Under Your Gaze: Poem 11

I live under your gaze
in a box
by the bus bench
in the bushes.
Though our eyes
never meet,
not a glance my way,
I feel your shame.
Judge my story.
You’ll find it in my eyes.

If I were your eyes…

I’d find more than the prize to keep myself on

or the road

if I were your eyes.

If I saw what you saw, 

I’d be wary too, 

wondering what next, who else wants what I have, 

what I need to protect.

Gazing out from yours, 

the world would be clear,

hindsight perfection,

for mistakes are costly and pre-calculations wise. 

Peering from under your nose,

I’d assess what’s what,

figure people out,

know their numbers,

predictive labels paying off in fearless dividends.

And if I stared at your desire,

the way you do,

square in her face,

laser cutting pupils

penetrated retinal heart,

a mirror reflection I’d see chestnut fire burning me.


Take her

Credit: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com



One day I stepped into myself and found love.
I knew it was there all along because I could feel it, give it.
But it was all for others.
And I also found greed and jealousy and hate, disrespect.
And I found those hideously powerful.
They belonged to me.
I felt them too.
But mostly I felt disillusionment and loss.
I felt myself missing.
I feel it.
There is no poetry in reality.

“In the Name of Love: Shame and Love”


Credit: bleedingcool.com

Trying to find some clues as to the usefulness of shame in love, I came across this article, “In the Name of Love” by philosopher Aaron Ben Zeev, that quite frankly did not help me at all. Maybe I am missing the point, not reading well. I did find some portions of the article interesting but I did not understand much more than shame and love are both powerful emotions that can either build or destroy. Am I missing something? Does this article clarify the relationship between love and shame? It’s short, so feel free to read and comment, educate me.

Man, Mistress and Object

credit: a.mpcdn.net

She has a lover, she says, who is married and only available for sex when his work and family life permit, which is sometimes frequently and other times scarcely.

According to Kant in his Lectures on Ethics, sexual relations outside of a monogamous marriage leads to objectification of the participants, particularly the woman, as she is used for sexual gratification and afterwards discarded (163).

She describes this relationship as non-vertical, meaning they never meet except in a hotel room or the apartment he leases for sex, a horizontal proposition. She says she has never met him but once in public for coffee, once for a martini.

More specifically, Kant writes in the Lectures on Ethics that “sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry. … as soon as a person becomes an Object of appetite for another, all motives of moral relationship cease to function, because as an Object of appetite for another a person becomes a thing and can be treated and used as such by every one” (Kant Lectures on Ethics, 163).

She must be ready at any time to jump at his call, email or text, when opportunity arises, if she is to see him, and she wants to see him. She believes she loves him and has always loved him since she first met him, even though from the start, it was a utilitarian arrangement. They were both looking for sex outside sexless marriages.

Again, Kant notes, the inequality inherent in the mistress or concubine relationship–the woman completely surrenders her sex whereas the man with multiple concubines or wife does not–even though not for profit is also objectification as she is still used and possessed by the man.

She and her lover have little in common other than sex. In terms of social position, career and ideology, they are worlds apart. He is owner of a multi-billion dollar company and she is an elementary school teacher. His views are diametrically opposed to her own: Tea Party Republican Conservative Evangelical Christian vs. Progressive New Age mystic. His world is black and white, the world of no bullshit commerce and the market: You are either contributing to the economy or you are a drag on it. She is about compassion and communitarianism: society is only as strong as its weakest members who need help from those who have more.

Only in monogamous marriage is the surrendering of each partner equal, each one claiming possession and property the other, and thereby avoiding objectification, mere using. It is the power differential that creates this inequality that Kant deems the core of objectification (plato.stanford).

They have been meeting for nearly 8 years, just this way, little talk, just about the areas they can find common ground like parenting, beer and sports, but mostly sex. Their meetings are always secret, discreet, and sexual. They meet, undress in silence and engage in sex immediately. After the act, they rest in each other’s embrace and only then will he chat about his work and family, tell stories about funny exchanges with friends. She listens and laughs.

By surrendering herself, her sex, to a man who does not equally surrender himself fully to her, she allows herself to be used as a thing and thereby loses her humanity, which Kant equates with rational choice. She is a means to an end, merely.

