, they meet a Greek man who offers them his place on an island and they accept. They end up staying longer than they had initially anticipated. Then one night, Sumrie finally admits her love to Miu and her desire for Miu. Miu, as was mentioned earlier, is missing “something” and tells Sumrie she could do what she wanted but she really likes Sumrie. Sumrie, feeling dejected, wonders off in the middle of the night and disappears. 

This is a beautifully written novel with some amazing prose, but there are moments of intense sexual desire/longing that go into graphic detail and seem almost out of place. (If I had the book in front of me I would quote it here, but this is (this right here that you are reading) my musing on the book now that I have some time).  

My thoughts are scattered here, so let me just get to the stuff that really caught my attention. 

First, we come to learn that Miu has no sexual feeling because once, while living in Paris, she ended up stuck on a ferris wheel. While on the ferris wheel she voyeuristically spies her own window from the ferris wheel. Suddenly, she she herself with a man she has met and thinks nothing about it. She watches herself ravish this man in the distance, and she is disgusted at how her “other” self could do this. She, at some point, passes out and wakes up in a hospital with her hair turned white at the young age of 23. Ever since that day, Miu has no sexual desire. Her piano playing, while better than her peers, ceases to win over audiences because it turns out her playing is lacking heart. In seeing her doppleganger, Miu loses something essential in herself that she cannot recover, and she suspects this other who she saw with this man, has that “thing.”

This was all very twilight zone for me, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I think looking at it from Jungian terms, this shadow of hers is the primitive, passionate side of her that she is afraid of, and in confronting that shadow– even if it was only this confrontation through looking at her double do these things that she desires but that she is afraid to do– affects her psyche and turns her hair white. This is further exemplified by her shadow having black hair, and the ferris wheel her having white hair. 

Miu wonders if she is the real her. She worries that maybe this woman with this man, this other self, is the real her. Furthermore, she describes this event as looking into a mirror. Taking that into account, it made me think of Lacan’s mirror stage, in which infants come to realize their subjectivity. This is a moment where Miu realizes her “true” self– she realizes that she is missing passions which not only makes it hard for her to be intimate with other human beings but makes her music lack an essential quality.

Here is a nice summary of the mirror stage. It states that:

For Lacan, the mirror stage establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent upon external objects, on an other. As the so-called “individual” matures and enters into social relations through language, this “other” will be elaborated within social and linguistic frameworks that will give each subject’s personality (and his or her neuroses and other psychic disturbances) its particular characteristics.

So this might explain Miu’s neuroses in terms of her problems with sexual contact. 

But, there seems to be a way to go into the mirror. So that this identification with the other in the mirror becomes not only the way for the “I” to emerge, but if it goes into the mirror then that distinction between I and other becomes blurred. It seems that Sumries disappearance is this. She goes into the mirror, through, theoritically, dreams. 

She ends up callin K at the end of the novel. This shows the lonilness that the whole novel uses as a motfi. The phone is a way to talk to people without actually being together. 

I am out of time though, and must leave– so maybe more on this later….