A response to things like Marie Calloway, Charlie Sheen, and James Franco
“The superman is the man who passes over, away from the man as he is so far, but away whereto? Man so far is the last man. But if this manner of living being, ‘man,’ in distinction from other living beings on earth, plants and animals, is endowed with ‘rationality;’ and if ratio, the power to perceive and reckon with things, is at the bottom a way of forming ideas; then the particular manner of the last man must consist in a particular manner of forming ideas. Nietzsche calls it blinking, without relating blinking explicitly to the nature of representing or idea-forming, without inquiring into the essential sphere, and above all the essential origin, of representational ideas. But we must nevertheless give its full weight to the term Nietzsche uses for this kind of ideation, namely, blinking, according to the context in which it appears. We must not take it to be the same thing as the merely superficial and incidental wink by which we signal to each other on special occasions that in fact we are no longer taking seriously what is being said and proposed, and what goes on in general. This kind of winking can spread only because all forming of ideas is itself a kind of blinking. Ideas formed in this way present and propose of everything only the glitter, only the appearance of surfaces and foreground facets. Only what is so proposed and so disposed has currency. This type of representation is not first created by blinking, but the other way around: the blinking is a consequence of a type of representation already dominant. What type? The type that constitutes the metaphysical basis of the age called the Modern Age, which is not ending now but only just beginning.”
Who says things like “Passionate for the appropriate?” Robert Bresson does.
“‘Craft’ literally means the strength and skill in our hands. The hand is a peculiar thing. In the common view, the hand is part of our bodily organism. But the hand’s essence can never be determined, or explained, by its being an organ which can grasp. Apes, too, have organs that can grasp, but they do not have hands. The hand is infinitely different from all grasping organs—paws, claws, or fangs—different by an abyss of essence. Only a being who can speak, that is, think, can have hands, and can be handy in achieving works of handicraft. But the craft of the hand is richer than we commonly imagine. The hand does not only grasp and catch, or push and pull. The hand reaches and extends, receives and welcomes—and not just things: the hand extends itself, and receives its own welcome in the hands of others. The hand holds. The hand carries. The hand designs and signs, presumably because man is a sign. Two hands fold into one, a gesture meant to carry man into the great oneness. The hand is all this, and this is the true handicraft. Everything is rooted here that is commonly known as the handicraft, and commonly we go no further. But the hand’s gestures run everywhere through language, in their most perfect purity precisely when man speaks by being silent. And only when man speaks, does he think—not the other way around, as metaphysics still believes. Every motion of the hand in every one of its works carries itself through the element of thinking, every bearing of the hand bears itself in that element. All the work of the hand is rooted in thinking.”
“We thought, let’s get as much silence in there as we can.” Arto Lindsay on DNA
What has this been like?
It has been like turning you (X.) into music. It has been like listening all the time. They say: listen to your heart, not feel your heart. They say: what does your heart tell you?
Your absence is loud and clear. Love is all ears. The word heart has the word ear in it.
My ears have been hearing things, things which aren’t even words, or messages, while my eyes, along with everyone else’s, are forever telling me that nothing is there. That nothing is happening. It is the difference between inward and outward. Between me and everyone else.
Sound is often the beginning of horror. In horror movies the non-believer often tells the believer: “I can’t see anything. You’re imagining things,” which means that there is nothing there. By the time the non-believer actually does see something (what’s happening)—the horror made visual—it’s too late. In The Exorcist the Devil starts off as just a sound (rats?) in the attic. In The Entity, the poltergeist that rapes Barbara Hershey over and over, makes a sound but never materializes. It remains unseen. But what it does to her is real. The bruises and cuts are real. The rape is real. The horror is real. The Entity is the misogyny of “it’s all in your head” (or in the case of The Exorcist, it’s all in your female body) taken to a horrific extreme.
In his book Listening, Jean-Luc Nancy writes:
"After it had designated a person who listens (who spies), the word écoute came to designate a place where one could listen in secret. Être aux écoutes, to ‘listen in, to eavesdrop,’ consisted first in being in a concealed place where you could surprise a conversation or a confession. Être à l’écoute, ‘to be tuned in, to be listening,’ was in the vocabulary of military espionage before it returned, through broadcasting, to the public space, while still remaining, in the context of a telephone, an affair of confidences or stolen secrets…One aspect of my question will be: What secret is at stake when one truly listens, that is, when one tries to capture or surprise the sonority rather than the message?” What does one risk feeling, discovering, when one listens as though everything were a secret?”
The ear hyper-extends. Goes in and above and beyond, and out of its way—defenseless, the only opwning you can’t close. The ear is also a spy listening for clues. Elaine and I call ourselves, call each other, spies. Detectives. The way we don’t just think (about books, movies, songs, love—people), we press our ears to things.