In between sex sessions is the only foreplay they engage in. They fantasize. His fantasy is to dominate, possess, humiliate and control. He emails her about all the things he is going to do to her, including rape, sodomy and confinement. She encourages him and participates in this fantasy, providing her own desire to be owned, possessed, abused and humiliated.

Feminists Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin claim that pornography perpetuates female objectification by catering to patriarchal socio-sexual objectification, making women the instrument of male pleasure or eroticism, sexual acts performed on women for men’s pleasure, a role constructed by society and perpetuated by pornography (plato.stanford).
MacKinnon writes: “… A sex object is defined on the basis of its looks, in terms of its usability for sexual pleasure, such that both the looking—the quality of gaze, including its points of view—and the definition according to use become eroticised as part of the sex itself. This is what the feminist concept of ‘sex object’ means” (MacKinnon 1987, 173)

She says she has fantasies that she imagines when she masturbates, fantasies about rape, domination, humiliation and control, ones she can never share. He uses a naked picture of her when he masturbates. It is faceless.

But other thinkers such as Ronald Dworkin and Martha Nussbaum attribute objectification to a host of images society perpetuates from soap operas to fashion, women as appearance only. Additionally, women are partly responsible for their objectification, for being objects of the gaze, as they conform to societal dictates for appearance, bodily appearance (plato.stanford).

She says she loves him, that he is a good man, tender and loving. He strives to please her and loves her, wants her to use his body for her pleasure. She gives her body willingly and he takes it greedily, hungrily. He desires her always, tells her she is beautiful and makes her feel beautiful and loved, even consumed, but in that consumption merged. They enter each other’s bodies and through their bodies, their hearts and minds.

Sandra Bartky in her book Feminism and Domination asserts women objectify themselves by internalizing the patriarchal gaze and living life through the eyes of the gazer, regardless of a specific gazer or societal gaze. She, woman, has internalized that gaze and lives under it herself. In addition, women are fragmented by being associated with their bodies rather than their minds and personalities. In Simone de Beauvoir’s words, they objectify themselves to obtain power over men, in seeing themselves as alluring objects of men and engaging in unilateral sexual acts of pleasuring men; this unilateral pleasuring gives women power. Women as ornaments, attention to body size and shape by dieting, surgery, apparel, mannerisms, taking up less space than men, these actions perpetuate and are the result of objectification.

He has said that he would love no other ever again, would go to his grave fantasizing about her, that she is all he could imagine wanting in his life and regrets not having met her sooner, when he was looking for a wife. He makes her feel desired.

Objectification, then, according to Langton, is a process in which the social world comes to be shaped by desire and belief. An objectifier thinks that her or his beliefs have come to fit the world, where in fact the world has come to fit her or his beliefs (plato.stanford).

And he is jealous and possessive. He claims he would own her, on a leash, not let her out of a cage if she were his, but also says he would treat her like the queen she is, if only she makes him feel loved: sex, food, tenderness and home. He wants to own her completely as his, his sperm repository, his lover, his wife, his mother of his children, his body to do with whatever he wishes with or without her consent. And he offers his body to her equally with the same rights and privileges. He believes it is biblically deigned it should be that way. She is not a believer but believes that his desire to possess her is what fuels her imagination and desire for him. She loves him and will always subjugate herself to him knowing he would treat her with respect and never harm her.

Alan Soble and Leslie Green believe objectification of people is not necessarily a bad thing. People in the pornography industry are willingly employed objects. People ARE objects. It is only wrong when people are treated merely as objects, as means and not as ends in themselves, to use the terms of Kant’s Moral Imperative. Martha Nussbaum agrees and expands objectification into categories one of which is instrumentality. Using each other sexually, as objects, can be enjoyable. Equality, respect and consent are the key factors to judge any act of objectification objectionable. It is contextual whether something is good or bad in terms of objectification. People may use each other as sexual tools, as mere bodies for a means to an end, if in other respects or overall, they treat each other with respect and act with mutual consent (plato.stanford).

Neither of them wish to leave their respective spouses but merely to spend time, more time, and sustain each other for the rest of their days.



For Passion’s Sake Separating Self from the Other–Esther Perel on “Mating in Captivity”

Esther Perel, rooting out the cause of sexual boredom in marrieds in her essay entitled “Mating in Captivity”(http://www.powells.com/essays/perel.html) directs married couples to rebel, to actively challenge fear in order to balance desire against love and thus recharge their sex lives. She challenges each to see the “other” in their partners.

