The last song written by her mother, Kate McGarrigle.
The last song written by her mother, Kate McGarrigle.
This track comes from her brilliant 2012 album, Ekstasis, which you can listen to HERE. Video directed by Jose Wolff.
“The first thing that came to mind was an image that gradually deteriorates with visual noise, echoing the sonic noise present in the song. We go from lightness to darkness, away from a structured, fabricated place and into raw territory.” – Jose Wolff – August 2012
From the album Ende Neu (Mute Records,1996).
The daffodil has been adopted by both the American Cancer Society, and the Madame Curie Society, for whom it symbolizes simultaneously hope and disease. The Greeks today call N. tazetta Dakrakia, “Little Tear Drops,” as this flower’s association with grief and the dead is both exceedingly ancient, and modern.
The legend of Echo’s fertility daemon Narcissus, who pined to death desiring his own reflection, is parallelled by similar flower boys such as Adonis “the scentless rose” (i.e., a windflower or anemone) who was the slain beloved of both Aphrodite and Persephone; and Hyacinthus, the slain catamite of Zeus and Apollo; and the hidden son of Aphrodite, Hermaphroditus, cavern-raised in secret by naiads of Cybele’s Mount Ida. He came to the Fountain of Queen Salmacis, to whom boxwood and clinging ivy was sacred, and he became one with Salmacis after drinking of her mystic waters, achieving a unity which Narcissus appears likewise but unsuccessfully to have sought.
Like these others, Narcissus is fundamentally impotent or sexless, though erotically appealing to goddesses or nymphs and even to the more masculine gods. We are reminded that Cybele’s boy companion Attis, born of an almond tree was, like Narcissus, sexually incapable – indeed was literally unmanned. Such sexless lads seem to originate in a very early level of myth when the Mother Goddess, being Absolute, had no actual consort, at a time when the male principle was at most a companion, son, or a priest who had unsexed himself.
Most such fertility daemons are straightforward “dying and reborn” grain-divinities, including even Jesus whose worshippers co-opted the daffodil as well as the lily as symbols of death and Easter resurrection. But Narcissus appears additionally to be partly related to a large number of female nymphs transformed directly into flowers, trees, or reeds to escape unwanted sexual encounters. Because there is something essentially female in his myth, he somewhat bridges the Attis or Galli type of mythology of self-castration, to the Daphne type of myth of nymphs escaping either lust or an unwanted marriage or the pursuit by unwanted rape by a god.
He loved his own reflection (which he mistook for female), then turned into the flower bearing his name, ignoring the erotic desires of Echo all the while. But in an alternative version, he had an incestuous affair with his twin sister, who subsequently died, and his obsession for his own reflection was due to his own resemblance to his beloved.
Echo herself had been cursed never to be able to seduce Narcissus directly, but only to repeat his words. She was, in essence, his reflection, so his sentiment that his reflection was female, or that it was his twin sister, was correct. But Echo herself is a dwindled form of a once very mighty Goddess of great antiquity, Akko, mother of all language, whose Voice was that which called forth creation at the beginning of time, and who bears a close association with the Cretan Crocus-goddess Kar.
We know that Echo’s worship was significant within the secretive rites of Demeter. One day was put aside to honor Echo during the Demeter Festival of Eleusis. The precise nature of worship at the Echo shrine was forbidden to be written down, and is today unknown. Her worship was also part of the cult of the Argive Hera; and while in Latin versions of her myth Echo angered Juno (Hera) by covering for Jove’s sundry sexual liaisons, within the Argive cult Echo was Hera’s beloved handmaiden. Echo’s central myth within this cult binds her to the erotic nature-divinity, Pan, to whom she was reluctantly betrothed, and by whom she bore a daughter, Jynx or Yunx, who cast a spell that caused Zeus to fall in love with Io, for which reason Hera turned Jynx into a wryneck bird.
Or Echo gave birth to Peitho, Goddess of Soft Speech or of Seductive Persuasion. Peitho was handmaiden to Aphrodite, and became the bride of Hermes. Peitho had her own cult in Athens, said to have been introduced to the city by none other than Theseus. She is given several genealogies and isn’t invariably a daughter of Echo, but the notion that she was Echo’s daughter was sensible in that both were associated with speaking.