“The sonorous outweighs form. It does not dissolve it, but rather enlarges it; it gives it an amplitude, a density, and a vibration or an undulation whose outline never does anything but approach. The visual persists until its disappearance; the sonorous appears and fades away into its permanence…What is the reason for this difference, and how is it possible? Why and how can there be one or several difference(s) of ‘senses’ in general, and also difference(s) between the perceiving senses and the perceived meaning, ‘sensed sense’ [les sens sensibles el le sens sensé]? Why and how is it that something of perceived meaning has privileged a model, a support, or a referent in visual presence rather than in acoustic penetration? Why, for example, does acousmatics, or the teaching model by which the teacher remains hidden from the disciple who listens to him, belong to a philosophical Pythagorean esoterism, just as, much later, auricular confession corresponds to a secret intimacy of sin and forgiveness? Why, in the case of the ear, is there withdrawal and turning inward, making resonant, but in the case of the eye, there is a manifestation and display, a making evident? Why, however, does each of these facets also touch each other, and by touching, put into play the whole system of the senses? And how, in turn, does it touch perceived meaning? How does it come to engender it or modulate it, determine it or disperse it? All these questions inevitably come to the forefront when it’s a question of listening…Here we want to to prick up the philosophical ear: to tug the philosopher’s ear in order to draw it toward what has always solicited or represented philosophical knowledge less than what presents itself to view—form, idea, painting, representation, aspect, phenomenon, composition—but arises instead in accent, tone, timbre, resonance, and sound…What does it mean for a being to be immersed entirely in listening, formed by listening, formed by listening or in listening, listening with all its being?”
The ear strays, is a pharmakon luring the eye away from what it sees or doesn’t see. While the ear stretches and cranes its neck to hear, the visual is either there or it isn’t. And depending on which, we’re either interested or we aren’t. We see or we don’t see. What you see is what you get. Out of sight, out of mind. Yes or no. The visual filters, cuts, leaves things out. Composes. Sets limits. Denies.
"The visual persists until its disappearance; the sonorous appears and fades away into its permanence……Shouldn’t truth ‘itself,’ as transivity and incessant transition of a continual coming and going, be listened to rather than seen?"
In Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, sound is spied. A microphone that is there to witness something else discovers a secret (sound) that no one was supposed to know (The Blow Out trailer informs: “It began with a sound that no one was supposed to hear.”) . The sound in Blow Out is a “murder that never happened,” and had Terry not been listening at the moment he was, that sound would have been lost forever. The murder (instead of a death) would have been a tree in a forest.
In Notes On The Cinematographer, Robert Bresson states that one should know “what business that sound (or that image) has there” and “What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear.”
So what is for the ear in Bresson’s Lancelot du lac? What kind of ear and/or eye must one have for this film? What is sound doing in the empty forest of Lancelot? Why should we look at it when there is “nothing” there? When the visual is incomplete—missing something? Missing action, missing presence. What is the purpose of showing us how the forest sounds? Feels? The way it looks when it isn’t full of warring bodies. The forest as a silent witness, a repository; a space that hears and sounds; picks up on things like a microphone (inverting the acoustic schema of Blow Out). Records the sounds that bodies make and leave behind. Or rather, is that sound.
Both Blow Out and Lancelot invoke the idiom “for your ears only,” bringing us back to espionage and secret. Radical listening. “While music flattens a surface, makes it into an image,” Bresson explains, “sound lends space, relief. It arrives and the screen deepens, thus bringing on the third dimension.” For Bresson, sound should never duplicate an image with a sound (“a sound must never come to the aid of an image, nor an image to the aid of a sound….the image and sound must never reinforce each other, but must each work in turn in a sort of relay”). Perhaps Brian De Palma’s ideas about the verisimilitude of sound in Blow Out came from Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966), and not just Blow Up’s meditation on the image (also 1966). In Balthazar, the first car accident is seen, the second is heard. Bresson, who recorded all his sounds separately to be able to “mix them in the correct proportion,” believed that “a tape recorder captures true sounds, whereas the camera greatly deforms the real.” It is significant, then, that with Blow Up and Blow Out, we start with the lie of the camera and end up with the truth of (recorded) sound.
How should we read Guinevère’s blue scarf in Lancelot du lac?
She has been there in this spot. Lancelot has too. As well as a third person, who is neither Guinevère nor Lancelot. This cloth has in it the vibration of Lancelot’s touch and Guinevère’s body. It means something to Guinevère, and to Lancelot who greets Guinevère by putting her cloth to his mouth as if it were a mouth—hers. In Notes on a Cinematographer, Bresson quotes Cezanne: “At each touch I risk my life.” And so, the scarf, laid there, left there, is the distance between Guinevère and Lancelot. But it is also the proximity. Their intimacy. The touch and the risk.