She begins her article defining the problem, “the dilemmas of desire”, long term married couples experience, when passion, and thus sex, is murdered by the inherent contradictory needs and conceptions of love versus desire. She says, “couples around the world are chasing the desire dragon” trying to keep desire alive, which takes reconciling the need for security and familiarity with the need for newness and separateness. She affirms, “To sustain desire toward the other, there must be an element of separateness,” a creation of space that requires each of the couple to let go of, or at least suspend, fear. It takes foregoing the security of familiarity and sameness and the conception of love as sweetness and intimacy, and allowing the “mystery” in the other to flourish by seeing his or her otherness. The recognition and appreciation of otherness incites eroticism. That takes distance–scary.

Most people’s conceptions about love are based on “reciprocity” while desire is more “selfish”, and passion, in long term marriage, is traded for security, leading to boredom, both of which–passion and security–Perel says, are illusions. Of course, she advocates in the end devoted time for sex, even planned, and invites fantasy and rebellion as a mindset for charging up the mental loins. She ends with a cleverly conceived concluding conception: “Like the child who jumps off a mother’s comfortable lap, running off to discover and explore, before returning to the safety of home base, we adults continuously seek to balance our contradictory needs for connection and freedom, comfort and fear, the grown-up version of hide and seek.”

The draw of this essay is not so much the novelty of the information or advocacy to give up the illusion of the oneness of couples and to be brave enough to realize that we are all essentially, in the words of Brian Doyle in “Joyas Voladares”, “alone in the house of the heart”, but in the writing of the essay. She has an ease in her prose that comforts the reader, creating lovely imagistic analogies to convey the essence of her message, one like her last simile of the child running from the mother’s lap. She uses discreet bits of well-turned phrases to illuminate the more poignant points. I especially enjoyed this passage:

These elements we seek, the ones that combined, light the flame of eroticism, exist and thrive in a space I think of as otherness. The best intimacy is the one that respects this otherness. Individuality and difference are accentuated, and you actually see the other person as a separate being. As expressed by the great narrator, Proust, ‘The true voyage of discovery is not about discovering new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes.’ In those moments we stand on opposite ends of this space we see each other with new eyes. Our separateness is what allows for risk, vulnerability, and erotic charge of the unknown.

Standing on opposite ends of a space and “the erotic charge of the unknown” are two notions and phrasing that made me sigh in contentment upon concluding this piece. She takes what could be cliche’d psychological dicta–give each other space–and infuses a phenomenological dimension to the psychological.

The general patterns of behavior are underscored in this essay–we tend to meld into and conflate our spouses with ourselves–but individual perception is put in relief, something I call the gaze, in a more general and not historical-theoretical context.

Walking through daily life, people depend upon their anonymity and interior-absorbed space. They walk through streets in the anonymity of a crowd, invisible, thinking of where they have to go and what they have to do. It is only when someone recognizes the walker/thinker and calls her name or looks in her eyes with an i-know-you look that the comfort of the invisible world of thought and “self” is shattered. The reverie is interrupted and the self is pulled from her space into the world of another, into the community.

We forget about this general condition and comfort of lone self when we dive into marriage or any relationship to escape what some mistake for loneliness, most probably due to the fear of that conception–loneliness–or an angst about one’s own self worth. Am I doomed to be trapped in my mind, with my thoughts? Me? To zoom in, when the lover is in the gaze of her other, this separateness is capitalized. It is a nanosecond recognition that she is an object–of desire–a body, a repository of fantasy and fluid, a separateness, as Perel serenely states. She is seen. Maybe not as she “truly” is but as a strangeness that comes from not being a part of the self, like seeing one’s hand floating in space, disconnected from its arm. That space allows for possibility–what can I do to or with this other?–because this other is not me, doesn’t think like me, or fear like me. What does she want/like? The gaze turns the trite plea for space, I just need some space, to the reality: we are each alone in this world, and that is fucking hot!

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Conjurer


Notice the gaze of the woman in green who watches the gazing subject. This is the moment of capture and insight for the viewer; the awareness of being seen by another and what that brings to mind, though the subject of the gaze here is unaware, is the production of self in another’s gaze. The exchange is palpable.