Dionyssiaca calls Echo the Goddess Who Never Fails to Speak. Though in later tales this meant she was an annoying chatterbox, there is ample evidence that any negative connotation was imposed by rival cults, and that Echo was in her own right a powerful divinity. Her cult was always of a secretive kind associated with lustiness and death, and never spoken of outside the confines of secret initiations. She was depicted as an angel-like being with enormous wings hiding her mouth behind a veil, signifying secret wisdom; just such an image of Echo is shown at the top of this page, and she is clearly distinct from any sort of nymph.
As a Virgin Goddess, she rejected not only Pan, but also Poseidon who sent a flood up the mountains in pursuit of Echo. She even refused to attend the wedding of Dionysios because of her dislike of the marriage bed. It is an interesting aside that a surname for Dionysios, Antheus (“Flowery”), was an alternate name for Narcissus. Echo’s disdain for marriage would have been quite normal for huntress-goddesses or nymphs of Artemis, yet Echo may have taken her disdain for all things connubial to extremes, and insulted Dionysios when she refused to participate in the violent drunken dance of the maenadic Oreiades or Hill-nymphs at Dionysios’ wedding.
In none of her myths is Echo given a genealogy, very likely because she was part and parcel with the First Cause in that it was her Voice that called forth creation. But some have speculated she was a renegade Oreiad of Boeotia, and that she left her sister-band of the pines and oaks of the mountain forests to live alone in a deep cavern of an alpine cliff, in order to not be seen and courted by any man or god.
If she were indeed an Oreiad this would make her a sister of the Dactyls and Satyrs, perhaps even a sister of Pan. The Oreiades were sometimes likened “the female Dactyls” and were wedded to their brothers, the Dactyloi. The children of the Dactyls and Oreiades were the Curetes or Corybontes, who were priests of Cybele and defenders of infant Zeus, and were male equivalents to the raging maenads who danced madly and noisily about the hillsides.
The mother of the Oreiades and Dactyloi was the Titaness of radiant heat, Anchiale, sister of Prometheus. Their father was the Titan of hands Hekateros. The sons and daughters of Anchiale and Hekateros invented iron metallurgy and brought the Bronze Age to a close. These sons and daughters were also great artists of anything involving use of the hands, and as light-bearers were bringers of wisdom out of darkness. Though it was said that Echo was educated in the arts by the Muses, it may once have been that Echo instructed the Muses!
These Oreiades were of the same generation of divinity as the Olympians, although since these children of Anchilale secretly nurtured the infant Zeus in a mountain cavern in Crete, really they are older than the Olympians. Anchiale herself dwelt originally on Mount Ida in Crete, and later on the Phrygian Mt. Ida, which association identifies her most strongly as a byform of Cybele Idaea, greatest of the Great Goddesses, the mother of Zeus.
But it’s important to remember that Echo’s recurring association with the Oreiades never explicitly makes her one of them, and this may well be due to her having been known to be herself a Titaness of the first generation of divinity. Rather than being the Nymph of Mt. Helicon, she was an aspect of the All-Mother herself.
When Pan was spurned by Echo, he visited madness upon local goatherders and sent them raging up the mountain sides until they found Echo, ripping her to pieces and scattering her bones. The behavior of the goatherders was commonly assumed to be an activity of Dionysios’s maenads, and Echo’s fate both duplicates that of Dionysios in his infancy (when he was cut up then restored, sans penis, by Gaea) but also punishes Echo for refusing to dance the mad dance with the maeanadic Oreiades at Dionysios’s wedding.
Gaea gathered up the far-flung bones of Echo and buried her part by part in sundry cliff-faces, where not just her voice can still be heard, but where her spirit inspires poetic gift for any voice beautiful enough to sing inspired lyrics or comprehend the mystic meanings.
By all this we see that Echo had a large presence apart from the best-remembered tale of her downfall for loving Narcissus. But most revealing of her original nature is an ancient Greek assumption that she was Persephone’s personal messenger (as Hermes was the personal messenger of Zeus), and flew upon her dark wings between the living world and Thanatos bringing perfect knowledge to and from the underworld.
