the most crazy thing is how total and how final the change of state from alive to dead is, when it happens. however you think you are expecting it, it is always a surprise.
Tag Archives: liminality
belinda carlisle – la luna
Lunar eclipse with a blood moon tonight…
I remember this song and video came out at the end of my Standard 4 year – the first year I had ever been to a proper teenage “disco” (how scary and thrilling). I remember thinking her thrashing around for the whole song in that bunched-up sheet was silly… And that she was in love with that poncy Amadeus guy was silly too. Lunatics. And yet the chorus would be going round and round in my head for months, entwined with an interminable summer holiday yearning for I-didn’t-quite-know-what. This and the Bangles’ Eternal Flame.
my precious dad’s heart
expose yourself to reality exposed
On July 18, the Film and Publication Board’s refusal to classify the would-be opening film of the Durban International Film Festival, Jahmil XT Qubeka’s Of Good Report, became the flint that sparked the latest South African aesthetic controversy.
Unclassified films are illegal to screen, which means that this is a functional ban on the production. The ruling was imposed on the basis of having interpreted the representation of a sexual encounter of a Grade 9 pupil, Nolitha, (played by the 23-year old actress Petronella Tshuma) as being child pornography.
Tongues have been wagging in creative circles and the media, and given that the film is divorced from any overt perspective on political matters (as in the case ofThe Spear), it is clear that this matter relates to some quite primal conflict over the interpretation of a particular image.
In this case, the battle over meaning is taking place in the awkward, sexually liminal space of the moment of the young female character’s transition from archetypal “virgin” to archetypal “whore”, and what she, the figure of the girl, means.
It probably wouldn’t be completely unfair to assume that the film is objectionable to the classification board because of this very liminality, and the way in which the morality embedded in the process clearly regards anything that isn’t exclusively either “virgin” or “whore” as a kind of abomination.
This act of censorship is fundamentally based on a conflict of representation – meaning it’s as much an aesthetic one as it is an ideological one. This means that we need to be asking not the obvious and common question of whether we should or shouldn’t be allowed to depict female children in an erotic light, but rather what actually is a female child, and what is an erotic light?
South African film and South African audiences remain equally conservative. The idea that representations of people, places, things and events can have a lot of different meanings and aren’t consistently, singularly defined is, surprisingly, not taken for granted by the typical South African viewer, practitioner or institution of film.
We aren’t yet comfortable with the multifarious nature of representation, and expend a lot of hot air trying to settle on the one, all-encompassing, so-called “South African voice”, which it turns out, we’re really struggling to locate.
It’s a self-evidently flawed project, because its ridiculous to think that such a thing could ever actually exist in a finite sense.
Read the rest of this article HERE.
nevermind the bollocks, here’s deleuze and guattari
[E]ffective differences pass between the lines, even though they are all immanent to one another, all entangled in one another. This is why the question of schizoanalysis or pragmatics, micropolitics itself, never consists in interpreting, but merely in asking what are your lines, individual or group, and what are the dangers on each.
What are your rigid segments, your binary and overcoding machines? For even these are not given to you ready-made; we are not simply divided up by binary machines of class, sex, or age: there are others which we constantly shift, invent without realising it. And what are the dangers if we blow up these segments too quickly? Wouldn’t this kill the organism itself, the organism which possesses its own binary machines, even in its nerves and its brain?
What are your supple lines, what are your fluxes and thresholds? Which is your set of relative deterritorialisations and correlative reterritorialisations? And the distribution of black holes: which are the black holes of each one of us, where a beast lurks or a microfascism thrives?
— Deleuze and Guattari: Toward Freedom. Read more HERE.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device
tindersticks – my oblivion
The edges of our love are in the stars
And on the balcony
She waits for me
Out on the boundary
Make this alive
Good days are back
Open your eyes when it falls
Come back to the air
I can’t tell you what you already know
I can’t make you feel what you already feel
I can’t show you what’s in front of you
I can’t heal those scars
bill henson – untitled #20 (2003-3)
Bill Henson (born 1955) is an Australian contemporary art photographer.
