shaunterrywriter

These are my writings. Ideally, these are the most honest expressions of myself that I could give.

Closing Circles, pt. 2

Driving solitaire—winding highways
snow-swept pinnacles,
gripped in grey layers of wool and goosedown,
sweating, surrounded,
enveloped in ice,
mauve skies, cacao shadows cast down—
fifty-foot pines—contemplating
a tiny grandmother losing her hearing,
a helpless girl, left alone,

consequences of a battered barrier—
iron and fiberglass, tumbling, tumbling,
tumbling, flames flickering on the side of a snow-
smothered chunk of rock and ice.

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Closing Circles, pt. 1

Some days, the ground
disappears beneath my feet,
and I smell pines, and
clouds caress my cheeks,
and my skin glistens in
the warmth of a generous
celestial being a billion miles away, and
everything on Earth is in
some realm that I fail to apprehend.

I no longer desire to be
apprehended. Glycerine slides in fits and
starts, over choppy terrain—a weathered
face—cutting a new path from each time
I’ve known before, identical to countless
twirls of this same universe.

Today, I Believe in God, Part Four: Vessels Adrift

Pt. 1
Pt. 2
Pt. 3

Forgive me. This is a bit dumb, but I wanted to write it down so that I can try to remember it. Bear with me. Or don’t. I mean, I don’t wanna bother anyone. Not that anyone does or should read this. Anyway…

I’ve been having this terrible feeling. It’s like these spiny, smoky phantasms have been creeping around in the background, and they took some toxic something and poured it right into my soul. I don’t know what that means. I realize that I was wrong to judge Lily, though. Maybe sometimes we judge people to protect ourselves, but that doesn’t make us right. Not that it makes us wrong, but I also don’t think that it really makes sense to judge people. Doesn’t it say way more about us than about anyone else? That’s why I feel guilty again.

I find it easy to blame people. I do it all the time. When someone does something that’s different from how I’d do it, I think that they’re immoral or stupid or unfair or unthinking or something. Of course they have their reasons and of course they’re either thinking about what they’re doing or they’re just too stressed out to think. We all know that feeling when we’re all jittery and insomniac and our skin feels like it doesn’t fit us right and it feels like we’re not supposed to be in this world right now. Well, at least, that’s how I feel. I guess other people feel it, too, but maybe not everybody. But like I was saying, when I’m uncomfortable, I blame someone for it. If someone does something and I feel hurt, I assume it’s because they shouldn’t have done what they did. It’s easy to decide with a heavy index finger that someone should be held to my standard, but that doesn’t make sense, does it. It’s harder to come to the conclusion that, for weird reasons, I feel bad, and I’d probably be better off if I figured out what that was about and if I figured out how to deal with it.

To anyone not as stupid as I am, this’ll all be obvious. Sorry.

Sometimes men do this. Sometimes women do it. Sometimes non-binary people do it. White people, black people, Asians, etc. But, I don’t think that people are wrong when they point out that straight, white, cisgender men tend to act violent and entitled. It feels unfair. I hate it. I feel the disgust in someone’s shoulders or the way they avoid looking at me or how they say as few words as necessary if I say something or ask a question. It makes me feel alone. But that’s also unfair of me. I think everyone’s emotionally insecure and all that. I mean, I’m those things—all those things: male, white, straight, violent, entitled. I’m sorry. I don’t ever wanna hurt anyone. Maybe we all are those things, but for some reason, we seem to breed these men to act this way, and so I guess that’s part of why I act this way. Hopefully, I’m not too bad.

I’m back at school. It felt like I’d be in Europe forever (I managed to get outside Europe a little bit, but that’s not the point), but I’m back in reality now. It’s so weird and complicated. Sometimes, people don’t trust me and it makes me feel bad, but people probably look down at, and dismiss, people for being different from how I am more often than people look down at me, so I guess I shouldn’t blame people. I mean, I don’t know what anyone’s going through. If I lived everything that someone else did, why would I think that I’d make a different choice from them?