In her "blog", Elaine Castillo quotes Bliss Cua Lim’s “The Ghostliness of Genre”: “The ghost film’s core conceit, visualized in its mise-en-scène, is that space has a memory.”
A forest has a memory. A room has a memory. A scarf has a memory. The sound of touch. The ghost of touch. The touch of sound. Both Bresson and Elaine make ghost films. That is, films that are informed by the ghostliness of living. “…What has being and has been in being” (Heidegger).
In What is Called Thinking?, Heidegger writes: “What keeps us in our essential nature holds us only so long, however, as we for our part keep holding on to what holds us. And we keep holding on to it by not letting it out of our memory. Memory is the gathering of thought. Thought of what? Thought of what holds us, in that we give it thought precisely because It remains what must be thought about.”
The impression (as in pressing into, or indenting) a person makes when they come, and leaves behind when they go—when they appear/disappear—is not, after all, a presence/absence that you see. It is one that you feel. One that leaves a dent in you. In Lancelot du lac, Guinevère knows that Lancelot isn’t dead even though everyone insists that he is. How does she know this? Because Lancelot’s life is (makes) a sound that Guinevère can hear. That is for her ears only.
Elaine Castillo’s film Holy Forest is an example of what Nancy calls “visual sound” or “vision that is sonorous.”
In Holy Forest, green is born, grows, unfolds, vibrates. It is the whole world’s sonority; “the whole system of the senses” (Nancy) touching and shuddering at touch. Holy Forest is like the secret sound that Lancelot du lac’s forest makes. It is also the mourning of all its dead bodies.
“To be listening,” writes Nancy, “is thus to enter into tension and to be on the lookout for a relation to self: not, it should be emphasized, a relationship to ‘me’ (the supposedly given subject), or to the ‘self’ of the other (the speaker, the musician, also supposedly given, with his subjectivity), but to the relationship in self, so to speak, as it forms a ‘self’ or ‘to itself’ in general, and if something like that ever does reach the end of its formation. Consequently, listening is passing over to the register of presence to self.”
Arto Lindsay: “We thought, let’s get as much silence in there as we can…”
Bresson: “Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence.”
The sound of you (X.) coming. The sound of you not coming. The sound of you wanting to come. The sound of you not wanting to come. It’s not that I can hear you exactly—the message of you, or us. It’s not even that there’s a message to hear. Though I think there is. It’s that we make a sound even if the picture looks empty.
“Thomas Hardy wrote about people failing to meet as if these failures are scandalous occasions. What didn’t happen astounded him…How can it happen and how can it not happen? If a person has said he will be in a certain place, shouldn’t his body be as good as his word?…A chance meeting is a meeting that seems to exist with a great probability of not meeting circling around it. As we all know, almost everything doesn’t happen.”
Urban dictionary: “A time-jump is a period of time during which an event is not seen but is mentioned or referred to. This happens constantly in movies and soap operas, especially when they are trying to create the illusion of movement.”
I was ten years old when I first heard this track shoot out of my walkman. I was in a car, driving down St Mark’s Place in New York with my parents. I thought the song was sexy and tough. Untamed. The song was called “Tattooed Love Boys” and I was already dreaming, obsessing, about boys in that way that only a passionate teenage girl does. With a chip on her shoulder. But I had all the attitude and lust of a teenage boy. I felt cool—-alive—-listening to this song on my way to some East Village art opening or party with my parents. I was their only kid. We were a close-knit family, and yet a part of me still felt like Jim in Empire of the Sun. I liked feeling that way though, imagining myself as some lost drifter. Loner.
My parents were cooler than everyone else’s parents and they were young and smart and in love, and I had this whole life—my whole life—mapped out in my head, coursing through my body. I couldn’t wait to meet the first boy of my dreams, and that summer, I did. I already loved The Pretenders and Chrissie Hynde. Her punk-bravado. So when I first heard “Tattooed Love Boys” I recognized Hynde’s fire-underneath-the-ice toughness because I had it too.
"Tattooed Love Boys" shows up as soon it starts, like the most exciting person at a party. The person who walks in the door, into the room, and changes it—fills it. You.
And you may not even like this person at first, but your life has shifted because of them. Changed directions. Gone somewhere else. They’ve hit you like a drug.
There is no warning when something—someone—like this happens; shows up. And “Tattooed Love Boys” is like this person. The person who suddenly, and without warning, appears in your life, as well as the person who recognizes the person who appears. This song is both of those people. Both of those things.
“You…are…that" are the last three dragged-out words of this song.
