desire, Duality, human nature, Jacques Lacan, loss, meaning of life, Milton, Philosophy, Psychology, Wordsworth
I’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”
Deborah, this is exactly what I needed to read this morning and I look forward to your follow up posts expanding the subject. A sense longing, desire and loss are often present in my photography and paintings though I had never considered that they were part of wanting to return to that “first world of undivided light.” Or about regaining what was lost. I suspect that, in being fully present to my creative process, there is only room to acknowledge the loss. The hope of returning remains in the subconscious, driving the work forward from what seems like an unknown source. My intent is to go deeper with my work this year Deborah. Your post is a step in the right direction.
I am so glad you wrote here. I was hoping to get the perspective from an artist. I’d thought of including “art” in that list of disciplines that explore this theme, as it seemed it must apply, but without having read or considered artist who said as much, I left it out. I’m not an artist but the drawings I’ve done and the photography are almost always an attempt to capture something I do not want to lose, a vision, or intuition, or insight into something I see, something I want to retain for further exploration. I’m not sure it is a desire to return to a sense of wholeness or completeness. But perhaps like you say this desire to capture something is driven by the subconscious to capture what is missing, or unseen, or unarticulated until captured on paper, whether in image of words. And having captured it, we close a gap, somehow. Just thinking aloud here. More to muse on until my next post.
Lena Levin said:
I’ve been thinking recently — what if the separation isn’t (or is not only) tragic, but is (also) an opportunity, an opening into all the experiences of beauty and variety of life? For a painter, the perception of dualism and separation as an essential, fundamental prerequisite for beauty, is an everyday direct experience.
I think you are so right, and it’s one of the things I want to explore further, how, while loss of innocence, or “paradise”, or union with the godhead, or however we might formulate this, may seem and feel tragic, it is actually a natural and positive development, because, as you say, as we experience the beauty and variety of life, and even its pain and suffering, we gain a knowledge and understanding of the “whole” that we never had originally, and our eventual (hopefully!) reunion with the “world of undivided light” is significantly different and enhanced because of the forced separation.
Impressive. Nice. Sometimes I wish I could write like an academic. ha ha…not me. I am more the jester storyteller at best. Deborah, you should look at Valeriu D.G. Barbu’s blog. Specifically the video posting of “The Cruel Beauty of the Petrifying…” Valeriu calls it Dantesque. The classical nude works of the Masters somehow digitally come to life, and breathe! So cool! In the beginning it seeks this “sense of wholeness” that you speak of in your writing. The cinematography shows reunion, approaching union, teasing innocense. Lust. Then takes a tragic turn as desire turns to falling.” Beauty to Beast. Lovely to terror. Check it out.
I am intrigued. I will definitely check out her blog. Thank you!
ha ha….He’s a Romanian writer who lives in Rome, Italy, I think. Thought provoking. 🙂 Maybe I will meet him some day. 🙂
The “first world of undivided light” was made distinctive by thought, or word… or sound. Sound is a vibration, and vibration is energy, energy ‘glows’, and is seen as ‘light’. The subjective colors of red, green, and blue come together and form the first angular shape…the hexagon. From this, all ‘things’ are ‘created’. Desire only co-exists with ‘things’, and is a sensation that floats only in the sea of the relative.
Interesting. I agree with the first line about word or thought being that which makes things distinctive, and the last about desire. The ideas about vibration and energy and colors and form are new to me–I’ll have to think about that awhile. Thank you for this.
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robert okaji said:
I look forward to your follow-ups.
Thank you! I hope you like them.
The focus on the positive, the beauty of variety and growth, is so much better than the focus on loss!
Oh, I agree. I’d much rather do that too. Until some loss knocks me off my feet and makes me pay attention.
Deborah, this post requires contemplation–very difficult post really. I love the image of the falling off from a first world. It’s like a hand reaching out for me from the real thing. And I needed that today. Thanks.
I’m glad it touched you that way. That image is what grabbed me first too. It’s rather lovely and sad at the same time. And hopeful too, somehow. Perhaps because what we fall into is this lovely world of particulars.
Brenda Moguez (@BrendaMoguez) said:
I’ve always believed a person comes in and out of feeling complete or whole, as you said, because of the variables in their life. Today, I might feel I have everything that I define as required for me to feel complete, but tomorrow, an unexpected variable may occur and knock me flat. Thus, I might sink deep within myself working to patch. Or something like that. I do think a person has to arrive at what defines them and them embrace this place of completeness so when their world gets rocky they don’t lose sight of their inner sense of strength and all that completes them. If that makes any kind of sense. It’s challenging to be ‘deep and introspective’ in a comment. 🙂
That makes perfect sense, Brenda. I go in and out too. Meditation, certain poems, music, can bring me back to that sense of inner wholeness. Sometimes it’s an attempt to “regain” what I’ve felt in the past, and sometimes an intuition of “something more,” something right here but not yet realized.