Sunday, November 16, 2008

Self, gap, child

Am finding myself drawn back toward Anne Carson's Eros the Bittersweet, which is a meditation on desire.  Carson is both a poet and a classics scholar, and she draws on literature, philosophy, and more as she attempts to describe the nature of eros.  It's easy to oversimplify a book like this: better yet read it.  Eros, or erotic energy, makes itself manifest as an act of triangulation--between the lover, the beloved, and the charge between them.  Or between the actual self, the ideal self, and the difference between them.  Or between the self and the object of knowledge and the charged gap in understanding.  The difference between the word written and the word understood.  The two parts of metaphor, in what it rests and in what it represents, and the leap from one to the other.

In this broader, metaphorical sense, I think, the relationship between mother and child is charged with eros, with a deeply powerful emotion that is "at once an experience of pleasure and pain."  I want to caution at the outset that I am not discussing 'the erotic' (or sexual love itself), but Eros, or deep emotional intimacy.  The essence of the mother/child relationship is the gap to which Carson alludes.  She writes that, "eros is an issue of boundaries" and "the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me."  

While there are routes to creating a child other than the traditional one: a child begins as the result of a sexual charge.  A child is the ultimate triangulation of two people into three.  And if love in its broadest sense begins as the awareness of boundaries, as Carson suggests, then birth itself is the genesis of boundary--like the self splitting in two.  And this, then, is the real pain of motherhood: that the self has split in two and can never be reconnected.

The pleasure of motherhood is watching the divided self heal into two beings, the repair of individual boundaries.  And, perhaps, to navigate the space between the actual self, the mother, and the ideal self, a child, and foster the formation of separate identities.  The transition from a (pro)creative act (eros) to selflessness (agape)?  The denial of the self and through that to the reconstitution of the self or two "selves"?  The gap between the two "selves" widens until the charge that had its genesis in eros dissipates into agape, or selfless love.

The pain of mothering a child with a disability is in always feeling forced to contemplate that gap between the self, the child, and some kind of imperfect actualization--the gap between the actual and the ideal.  The gap always seems to be there--too much to close, and too close to let go.  There are times that sense of the word (or person) written and the person understood is the most painful: I am the only person who can close that gap between Robert as he is written (by me or by what hand?) and Robert as he is understood by others.  Or I think I am.  Or maybe I'm just another writer trying to perfect the artwork before the critics get there.  

Is it not apt that Eros is represented in literature and art as a winged child, and often appears in tandem with his mother, Venus?


Elizabeth said...

I love this post, jeneva. There's so much to think about and ruminate on -- you've articulated what I've long struggled with -- how to maintain the connection with Sophie that I sometimes feel as if I've lost -- out of grief, survival, etc. And then there's the incredible weight of having the connection for seemingly forever.

Lisa said...

Oh my god, thank you. This is what I needed to figure out the poem with which I have been banging myself in the head for a month now. We must talk.

jeneva said...

Elizabeth--I agree, it's the forever part that scares me so much. Thanks for your good words.

Lisa--glad to help. So are you posting that poem this month on the site?