The lyric, “I, I, I, I found out what the wait was about” conjures a time-jump. So what is this wait? This wait, still. This wait, again. How do we know when we’re waiting and not simply living our lives? That we’re doing something extra, in addition to living. That there’s an added element involved. The element of something future coming. Something not-yet.
I’m waiting to find that out, but to do that I have to wait some more. It’s possible that I don’t understand “Tattooed Love Boys” at all. Maybe Hynde is singing about something else entirely. Not boys, not love, not dreaming. Not waiting. Maybe what she’s singing about is already happening. Already here. There. Maybe the words and the vim (charge) of the song are two different things. Or maybe the sound is the meaning.
But I love how hungry and free the track is. The way it rushes in unexpectedly. The way it can’t catch its fucking breath. Is the time of your life.
In her book Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence, Judith Butler writes:
"I am not sure I know when mourning is successful, or when one has fully mourned another human being. Freud changed his mind on this subject: he suggested that successful mourning meant being able to exchange one object for another; he later claimed that incorporation, originally associated with melancholia, was essential to the task of mourning. Freud’s early hope that an attachment might be withdrawn and then given anew implied a certain interchangeability of objects as a sign of hopefulness, as if the prospect of entering life anew made use of a kind of promiscuity of libidinal aim. That might be true, but I do not think that successful grieving implies that one has forgotten another person or that something else has come along to take its place, as if full substitutability were something for which we might strive."
Butler is mostly talking about political violence and death in Precarious Life—the sphere of political marginalization, persecution, subjugation, occupation, erasure, annihilation. But given that her book is about “who counts as human?” and “What makes for a grievable life?,” who and what gets (deserves) to live, I think one can talk about love here, too. How love (and lovers) survives in the world—gets to live—and how it doesn’t. How love gets beaten out of our system (ours and the greater systems at large), or never taught to begin with. When does one let someone or something go and what does it mean to do such a thing? When should one let go and when should one hold on? And how do we let go rather than simply replace, which only fills (or pretends to fill) a space (gap, person) symbolically? How do we grieve what and who we’ve lost in a way that let’s us love more, not less?
Knowing when to go and when to stay has been a major struggle in my life. Therefore the greater question for me is: are we becoming the kind of people (culture, world) who can never really let someone in to begin with, and so can never really mourn a loss? Who never truly risk being wounded and affected; who never allow themselves to get to the point of being imprinted or dented, or god forbid, hurt. For what do we do—how do we live, love—once, after, we’ve been wounded? Once we’ve been left and once we’ve left. Once we’ve loved and lost. Let go or not let go. And do we love again? As Butler puts it at the beginning of Precarious Life, “Let’s face it (the face being an important ethical trope here, as Butler’s final chapter looks at Emmanuel Levinas’ theory of the face and human sociality), we’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.” The question of replacement, as Freud defines it, becomes much easier if you never risk such losses and imprints at all. If you fill yourself up with an endless cycle of people (watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Reality TV shows are themselves predicated on an on-going replacement cycle). Butler’s reading of loss here is especially interesting to me because it suggests that it’s the inability to miss or grieve—to be, or admit to being, undone—that’s missing. That missing itself is not a sign of lack or loss, it’s the not-missing (not acknowledging our precarity and the precarity of others) that’s the real danger.
As a teenager, one of my favorite remarks about suffering was by the Romanian poet, E.M. Cioran from his book On The Heights of Despair: “I owe to suffering the best parts of myself as well as all that I have lost in life.” When it comes to love, it takes a lot of time and mourning for me to let someone go. If it isn’t even going to hurt, and if I’m not going to live with the hurt, why even let someone in? If there isn’t even a chance of being hurt—undone? So much emphasis is placed on narcissistic individuation as a sign of health and function. My needs, my space, instead of our needs, our space living together. Entering each other, mixing, communing, so if the two spaces (hearts and bodies), the “ties and bonds that compose us,” were to ever split apart, the tear would be unbearable. Would have to be. Rather than focusing on and emphasizing our delicate and complex proximities and vulnerabilities, we focus on the illusory delineations (boundaries) between people. But, as Butler notes:
"Loss has made a tenuous ‘we’ of us all…Perhaps, rather, one mourns when one accepts that by the loss, one undergoes that one will be changed, possibly forever. Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full extent of which one cannot know in advance…Maybe when we undergo what we do, something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others, that shows us that these ties constitute what we are…It’s not as if an ‘I’ exists independently over here and then simply loses a ‘you’ over there, especially if the attachment to ‘you’ is part of what composes who ‘I’ am. If I lose you under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who ‘am’ I without you?”