So, why did I treat Lily this way? Well, I guess it’s because, really, I’m in love with her. I mean, there are a lot of songs about love and movies about love and even books about love. So many. So many! But, I’ve felt some love before, and I don’t know if it felt like a book or a movie. Sometimes, pretty close, but how do you write a feeling? How do you show a feeling? I can’t reach into you and put a feeling there and you can’t, either. What I noticed about Lily is that I did the thing I always do. I did this violence. I strangled and suffocated and killed the lifeforce in our relationship. I’m not saying that she was perfect. You’ll remember my complaints about Lily, but weren’t they so petty? Why was I mad? I was mad because I love her. If I could point out what, to me, appear something like imperfections, then maybe it’s not all my fault. I think that secretly (to others, but more importantly, to myself), I tend to blame myself for everything. Not exactly. I just have this eyeless little bug that sits in the back of my brain and it just slowly gnaws and drools back there, and all it does is constantly convinces me that I might be judged and I might be blamed and I might be wrong. In the end, it’s like I’m not good enough for anything. But, I was good enough for Lily. That’s why she was with me, you know? She chose to be with me. She made her choice, and for her, it was right. I decided that I wasn’t good enough for her. Sometimes, she was confusing and sometimes she was unfair. But, you know, everyone is those things sometimes. It’s not her fault. It’s not my fault. Sometimes, it’s okay to let someone be a bit childish. She can be pretty childish, but that’s just my opinion. Maybe I’m doing it again. I mean, it’s not even any of my business. The thing is that I want to be with her and I always wanted to be with her, but I was stubborn and proud because I was scared. I felt alone and I felt guilty for just existing. I felt that she would definitely leave me. I made her decision for her without even realizing. I feel a bit stupid for it, but that doesn’t help.

No one’s perfect. Lily’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. But also, everyone and everything just are. Maybe that makes them perfect. I often think about this YouTube video I watched of some British guy from the seventies. I think he basically says that everyone’s already perfect always. That sounds weird, but when I think about it, it feels right. We sometimes do things that aren’t helpful or that are inconvenient or whatever. We’re all neurotic, sometimes. We all get distracted. I let my doubts distract me. I need to love myself. I was unfair to Lily and I kept her from having the relationship that she wanted to have with me.

I keep writing about God. For a second, I wanted to do something dumb, like I’d ask for God to intercede or I’d say that we’re all God together or something like that. Maybe that’s all true. I dunno. Do I believe in God? People ask me this more often than you might think. I think about it. I ask myself. If there’s a God maybe God shows herself most clearly in the spaces between two people, especially when they feel that indescribable vulnerability that we call “love.” I want God to be like that, and when God is like that, it’s really that God is giving us the gift of allowing us to give to each other. I want to give to Lily, but maybe I fucked it up and maybe it’s never coming back. There was something so warm between us. I really think that we do respect each other and admire each other. I really think that we both want what’s best for us. Maybe she’s mad at me, too. Maybe she’s frustrated and maybe she feels betrayed. She wouldn’t be wrong to feel that way, would she? Maybe she feels a bit insecure and a bit guilty. Our relationship didn’t work, and it’s always sad to sit along the shore and watch a vessel slowly char and wave around and topple over as the ashes and the fumes spread around, eventually dispersing until there’s nothing recognizable left. To me, that’s what it felt like between Lily and me. What happened to the transcendent, beautiful gift that we occupied together? Where is that thing? It’s never coming back, but I’d like to build a better boat if I could. I watch her from a distance, I cry, I wish, I pray. I feel guilt, I mourn. I hope and I hang my head.

I wrote this about blame, but it’s really about guilt. I want to change my name. Joey is dead. I want to have no name. Everyday I’m a different person, but I want to have this familiar soul beside me. No one could be for me what she is, and I don’t want anyone to be something else for me. I just want to learn to forgive myself and to show her that I can be patient and that I can give her the kind of love we all deserve. We’re all broken a little bit, and I just want to secrete for her the little bit of glue that can help to hold her together when she’s mad at me because she’s mad at herself because she’s mad at her dad from when she was eight or whatever. I mean, who knows how these things work? I just want to be good to myself and to be good to her. I want to work with her and to come up with strategies for how we can be good to each other.

But, I guess that can’t be. Not right now. I have to accept that and it’s so hard. I’m back at school and it’s hard to focus. I just want to talk to her about all of this. For hours and hours. I want to know why she’s mad at me. I want to tell her why I’m mad at myself. I want to hear what I did wrong. I want us to talk about what we can do to behave differently. I’m just going around in circles now. I just wish that things were different.

Anhalter Bahnhof

 

This is a story that I (with some help) translated into German. First is the German version; after that, you will find the English version. I hope that you enjoy it. Any suggestion(s) for a better translation would be greatly appreciated.