In this we find again the real nature of Echo, whose lips are veiled, for the secret knowledge cajoled from her is incorruptible. It was an oral tradition forbidden to be written, but she repeated it verbatim from Persephone the Maiden aspect of Hekate. This Echo is, then, the same as the Jewish Bat Kol, “Daughter Voice,” who brings news from God and repeats it verbatim in her soft womanly voice directly into the hearts and spirits of humanity. In times of need Bat Kol can be heard to speak from out of a fiery light. Echo is also encountered in Vedic religion as the Goddess Devaduti, the Divine Messenger, feminine power of communication without whom even the greatest of gods is mute.
This association of Echo with Persephone, or Black Aphrodite, feeds back to the mythology of the narcissus flower, which was sacred to Persephone. Persephone had been picking daffodils on the very day she was kidnapped into the underworld. These flowers did not formerly bow their heads, but do so now, for shame of their role in the kidnapping. A beautiful meadow of these flowers grew near the River Styx, bringing sunlight to that dark land; and during her captivity, Persephone often walked amidst these flowers.
From the lingering bits of a largely forgotten mythology, it seems probable that Echo worship regarded Her as the “spark” that dwells within each of us, that which Narcissus mistook for his twin sister, a beautiful maiden, or his soul. All the Greek words for Spirit or Soul are feminine words, and so in Greek myth the soul is often personified as a nymph or goddess, Psyche as lover of Eros being most famed of these. Not coincidentally, in Semitic and Sanskrit languages too, the words for Soul are invariably female names. The last great flourishing of Soul worship in western religion was classical gnosticism. Among Gnostics, a central idea was that Sophia (the Mother-goddess Wisdom) spun out from herself, without need of a consort, the whole of the life-force of the world, diminishing herself to become infused into the material world, the energizing power of all life. Such belief remains current in India among saktists or Kali worshippers.
So the diminished Echo is still really that earlier Creatrix trying to call out to humanity, to Narcissus, striving to correct the Error of Sophia and liberate us from the world of Matter by calling us back into the pre-created universe of light and unity. But because she is fused to us, we can never quite perceive Her as anything but a reflection of ourselves, an echo of our own voices, and we are undone by our own vanity and remain snared in the material realm.
Hélène Cixous’ essay “Castration or Decapitation?” discusses the binary construction of sexuality and society, and how the feminine is defined by the negative: a woman is not a man because she lacks a penis. This “lack” keeps the female subject to definition by the male, as it is seen that because she is the “negative” pole to the man’s “positive”, the woman is concomitantly un-informed, and that therefore it is the position of the man to inform the woman. This imposed silence is what decapitates the feminine metaphorically, precluding her from speaking anything of meaning.
The following is an excerpt from this brilliant essay, translated by Annette Kuhn and published in Signs, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 41-55 (University of Chicago Press) – read the full essay HERE.
* * * * *
… It’s hard to imagine a more perfect example of a particular relationship between two economies: a masculine economy and a feminine economy, in which the masculine is governed by a rule that keeps time with two beats, three beats, four beats, with pipe and drum, exactly as it should be. An order that works by inculcation, by education. It’s always a question of education: an education that consists of trying to make a soldier of the feminine by force, the force history keeps reserved for woman, the “capital” force that is effectively decapitation. Women have no choice other than to be decapitated. The moral is that if they don’t actually lose their heads by the sword, they only keep them on condition that they lose them – lose them, that is, to complete silence, turned into automatons.
It’s a question of submitting feminine disorder, its laughter, its inability to take the drumbeats seriously, to the threat of decapitation. If man operates under the threat of castration, if masculinity is culturally ordered by the castration complex, it might be said that the backlash, the return, on women of this castration anxiety is its displacement as decapitation, execution, of woman, as loss of her head.
We are led to pose the woman question to history in quite elementary forms like, “Where is she? Is there any such thing as woman?” At worst, many women wonder whether they even exist. They feel they don’t exist and wonder if there has ever been a place for them. I am speaking of woman’s place,from woman’s place, if she takes (a) place.
