Last I left Love, I considered Nick Cave’s dark turnings of the lover’s call, playing off of Dante’s first sonnet of beatific and cannibalistic vision. Yet, Dante a few sonnets on in Vita Nuova, also broods on the havoc Love causes, so one might say with Marc Antony in Shake the Spear’s Julius Caesar, “Cry ‘Havoc!,’ and let slip the dogs of love.” Here’s Dante in distress.
So many times there comes into my mind
the dark condition Love bestows on me,
that pity comes and often makes me say:
‘Could anyone have ever felt the same?’
So forcefully and suddenly Love strikes
that my life would all but abandon me
were it not for one last surviving spirit,
allowed to live because it speaks of you.
Hoping to help myself, I gather courage
and pale and drawn and lacking all defence,
I come to see you hoping to be healed;
but if I raise my eyes to look at you
a trembling starts at once within my heart
and drives life out and stops my pulses’ beat.
Here the sublime moment of awe and terror outstrips contemplation of the beautiful, but then Love always stirs and broods more than Beauty contemplating a gorgeous painting or poem . . . yes, Love a step past its running mate Beauty. Love demands a peeling away of anything not Love; when lover and beloved begin their dance, the lover may only have thoughts for his beloved, and the beloved becomes empty of anything but what receives praise, what receives love. Consider PJ Harvey’s song “To Bring You My Love” as this all-consuming love moving toward the beloved, and how the beloved as well as the lover, should be scared out of their fucking minds!
Harvey’s voice barely holds the quivering and the growl, moan and scream. You wanted love, well here it is. Her words portray a divine presence visiting the trembling human, Gabriel with words for Mary. Something in Harvey’s song of Yeats’ great beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.
Climbed over mountains
Traveled the sea
Cast down off heaven
Cast down on my knees
I’ve lain with the devil
Cursed god above
Ah, love as the monster. And yet, this powerful desire, this all-or-nothing longing for the beautiful and the transcendence experience of Love also serves the philosopher in their quest for supreme being. Consider “Diotima’s Ladder of Love” from Plato’s Symposium. Socrates’ teacher Diotima schools him on how to proceed with eros in life, with desire in his mind and heart. Eros, the creature which Sappho’s definition paints as elusive and compelling, a creature brooking no boundaries set up by lounging intellectuals in the dialogue, receives a journey worthy of a god. With Eros locked and loaded with Reason, it’s possible to use yearning for another, pining for the desirable as a means to great philosophical heights and the transformation of carnality into spirituality, the profane into the sacred.
. . . beginning from these beautiful things here, always proceed on up for the sake of that beauty, using these beautiful things here as steps: from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; and from beautiful bodies to beautiful pursuits; and from pursuits to beautiful lessons; and from lessons to end at that lesson, which is the lesson of nothing else than the beautiful itself; and at last to know what is beauty itself. It is at this place in life, in beholding the beautiful itself, my dear Socrates,’ the Mantinean stranger said, ‘that it is worth living, if–for a human being–it is [worth living] at any place. (211d)
Imagine Dante’s burning heart, Cave’s “Loverman,” Harvey’s voice from the desert step by step, crawl by crawl going toward the essence of who and what they are, the true generating force of Love, the beauty transcending all those gorgeous poems and paintings . . . a vision worthy of an ever-hungry beast with a longing for the ultimate plate of food, the quintessential cuisine. Just take Diotima’s advice, that is if you want a life worth living . . . if living anywhere is worth something . . . nice little questioning of life there at the end. Advice on love is timeless, listen to mother’s words in The Supreme’s “You Can’t Hurry Love.”
The difficulty of living through Fortune’s Wheel as you search for the fountain of life, a love supreme belonging to you, and surviving the search seems impossible. And mother’s words assure the wait ensures the value. So the stress and distress of searching for that “soft voice” with the promise this love will give you life after all the heartaches, which also suggests often what we believe is love, given the definition of true and permanent, is nothing more than a mirage. Note, how the singer states she can’t live her life alone, and here we have the bane of love, ensnaring a human soul in a game telling them they are nothing on their own. Which brings us to Jacques Lacan, because with all the attendant tribulations with the journey of the lover to the beloved, one could certainly begin to ask . . . well, is there a there there?