Henson’s photographs reflect an interest in ambiguity and transition. The use of chiaroscuro is common throughout his works. His photographs are painterly and often presented as diptychs, triptychs and other groupings.
Henson’s works often meditate on the categories of and relationships between male and female; youth and adulthood; day and night; light and dark; nature and civilisation. His images often use flattened perspective and tend towards abstraction. The faces of the subjects are often blurred or partly shadowed and do not directly face the viewer.
According to Crawford, Henson presents “adolescents in their states of despair, intoxication and immature ribaldry”. He has said that these “moments of transition and metamorphosis are important in everyone’s lives”.
Information taken from HERE.
Check out more of Henson’s work HERE.
oliver chow on inter-repulsion, desire and transgression
Note on the author: Olivier Chow is a former senior protection officer of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and has led investigations on war crimes in Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Macedonia. He is currently finishing a PhD in critical theory at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University, working on the theory and visual mediation of cruelty. His main interests concern French theory and in particular the work of Georges Bataille, fetishism, violence, popular culture and tribal arts. He has also worked for UNESCO, Sotheby’s and a private collection of surrealist art. The following article was first published HERE.
In this paper we shall explore desire from the perspective of transgression and, to be precise, desire generated by the transgressive space born from the oscillation between attraction and repulsion, or what the French surrealist Georges Bataille named ‘inter-repulsion’. We shall argue that the ultimate object of inter-repulsion is death itself and, as such, inter-repulsion brings forth not only the subject and its discontents but also the social with its taboos and prohibitions. Inter-repulsion will be discussed in relation to the visual culture of Documents, a dissident and short-lived surrealist journal (1929-1930) that has recently come back to life at the Hayward in the exhibition “Undercover Surrealism.”  One of the pièces maîtresses in the main hall of the exhibition is a photograph by Jean-Jacques Boiffard, the most prominent photographer of the journal: a photograph of a magnified big toe around which our discussion will centre. This photograph has become an emblem for a surrealism that has done away with the ‘marvellous’ – which it literally shat on – and that has shamelessly promoted the ‘low’ (bassesse ) and the ordure: the surrealism of Georges Bataille which opposed the impossible of the real to Breton’s possible of the imagination. The big toes had a task – for Bataille, words and images always had to do something: to bring forth through the sensations of visceral reactions and gut feelings what had remained hidden and repressed. The object of repression staged in Documents was a desire rooted in death. Thus we shall argue that inter-repulsion creates a pornography of death since it shows us our darkest and most obscene object of desire. Our discussion will be divided into two sections: first we shall explore the big toe as ‘idol’, second as ‘ordure’.
Documents was initially intended as a scientific review, albeit one with a unique and innovative twist. It brought together high and popular art (beaux arts and variétés), archaeology and ethnographic art. Documents’ ambiguous mission statement already contained the seeds of its undoing: “the most provoking as yet unclassified works of art and certain unusual productions, neglected until now, will be the object of studies as rigorous and scientific as those of archaeologists.” As early as issue four, the provocative, disturbing and frankly monstrous became the focus of the journal and it quickly became a war machine against surrealism: “Documents made clear what surrealism was not; what, under the aegis of Breton, it could not be.”  It would be “the abscess burst each month from surrealism.” Documents elaborated a common theoretical front against positivism and idealism reducing all images and objects (dead animals, big toes, abattoirs, ancient coins, high and ‘primitive art’) to document status. It promoted a fragmenting, magnifying and anti-aesthetic gaze on the world, privileging the monstrous and corporeal. Facts from ethnography, faits divers andvariétés , religion and culture, were artificially ‘planted’ in order to anchor images and discourse in a reality that was both familiar and yet complete fantasy and fabrication. This mock reality was largely one of distortion and pastiche; a distortion that was also applied to constituted forms (mainly the human body and its architecture). Here the positivism of factual documentation, like the body itself, was perversely subverted: reality was deformed and this was placed in the service of sensations such as vertigo and disgust. The ‘facts’ that were revealed were closer to what Francis Bacon understood as facts: a brutal revelation of a hidden truth about the human condition. These were inseparable from the brutal sensations they imposed on the viewer. These visceral facts, or ‘visual instincts’, fashioned a new and powerful reality where differences between a subject and object were brutally collapsed. This is the sensational reality that the big toes managed to bring about, or in the words of Bataille: “a return to reality…means that one is seduced in a base manner, without transpositions and to the point of screaming, opening his eyes wide: opening them wide, then, before a big toe.” Inter-repulsion inaugurates a brutal return to sensation – not pleasant sensations, rather as we shall demonstrate, sensations of death.
