Monday, May 07, 2007

The Language of Survival

In Un Coeur En Hiver (A Heart in Winter), a violin maker played by Daniel Auteuil reaches out of his shell to draw the intense interest of a gifted young violinist played by Emmanuelle Beart. His more charismatic business partner is having an affair with her and he sees her professionally at first, at their workshop and her practices. Eventually, he finds himself hovering outside of the studio where she is recording Ravel and goes with her, through an outpouring of rain, to a cafe where he tells her that he loves to see her speak. His quiet but intense presence, ascetic and dedicated nature (he lives in a bedroom at the workshop), and interest in her is magnetic. His subsequent actions are mutedly shocking and an audience shivers at the sight of a cold heart laid bare.

There are more than a few times when I have sat in a car or at a table in a restaurant and done what this "protagonist" does to the young woman in the film. I have abandoned relationships at all points in their life cycle, from infancy to adulthood. After I have destroyed a fledgling relationship, I have been joyous and experienced the relief of freedom from a small suffocating box. In all of these relationships, there are moments of great happiness, but the imperative to break free of another and to resist the unbundling of a tight ball of emotion somewhere inside of me is too great. With loneliness comes freedom, of a particular variety, free to stay within myself and not communicate the feelings I so desperately want to submerge. I am able to act out. No one is there to push back, except my own most destructive and undermining of selves, burdening my mind with guilt and faithlessness, even as I experience my "freedom."

I think of these things in the context of my current relationship. There are days on end when I am unwilling to communicate with anyone. My commitment to solitude is my strongest quality and dates back to my earliest consciousness. The fact that I spend my time in isolation sleeping and seeking solace from television and the internet (much as Ganesh does) makes me question whether it is solitude that I defend. It seems more accurate to call it alienation, from all living people.

There is a wonderful exchange between two friends on love and solitude at Modal Minority, stemming from a Rilke quote partially excerpted here:

A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
The writer and his friend have an illuminating debate about the meaning of love between two people, one arguing for Rilke's joint solitude and the other for deconstruction of the self, a merging into the other and his God. The writer concludes:
And yet, and yet. I cannot help but feel that my friend and I might have but a single conception of love. I cannot shake the suspicion that, in love's strange geometry, infinite distance and intersection are one and the same.

Each must, out of his private suffering, find the language that allows him to survive that suffering.
As I work through my feelings in my current relationship with my patient partner, I search for my own language of survival. I don't mean to elevate my "private suffering." I am privileged and empowered beyond my own belief. But I have yet to successfully negotiate a path between my solitude and my deconstruction. It is a crowded path on which I walk with many friends. In our collective search, there might exist a constitutive grammar for our language of survival.

1 comment:

lostandfound said...

i identify in many ways with what you are saying. i don't know if i always felt this way in relationships - i didn't really have that many. but with this one, there are so many concrete tangible constraints that my desire to break free is not just psychological but also material. that said, i believe part of my psychology does value or is valuing the solitary freedom over the intersections with the partner. the question is whether in the infinite distance even between partners, whether my partner and i can see across the expanse and understand each other as whole, and can that happen in the relationship or only outside of it.

it always fascinates me to hear your and ganesh's reflections because i always imagine that in the midst of your many social connections and outlets, in perceived comparison to me, that the feelings of isolation for you would be minimal.

but maybe that is my pitfall - to continually compare and perceive myself to be on the short end, and not to understand that the isolation experienced by you or anyone is as much an internal organism as it is a product of circumstance and environment.