German version:

Ihr Gesicht war wie ein verlassenes Zimmer, ihr Fleisch wie eine vergilbte Tapete, sie saß da und starrte durch das abgedunkelte Fenster, als hörte sie die fallenden Blätter. Auf dem sterbenden Gesicht schräg abfallende Linien, als würden sie von der Schwerkraft nach unten gezogen und sich in tieferen Furchen bündeln, wie auf einer Landkarte.

Wie viele heiße und kalte Kriege hatte sie durchgemacht? Und das Ende von all dem war der Höhepunkt ihrer verzweifelten Resignation.

Als der Eiserne Vorhang fiel, konnten das Feuerwerk und das Neonlicht die Trompeten und die Siegesmärsche nicht übertönen. Männer in schwarzen Anzügen schrien utopische Reden, aber ihr Leben blieb still. Ihre Füße waren kalt und ihre Hände waren schwielig. 1990 kaufte sie eine französische Spitzendecke für den Küchentisch. Sie kostete sieben D-Mark beim Discounter und ersetzte die ausgedünnte sowjetische Tischdecke.

Später in diesem Jahr wurde ihr Ehemann krank, aber er war schnell wieder gesund. Er war sowieso kurz vor dem Ruhestand. Die Kinder zogen aus—zuerst eins, dann das andere—und der Küchentisch war halb voll, aber die Luft war weit weniger laut. Sie hatte den Mann nie wirklich kennen gelernt, neben dem sie saß, den sie ernährt, geliebt, oder mit dem sie geschlafen hatte. Sie war zu beschäftigt gewesen—immer in Bewegung, immer sich um die anderen kümmern, immer hinterherputzen—um zu erfahren, für wen sie selbst sich hielt. Jetzt, wo der Küchentisch drei Plätze zu viel hatte, wagte sie nicht danach zu fragen. Sie sah fern, um so zu tun, als ob sie beschäftigt ist. Sie aß sogar manchmal auf der alten Chartreuse-Couch, weil niemand es jemals erfahren würde und sie nicht länger stolz genug war, sich darum zu scheren. Sie überging/ignorierte die Frage in statischem Zustand. Sie konnte sich selbst nicht eingestehen, dass die Antwort, die sie fürchtete, “niemand” war.

Sie hörte die Glocke, und die Stimme des Mannes über den Lautsprecher sagte: “Anhalter Bahnhof.” Sie umklammerte ihre Tasche und freute sich auf die Blaubeeren, die um diese Jahreszeit wachsen, und ihre Schuhe klackerten auf dem Bahnsteig.

English version:

Her face like an abandoned room, her flesh like old yellow wallpaper, she sat peering through the blackened window like someone listening to the falling leaves. The oblique lines on her dying face abruptly turned to meet gravity, bunching into deeper divides, like a topographical map. How many hot and cold wars had she been through? And, the end of all that was the climax of her desperate resignation.

When the Iron Curtain fell, the fireworks and neon couldn’t drown out the trumpets and the victory marches. Men in black suits screamed utopic speeches, but her life remained still. Her feet were cold and her hands were calloused. In 1990, she bought a French lace cover for the kitchen table. Costing seven Deutschmarks at the discount megamarket, it replaced the thinned Soviet tablecloth.

Later that year, her husband got sick but he soon recovered. He was near retirement, anyway. The kids vacated–first one, then the other–and the kitchen table was half-full but the air was far less noisy than that. She had never really know the man she sat next to, fed, made love to, or parented with. She had been too busy–always moving, always caring for, always cleaning after–to learn who she thought she was. So, now that the kitchen table had three too many places, she didn’t dare to ask. She watched TV to tell herself that she was doing something. She even let herself eat on the old chartreuse couch, sometimes, because no one would ever know and she was no longer proud enough to care. She drowned the question in static. She couldn’t tell herself that the answer she feared was “no one.”

She heard the bell and the man’s voice over the loudspeaker said, “Anhalter Bahnhof.” She clutched her bag, looking forward to the blueberries that grow this time of year, and her feet clicked on the platform.

Today, I Believe in God, Part Three: Die Anhalter Bahnhof Mannschaft

Pt. 1
Pt. 2

I step into the traincar at Anhalter Bahnhof. It’s the prettiest metro station in Berlin. A woman is yelling and laughing. At first, I figure it might just be the dramatic peak of a story between friends. People can be loud with they’re friends when they’re relating stories, but this lady keeps going.