Jacques-André Boiffard’s ‘Big Toes’ were published in Documents number 6, 1929, with a text by Bataille titled ‘Le Gros Orteil’. The two male big toes that appeared here are actually part of a series. Altogether there are three (two male and one female), a sort of “friendly trinity”. The chiaroscuro isolates the toe from the body, providing it with a fetishistic and almost godly aura. Whereas most of the other photographs published in the journal were usually juxtaposed together in a sort of montage that reminded the viewer of the random and haphazard juxtapositions of a newspaper, the big toes stand alone in the magazine, occupying a full page. The visual brutality of the big toes and the mocking tone of the text that accompany the image, are typical of Documents: the provocative and almost ethnographic enterprise on the big toes was not dissimilar to the exploration of eccentric artistic productions, exotic cultures, sacrificial rituals and dismissed historical periods that defined Documents’ anthropological realm.
In his “Gros Orteil”, Bataille describes how feet, for some individuals, are sexually charged. Here Bataille cites the example of the Count of Villamediana who burnt a house in order to carry the queen and stroke her feet or foreign cultures like China where the feet of women are both deformed and venerated. As a fetish, feet and toes are abstracted from the body and turned into independent wholes charged with desire: idols. We shall name these idolised fragments of the body, ‘part-objects’ – a term that designs parts of the body, real or fantasised (penis, breast, food, faeces, toes, et cetera) invested with desire. The destiny of part-objects or ‘érotique combinatoire‘  to use Roland Barthes’ expression, was one of Bataille’s favourite anthropological and symbolic explorations. Part-objects are celebrated in Bataille’s pornographic novels from Histoire de l’Oeil to Madame Edwarda . In Bataille’s Histoire de l’Oeil, the eye is set within a symbolic matrix and a system of correspondences. Histoire de l’Oeil, as Roland Barthes noted, is really the history of an object, its migration and metamorphosis into its symbolic equivalents. Every metamorphosis is like a new station within the migration of the object/organ. The part-object is recited throughout the novel (eye, sun, egg, and their respective seminal liquids), revealing the humid substance of a round phallicism. In Madame Edwarda, Madame Edwarda asks the narrator if he wants to sees her ‘vilaines guenilles’. She exposes her ‘old rags’, a source of anxious fascination. From within these revolting guenilles emanates a dirty gaze that stares at the narrator like a Medusean ‘pieuvre répugnante’ . When the narrator asks her why she does this, she tells him: “Tu vois…je suis DIEU”.  In Madame Edwarda, God is a genital revelation. Madame Edwarda’s ‘gazing beast’ is god-like: totemic and sovereign. The big toe photographed by Boiffard is also staged like a genital, repugnant and sovereign creature.
Binet’s seminal essay on fetishism, Le Fétichisme dans l’Amour (1887) was well known to Bataille. It dedicated a few pages to the account of various forms of fetishism related to inanimate objects or fractions of the body, real or symbolic such as hand, feet, hair, eye, voice and smell. Binet combines his theory of fetishism as a sexual perversion with the aesthetics of fetishism. According to Binet, fetishism tends to detach and isolate the part-object from the person to which it belongs. The fetishist tends to transform this part-object into an independent whole. The part-object is thus an abstraction according to Binet. This tendency towards abstraction is also supplemented by a tendency towards generalisation: the cult of the fetishist is not oriented towards a part-object belonging to one specific person. On the contrary, the part-object stands for a sort of genre or ‘monotheism’ to use Binet’s expression that is not attached to one individual specifically but to one abstracted fragment. Finally, Binet observes that there is a tendency towards exaggeration: the volume or the importance of the part-object is enhanced.
