Sunday, February 12, 2006

Three Thoughts for Valentine's Day

1. Chocolate

We eat chocolate on Valentine's Day because it is the closest substitute for visceral cannibalism. Like the promise of sex, chocolate is slippery and intoxicating. And like chocolate, we consume love voraciously, eating it head-first and smearing ourselves with its excess.


You say you do not eat your lover.
And yet you also say: without love I am empty.
Who, then, do you eat?

2. Robber Brides

Margaret Atwood's novel The Robber Bride (McClelland & Stewart, 1993; Seal, 1994) inverts the narrative of "The Robber Bridegroom", a Grimm fairy tale whose origin is reportedly traced to the legend of Bluebeard. In the Grimm version, the Robber Bridegroom eats his betrothed. In the Bluebeard tale, he merely beheads her. In Atwood's novel, the Robber Bride is a woman who methodically and repeatedly inserts herself into the relationships of women who have befriended her, consuming their lovers and leaving them dead or lost. Zenia, the man-eater, is voraciously empty: above all, she envies other women for their ability to love and be loved. And to assuage her emptiness she destroys their relationships and perches on the ruins, glutting herself with the remains.

And yet, the temptation to identify with these women as mere victims is somewhat undone by an observation one of them makes:
Most women disapprove of man-eaters; not so much because of the activity itself, or the promiscuity involved, but because of the greed. Women don't want all the men eaten up by man-eaters; they want a few left over so they can eat some themselves. (441)
The women in Atwood's novel are vulnerable to Zenia because in an important way they are like her: they see their lovers as food. They are all Robber Brides. And in the end, in this novel suffused with images of eating, the relationships are visceral and therefore consumptive. They are, as Atwood writes, like "glazed chocolate, with a soft, buttery, deceptive centre. Sweet, and bad for you." (147)


You say you crave your lover.
But do you crave him
or carve him?

To eat me is to love me:
Sweets to the sweet.

3. Liars

Lynn Crosbie's new book-length poem, Liar (Anansi, 2006), recounts her betrayal at the hand of love. Perhaps appropriately, her book's launch party is scheduled for Valentine's Day. In a Globe & Mail article about Liar, Michael Posner reports, "It matters, of course, that the man in the relationship was "horrible," that he lied and cheated, then lied and cheated again." ("The true story behind the poem", Saturday February 11, 2006, page R10)

But who was the greater liar?

Can it really be the man Crosbie describes as having boasted of being an "incredible liar"? Or might it be Crosbie herself, for having accepted those same lies for seven years, living "in fear and uneasy love"? If, as Crosbie writes, "The first time you cheated on your girlfriend, with me; the first of many times / we would visit the sordid hotels you liked," then the relationship itself was founded on a lie. Its ending could hardly be a surprise.

Except for this one thing: that visceral self-delusion -- the greatest lie -- harnesses all truths to serve it. Visceral denial becomes the most impermeable membrane, produces the most impenetrable blindness. And it is not this blindness that hurts, but the tearing off of the blindfold. "I was wild for you," she writes, "I didn't care who I hurt."

If so, perhaps, as Crosbie writes of Kafka, her wounds are self-inflicted.

And there is a sweetness, even here, even in this anatomy of the "heart's obscenity". Crosbie writes, "You had a distinctive voice. / Low and larded with innuendo, lulling and sweet."

Like chocolate.


Amy Lavender Harris said...

In the event the foregoing commentary is considered harsh or even bitter, I would like to remind readers of the kind of love I am speaking of: the visceral, possessive, drowning love our culture seems to encourage, the kind of love that seeks identity and completion in another person, that says, "I was wild for you; I didn't care who I hurt".

There is, of course, another kind of love. The love founded in principle, the love that -- as Corinthians reports -- endures all things and rejoices in the truth. This is a solid, still, and yet hard-edged love. It listens as well as it speaks. And this love may have within it an openness to the visceral, but it is not of the viscera.

For the record, I will add that I do not care particularly for chocolate, although I enjoy it on occasion. I prefer the taste of solidarity.

Bernita said...

Superb insights, connections and expression, as usual.