She’s pretty. She’s young, in good shape. She’s blonde, but not in the cheap, shitty way like you see on TV or in magazines. Dirty blonde, maybe. She looks like a real person, and she seems like she could be kind, but I guess it’s easier to look real when you’re a bit disheveled and greasy. She’s mockingly half-crying now.

She keeps screaming and wailing about Deutschland, something, something, but I’m not figuring it out exactly. But then, she throws a bit of “Korea!” into her rant and the thing becomes clearer. Asians sit on the bus. They mostly laugh at her, but she gesticulates toward them“Korea! Korea!”and she asks them questions.

I want to yell at this woman but I don’t exactly make out what it is that she’s saying.

south Korea 2
Germany 0

The other day, this US (not “American”Americans are all the people living in the American continent[s]) ex-pat guy was telling me how Germany has gone so far out of their way to deal with their Nazi past. He talked about how Germans can’t get “HH” or “88” on their license plates, about all these memorials, about a bit of German guilt, and so on, but then, he also told me about how they have a new political party called the AfD, and that they’re basically just racist against Middle Easterners. Bill Maher and other proto-fascists like to point out that being anti-Islamic isn’t racist because it’s not the race that they have the problem with. In the 1930s, I read that Hitler and other anti-Semites used to blame the Jews for capitalism, for communism, for cosmopolitanism, for inflation, and for anything else. I guess those people didn’t have a problem with Jews’ race, either. Anyway, when Bill Maher says that they should pull out all the “Mohammeds” from the line at the airport and search them, I don’t suppose that Bill thinks that they should pull out all the white Muslims from Eastern Europe or the Asian ones from Kazakhstan or Indonesia. Is it the religion that he really has the problem with?

Anyway, for all the German guilt over the Holocaust, it’s weird that so many of them are racist against Middle Easterners. It’s also weird that German culture is still associated with order, blind rule-following, fetishization of technology, religious bigotry, and extreme nationalism. What would happen in this country today if they suddenly faced extreme inflation or some other terrible economic disaster? Who’s to say?, I guess.

Somehow, this blonde lady seems so opposite to the lady from the train in Serbia. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know either of them. I don’t even know what the blonde lady was saying. It made me so mad, but maybe I got madder than I needed to. I guess one never needs to get mad. Racism makes me angry. It’s fashionable to get angry at racism. That’s a weird thing. If you don’t get angry when people are racist, then people get mad at you for not getting angry. But, most people are racist. Most of the people who get most angry at the not-outwardly-angry-at-the-ractists are quite racist.

Like, I met this lady who’s in school right now in DC, and she knew all the things to say. She knew all the lingo, she knew all the contemporary issues, but she’s never even had a friend who wasn’t white! She’s going to grad school in the fall, and she’s in these anti-racist clubs, but she wears expensive clothes, goes on expensive vacations all over the world, and her parents pay for her school. She doesn’t care about poor people or consumerism or sacrifice or anything like that. I think that she’s basically a capitalist. One time, I was talking about how I think we need to get away from consumerist culture, that we need to have real democracy, and we have to remake our institutions and do things very differently. She said that she gets annoyed when people talk like that because they just don’t sound realistic. I don’t know how we’re supposed to have equal rights between genders or races or anything else under the current paradigm, and I don’t know what’s realistic about continuing to expand production and consumption until there’s no earth left, but whatever.

I wonder if that lady from Serbia will email me. I guess probably not. It turns out that Berlin is not a place for me. I’ve come to realize that the German obsession with rules has something to do with individualism. If everyone’s simply responsible for abiding society’s rules, then no one owes any responsibility to anyone else. No one has to care for anyone else, no one has to think of themselves as part of a community or anything like that.

I told someone that I thought that a lot of Berliners dress really dorky. She started yelling at me, saying that I was ridiculous and that I wasn’t fashionable. Berliners can be pretty edgy. I meet a lot of sarcastic, science-obsessed, polyamorous atheists who wear all black and have facial piercings and dyed hair. I wonder how many of them vigorously support die deutsche Fußballnationalmannschaft. I wonder how many of them wanted to yell at Koreans after the match. Maybe I’m being too hard on them. There’s certainly something ironic about me being violent toward them in my thoughts like this. I should work on that, I guess.

