Last Saturday, at a friend’s Christmas party, I talked to this one man for hours. We ran around together like teenagers. We hit it off immediately. One of the things we talked about was love. I told this guy I was trying to give people (men) a chance, “but…,” I started to say and then didn’t finish my sentence. “But…he’s not your boy,” he said. “No,” I concurred. “He’s not my boy.” How did he know? What does it mean for someone to be someone who’s yours? Who can’t be replaced. Not in the sense of belonging to me, but in belonging together; cut from something that is the same, similar, of one piece. In her book Eros: The Bittersweet (which can and should be read alongside Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse), Anne Carson reminds us that the Greek word Eros denotes ‘desire for that which is missing.” If that’s the case, at least it is in mine, what is missing is also who is missing (that is, the who who represents the what, as well as the what in you). I am not missing or in need of everyone or anyone. Therefore, not just anyone can spark desire or be tied to lack. My particular lack. “When I desire you a part of me is gone,” Carson writes.
In the preface to All About Love, bell hooks writes:
“When I was a child, it was clear to me that life was not worth living if we did not know love. I wish I could testify that I came to this awareness because of the love I felt in my life. But it was love’s absence that let me know how much love mattered.”
Like hooks, I’ve always believed that life is not worth living without love, only I came to this conclusion for the opposite reason. It was because of love’s presence (in my family, between my parents); because I had always known love growing up, that I could not bear its absence. That I didn’t know how else to be or live. Love matters precisely because love has always mattered.
Last Sunday, I was finally able to watch the Aryton Senna documentary, Senna, in its entirety. In the scene where Senna wins the Brazilian Grand Prix in 1991 (after he won the race, Senna actually passed out, so great was the anguish of his ecstasy. Victory.), he suffers unbearable shoulder pain from the tremendous stress of the race. He is literally pulled out of the race car and driven off the track. He can barely move. But when Senna sees his father, he calls over to him, “Dad, come here. Come here.” His father hesitates, but Senna insists. “Come here. Come here! Touch me gently,” he orders. His father, much taller, stands beside his son, as Senna rests his head against his father’s chest for a moment. When he starts to walk back, Senna tells everyone else (even before anyone actually touches him; even if no one is trying to touch him at all), “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” He commands everyone but his father to get away from him. This scene, which is the difference between touch me gently and don’t touch me at all, between everyone else and you, between a son and his father, beloved and not-beloved, can also be read as a love story. Your boy as opposed to every other boy. Everyone is not you, X. Everyone can’t be (On a side note: The day Senna won the Brazilian Grand Prix, he was wearing a red racing uniform and the Brazilian flag, which he waved when he accepted his trophy, was green. In almost all of the film’s footage, Senna is wearing either red or green. At one point he even has a red watch on. The older he got, the closer he came to death, the more he knew and the more he understood—about the sport, about the world, about life—the more red and green Senna wore. See my other posts on red and green: One-minute lovers, The Whole World is Actually Red and Green, Red and Green Redux).
As Senna demonstrates in the scene with his father, sometimes we are so sensitive to love, to the one we love, it allows us to know exactly who we don’t want love from. In a series of lectures for children called God, Justice, Love, Beauty: Four Little Dialogues, Jean-Luc Nancy explains: “We are captivated by this person because of his or her absolute uniqueness…What I receive in love or what creates passion is what we call the uniqueness of the person. It’s him or her, and that’s all that matters. There is a word for this, the beloved [l’élu]. Perhaps you’ve heard of the expression, ‘the one my heart has chosen [l’élu de ma cour]’…But the élu in love involves a choice that is not made by a majority. Choice means that a person is chosen, distinguished or set apart from all others.”
A Tarot card reader once told me: “There are 200 hundred men, right now, in New York City, who you could fall in love with. Who could make you happy,” which fundamentally goes against all my core beliefs about love. How can so many people all do the same thing? And, according to the Tarot reader, at the same time and place, no less. How can so many men all make me feel the same way? And if that’s really the case, if love is one-size-fits-all, what makes love so rare, so unique, so hard to find—so difficult to recover from? If there is something that makes someone singular and unique—for you—then the inverse must also be true: everyone else cannot be singular and unique—for you. Having a beloved, that is, knowing who is beloved, means that one is also acutely aware of and sensitive to who is not-beloved. That the beloved and not-beloved are not simply interchangeable or reproducible. That the beloved is outside the economy of the love market, or love as market, as Zygmunt Bauman notes in Consuming Love.
This may also be the difference, as this same Tarot card reader pointed out, between love and soul mates. “You want a soul-mate,” she scolded gently, “and soul mates take fifteen years to recover from.” Soul mates are hard, if not impossible, to find; impossible to shake, forget, let go of. Whereas love is something you can have with 200 people, right now. All the time. Love is something you can go in and out of, unscathed—an economy with concrete value. Value you can manage, control, and exchange.
After I wrote the above paragraphs, I saw a poster of this Rumi poem on the street:
Like the scene between Senna and his father, the visual texts below, by the artist Jenny Holzer, can be read as the ultimate love letter, if a person were also a love letter. A thing that walks around in the world telling a story about the person they love—to themselves and to others. Becoming not just a body in love, but a text on love. I am writing something on the wall as much as I am the wall on which love has been written. By someone. Engraved. Inscribed. I am stone with light carved into me.
Using Holzer’s images I’ve composed a love letter. The love letter I already am to someone. For someone. For, as Carson points out, “Mix-up of self and other is much more easily achieved in language than in life…Selves are crucial to writers.”