In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Esther Perel on the “Erotic Arts” and Julia Kristeva on the Abject: My Morning Muse

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I am unsure why I fell into a musing about horror, Kristeva, the abject, power and fantasy after listening to this video clip I found on my Facebook timeline from one of the sites I follow, but maybe it was the mention of words like freedom, sovereignty and imagination. I immediately thought of a graduate school read on The Powers of Horror by Julia Kristeva, probably because Perel also mentions fantasy that we imagine but would not like to live out. I have often been asked by lovers about my fantasies, and often have hesitated, asking which ones, the ones I want to live out or the ones that merely help me out in the shower that I would never want to live through. Just as often, the inquirers do not understand the question nor my fear of being judged. They just want to know them all.

And what does this all have to do with the mistress? I thought about that too. What about that space that fuels eroticism, the missing body of the wife, the absent body that haunts the mistress relationship, incurring pain of guilt and separation of the cheating spouse based on the conception or misconception of marriage as merging. If eroticism is as Perel often claims in her writings a creative space fueled by seeing the other as strange, separate, then the pain that is associated with separation, difference, separateness–the pain of separation–may be what contributes to creativity and thus, the plagued mind of the cheater also fuels eroticism.

When a man (or woman) engages a mistress, he experiences fear, fear that his wife will find out, that a divorce will ensue, that the life he has built will be crushed, his family lost to him, his life, essentially; he fears death. He comes in contact, in the words of Julia Kristeva in her book The Powers of Horror, with the abject, something that triggers a space where boundaries between self and other, subject and object, are broken down and the real or reality of what we are, who we are, not in symbolic terms but in reality, is experienced–the world as meaningless or chaotic (Modules on Kristeva in cla.purdue.edu). Kristeva exemplifies this notion with what we experience when we view the corpse. Seeing a corpse evokes the state in the viewer of a space of realization that we are mere bodies subject to death at any moment, and returns us to a recognition not merely that we are mortal but that existence is the disorder of mere living matter in various stages of decay. It is the fear, she avers, that is prelingual, the moment of first recognition or knowing of separateness of mother and child (Lacan) every human experiences (Modules).

The getting-caught-and-losing fear of the unfaithful spouse is the unconscious encounter with that primal fear, not only of death but of the meaningless of the human/living existence, and is produced in the recognition that occurs in the relationship with the mistress. It is also a space of the imagination that allows for creativity. The separateness that allows for fantasy (seeing spouse as an other and not an extension or part of self), according to Perel, is also evoked, shares that space of the mistress maintenance. The impulse to merge in marriage, to be as one, is the human need to avoid that separateness experienced at birth and continuing into the childhood recognition that the self is not the mother, but the marital space is also a constant reminder of that separateness, that inability to merge as daily existence has each spouse questioning whether the other is even of the same species on some days. How could he even think I would want sex when I am so tired and stressed? What is a man made of? This experience of separateness is the re-experiencing (or nearly) of the primal pre-lingual space of the abject, the chaos of human existence, that momentary recognition, though not cognition–just being there–of that meaninglessness.

So, the way fantasy is sometimes a place we wouldn’t want to go, but do go in our imaginations is illustrative of this drive toward the abject. People who fantasize about rape, bestiality, necrophilia, humiliation, torture, and more, but would not necessarily want to actually live such fantasy, perhaps dabble in if not downright dive into the abject, something to awaken them consciously or unconsciously to that space of fear of the merging of subject and object with self and the dead material around us, bodies, dead or alive, decaying living or once living matter. In those fantasies, people–we–recognize ourselves as just that–living/dying matter–and it produces fear but also eroticism, a place to create through imagination, the going into and pulling back from that chaotic space, the urge, the freedom and sovereignty, as Perel says, of creating due to that disorder, going into the dark, but emerging from it, improvisation and breaking from the structures of our imaginations–the taboo which keeps us from violating customs and practices that preserve society like incest–a reprieve, a vacation into fantasy.

The mistress as metaphor for so many strands of meaning, of human, is what draws me to the subject. There is a place for everyone–desire, fantasy, death, morality–a living creative space that is not merely the object of the gaze, like watching the ecstasy of performers in the orchestral symphony. We watch, intrigued by the performers’ expressions of perceived pain and pleasure that comes with the drilling discipline that fills their fingers and mouths over the millions of practicing hours they endured along with the erotic merging improvisational space into the music. But the mistress is also a collective space of participation and creation evoked by the non-mistress. I guess that explains my morning muse courtesy of Perel–once again.

2 thoughts on “Esther Perel on the “Erotic Arts” and Julia Kristeva on the Abject: My Morning Muse

  1. this is really rich. kristeva is profound. glad we crossed paths.

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