Pt. 4

Algeciras

13 Arab men and I stood around in an almost-circle. At the opening of the crescent stood a Spanish woman with hair dyed orange, wearing a navy suit, white dress shirt, and a blue lanyard around her neck. The ends of her mouth curled upward, and she absent-mindedly fidgeted. Every couple minutes, she would stop take a phone call, and she’d have news. The other men spoke Arabic among themselves during these breaks before we’d again begin asking very direct questions. Eventually, she said, “Lo siento” and “Solo diez minutos,” before she ploughed off.

The men stood there, continuing to bitch and moan. During our interrogation, the sun had rediscovered its place in the sky. The modernist buildings facing us glowed different shades of golden brown—the color of a pie crust that you’re supposed to pull from the oven.

The seagulls flew in elliptical patterns, scattered and disorderly. They might’ve seemed angry, but I figured they were just seagulls after all. Dark clouds blocked the tops of the mountains that seemed only a few meters away. I guess it’ll rain. The mountain revealed brown-gray layers of sediment between trees and grass—a cake of mud and pine needles. I stared at the mountains for a few minutes.

Eventually, the men behind me again caught my attention after one of them began to speak more loudly. My head rotated over my shoulder, and the cranes and machines in the background hovered as though shocked into paralysis—mechanical monsters waiting for work that would likely never come. It feels a little creepy to associate shipping containers with the salty sea—not just because of the deaths of all the jobs but also because the sea seems so pure and the shipping yards seem so dirty and cheap.

A finch landed in front of me and began picking at some flesh from an orange that looked like it’d exploded on the grey brick walkway. I then thought I , too, was hungry. She said “diez minutosdiez minutos ago. But, the bus was so late that I was already gonna have to catch a different barco, so it didn’t make much difference.

Santa Sangre

Part One

I waited until night. I floated across the sky
and stared into the Milky Way.
The same responses and solutions lie
in the Universe’s foamy, silky Christmas lights—strung
for my spectatorship—
as bugs and bits that slide inside my blood and bone.

Part Two

It’s not disinterest that the wise one seeks—it’s discernment.
“Learn to love what constitutes you in the way that only you are constituted.
Love your fate but love it faithfully; be faithful in temporality.
Learn to lack attachment—to things, to people, to ideas, to feelings
—if, in any moment, anything fails to make you who you, faithfully, must be.
You owe yourself. You owe your fate.
This is the God that hides in you—a virus of love,
whispering to lymph and limb—and to this God be true.”

Across the River Styx: A Lacanian Literary Analysis of Poe’s “The Raven”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.” (6)

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore. (12)

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.” (18)

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more. (24)

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more. (30)

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!” (36)

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more. (42)

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” (48)

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.” (54)

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.” (60)

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.” (66)

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.” (72)

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore! (78)

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” (84)

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” (90)

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” (96)

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.” (102)

The heart of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is the river Styx. The river Styx is the border between life and death. We can say that Poe evokes the river Styx—and not some other border between life and death—because of Poe’s various references to Greek mythology. The river Styx gets its name from the goddess of hatred (Styx) who was married to Pallas, the Titan of warcraft. Pallas’s bust appears in “The Raven” as the resting place for the poem’s namesake (41, 103). On a more positive note is Poe’s reference to the Greek for light (10-2).

The effectiveness of “The Raven” is partly due to its tensions and apparent contradictions. The narrator goes from being anxious to being amused (47, 67) to being upset (85). Throughout the poem, light emerges from darkness (10-2, 76-7), death is embodied in life (37-48, 89, 93-5), and so on. The narrator at once seeks hope and seeks death (89, 93-5). The narrator demands answers (88-9, 92-5) and immediately rejects those same answers (97-101). Light (10-2, 76-7) and dark (24, 43, 99, 106-7) are prominent concepts in “The Raven,” just as good (11, 80) and evil (85, 91, 105) are, but (at least briefly) there is hope in death (89, 93-5), while prophecy is associated with evil (58-60, 79-96), so normal associations appear subverted.

Confusions that arise from these dichotomous themes in “The Raven” can be explained through the thought of Jacques Lacan. In some ways, Lacan’s thought deals directly with these kinds of tensions and apparent contradictions. For instance, Lacan views the desire to live and a drive toward death as being mutually constitutive of each other. Lacan says that any drive toward any objective is balanced by the drive toward a return to the previous state—toward the death of that instance of that drive.

