Journey

2007 January 20
by barclay

It seems that I keep unintentionally running into reasons why A—- (as well as some other past girlfriends) and I were destined to be poor lovers. (Likewise, a reason we’re great friends.) Take these passages from Milan Kundera’s Slowness:


You’re astonished: where, in that terrain so rationally organized, mapped out, delineated, calculated, measured – where is there room for spontaneity, for “madness,” where is the delirium, where is the blindness of desire, the “mad love” that the surrealists idolized, where is the forgetting of self? Where are all those virtues of unreason that have shaped our idea of love? No, they have no place here. For Madame de T. is the queen of reason. Not the pitiless reason of the Marquise de Merteuil, but a gentle, tender reason, a reason whose supreme mission is to protect love.


She possesses the wisdom of slowness and employs the whole range of techniques for slowing things down. She demonstrates it particularly during the second stage of the night, which is spend in the pavilion: they enter, they embrace, they fall onto a couch, they make love. But “all this had been a little hurried. We understood our error…. When we are too ardent, we are less subtle. When we rush to sensual pleasure, we blur all the delights along the way.”


There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.

In existential mathematics, that experience takes the form of two basic equations: the degree of slowness is direction proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.


In this respect, A—- and I were definitely polarized. I’m with Kundera here, while several of my past girlfriends have been in the opposite camp. That’s not surprising, as I have a predisposition for artists, and it seems most artists have a predisposition for unbridled spontaneity. Now, A—- (and others) might contest this designation, but there was certainly a strong element of it present.

On the other hand, I also realize that, to quote Violent Acres: “Do you want to know what we [girls] really talked about when discussing the best sex we ever had? We talked about our scraped knees and the bruises on our backs where we were bitten in the throes of passion. No one even mentioned that time you filled the bathtub full of rose petals and blah, blah, blah. It was that time in the back seat of an old chevy with our faces crudely pressed up against the window that got us hot.” But I also don’t think of this is as the first step. Imagine the route to encounter, all the nights previous, all the machinations invoked to make this an unexpected surprise. The slowness is the journey. People don’t talk about the excruciating hike up to Machu Pichu, they only talk the destination – but it wouldn’t be quite the same at sea level. I enjoy the journey; I want to prolong it.

I see this in my love of chaotic and experimental music: I don’t hear it as a cacophony of dissonance, as many do, but of a canvas of highly organized, yet abstract, signposts, encouraging you to slow down, listen, and form your interpretation carefully. Isn’t that a fundamental of abstract art? To unencumber that which can’t be directly portrayed with an indication of it? If an explicit painting of “love” or “hate” or “misery” or “happiness” only serves to minimize or limit its representation, then isn’t abstract art and effort to free the concept from it’s bindings? Just as words can only outline of a concept, they are not the concept itself, and too many words only end of obscuring the message they were originally cast to convey? The paintings and words and sounds are a guide for a journey, an invitation to walk inward and experience the concept or feeling yourself – it is a map for the journey.

Then again, perhaps I’m just reminding myself to slow down.

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