In La Jeune Née I made use of a story that seemed to me particularly expressive of woman’s place: the story of Sleeping Beauty. Woman, if you look for her, has a strong chance of always being found in one position: in bed. In bed and asleep-“laid (out).” She is always to be found on or in a bed: Sleeping Beauty is lifted from her bed by a man because, as we all know, women don’t wake up by themselves: man has to intervene, you understand. She is lifted up by the man who will lay her in her next bed so that she may be confined to bed ever after, just as the fairy tales say.
And so her trajectory is from bed to bed: one bed to another, where she can dream all the more. There are some extraordinary analyses by Kierkegaard on women’s “existence”- or that part of it set aside for her by culture-in which he says he sees her as sleeper. She sleeps, he says, and first love dreams her and then she dreams of love. From dream to dream, and always in second position. In some stories, though, she can be found standing up, but not for long.
Take Little Red Riding Hood as an example: it will not, I imagine, be lost on you that the “red riding hood” in question is a little clitoris. Little Red Riding Hood basically gets up to some mischief: she’s the little female sex that tries to play a bit and sets out with her little pot of butter and her little jar of honey. What is interesting is that it’s her mother who gives them to her and sends her on an excursion that’s tempting precisely because it’s forbidden: Little Red Riding Hood leaves one house, mommy’s house, not to go out into the big wide world but to go from one house to another by the shortest route possible: to make haste, in other words, from the mother to the other.
The other in this case is grandmother, whom we might imagine as taking the place of the “Great Mother,” because there are great men but no great women: there are Grand-Mothers instead. And grandmothers are always wicked: she is the bad mother who always shuts the daughter in whenever the daughter might by chance want to live or take pleasure. So she’ll always be carrying her little pot of butter and her little jar of honey to grandmother, who is there as jealousy … the jealousy of the woman who can’t let her daughter go.
But in spite of all this Little Red Riding Hood makes her little detour, does what women should never do, travels through her own forest. She allows herself the forbidden … and pays dearly for it: she goes back to bed, in grandmother’s stomach. The Wolf is grandmother, and all women recognize the Big Bad Wolf! We know that always lying in wait for us somewhere in some big bed is a Big Bad Wolf.
The Big Bad Wolf represents, with his big teeth, his big eyes, and his grandmother’s looks, that great Superego that threatens all the little female red riding hoods who try to go out and explore their forest without the psychoanalyst’s permission. So, between two houses, between two beds, she is laid, ever caught in her chain of metaphors, metaphors that organize culture . . . ever her moon to the masculine sun, nature to culture, concavity to masculine convexity, matter to form, immobility/inertia to the march of progress, terrain trod by the masculine footstep, vessel… While man is obviously the active, the upright, the productive… and besides, that’s how it happens in History.
This opposition to woman cuts endlessly across all the oppositions that order culture. It’s the classic opposition, dualist and hierarchical. Man/Woman automatically means great/small, superior/inferior… means high or low, means Nature/History, means transformation/inertia. In fact, every theory of culture, every theory of society, the whole conglomeration of symbolic systems-everything, that is, that’s spoken, everything that’s organized as discourse, art, religion, the family, language, everything that seizes us, everything that acts on us – it is all ordered around hierarchical oppositions that come back to the man/ woman opposition, an opposition that can only be sustained by means of a difference posed by cultural discourse as “natural,” the difference between activity and passivity. It always works this way, and the opposition is founded in the couple [binary]. A couple posed in opposition, in tension, in conflict… a couple engaged in a kind of war in which death is always at work – and I keep emphasizing the importance of the opposition as couple, because all this isn’t just about one word; rather everything turns on the Word: everything is the Word and only the Word. To be aware of the couple, that it’s the couple that makes it all work, is also to point to the fact that it’s on the couple that we have to work if we are to deconstruct and transform culture. The couple as terrain, as space of cultural struggle, but also as terrain, as space demanding, insisting on, a complete transformation in the relation of one to the other. And so work still has to be done on the couple … on the question, for example, of what a completely different couple relationship would be like, what a love that was more than merely a cover for, a veil of, war would be like.