In “The Raven,” new life enters into the narrator’s home: the Raven (37-42). The narrator asks the “wandering” (46) Raven what its “name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore” (47), to which the Raven replies, “Nevermore.” The Raven “[flutters]” (37), “[steps]” (38), “[perches]” (40), “[wanders]” (46), and talks (48). Surely, this Raven seems to be alive. At the same time, it is not a coincidence that the Raven claims to be named “Nevermore.” In fact, strangely, the narrator predicts the Raven’s association with death when they suggest that the Raven is from “the Night’s Plutonian shore.” Night is associated with darkness, just as death is, and Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld (Hades is the Greek equivalent—this is the only time when Poe makes reference to Roman mythology instead of Greek). Throughout the poem, the Raven speaks, saying “only (55) That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour” (56): “Nevermore.” The Raven’s soul is embodied in the concept of “Nevermore.” For something to be “nevermore,” it must have been and then to have no longer been; it must die, which is the same as returning to the previous state: the non-living.

Lacan’s idea of the death drive is complicated. For Lacan, the death drive first appears in what he calls “the mirror stage.” When, as infants, we become aware of ourselves, we begin to think of ourselves as whole selves or at least as potentially whole selves. This phenomenon can be represented by the infant looking into a mirror and gazing at the infant looking back at them. The infant recognizes the other as somehow themselves and the infant appreciates the completeness of the other. The infant desires to be complete like this other that is the image of the infant, themselves. This desire is based on a kind of illusion. The othered self that appears in the mirror is an image that includes something alienated from the infant. The image appears at the same time complete and different from the infant. The difference between the infant and the infant’s mirror image results in the infant being inclined to pursue the illusory something that completes their other that they see in the mirror. This elusive completive substance is what Lacan calls “objet petit a.”

Before the mirror stage, the child does not feel desire because the child does not feel a sense of lack. They may have needs and they may cry out, but their needs can be provided for and they can be satisfied. However, after the mirror stage, the infant is inclined to try to complete themselves by finding things outside of themselves that can make up for what they lack. Objet petit a appears as that which is lacking that can make someone whole. When we feel desire, there is some invisible thing in the object that leads us to think that the thing will completely satisfy us. Instead, objet petit a is merely an illusion and complete satisfaction never comes. Desires always appear as manifestations of what we learn as the desires of others—desire is not determined by some authentic version of ourselves. Objects that we crave are represented by symbols that we internalize. This is what Lacan calls “the symbolic order.” The symbolic order is everything that can be expressed. All expressions happen through symbolizations. All symbols and all modes of symbolization are inherited through observing others. Symbolization necessarily is not a product of ourselves.

In the same way that the image in the mirror is not exactly ourselves, no desire that we express relates exactly to our contentment. What I mean by this is that the self that we see is not our complete, accurate self. For any of us, the image is the closest possible approximation to our self, but it does not accurately represent us. Similarly, any symbol—that we use to represent anything—necessarily fails to fully capture what it means to represent. If any object external to ourselves could ever completely satisfy us, it could never be expressed through language or through any symbolization. We can never achieve long-term satisfaction through acquiring anything or achieving anything because the idea that there is something that we lack and that we have to find that thing is an idea that is produced by the false image of our complete and independent selves. As we acquire things, those things never have the something that could make up for what we lack because the lack is fabricated through the false understanding of the image in the mirror.

In “The Raven,” the narrator desperately wishes to be reunited with their love, Lenore (“Lenore” comes from Greek for light). The death of Lenore leads the narrator to sense that Lenore is what they lack (10-2, 93-5). As we are on Earth, our reunion with someone dead is an excellent example of objet petit a. Once someone is dead, we cannot be reunited with them (at least not as we remember them). We are destined to be disappointed and to remain unsatisfied so long as we desire such a reunion. In “The Raven,” the narrator thinks about Lenore before the Raven appears, and when the Raven arrives, the narrator demands that the narrator “forget this lost Lenore” (83). Predictably, the Raven responds, “Nevermore” (84). There is no possibility for the narrator to be satisfied by their desire for Lenore, but the narrator persists. The narrator obsesses.

It seems that the narrator cannot help but think about Lenore and to imagine reuniting with Lenore, but before this obsession becomes fully obvious, the narrator demonstrates a different obsession. At first, the narrator is amused by the Raven (43), but the narrator becomes more and more fixated on the fact that the Raven repeats the word “Nevermore” (49-75). When the Raven’s “Nevermore” (84) follows the narrator suggests that they “forget this lost Lenore” (83), the narrator repeatedly asks whether, by dying, the narrator will be reunited with Lenore (85-96).