. . . to give one’s love, is very precisely and essentially to give as such nothing of what one has, because it is precisely in so far as one does not have it that there is question of love . . . It is a question of this discordance between what is absolute in the subjectivity which gives or does not give love, and the fact that one’s access to him as object of desire, makes it very precisely necessary that he should become totally object. It is in this essentially vertiginous, essentially nauseous, discrepancy to call it by its name, that there is situated the difficulty of access in the approach to sexual desire. (Seminar V, 5-7-58)
Lacan reflects back on Diotima’s words to Socrates as she tells of Eros as the son of poverty and resource–having nothing in his own, he seeks through art and craft to gain all, to gain the beloved who will fill his life. Here’s why Dante feels he’s at the end of his tether, why Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson and Diana Ross don’t believe they are alive, and why Harvey’s song is so damn scary, scary as Cave’s “Loverman” because the lover has nothing, nothing at all and will do anything to have, take, hold, cherish, and polish the beloved.
I would say that . . . that one cannot speak about ‘love,’ as they say, except in an imbecilic or abject manner, which is an aggravation. Abject is the way people talk about it in psychoanalysis. That one then cannot speak about love, but that one can write about it, ought to strike you. . . The best thing in this curious surge called love, is the letter, it is the letter than can take on strange shapes. (Seminar XIX 3-2-72)
How many times is the lover portrayed stumbling over words, stuttering words, then going silent? Often. The tongue-tripping nature of speaking love renders it often silly. But when we sit down to write, when we craft words; well, consider the history of Arabic-Persian poetry, all European literary traditions as well as the mystical reaches of theology throughout the desert religions At the very heart of consciousness there’s a yearning only truly expressed when we set ourselves outside ourselves and desire someone or something not present. A strangeness at the very heart of who and what we are. Is Lacan suggesting, in a wily fashion, that Love exists through words, as a literary construction best, and through that shaping of what is not Love, but can only represent Love, and that’s when Love flourishes? Right in the middle of a blasted heath between two armies dug deep into trenches, when the two armies have long fled the scene.
Think of the letter in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” which Lacan gives much thought to, and think of how its contents matter not at all, only the equations they create and how someone watching, who knows how to read the material and immaterial world before them like letters, may decipher and thereby gain power. Minister D is clever enough to notice the Queen hiding a letter from the King, who does not notice at all. However, the Queen does not notice Minister D watching, so when the royal boudoir stands empty, the wily bureaucrat sneaks back and steals the letter; which, now of course, he may use to blackmail the Queen. The police of course analyze the minister’s apartment room by room, wall by wall, chair by chair, drawer by drawer, and so on, and so on, and yet cannot find the letter. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s ever-reclining detective muses the problem may be too obvious; which does prove partially true, as D has stuffed the Queen’s letter into a letter-holder out in plain view. Now, to be fair he has disguised it, turning it inside out in a manner. Here Dupin gets the better of D, famously in the story because it appears he thinks just like the treacherous minister, and so with the same given assumptions of hiding things in plain sight, creates a ruse by which when visiting the Minister he goes to where he expects the letter to be, where no matter the absurdity, it has to be, and steals what D has stolen before.
Look closely. A commotion outside draws Minister D to the window, as he looks outside, and in the illustration looking headless, Dupin pockets the letter, putting in its place on bearing a strong resemblance. Also, important to note Dupin wearing shades because he complains of an eye ailment, but the real reason is he wishes to scan the minister’s room without arousing suspicion. If love exists in writing, exists in a love letter, then where is love in this scene? Possession appears to be a matter of touch and go. The love letter has moved from Queen to minister to detective. The one intended for the love letter cannot keep hold. The one who wishes to uses its power cannot keep track. The one who grasps it finally turns it in for a reward. Even such an aching, haunting, beautiful love song as Nick Cave’s “Love Letter” reveals what may be the letter, but more than likely reveals only the author of the letter singing to his words as he sends them to his beloved far away. Love loves to keep its secrets; nature loves to hide.