I said it turns on the Word: we must take culture at its word, as it takes us into its Word, into its tongue. You’ll understand why I think that no political reflection can dispense with reflection on language, with work on language. For as soon as we exist, we are born into language and language speaks (to) us, dictates its law, a law of death: it lays down its familial model, lays down its conjugal model, and even at the moment of uttering a sentence, admitting a notion of “being,” a question of being, an ontology, we are already seized by a certain kind of masculine desire, the desire that mobilizes philosophical discourse. As soon as the question “What is it?” is posed, from the moment a question is put, as soon as a reply is sought, we are already caught up in masculine interrogation. I say “masculine interrogation”: as we say so-and-so was interrogated by the police. And this interrogation precisely involves the work of signification: “What is it? Where is it?” A work of meaning, “This means that,” the predicative distribution that always at the same time orders the constitution of meaning. And while meaning is being constituted, it only gets constituted in a movement in which one of the terms of the couple is destroyed in favor of the other.
“Look for the lady,” as they say in the stories… “Cherchez la femme”– we always know that means: you’ll find her in bed. Another question that’s posed in History, rather a strange question, a typical male question, is: “What do women want?” The Freudian question, of course. In his work on desire, Freud asks somewhere, or rather doesn’t ask, leaves hanging in the air, the question “What do women want?” Let’s talk a bit about this desire and about why/how the question “What do women want?” gets put, how it’s both posed and left hanging in the air by philosophical discourse, by analytic discourse (analytic discourse being only one province of philosophical discourse), and how it is posed, let us say, by the Big Bad Wolf and the Grand-Mother.
“What does she want?” Little Red Riding Hood knew quite well what she wanted, but Freud’s question is not what it seems: it’s a rhetorical question. To pose the question “What do women want?” is to pose it already as answer, as from a man who isn’t expecting any answer, because the answer is “She wants nothing.” … “What does she want? … Nothing!” Nothing because she is passive. The only thing man can do is offer the question “What could she want, she who wants nothing?” Or in other words: “Without me, what could she want?”
Old Lacan takes up the slogan “What does she want?” when he says, “A woman cannot speak of her pleasure.” Most interesting! It’s all there, a woman cannot, is unable, hasn’t the power. Not to mention “speaking”: it’s exactly this that she’s forever deprived of. Unable to speak of pleasure = no pleasure, no desire: power, desire, speaking, pleasure, none of these is for woman. And as a quick reminder of how this works in theoretical discourse, one question: you are aware, of course, that for Freud/Lacan, woman is said to be “outside the Symbolic”: outside the Symbolic, that is outside language, the place of the Law, excluded from any possible relationship with culture and the cultural order. And she is outside the Symbolic because she lacks any relation to the phallus, because she does not enjoy what orders masculinity – the castration complex.
Woman does not have the advantage of the castration complex – it’s reserved solely for the little boy. The phallus, in Lacanian parlance also called the “transcendental signifier,” transcendental precisely as primary organizer of the structure of subjectivity, is what, for psychoanalysis, inscribes its effects, its effects of castration and resistance to castration and hence the very organization of language, as unconscious relations, and so it is the phallus that is said to constitute the a priori condition of all symbolic functioning. This has important implications as far as the body is concerned: the body is not sexed, does not recognize itself as, say, female or male without having gone through the castration complex.
What psychoanalysis points to as defining woman is that she lacks lack. She lacks lack? Curious to put it in so contradictory, so extremely paradoxical, a manner: she lacks lack. To say she lacks lack is also, after all, to say she doesn’t miss lack … since she doesn’t miss the lack of lack. Yes, they say, but the point is “she lacks The Lack,” The Lack, lack of the Phallus. And so, supposedly, she misses the great lack, so that without man she would be indefinite, indefinable, nonsexed, unable to recognize herself: outside the Symbolic. But fortunately there is man: he who comes … Prince Charming. And it’s man who teaches woman (because man is always the Master as well), who teaches her to be aware of lack, to be aware of absence, aware of death. It’s man who will finally order woman, “set her to rights,” by teaching her that without man she could “misrecognize.” He will teach her the Law of the Father. Something of the order of: “Without me, without me-the Absolute-Father (the father is always that much more absolute the more he is improbable, dubious)-without me you wouldn’t exist, I’ll show you.” Without him she’d remain in a state of distressing and distressed undifferentiation, unbordered, unorganized, “unpoliced” by the phallus… incoherent, chaotic, and embedded in the Imaginary in her ignorance of the Law of the Signifier. Without him she would in all probability not be contained by the threat of death, might even, perhaps, believe herself eternal, immortal. Without him she would be deprived of sexuality. And it might be said that man works very actively to produce “his woman.” Take for example Marguerite Duras’ Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein, and you will witness the moment when man can finally say “his” woman, “my” woman. It is that moment when he has taught her to be aware of Death. So man makes, he makes (up) his woman, not without being himself seized up and drawn into the dialectical movement that this sort of thing sets in play. We might say that the Absolute Woman, in culture, the woman who really represents femininity most effectively… who is closest to femininity as prey to masculinity, is actually the hysteric…. he makes her image for her!