Lacan relates such extreme destructive behaviors to suicidal narcissism. When we see ourselves in the mirror, we can become intensely attracted to the complete image of our self, like in the Greek myth of Narcissus. When our attraction to the completed image of our self is strong enough, we can become reckless in the pursuit of objet petit a—that which we believe will make us complete. This recklessness can result in self-sabotage in various forms.

In “The Raven,” this suicidal narcissism’s extreme form appears at the end of the poem (97-108). The narrator is so desirous of reunion with Lenore that the narrator demands that the Raven leave and commit its own suicide (97-101). The Raven responds with the only word it speaks (102). In the last stanza, the verb tense changes from the past to the present. What then becomes clear is that everything that has been narrated is a depiction of something past. Now, after however long the Raven has been there, the narrator remains sitting across from the Raven, unable to move (103-8). If, as the narrator suggests, their “soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor (107) Shall be lifted—nevermore!” (108), then the narrator is sure to die under the weight of their obsession.

Again, it is in the very hope for the narrator’s completeness that they are eventually driven to absolute self-destruction. Narcissism, according to Lacan, is about an unhealthy fetishization of the apparent completeness in the self’s image. What I mean is that the narcissist is so convinced of the completeness—and, therefore, so attracted to its beauty—that the narcissist tragically hopes too strongly to embody this image.

As we can see, Lacan’s thought, as in “The Raven,” is characterize by ambivalences. Life carries death with it in the form of the death drive. Every phenomenon that is not stamped out by external forces is sure to eventually end its own existence. The Raven at once embodies transcendent answers and the source of the narrator’s denial. By “transcendent answers,” I mean that the Raven has a direct relationship to entities and information that are not of this world. Lenore is both a light (and a source for hope) in the narrator’s otherwise dark world and the source of the narrator’s frustration and eventual death. For Lacan, this is the nature of desire as embodied in the ever-elusive objet petit a. Objet petit a is the source of one’s ultimate hope for fulfillment as well as a source of our misery.

One might argue that the tension is false, and a shallow look at the evidence might suggest that. Death simply pervades the poem, so the poem is about death in a more simplistic way, the argument might go. Of course, the narrator laments Lenore from very early on (10-2). Symbols for death pervade the text, preceding any thought of the Raven or of the narrator’s explicit mention of suicide. In the second line of the poem, the narrator refers to “forgotten lore.” The death drive is meant to represent both the death of any thing-as-such and the returns of things to previous stages. When the lore is forgotten, conditions return to those of the time before the lore. The mirror stage could be thought of as a clear example of the death drive’s tendency to bring us back to that which precedes. When someone becomes aware of themselves but also fails to conceive of themselves completely, they kill off parts of themselves. This misrecognition is, itself, a kind of death that leads to all the misguided energy that leads to one’s eventual destruction.

Toward the beginning of the poem, the narrator says, “each separate dying ember wrought its ghost” (8), “Eagerly I wished the morrow” (9), and “to still the beating of my heart” (15). Each of these has its relationship to death and the death drive. “To still the beating of [the narrator’s] heart” is to creep toward death: the point at which one’s heart stops beating. Wishing for the morning represents the death of the day and a return to something that precedes. In some sense, it is the symbolization of day and night, and light and dark, that help to reproduce the death drive within this poem. If the narrator did not symbolize day and night as associated with light and dark, or life and death, then the anxiety over what each of them lacks might not be so profound. Finally, the “dying ember” that brings about its ghost appears as a dead thing with a life drive (or “Eros”). For the narrator, death constitutes life just as life constitutes death. In the binaries to which I refer, the one lacks the other in the same way that the narrator lacks what is promised by objet petit a. Death is always with live and vice versa. Lenore is the light in the narrator’s darkness. The Raven emerges from the dark of night (37-42), uncannily appearing in the light, casting its dark shadow that traps the narrator into their death (103-8).

To return to my earlier point, all of this might suggest that this poem simply represents the idea that someone in exceptional circumstances might simply seek an excuse to die. My contention is that the way that the poem presents the motivation to die is not very different from how Lacan describes the death drive. The death drive is the balance to life that appears as a complication. This complication can only be made completely clear at the end of one’s life. There is always a tension between one’s complete, authentic self as life and the inauthenticating acts that are intended to fulfill desires—acts that eventually lead to death. It is this constant bidirectionality that is central to Lacan’s thought and central to “The Raven.”