As a culture we have become much more preoccupied, if not solely preoccupied, with a precautionary formulation of relationality; a relationality that is built on a hermetically narcissistic subjectivity: who am I when I am with you and what would I continue to be, or be able to be regardless, and in spite of, whether I am with you? How can I act as though we are never really together (part of each other); as though we are always-already split, or as though we might break apart at any moment? How can I always be prepared to lose you?
But what constitutes a break? An end? And what needs to happen in order to love again? Love another and anew in a way that isn’t simply about erasure, recuperation, and replacement? Hardening and cynicism, so that the next person you love never gets to experience or have access to your original thrall and openness. There are many reasons to hold on, not least of which to do for others, for the other, what others may not do, may not have done, for you—hold on. What if you give up (let go) too soon? What if you hold on for too long? When should you leave and when should you stay? When are you pushing someone away and when are you letting someone in? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I am always wrestling with them.
"For Levinas, coming face to face with the Other is a non-symmetrical relationship. I am responsible for the Other without knowing that the Other will reciprocate…Thus, according to Levinas, I am subject to the Other without knowing how it will come out. In this relationship, Levinas finds the meaning of being human and of being concerned with justice" (from Face to Face).
What if I stay and you don’t want me to? What if my loving you despite you telling me you don’t want me to is what will ultimately bring us together? What if waiting and holding on is part of what makes a love possible? What if one person has to learn to let go and the other person has to learn to hold on? What if that’s the bond at stake? What if that’s the road to, the test of, love?
In Robert Bresson’s Lancelot du lac, Guinevere, who is stronger than Lancelot, who knows more about strength, and therefore love, than Lancelot does, and who knows that God is love, not death, tells Lancelot, “you can use my strength.”
Guinevere, who can feel Lancelot even when he isn’t there, who knows that he is with her, even when he isn’t. Guinevere, who can feel—-love—-through the distance. See through the invisible.
Guinevere, who says, “I know he’s alive” when everyone tells her Lancelot is dead.
So much depends on just the right pressure, just the right time, just the right amount—not too much and not too little. Faith, when then there’s no reason to have it. Love, when maybe there’s no reason to give it. To know these things, we can’t rush—can’t be in a rush, with ourselves or with others. But we are living in a culture of disposability and speed, after all, and in Consuming Life Zygmunt Bauman writes about how this precarity and liquidity (the dissolve of bonds) also applies to love in a society of consumers, where subjecthood is increasingly defined by consumption and consumerism.
I treat the whole idea and task of “moving on” with suspicion and rigor, and always have. Mourning is often synonymous with forgetting and denial. So I think I will always prefer (trust) people who mourn—even people who can’t “get over” someone or something; who take too long—to people who don’t mourn or take any time at all. Or, who promiscuously and indiscriminately claim to do everything in the name of love; who call everyone a lover.
I want to hold on and I like others who do the same. Character is formed there and devotion is made possible. I’ve always been bad at the exchange part, partly because I never wanted or set out to exchange or be exchanged in the first place. The whole process terrifies me. I’ve been called an obsessive and a die-hard romantic because of it. And it’s true, I am one. I want to wrestle, grapple, stay, linger, hold on, remember, recall, retrace, ruminate, honor, know, understand—hold on. So when it comes to what Freud refers to as incorporation, I take (absorb) everything in order to fiercely guard what comes in and what stays out. That is, the relation between the two, for you can’t do or understand one without the other. “Perhaps we can say that grief,” writes Butler, “contains the possibility of apprehending a mode of dispossession that is fundamental to who I am.”
After the break-up of my first adult love (H.), the constant command for me to “get over it,” move on, love and/or fuck someone else, was just as traumatic as the dissolution of the relationship itself. I was simply talked out of my mourning. Talked out of holding on. I was constantly being told to let go. I refused this command though, and even wrote a story about it Solace when I was nineteen, the same year I read Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse:
In a 1977 interview called “The Greatest Cryptographer of Contemporary Myths Talks About Love,” Roland Barthes states, “Love-as-passion (the love I talk about in Lover’s Discourse) is almost ‘frowned upon,’ it’s considered to be an illness from which the lover must recover, and no enriching aspects are attributed to it any longer.’”
