Sunday, September 23, 2012

On the Edge of Glory: Stabs of Absence

 “The body is not mute, but it is inarticulate; it does not use speech but it begets it...the challenge is to hear. Hearing is difficult not only because listeners have trouble facing what is being said as a possibility or a reality in their own lives. Hearing is also difficult because… they are also told on the edge of speech. Ultimately…it is told in the silences that speech cannot penetrate or illuminate.”

Arthur Frank, the Wounded Storyteller

Amidst the Turbulent Noise of so many Comings-and-Goings, there are rare Arrivals: Little Glories which call out 'for Me have things come-to-be, for This have we struggled,' and after that instance are never seen again; the loss is real. 'Other things, other blessings, other glories...But never that. Never in all worlds, that.' --- And so we rejoiced and gave thanks for Critter Den. Now we begin to mark the Coming of something new: not a Void but an Absence.


I. Speaking Through Our Amputations: External Absence

Loss is real, not simply imaginary. It is not a perceived lack inside us or the (mis)recognition of a void in the world. Things fill all spaces. When I speak of loss, I mean the severing of a connection we had with some thing or some one we love.

We love them for not being us, for being other, and by that we could continue to love them (philia; in relationship), love them (eros; as our telos), love them (storge; feeding on them), and love them (agape; feeding their needs). By this love, this intense sympathy between our bodies, we constituted something greater than our parts, a new thing called "us."

The loss of our beloved, the severing of that connection destroys something we were a part of, something we lived in and on, like (sometimes friendly) parasites. There is a real death, "us," exists no longer. Death is a transformation, things don't become void, things fill all space, but one of those things is absence.

Absence is hard to speak about, because it is definitively so hard to know. We feel a refusal to our attempts to connect, when we feel absence (in some respects it is ab-sense: a lack or refusal of sense). It is our hand which is slapped, our skin which burned, our heart which is frozen by an alienating looking. We try to breath in with the lungs of life that we used to have, in this body we used to be, and choke on the absence, double over from sense of amputation.

It may be that our beloved was imaginary or an ideal, I might say a potential, but these exist for us and we exist in them for a time. The loss of these hoped for wholes may strike us as hard as manifest relations in the bodies we saw these ideals in. In some cases, the appearance or change in these potential-lovers will shut down the potential relations which we had been participating in and holding on to. They may not feel any loss, because the person we lost was not them, but a potential being that existed for us until they severed our ability to connect to it.

These cuts may be done with the care of a surgeons knife, the operation may be to save the self or others, but we cannot always abide the anesthetic of need nor the painkillers of prosthetic replacements. For many of us, the loss of such things, while preserving lives, still killed others. We lost more than a limb, we lost a person (which was considered a totality, a glory, in and of itself). Thus like the wound or stump of an amputee, we carry the absence. It is more than the mark of trauma, it may be invisible in fact, it is a presence and a being that exists in place of our beloved. In this sense, by the lingering cut, we never let go of the scalpel.


"St. Sebastian" by MILK
MILK, or Chiara Butista, is an artist from Tucson, Arizona.


II. A Knife We Carry in Our Gut: Internal Absence

Our beloved may be gone, but absence lingers. Perhaps for as long as we exist at all, we will feel the stabbing pain of such loss. What we lost, in part, was also a way to relate to ourselves. We lost a "we" an "us," and the self that existed in and with this whole may not be able to live without it. The self may never be the same, it may never be as able (to do, to work, to live, etc.) as it was when it had another face. It may be no small loss of self, which now may or may not be able to carry on with the absence.

Absence can kill like the stab of an icicle, which breaks into "us" and severs life-sustaining connections, leaving the separated remains die (and bring about a new absence) --- all the while the ice melts and no onlookers will afterwards be able to see what was so deadly, what could possibly have been the thing that caused such a death, nor ever feel nor understand the coldness that was once there.

Many absences we can live with, as things that we carry, and may even stroke as the marker or tomb stone of things that no longer exist and to which we can no longer relate to as we had. Many facing death, the becoming absent for the self, may even be cheered by continual affirmation of our losses. We will join them in kind, in part, outside the kind of being we shared. Of course the absence which we produce will never be the same kind of absence, for we related to so many other things in so many other ways than we did our beloved or as a set of lovers.

I've used the words like "stabbing", which invoke violence, because however it may be seen to others, and even our selves at times, there is a way in which loss and absence cannot escape being violent. It is a transgression, an aggression, a forced separation, marring, wounding, disabling, harming that produces pain and suffering however it might be mitigated or justified.

As a thing we carry in our gut, it may continue to dig deeper and kill more of us, produce more wounds, suck the life out of more organs, over time. The pressure of other relations, work, or just the decay of time may push the blade deeper in and widen the wound of absence. We may not realize how much we needed our beloved or to be a part of that "us" until certain events make demands that can no longer fulfill in the same way. It may seem that as we sink more into absence, we realize how high our lover had brought us.


III. Cutting Ties: Traversal Absence

Our love existed between two or more bodies, and thus with its loss, the absence exists at the nexus between the self and others. We may find that the wound does not allow kinds of contact, the amputation no longer can connect with prosthetics. We literally get bent out of shape, and it will take a new power of connection to create or sustain relationships with us and our hurt.

According to trauma theory, a dramatic amputation from our lives which produces sufficient suffering may make us unable to process our memory, relate to others outside the context of this event. We dwell on it and it may redefine what we are and what we are and are not capable of doing. Perhaps we shall find a way to work "through" the trauma, and open up new avenues by which new paths may be forged --- but we are finite beings with limits, and we may not have the necessary resources remaining.

Often our beloved was our link to a host of others, and with this loss the absence does not allow those networks to function in the same way. Like an unraveling rope or article of clothes, a cut or a hole in certain places will see the loss of more and more connections, more and more senses of collectiveness, and while some strands may be held together by other fasteners, some will suddenly drop away as solitary fragments.

Ecologies are motion, I was recently reminded, and with the loss of our beloved, those pieces of networks that stay connected may not have the same force or energy that they used to. The ecological body, the networked machine, may no longer have the motion to carry it to the resources that it kept in contact with. It may slow or halt in such a way as to prohibit the attainment of new or old pathways to be traversed.

And so, a loss may make us freeze up, unravel, stop being able to do the things we used to, or block the grounds on which we held our relationships with others. This may be a temporary phenomenon, until the body creates and changes, so as to build up new warmth, new connections, new modes or activities, and prepare ways in which we can come in contact again with the world.

Yet for all the things, external, internal, traversal, that the absence shuts down, more and more potential and actual relationships are lost. Unlike the void that can only exist as a singularity, absence is a multiplicity and perpetually generates more and more absence.


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