Open on a barely-furnished room with a television showing the balladeer in blue singing his song, then scenes of a kitchen table with a cigarette burning in its tray, an empty bed with sheets pulled down and only one pillow ruffled, furniture gone and telephone on carpet, unfinished house on a desolate plot of land, on and on as loneliness and longing express ache in the vastness of the sky.
As Lacan states, the letter that must do the work of healing love, words on paper have more chance than the presence of the lover. The pain of longing, the grief and loss sing so strongly in this song that I’ve not listened once without my own tears, my own putting back together of lament.
Come back to me
Come back to me
O baby please come back to me
The song ends with a prayer, which as a wish written in words, “whispered on the wind,” conveys the same attempt all of us make to bring a world we want, a world we desire into being. Such prayers begin epic poems such as The Odyssey, and are implicit at the beginning of Genesis. Consider the troubadours whose verse and song of the early middle ages, voices out of Occitan moving through southern France, northern Spain and Italy and eventually shaping the words of Dante and Shakespeare. Consider Jaufre Rudel singing of the necessary distance between lover and beloved for the love song, the love letter to exist, and in following Lacan, for love to exist at all. Translation via trobar.org.
During May, when the days are long,
I admire the song of the birds from far away
and when I have gone away from there
I remember a love far away.
I go scowling, with my head down
so much that songs and hawthorn flowers
aren’t better, to me, than the frozen Winter.
I trust the Lord’s fairness
in having formed this faraway love,
but for each consolation I achieve
I get two ills, because I am so far away.
Ah! Why didn’t I go there as a pilgrim,
so that my staff and hooded cloak
would be beheld by her beautiful eyes!
It will certainly feel like joy when I ask her,
for the love of god, to be hosted;
and, if she likes it, I shall lodge
near her, although I come from far away.
Conversation is so pleasant
when the faraway lover is so close
that he would long to be welcome with kind intentions.
Sad and pained shall I depart
if I don’t see this faraway love.
I don’t know when ever I shall see her,
so far away our countries are.
So many are the crossings and the roads
that I can’t tell.
But be everything as she likes it.
Never shall I enjoy love
unless I enjoy this faraway love,
since I don’t know of a better and worthier one
anywhere, near or far away.
So abundant and sovereign her merits are
that down there, in the Saracen’s realm,
I wish I were held in thrall for her sake.
God, who created all that comes and goes
and shaped this faraway love,
give me strength, since I already have the intention,
so that I see this love far away
in reality and in a fitting place
so that rooms and gardens
shall seem to me to be new palaces.
He is true who calls me grasping
and longing for a faraway love
since no other merriment pleases me as much
as enjoying a faraway love.
But that which I want is denied to me
since my godfather made it so
that I love and am not loved.
“Far away” opens and constantly moves through the poem, and in so doing creating a theme for Love, which defines this very passion as needing to be at a distance from not only the beloved but from creation as well, as if the act of writing necessitates distance, craves an absence in order to begin its work. And the divine in the poem has constructed this situation, intends for love to function in this way. God, who as well, must be faraway lest one is burned or turned to stone. A faraway love is Love, and the child of absence is the poem, the only activity assured for the lover, possibly a wall of paper and safety for the beloved, and to turn one more time, also the obsessive damnation of the lover. All so strange, and so a turn to R.E.M’s “Strange Currencies.”
Money as a literary coinage, a way of calculating what you spend and if it’s strange, well then seller and buyer beware. The seller has love to offer, love they need to unload in order to make a profit, but who will buy the love they’re offering, the love that is the only thing they are because in commodification you are only the number of your worth determined by the fickle market, fickle Fortune . . . and the buyer, well the beloved who believes they have nothing other to offer than being a vessel for love to flow into, with of course the correct currency. Well, my beloved is not at home right now, but the tasteful waits nearby, so a pour of Caol Isla with its briny, smoky peatiness and slice of creamy, oily smoked eel. What a beautiful pairing. Almost love. Bon Appétit!