The hysteric is a divine spirit that is always at the edge, the turning point, of making. She is one who does not make herself… she does not make herself but she does make the other. It is said that the hysteric “makes-believe” the father, plays the father, “makes-believe” the master. Plays, makes up, makes-believe: she makes-believe she is a woman, unmakes-believe too … plays at desire, plays the father… turns herself into him, unmakes him at the same time. Anyway, without the hysteric, there’s no father… without the hysteric, no master, no analyst, no analysis! She’s the unorganizable feminine construct, whose power of producing the other is a power that never returns to her. She is really a wellspring nourishing the other for eternity, yet not drawing back from the other … not recognizing herself in the images the other may or may not give her. She is given images that don’t belong to her, and she forces herself, as we’ve all done, to resemble them.
And so in the face of this person who lacks lack, who does not miss lack of lack, we have the construct that is infinitely easier to analyze, to put in place-manhood, flaunting its metaphors like banners through history. You know those metaphors: they are most effective. It’s always clearly a question of war, of battle. If there is no battle, it’s replaced by the stake of battle: strategy. Man is strategy, is reckoning . . . “how to win” with the least possible loss, at the lowest possible cost. Throughout literature masculine figures all say the same thing: “I’m reckoning” what to do to win. Take Don Juan and you have the whole masculine economy getting together to “give women just what it takes to keep them in bed” then swiftly taking back the investment, then reinvesting, etc., so that nothing ever gets given, everything gets taken back, while in the process the greatest possible dividend of pleasure is taken. Consumption without payment, of course.
Madness and witchery as well as bestiality are conditions commonly associated with the use of the female voice in public, in ancient as well as modern contexts. Consider how many female celebrities of classical mythology, literature and cult make themselves objectionable by the way they use their voice.
For example, there is the heart-chilling groan of the Gorgon, whose name is derived from a Sanskrit word, *garg meaning “a guttural animal howl that issues as a great wind from the back of the throat through a hugely distended mouth”. There are the Furies whose high-pitched and horrendous voices are compared by Aiskhylos to howling dogs or sounds of people being tortured in hell (Eumenides). There is the deadly voice of the Sirens and the dangerous ventriloquism of Helen (Odyssey) and the incredible babbling of Kassandra (Aiskhylos, Agamemnon) and the fearsome hullabaloo of Artemis as she charges through the woods (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite). There is the seductive discourse of Aphrodite which is so concrete an aspect of her power that she can wear it on her belt as a physical object or lend it to other women (Iliad). There is the old woman of Eleusinian legend Iambe who shrieks obscenities and throws her skirt up over her head to expose her genitalia. There is the haunting garrulity of the nymph Echo (daughter of Iambe in Athenian legend) who is described by Sophokles as “the girl with no door on her mouth” (Philoktetes).
Putting a door on the female mouth has been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to the present day. Its chief tactic is an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death.
— From “The Gender of Sound”, in Glass, Irony and God. New Directions, 1995: pp 120-121
The brilliant Anne Carson presents a history of the gendered voice, from Sophocles to Gertrude Stein. She outlines what is at stake in our assumptions around sound, questioning whether the concept of ‘self-control’ is a barrier to acknowledging other forms of human order, feeding into wider debates on social order, both past and present.
Read the whole essay HERE.
The subject experiences a sentiment of violent compassion with regard to the loved object each time he sees, feels, or knows the loved object is unhappy or in danger, for whatever reason external to the amorous relations itself.