Indeed, as counterintuitive as it may initially seem, the river Styx is the perfect symbol for “The Raven.” The river Styx is where good crosses with evil and life crosses with death. One can conclude that there is no pure category on the river Styx—only potential. There is always the hypothetical possibility of turning oneself around, of altering one’s fate. Instead, though, as Lacan makes clear, the problem of this existence appears in an illusion on the river Styx of human consciousness. Our consciousness is determined by our social existence, Lacan might tell us, and the boat can appear to be going in opposite directions at once, but we always only end up on the side that someone(s) else has helped to determine for us. We hope for an impossible something that torturously appears to be within our reach but always nudges out, just beyond our grasp.

On the Domination of Nature — Reflections on Baudrillard’s “The Mirror of Production”

Baudrillard is concerned that Marx defines people too simply according to their labor power. For Baudrillard, people should be liberated from the notion that their value comes from their power over nature. This kind of valuation was not always the case, as Baudrillard points out. Before the 18th century, humanity and nature gave each other meaning. But, Baudrillard says, “All this is shattered in the 18th century with the rise and ‘discovery’ of Nature as a potentiality of powers (no longer a totality of laws); as a primordial source of life and reality lost and recovered, repressed and liberated; and as a deed projected into an atemporal past and an ideal future.” Instead of the laws by which nature and humanity “could exchange their meanings,” nature becomes redefined in a relation of power. Now, nature appears as something to be mastered by humanity, as a source of tools, as Heidegger might put it. This is a radical transformation, in Baudrillard’s view. Baudrillard describes the transformation: “This rise is only the obverse of an event: Nature’s entry into the era of its technical domination. This is the definitive split between subject and Nature-object and their simultaneous submission to an operational finality.” Previously, nature and humanity had been coequals. Neither was previous to the other, neither more important. They mutually gave importance to each other. Now, the direction of humanity would be set as humanity became aware of its potential to master nature. Baudrillard continues to define the shift: “Nature appeared truly as an essence in all its glory but under the sign of the principle of production. Under the objective stamp of Science, Technology, and Production, Nature becomes the great Signified, the great Referent.” Now, instead of nature preserving a quality worth respecting and acknowledging in its difference from humanity, it lies open to its domination by humanity. Instead of giving significance to humanity, nature becomes a kind of secondary concern—merely instrumental to the desires of humanity. It has gone from being a signifier to solely a signified. It is acted upon and it is given significance through the acts of humanity. Baudrillard says, “It is ideally charged with ‘reality’; it becomes the Reality, expressible by a process that is always somehow a process of labor, at once transformation and transcription.” The process by which nature comes to be redefined is through the process of labor. Through labor, nature becomes the instrumental object that the subject encounters and uses for the subject’s purpose. Nature is exploited—transformed from one form to another, as it suits the subject—and nature’s redefinition is made legible through this act. In this way, nature is transformed as it is transcribed. Finally, Baudrillard adds, “Its ‘reality’ principle is this operational principle of an industrial structuration and a significative pattern.” Baudrillard’s final argument here is interesting. It reminds me of Deleuze’s multiplicity. As I understand the multiplicity, it is a system that follows a particular logic and is multiscalar. To tie it back to Baudrillard, what I mean is that Baudrillard is alluding to the way by which humanity’s dominance of nature comes to form a logic that is then followed when humans come to dominate other humans, as an example. Once nature has become the instrumental object for the human subject, then other humans, other humans’ labors, the products of other humans’ labors, and so on, become possible objects for dominations. After all, those are all constituent aspects of nature.

 

Memories and Moonlight

Someone once said, All thought is a bad translation.
The smell of smoke reaches into memories, reminds
of times that never really were.
We react like the animals that we are.

We fly over oceans,
waiting for a candlewick to turn
—sinewy wisps of powder, fading in a cool night breeze—
the end of a life
once too full to find its way above earth.

We purge ourselves of sin,
hoping to find our purity in the eyes of God,
paying indulgences, running dirt-covered fingers over black beads
—eyes closed, chests crossed—
praying for a place beyond gold bars and nacre.

We count turns of the long hand on the round, smiling clock face.
It clicks a million times,
oscillating over the same space.
Please let anything happen.

But, there is no end.
Fields of gold and aquamarine call us to run and swim—
to jump through, and over, land and limbs that slide and give beneath us.
The lights cycle around you and around me, and we can still
spin cotton while the moon is bright.

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