So much of love—and mourning—is about language. The way we handle love and loss in words. The way we get talked into and out of love. The way we say things we don’t mean and don’t say the things we do. What we say and don’t say about love and what we let others say about it. But if it can’t come out, where does mourning go—happen? This silence and internalization only further isolates us and privatizes our suffering. Maybe that’s how and why replacement works, is so reassuring. There is simply no place for real, and therefore radical, heartache in this culture. No time and no place. We teach ourselves and each other what it means to love by what we say about it. What we’re allowed to say and what we’re not allowed to say. What we’re trained to say (our ready-made vocabularies and cultural discourses) and what we’ve already said. Women have historically been permitted to say more about it, but that’s because of the trivialization not just of women, but love in general. When it comes to love, we circulate either a repressive and reactionary set of values and narratives, or disposable platitudes. Sometimes we give up too soon and sometimes we don’t try at all. We miss the opportunity to try. We don’t say enough, when we should say everything. As Heidegger points out in What Is Called Thinking?, “Words are constantly thrown around on the cheap, and in the process are worn out. There is a curious advantage in that. With a worn-out language everybody can talk about everything…To speak language is totally different from employing language. Common speech merely employs language. This relation to language is just what constitutes its commonness.” Which is what James Baldwin meant when he noted that true rebels are as rare as true lovers. This is also what I was trying to talk about in “Solace.” Love and grief as something rare and precious and difficult and necessary. As Butler puts it, “…I am speaking to those of us who are living in certain ways beside ourselves, whether in sexual passion, or emotional grief, or political rage.”
“Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence.”
When I saw her, she told me that X. was in “The Hanged Man space”—“that space of silence”—but that I was too. I like the idea that we are in the same state for different reasons. That we have the same card in common. The same thing at stake.
The Hanged Man “tells us that we can ‘move forward’ by standing still. By suspending time, we can have all the time in the world.’” Is there such a thing though? Such a thing as “all the time in the world?” Sometimes I think that’s all we have. All anyone has. An eternity. Other times I think I, we, no one, has any time at all. That everyone is running out of time, and that thinking we have all this time is the problem. Movies don’t teach us that. Movies and books (the fairytale ones) tell us: You must go for it. Him/her. You must come out the other side.
Given how much of an issue time has been for me my entire life, even as a little kid, and now in all of this—with X.—The Hanged Man card isn’t an easy pill for me to swallow. What time is left, what time isn’t. And is time really all there is to it? To us, or not us. And if that’s the case, when will time finally make sense? How much time needs to pass for that to happen? For time to do what it needs to do. Time comes together, but time is also broken, backwards, split. Run-down, like an Alain Resnais film, with its rubble of time and temporal rifts. Continuities in discontinuities. War-torn time lapping at time, at people and their time, like a wave. Pulling time in, back. Spitting it out, forward. For Resnais, all we have are fragments. Pieces of things and memories in pieces. This goes on forever.
The Hanged Man is about suspension. Time is left hanging. When you are in The Hanged Man space, you stay still rather than move—act.
You do nothing.
Lecturing about God in a series of dialogues for children called, God, Justice, Love, Beauty, Jean-Luc Nancy states:
"God is perhaps a way of answering: there is no point, no rhyme or reason, and that’s why it is good. It is open, it is available. Available for any number of things, but at the same time for nothing. Sometimes what we do best is nothing, doing nothing, letting things be…Now I am not telling you to do nothing…But, more deeply, when one really thinks about one’s life, about what one does. A little while ago, when I spoke to you about joy or love, even about justice in the sense I tried to describe, what is all that about? It is really nothing. What do people who love each other do? Nothing, nothing but love each other. That doesn’t mean that we must do nothing."
The nothing that Nancy is describing is really everything, in the same way that when Morrissey sings, “William, it was really nothing” in the great Smiths song by the same name, we know that what was, or is, between him and William, was/is really everything. That even if it amounted to nothing, came to nothing, sometimes nothing is worth it because it is important (everything) to be moved. Knocked down by someone or something (like the Great Dane that knocks Rousseau down in Reveries of A Solitary Walker), which is everything. We also know that all the something and everything that currently runs the world, and gets heralded as good and great—important—is mostly really nothing. Really nothing. But in the song, Morrissey is also telling William that all this nothing (the sacrifice, the risk, the love) was worth it. That the everything he gave William, that was between them (“It was his life”), was really nothing. In other words, he is telling William (bitterly, lovingly), “Don’t mention it.”
This idea (or reading) of nothing is particularly important for Western culture, especially in our 21st Century moment, which constantly tells us that whatever you can’t see; whatever you aren’t doing or showing; whatever isn’t being seen or heard about you, doesn’t exist. Doesn’t count. Isn’t really there. Is nothing. But our contemporary understanding of nothing is really the problem. In the Tarot’s Hanged Man, nothing is not nothing because without knowing how to be in the nothing; without knowing what to do with the nothing that you are privately assigned to work through, you will never get (understand) anything. In contemporary American culture, something is only something if it is SOMETHING. Loud. Silence is empty, non-active. Failure. But to hear nothing, to be in the nothing; to feel what the nothing has to say, to tell you, is maybe more powerful than to hear what is strictly meant to be heard. What pronounces itself directly, without glitches or stutters.
