October 27, 2010

Unhinging Theory: Eros

Culture, Feature, Philosophy 2 Comments

Studies in Desire, by Dawn Kaczmar

I’ve been hesitant to write a piece here that includes any personal details. My goal has been to break down the concept of eros at a theoretical level, to dissect its limbs, vital organs, and quiet shivers and distill them into a shifting lens of perception and, hopefully, insight.

My study of the erotic, however, is obviously informed by my own experiences of it. The observer, the scientist, the writer is found within the object of study; as Heisenberg says, “method and object can no longer be separated.” It is a necessary humility for the scientist, or, in my case, the writer, to admit to his or her subjectivity.

Visceral experience unhinges theories: it can add new directions and dimensions of movement, or enable its falling apart. One can predict the arc of a love affair as it swings open, but to walk within its walls, press your hands against its flesh, and swallow its pulse: such experience can have unintended consequences of monumental creation or epic destruction directly in the face of theory. If it is my goal to express to the reader the way in which experience can shatter theory, it is also implicit that reveal how I, myself, have been shattered. Call them field notes.

The erotic is a subject that fascinates me. It is beyond a surface-level fanaticism with pleasure; I am deeply enraptured in the many ways in which one can engage and understand eros, whether it is with the self, another, or multiple partners. As I am also prone to excessive daydreaming, I do, however, have a proclivity for fantasy-life. I study, observe, imagine, and experience.

Although I had understood this difference between theory and experience before, it was not until this year that I truly felt shattered by it and noted the dynamic relationship between the two. It came in the form of confronting something I had desired for nearly a decade. Something that I had craved so badly that it terrified me. Something that I not only found desire within, but found myself within.

I never told him any of this. I could barely even think of him without feeling overwhelmed. I eventually moved away. I wrote letters to him that I didn’t send. Once, on a visit home, I saw him at a movie theater, and hid. I never once doubted that he was an impossible object of adoration. I held him within me as an abstraction, an unreachable desire, a theoretical ideal of my passion’s symmetry. Although intense, this desire was resigned to a conceptual space that seemed impenetrable. I was not suspended by it because there was no anticipation of reward; I was simply imbued with it. Truly, “desire” is an inadequate word to describe the reach I felt; it was beyond carnal, material, or sexual. It was existential.

And then, on some arbitrary day, he contacted me. During this casual conversation, my heart raced and I struggled to breathe. Slowly, confessions of my obsession with him started dribbling out. He encouraged me and we began swirling in on each other like inbound stars having discovered our gravitational pull, our fundamental recognition of each other. My shattering occurred through the destruction of my beliefs about what was possible and impossible in the world, through a distant abstraction made real. The horizons succumbed to us. I thought of all the times I had written, alone to myself, secretly, in my diary: I long to be proven wrong. Experience unhinged my theory.

“I want to hold your head in my hands,” he said.

“I feel like the world would end if you touched me.”

It didn’t end, but it was not the same world as before. We stretched out time and marveled as eight years collapsed into hours, minutes, seconds. Everything I thought I understood about life suddenly seemed false in the face of this fissure. It was freedom, creativity, recognition, acceptance, love, desire, and existence, culminating after I had allowed it to sit for so long, festering in my heart.

My theory, both existential and erotic, was shattered by the experience of it in its rawest form. If one seeks to dismantle the logos, it is surely through the erotic: it is the saison en enfer, the destruction that breeds vitality, the ultimate loss through which all else is gained. My world, my theory, my imprecise study crumbles at the feet of the experience of my lover; he is the imperceptible footnote to every hypothesis. The relationship between theory and experience, in my work, swings by this arc.

In a letter to Milena Jesenská, Franz Kafka wrote, “in this love you are like a knife, with which I explore myself.” The erotic isn’t merely a tool with which to explore the sexual or romantic experience, but the self, the world, and the very fabric of existence.

While these incisions are tearing up my insides, they are also influencing my trajectory as a writer. The erotic is my science, and it is one that is constantly subject to destruction and re-birth; it is through these slivers of experience that each subtlety reveals itself. A small, turning fractal of truth grins through these lacerations, only to dive down, returning to the unknown. It is a study located in the temporal and in the subject: eros is not one particular thing. It is the fleeting, the almost, and through this reach, the scientist trembles and discovers, only to lose once again.

Eros: An Introduction
Beauty, Eros, and the Particular
Erotic Obstructions
The Erotic Temporal Arc: Decay, Return, and Eternity


Dawn Kaczmar attempts to distill the exquisitely useless beauty of information; across theory and practice, across possession and obstruction, she seeks the fleeting and overarching truths of eros. Dawn is currently a freelance writer with a background in philosophy and literature.

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  • Hector

    This, theoretically, evokes memories from Derrida’s “Writing and Difference,” where he speaks about the clinical discourse vs the critical discourse. Agreeing with Foucault, Derrida asserts there exists an undefined limit that approaches infinity as the two begin to flirt – replace clinical with the phenomenological and the critical with the theoretical, and I see a fine comparison between this and your thesis; except through your experience, you have, at least inductively, proved he and Foucault’s position too rigid. I, too, believe their position rigid and inapplicable to relative reality – I agree with you and empathize with your experience. You have conveyed it quite beautifully and, yet, don’t try to assert anything too…”assertively,” haha. 


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