Jacques-André Boiffard, Big Toe, feminine subject, twenty-four years old , Documents, No6, 1929
Jacques-André Boiffard, Big Toe, masculine subject, thirty years old , Documents, No6, 1929
Jacques-André Boiffard, Big Toe, masculine subject, thirty years old , Documents, No6, 1929
The fetishistic photographic process confers the big toe with a new status as part-object ready to be mapped out by desire and sexualised. The big toe’s sexual persona is here evidently exposed as obscene. Boiffard has mimicked the fetishist gaze observed by Binet. The toes are isolated from their bodies, fragmented, enlarged, staged and dramatised. The magnified, blown-up toes seem impossibly real: ugly, hairy, genital-like. We are literally put face to face with their excessive and nauseous reality. The photographs are cropped, the angle imposes a violent deformation on the toe – they are upside down, brought down if such an operation were possible. It is a portrait that transgresses and subverts the very idea of what a portrait should be: the highest and most noble part of the body has been thrown away and transformed into a grotesque, absurd and scandalous ‘other face’.
The framing of the toe is an act of violence set against the human figure. Bataille’s text refers to material and visual operations of abuse and violence such as “deformation”, “infection”, “tortures”, “pain”, “brutal”. Those forces that deform the human figure are violent forces that Bataille equates with forces of entropy and decomposition, such as those that attack the corpse. The deformation or “alteration” of the human figure was an essential strategy in Bataillean aesthetics: “the word alteration provides the double advantage of expressing a partial decomposition similar to that of corpses and at the same time the expression of the passage to a perfectly heterogeneous state that the protestant professor Otto named the ‘wholly other’, that is the sacred.” 
In his classic study of the Holy, the German theologian, philosopher and historian of religions Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), situates the sacred in relation to an a priori emotional structure, the numinosum . In the experience of the numinous, the subject experiences a feeling of intimate dependence towards a higher and independent force. The experience of the “wholly other” : is what Otto describes as “creature-consciousness”. This “creature-feeling” is “the emotion of a creature, abased and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures.”  This experience is fundamentally ambivalent, a mélange of attraction and repulsion: this mysterium tremendum is an uncanny experience of awfulness, an awfulness that lies beyond the realm of knowledge, producing a feeling of peculiar dread, a “terror fraught with inward shuddering.”  The big toes reek of these creepy “creature feelings”.
Boiffard has also captured the fetish’s destiny as fixation. William Pietz, one of the leading commentators on fetishism, defines the fetish in the following terms: “The fetish is always a meaningful fixation of a singular event; it is above all a ‘historical’ object, the enduring material form and force of an unrepeatable event.”  This unrepeatable and traumatic event could be rooted in early childhood beliefs and complexes. Freud and psychoanalysis argue fetishism is linked to the experience of shock that comes about once the absence of a maternal penis is revealed. The fetish becomes a substitute for the penis and a disavowal of that lack. The captions for this big toe could be: “it is not really gone as long as I’m here”. The body as site of revelation of the phallus was a common surrealist visual strategy. One of its most famous expressions is Man Ray’s anatomies (1930). The idea behind that specific visual operation was to de-territorialise bodies, rendering them polymorphously perverse and ‘genital’ by liberating desire from the conventional and limiting mappings of the erogenous zones.
