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Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet

Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet

Book Cover
Eros the Bittersweet, by Anne Carson. 1986

In the beginning, there was Paradox. The end won’t resolve this. It can’t, for obvious reasons. When we’re no longer able to hear the ex-lover cry, the tree fall, or remember the all too familiar trajectory of sweet to bitter, the Paradox remains. Anne Carson, in her beautiful meditation on Sappho, Socrates, Desire, and bridges to more bridges, takes us on a journey to Paradox, and gently, sweetly leaves us wanting more. More Sappho, more love, more.

Which is the key to it all. Or is it?

Wanting, longing, loving, or taming and overcoming these things? Carson presents a battle of competing methods, ideals and philosophies, with a focus on Sappho’s fragments and Plato’s Phaedrus, where she uncovers links to (potentially) bridge internal and external gaps. Doubling, tripling those gaps and bridges, through space and time, Carson uses Socrates and Sappho to mediate between the written and spoken word, lover and beloved, and denial or embrace of the passions. 

In the chapter entitled, “Finding the Edge,” she says:

Eros is an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance, between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too,’ the absent presence of desire comes alive. But the boundaries of time and glance and I love you are only aftershocks of the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can.

We are Edge without Form, Boundary without Shape. We constantly seek to cross over, but retain. Retain us. Who we are. At least enough of us, of our self, to remember why and with whom. In the midst of the greatest passions, we want these edges and these boundaries to disappear, though some humans want to further complicate matters with yet more Impossibles: break through those edges, those boundaries, that form in others, while losing none of these things ourselves.

Love can be predatory, and in so many of the ancient Greek myths, it is. Carson reminds us that seeking knowledge may have similar intentions.

And then there is Time. Being in or beyond it. Distanced or overwhelmed by it.

The static blooms of Adonis provide us with an answer to our question ‘What would the lover ask of time?’ As Plato formulates it, the answer brings us once again to the perception that lovers and readers have very similar desires. And the desire of each is something paradoxical. As lover you want ice to be ice and yet not melt in your hands. As reader you want knowledge to be knowledge and yet lie fixed on a written page. Such wants cannot help but pain you . . .

 

Glukupikron:

Sweetbitter love gives us the trajectory, the flow of life too, and teaches us the futility of avoidance, the perverse logic of indifference, the tragic fate of living in Either/or land. Both/and seems preferable, overall. I’ll dive in now and (perhaps) write deathless prose about it later. Standing on the cliffs, inside my own head, inside my delusions of indifference and control, is no way to run a railroad. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try to remain above the fray, the river flows on, Eros laughs — mindfully, if he’s in the mood.

 

Zen Fields Beyond the Canvas

Zen Fields Beyond the Canvas

Flaming June, by Frederic Leighton. 1895. Museo de Arte de Ponce.

You were my dream
So the poets say
So they spin and wrack their minds
How to express what can not be

Love
     Love of
          Love of her
Of life

Of the stars
Anything that crisscrosses
Their eyes and ears
Their fifth or sixth dimension

Like the waves they see
As stand-ins for her
Like the mountains they see
As symbols of her strength

The irony the melancholy
Of it all is
Of course the non-abstract
Nature of her

The total lack of symbology
In the way she moves
     The way she smiles
Only when it’s necessary

Only when there is nothing else
To be done

She smiles at the perfect time
In a perfect way

Thus rendering all symbols
All analogies all parables
     Superfluous
At best

She was my dream
Because of that
Her dreamless self
The beyondness

Of it all
The stark raving madness
Of it all
As if no art were necessary

As if no dreams were needed
     Or possible
          Created
               Or imagined

Or pinned to page or canvas
By us
For us
She did not require them!!

We
     could
          not
Complete her . . .