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800px-John_William_Waterhouse_-_Echo_and_Narcissus_-_Google_Art_ProjectI’ve been thinking a lot about desire and loss lately and remembering a paper I wrote exploring this topic. It began with a quotation from Robert Hass’s poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” which I posted here last week. The poem begins this way:

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light.

All the old thinking and new thinking is not only about loss, but also about desire, about returning to that “first world of undivided light.” About regaining what was lost.

The quotation above is followed by this one:

“We are all inescapable dualists—for Lacanian, not Cartesian, reasons.” – Charles Alteri

It strikes me that these are the great themes that are explored over and over again in all great poetry, literature, art, religion, science, psychology, philosophy—is it not? Groping for “something more,” something just out of reach. Feeling a sense of loss, of incompleteness, and seeking what will make us whole.

My paper starts off this way:

If duality arises from difference, difference from separation, and separation is accompanied by a sense of loss and desire, then it could be said that duality, difference, and desire presuppose “some tragic falling off” from an original–mythical or otherwise–world of undivided wholeness.

Milton’s Paradise Lost, Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Jacques Lacan’s lectures on psychoanalysis all repeat at various levels this elemental theme of difference, loss and desire. What Milton treats at a cosmic and theological level, Wordsworth treats at a temporal and personal level, and Lacan treats linguistically and psychologically. In each, however, language is instrumental not only in the initiation of difference, but in the formulation of a desire which may turn it back toward a redemptive reunion.

The paper was written for academics, but the ideas explored are relevant for all of us, for writers in particular, and for anyone grasping at the meaning of life, or seeking a sense of wholeness.

I’ll be exploring this topic in the next few posts, and I hope you will join me. It’s a huge topic, with so many implications. I’d love to hear your ideas and insights.

Here are links to the rest of the series:

Part II – Our Quest for Wholeness

Part III – A Poet’s “Sense Sublime”

Part IV – “Thou Art That”