Jacques-André Boiffard, Untitled , Article “Le Caput Mortuum ou la Femme
de l’Alchimiste », Documents, 1930, No8
We are now going to discuss another famous image of Documents by Boiffard where the body turns into phallus: his untitled image that features a mask by W.B. Seabrook. Michel Leiris in his “Le Caput Mortuum ou la Femme de la l’Alchimiste” published in Documents in 1931, discusses the photograph portraying a woman wearing a mask. The image brings forth both fetishistic memories of desire (sado-masochistic fantasies) and mystic possibilities of religious revelation (could that mask be the face of God, Leiris wonders). For Leiris, a mask can thus open up to desire and the sacred: the mask opens towards what is both foreign and intimate within us. What the mask manages in true fetishistic form is to abstract and concentrate body parts – making them more as well as less real, that is, schematic. Boiffard’s woman becomes more mysterious but also more threatening as her features are disguised by her second leather skin. The woman becomes an abstraction, a generality, a thing or essence (“ chose-en-soi ”). Her severity is tinged with suffering, appealing to our sadism as Leiris argues: “in addition to suffering under the leather skin, being subjected and mortified (which satisfies our will to power and our fundamental cruelty), her head – sign of her intelligence and individuality – is insulted and negated.” Her mouth is reduced to a wound and her body transgressed: the body is naked and the face is masked, an obscene and forced inversion that associates violence to desire. The figure of the woman is profoundly ambiguous and can be seen as either a perpetrator (“ bourreau ”) or a beheaded queen (“reine décapitée ”).
We have now witnessed the uncanny connection between desire and death. This connection is also active in the photographs of big toes. Boiffard restitution of the lost phallus has only been possible through the castrating use of picture cropping that has separated the toe from the foot. The sight of these big toes is not very comforting: on the contrary they signify pain, mutilation and danger. The big toe is a monument to castration: the nail suggests endless cuttings, a ‘thousand cuts’. Continue reading
tiqqun – notes on the local (2001)
Everything which today constitutes an acceptable landscape for us is the result of bloody violences and conflicts of rare brutality.
One can thus summarize that the demokratic government wants to make us forget. Forget that the suburbs have devoured the countryside, that the factory has devoured the suburbs, that the metropolis—tentacled, deafening and without repose—has devoured everything.
This observation doesn’t imply regret, this observation implies: seize everything. In the past, in the present.
The controlled territory where our life passes, between the supermarket and the digital lock on the lobby door, between the traffic signals and the pedestrian pathways, forms us. We are moreover inhabited by the space in which we live. Especially when everything, or nearly everything, from now on, functions there like a subliminal message. We don’t do certain things at certain places because we do not do those things.
Street furniture for example has almost no utility—how often, to our surprise, do we wonder who exactly could fill the benches of a neo-square without succumbing to more violent despair?—it has precisely one meaning and one function, and these are dissuasive. Their mission/charter “You are only home when at home, or where you pay, or where you are monitored.”
The world is becoming global, but it is shrinking.
The physical landscape we traverse each day with great speed (by car, using public transportation, on foot, in a rush) has effectively an unreal character because while there, no one lives as anything at all, nor could anyone possibly live as anything there. It’s a type of micro-desert where one is like an exile, between one private property and another, between one obligation and another.
The virtual landscape seems much more welcoming to us. The liquid crstal screen of the computer, internet navigation, the tele-visual or the play-station universes—these are infinitely more familiar to us than the streets of our neighborhood, populated at night by the moonlight of the streetlamps and the metal gates of closed stores.
It is not the global which opposes the local, it is the virtual.
The global is so little opposed to the local that actually the global creates it. The global only designates a certain distribution of differences from an homogenizing norm. Folklore is the product of cosmopolitanism. If we didn’t know that the local was local, it would be for us a little globality. The local is revealed as the global makes itself possible, and necessary. Go to work, do your shopping, travel far from home: this is what constitutes the local, which otherwise would more modestly be the place where we live.
All the same, we live strictly speaking nowhere. Our existence is simply divided into layers of schedules and topologies, in slices of tailored life.