When Nancy says that people who love each other do “Nothing, nothing but love each other,” it’s an ironic play on the everything of nothing because, as we all know, nothing is more challenging, difficult, or important than truly loving someone. For Nancy and others, faith is not a question of knowing or being sure (belief). It’s a question of being faithful to someone or something despite not knowing whether your faith will be rewarded. You have faith in the face of not-knowing. As I have pointed out in other posts, Derrida says this about forgiveness, and Nancy says this about both God and love: You love anyway. You forgive the unforgiveable. You forgive because you can’t. All these thinkers are talking about faith, which means they are also talking about risk.
In response to a question about damnation and reward, Nancy states:
"It’s just that it does not have to do with saying, ‘After death you will be punished or rewarded for what you have done in life,’ but rather, ‘Are you able during your life-time to be faithful to what I tried to explain earlier, that is, are you able to remain faithful to something that infinitely exceeds you?’ This is hard. And it’s just as hard for me as it is for you and for everyone else. Hell means that if you are unable to do this, you are condemned. It means that you condemn yourself. You condemn yourself not to burning in hell among a bunch of demons that torture you, but, rather, you condemn yourself to shriveling up and withering away as you are, in your life, right now."
This brings us back to The Hanged Man card, which asks: Are you able to be silent for nothing? For the everything that might come of the nothing you risk everything for, as well as the everything that might turn out to be nothing? Are you willing to love and have faith even if nothing comes of it? Even if you stand to lose everything.
Being faithful to what you cannot even see. To what might not ever happen.
This is hard.
Writing about Christianity, Kierkegaard notes: “The contradiction which arrests [the understanding] is that a man is required to make the greatest possible sacrifice, to dedicate his whole life as a sacrifice—and wherefore? There is indeed no wherefore…At first glance the understanding ascertains that this is madness. The understanding asks: what’s in it for me? The answer is nothing.”
The Tarot’s Hanged Man is also the card of inbetween. The space between the “man” who hangs—which is the tree and the ground; the space between different times, and the space between two people, in all senses of the word. Notice that only one of the hanged man’s legs is tied to the tree. What does this mean? It means that with one leg bound and the other leg loose, you can get free. That you are not really stuck here. That this stillness, suspension, and silence is temporary; dependent on a situation, a condition. A trial, a commitment.
I don’t want to wait, but I have to. And after all of my resistance, indecision, and frustration, I’m somehow riding the wave of time now, letting it sink in. I am living in the time-jump. The time-jump, which I knew was coming for months, but dreaded. The time-jump is the time inbetween the wrong time and the right time. The time between me and you (X.). Now and then. Present and future. In the movies, two characters meet at the wrong time and time needs to pass, to—jump—in order for them to be able to meet again. Sometimes time has to jump over and over for this to happen. To pass and pass. Sometimes it takes one time-jump. Sometimes it takes many. Sometimes six months pass, sometimes ten years. The point is that while we, the viewers, are aware of the time—the time that’s passing between two people—the characters onscreen are not. Not knowing what they know or must know. They (the unsynchronized lovers) are in the back of each other’s minds, and the forefront of ours, but they are not aware of the time that’s passing. That’s passed. They are living their lives, often with other people. Major things happen in between. Things that might be extremely difficult, but not impossible to undo. They don’t know what’s coming. You have to be almost unconscious, or at least only semi-conscious, of time when you are in the time-jump. It’s on our minds (the viewers), not theirs. So if I am self-conscious about the time-jump I’m in, is it really even a time-jump? In fact, time is not jumping at all for me. I am literally watching the clock. Waiting for the kettle to boil.
If. When. How many times.
The Hanged Man is an allegory. The Tarot reader said: “He (X.) has things to do and learn that you have already learned and done.” We are not in the same place. Not in the same time either. She shrouded him in allegorical mystery; in that old language of inner odyssey and turmoil. She said he could end up staying in this position, this freeze-framed moment, forever. Making it his whole life, instead of the way to me. Us. Himself.
In The Hanged Man space, you don’t struggle, you submit. You go quiet. Into a search. But as much as this is its lesson, the Tarot reader said he could also get lost there—“lost in The Hanged Man Space.” That he may never come out. May never become the man he could become. That he could go either way. She said, “He has swords to work through.” Another name for the swords is the Dark Night of The Soul.
From Saint John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul:
"Once in a dark of night, Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose (O coming of delight!) And went, as no one knows, When all my house lay long in deep repose
All in the dark went right, Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes, (O coming of delight!) In dark when no one knows, When all my house lay long in deep repose.
And in the luck of night In secret places where no other spied I went without my sight Without a light to guide Except the heart that lit me from inside.
It guided me and shone Surer than noonday sunlight over me, And lead me to the one Whom only I could see Deep in a place where only we could be.