1. “Supposing that we experienced the other as he experiences himself — which Schopenhauer calls compassion and which might more accurately be called a union within suffering, a unity of suffering — we should hate the other when he himself, like Pascal, finds himself hateful.” If the other suffers from hallucinations, if he fears going mad, I should myself hallucinate, myself go mad. Now, whatever the power of love, this does not occur: I am moved, anguished, for it is horrible to see those one loves suffering, but at the same time I remain dry, watertight. My identification is imperfect: I am a Mother (the other causes me concern), but an insufficient Mother; I bestir myself too much, in proportion to the profound reserve in which, actually, I remain. For at the same time that I “sincerely” identify myself with the other’s misery, what I read in this misery is that it occurs without me, and that by being miserable by himself, the other abandons me: if he suffers without me being the cause of his suffering, it is because I don’t count for him: his suffering annuls me insofar as it constitutes him outside of myself.
2. Whereupon, a reversal: since the other suffers without me, why suffer in his place? His misery bears him far away from me, I can only exhaust myself running after him, without ever hoping to be able to catch up, to coincide with him. So let us become a little detached, let us undertake the apprenticeship of a certain distance. Let the repressed word appear which rises to the lips of every subject, once he survives another death: Let us live!
3. So I shall suffer with the other, but without pressure, without losing myself. Such behaviour, at once very affective and very controlled, very amorous and very civilised, can be given a name: delicacy; in a sense it is the “healthy” (artistic) form of compassion. (Ate is the goddess of madness, but Plato speaks of Ate’s delicacy: her foot is winged, it touches lightly.)
~ Roland Barthes, from A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments pp. 57-58
I) HAIDES ABDUCTS PERSEPHONE
Homeric Hymn ii to Demeter (abridged) (trans. Evelyn White) (Greek epic circa 7th or 6th B.C.)
“[Demeter’s] trim-ankled daughter whom Aidoneus [Haides] rapt away, given to him by all-seeing Zeus the loud-thunderer. Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, she was playing with the deep-bosomed daughters of Okeanos and gathering flowers over a soft meadow, roses and crocuses and beautiful violets, irises also and hyacinths and the narcissus, which Gaia made to grow at the will of Zeus and to please Polydektor (the Host of Many), to be a snare for the bloom-like girl – a marvellous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see: from its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven (Ouranos) above and the whole earth (Gaia) and the sea’s (Thalassa’s) salt swell laughed for joy.
And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy: but the wide-pathed earth yawned there in the plain of Nysa, and the lord, Polydegmon (Host of Many), with his immortal horses sprang out upon her — the Son of Kronos, Polynomos (He who has many names). He caught her up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting.
Then she cried out shrilly with her voice, calling upon her father, [Zeus] the Son of Kronos, who is most high and excellent. But no one, either of the deathless gods or mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tender-hearted Hekate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaios, heard the girl from her cave, and the lord Helios (the Sun), Hyperion’s bright son, as she cried to her father, the Son of Kronos. But he was sitting aloof, apart from the gods, in his temple where many pray, and receiving sweet offerings from mortal men. So he [Haides], that Son of Kronos, Polynomos (of Many Names), Polysemantor (Ruler of Many) and Polydegmon (Host of Many), was bearing her away by leave of Zeus on his immortal chariot – his brother’s child and all unwilling.
And so long as she, the goddess, yet beheld earth and starry heaven and the strong-flowing sea where fishes shoal, and the rays of the sun, and still hoped to see her dear mother and the tribes of the eternal gods, so long hope claimed her great heart for all her trouble… and the heights of the mountains and the depths of the sea ran with her immortal voice: and her queenly mother heard her.
I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.
are the stories told by grandma on a moonless night less true than those told in the moonlight?
are stories spun with hunger-sour spit less sweet than those spat by a fat belly grandma?
how much does spittle matter in the natter of friends?
and like that we were sent to bed, to cuddle our empty tums to suck on our thinning thumbs.
“It won’t cost much… Just your voice.”
From Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989)
“Peter” from Daughter (Elena Tonra). Tales From Shop Session, filmed in Bristol by Tom Swindell, 2010.