But this isn’t all. They presently would like to make us live in the virtual, definitively deported. There, the life they wish for us would recompose into a curious unity of non-time and non-place. The virtual, says one Internet publicity, is ” the place where you do all that you cannot do in reality.” But when “everything is permitted,” it is the mechanism of the transfer from the power to act which is under surveillance. In other words” the virtual is the place where possibilities never become real, but remain indefinitely in the virtual state. Here, prevention has won over intervention: if everything is possible in the virtual it’s because the mechanism ensures that everything remains unchanged in our real life
Already, we tele-work and tele-consume. In tele-life, we will no longer be afflicted by the feelings of suffering from avoiding the possibilities which still dwell in public spaces, at each glance crossed and so soon abandoned. The unease, the embarrassing immersion among our contemporaries, for the better part unknown, in the streets or elsewhere, will be abolished. The local, expelled from the global, will itself be projected into the virtual in order to make us believe definitively that only the global exists. Draping this uniformity of multi-ethnicity and multi-culturalism will be necessary, to ensure the pill is swallowed.
As we wait for the tele-life, we post the hypothesis that our bodies in space have a political meaning and that the dominant ones maneuver permanently to hide this fact.
Shouting a slogan at home is not the same as shouting it in the stairwell or in the street. Doing it alone is not the same as doing it wit many others, and so on.
Space is political and space is alive, because space is populated, populated with our bodies which transform it by the simple fact that it contains them. And this is why it is monitored, and this is why it is closed.
Whoever imagines it as a void soon to fill up with objects, bodies, and things has a false idea of space. On the contrary, this idea of space is obtained by mentally removing from a tangible space of all the objects, of all the bodies, of all the things which dwell in it. The powers that be have now materialized this idea in their plazas, their highways, their architecture. But its threatened without pause by its birth defect. Should something take place inside the space it controls, should—thanks to some event—one end of the this space become a place, making an unexpected crease, this is what the Global Order wants to prevent. And against this, it has invented “the local,” in the sense of continuous adjustment of all input, capture, and management devices.
That is why I say that the local is political; because it is the place of present confrontation.
From Tiqqun 2.
An excerpt from Joshua Billings’ paper entitled Hyperion’s symposium: an erotics of reception.
Diotima of Mantinea is a present absence in Plato’s Symposium. Her words form the most important of the symposium’s encomia to Eros, but she does not speak them herself. Socrates, her former pupil, relates her lesson in erotics to the assembly. She remains a mysterious figure: her name — ‘honoured by god’ — and her city, cognate with mantis, place her somewhere between human and divinity. Though the main narrative of the Symposium is doubly framed — it records the words of Apollodorus who recounts what he heard from Aristodemus — Diotima is still further removed from the literary present. She exists (if she exists at all) as a liminal, ambiguous being. But this is appropriate to her subject: Eros, a god characterized by perpetual incompleteness.
The Diotima of Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hyperion or the Hermit in Greece (Hyperion oder der Eremit in Griechenland), too, seems poised between being and non-being. As the title character’s beloved, her existence forms the hinge of the entire narrative, yet the pages in which she appears are relatively few and in them, she is most often passive and silent. Most formative for Hyperion, indeed, is her seemingly unmotivated death, reported at second-hand. The form of the novel, a series of retrospective letters from Hyperion, serves to heighten her absence just as the Symposium’s framing places its narrative in a doubly-remembered past. Hölderlin’s Diotima, like Plato’s, exists in eternal mediation, suggesting that Hyperion’s desire cannot be fulfilled, his ideal never realized.
This is the lesson of Diotima in the Symposium. In contrast to the previous speakers, Socrates emphasizes not the positive qualities of Eros, but the poverty that drives the god to seek beauties he does not possess. Socrates reports the speech of Diotima, who disabused him of the notion advocated by his friends. The Eros described by Diotima is liminal, neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither man nor god. He is a daimôn, whose existence is defined by his place between opposing realms. His power is
… interpreting and carrying to gods things from humans, and to humans things from gods: from humans, the entreaties and sacrifices; from gods, orders and exchanges for sacrifices. He is in the middle of both and fills the space between, so that all is bound by him.