O guiding dark of night! O dark of night more darling than the dawn! O night that can unite A lover and loved one, A lover and loved one moved in unison.
And on my flowering breast Which I had kept for him and him alone He slept as I caressed And loved him for my own, Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.
And from the castle wall The wind came down to winnow through his hair Bidding his fingers fall, Searing my throat with air And all my senses were suspended there.
I stayed there to forget. There on my lover, face to face, I lay. All ended, and I let My cares all fall away Forgotten in the lilies on that day.”
In her book All About Love, bell hooks writes about one of her favorite Biblical stories as a child, Jacob’s confrontation with the angel on his way home. “Jacob was not just any old Biblical hero,” hooks writes, “he was a man capable of intense passionate love. Coming out of the wilderness, where as a young man he fled from familial strife, Jacob enters the land where his relatives live. He meets there his soul mate, Rachel. Even though he swiftly acknowledges his love for her, they can unite only after much hard work, struggle, and suffering.”
The Hanged Man. The time-jump.
"We are told Jacob served seven years for Rachel, but it seemed to him only a few days ‘so great was the love he had for her. Interpreting this story in The Man Who Wrestled with God, John Sanford comments: ‘The fact that Jacob could fall in love at all shows that a certain amount of psychological growth had taken place in him during his journey through the wilderness. So far the only woman in his life had been his mother. As long as a man remains in a state of psychological development in which his mother is the most important woman to him, he cannot mature as a man. A man’s Eros, his capacity for love and relatedness, must be freed from attachment to the mother, and able to reach out to a woman who is his contemporary; otherwise, he remains a demanding, dependent, childish person.”
The Hanged Man. The Dark Night of The Soul. The time-jump.
"Here Sanford is speaking about negative dependency, which is not the same as healthy attachment. Men who are positively attached to their mother are able to balance that bond, negotiating dependency and autonomy, and can extend it to affectional bonds with other women. In fact most women know that a man who genuinely loves his mother is likely to be a better friend, partner, or mate than a man who has always been overly dependent on his mother, expecting her to unconditionally meet all his needs…As Jacob labors for Rachel, making wrong choices and difficult decisions, he grows and matures. By the time they wed he is able to be a loving partner."
"Meeting his soul mate does not mean Jacob’s journey toward self-actualization and wholeness ends. When he receives the message from God that he should return to the home he once ran from, he must once again journey through the wilderness. Again and again wise spiritual teachers share with us the understanding that the journey toward self-actualization and spiritual growth is an arduous one, full of challenges. Usually it is downright difficult. Many of us believe that our difficulties will end when we find a soul mate. Love does not lead to an end to difficulties, it provides us with the means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our growth. Having worked and waited for love, Jacob becomes psychologically strong…On the long journey home Jacob continually engages in conversations with God. He prays. He meditates. Seeking solace in solitude he goes in the dead of the night and walks by a stream. There, a being, he does not fully recognize wrestles with him. Unbeknownst to him, Jacob has been given the gift of meeting an angel face to face. Confronting his fears, his demons, his shadow self, Jacob surrenders the longing for safety. Psychologically he enters a primal night and returns to a psychic space where he is not yet fully awake…The angel is not the adversary seeking to take his life, but rather comes as a witness enabling him to receive the insight that there is joy in struggle. His fear is replaced by a sense of calm…As Jacob embraces his adversary, he moves through the darkness into the light."
Silence. Love. Faith. Risk. Love.
"Jacob refused to part with his experience until he knew its meaning, and this marked him as a man of spiritual greatness. Everyone who wrestles with his spiritual and psychological experience, and no matter how dark or frightening it is, refuses to let it go until he discovers its meaning, is having something of the Jacob experience. Such a person can come through his dark struggle to the other side reborn, but one who retreats or runs from his encounter with spiritual reality cannot be transformed. It should reassure us that the blessing the angel gives to Jacob comes in the form of a wound."
I have been Jacob. I have had to be Jacob. I have been him willingly and against my will. I have made wrong choices and difficult decisions. Wandered alone. Failed and labored and waited. Tried again. Been in the dark. Had faith. Time, years and years, have passed. And now I am at once tougher and softer than I have ever been. I am and/both.
I listened to this song when I lived in London. This song (this album) was my whole head. My whole life. On the train, on the bus. Back and forth, going to graduate school. I was dreaming. I was thinking. I was alone. I was looking. I was a kid. I was sad. No, sad is not the right word. I was bereft. This song was like burning. Thawing. What the filmmaker Catherine Breillat once described as “the fire underneath the ice.” A trap door that opens. A spell. And now it’s back. It’s enough and it’s not enough. Everything is a mystery. Everything all over again. Everything is happening. You (X.) know who you are.