Eros is always relational, a mediation between two elements. This is a consequence of his birth, as the child of Penia and Poros, need and resource. Like his mother, he is unattractive and perpetually impoverished, yet he has the skills of his father that allow him occasionally to attain his desire. This makes him a paradox, poor but able to become rich, immortal but able to die: ‘sometimes he flourishes for a day and lives, whenever he has resources, and sometimes he dies, but is brought back to life again through the nature of his father.’ Eros is not a happy medium of his two parents, but an unstable oscillation between states of euporia and aporia.
Eros’ dialectical nature makes him philosophical, and distinguishes him from his parents. Those who are wise (like Poros) feel no need to philosophize, while those who are ignorant (like Penia) cannot comprehend their need. Eros’s philosophical nature is based on reflection; it results from the recognition of his own ignorance. Philosophy is a state of intellectual poverty that uses resource to gain insight:
Being a philosopher he is between a wise man and an ignorant. The cause of this is his birth: for he is from a wise and resourceful [euporos] father, and an unwise and unresourceful [aporos] mother.
Socratic philosophy and erotic desire are parallel; both begin in a state of reflective aporia and strive towards euporia. Socrates’s self-conscious ignorance makes him the exemplary erotic seeker. In this respect, it is particularly important that the figure of Diotima is absent in the dialogue: erotic and philosophical fulfilments are deferred, set off in a mysterious past. Furthermore, Socrates (like the speakers who frame the story) is simply repeating an earlier conversation rather than engaging in his usual dialectics. What remains for the symposiasts as for the reader of the Symposium is a mediated presence that relates knowledge without being able to answer for it.
The connection of philosophy and desire suggests a productive nature of Eros, a way it escapes the constant oscillation between want and fleeting fulfilment. As we have already learned, Eros is unable to possess what it desires permanently. Instead of possession of the beautiful, Eros seeks to reproduce with the beautiful:
– Eros, Socrates, she said, is not of the beautiful, as you think.
– But what then?
– Of begetting and bringing forth on the beautiful.
– Let it be so, I said.
– It is so absolutely, she said. And why is it of begetting? Because begetting is eternal and undying as far as it is possible for a mortal. From what we have agreed, it is necessary that with good one desire immortality, if indeed eros is of the good being one’s own always. It is necessary from this very account that eros be also of immortality.
The account of Eros’ activity here changes abruptly: Eros finds a way out of lack, to a creative activity. This also necessitates a redefinition of Eros as desire, not for the beautiful or the good, but for an eternal existence. In place of possession, Eros turns to production. This is the crux on which Hölderlin’s reading of the Symposium will focus, as nostalgia for a lost ideal is transformed into the realization of future possibility. This dynamic constitutes what might be termed an ‘erotics of reception’.
Desire, according to Socrates, necessarily turns from the transient present towards an infinite future. In reporting Diotima’s words, Socrates enacts this temporal reorientation, making her absence the basis for philosophical production. He leads his companions, as erotic desire leads the philosopher, on the ascent to higher forms of beauty, and ultimately, to the idea. This is an increasingly contemplative act, in which desire for a beautiful body yields to desire for a beautiful soul, and ultimately, to knowledge of the essence of beauty:
Beginning from these very beauties, for the sake of that highest beauty he ascends eternally, just as if employing the rungs of a ladder, from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; from beautiful bodies he proceeds to beautiful pursuits, from pursuits to beautiful sciences, and from these sciences arrives at that science which is concerned with the beautiful itself and nothing else, so that finally he comes to know what the beautiful is.
The end of Eros is philosophical fulfilment, conceived as a reflection on immortal beauty. The ascent to the eternal form is parallel to the immortality of giving birth: both begin with a pregnancy of the soul that seeks a beautiful object. From the aporia of mortal bodies, philosophy fashions the euporia of wisdom. The figure of Diotima, an absence that produces knowledge, represents this progress to fulfilment through loss. In the Symposium, as in Hyperion, Diotima’s very pastness makes her the object of an erotic dialectic.
Read Joshua Billings’ whole paper, entitled Hyperion’s symposium: an erotics of reception. Oxford Classical Receptions Journal (2010) 2 (1): 4-24.