Saturday, March 14, 2009

Roland Barthes's "A Lover's Discourse"

Our readings are embedded in our lives, even as we embed our lives in our readings. This book by Barthes came into my hands through a developing friendship with a lesbian colleague, SW. A gesture of empathy and help, does not the giving also savor of Eros? At any rate, there is dissemination, if not insemination, and I gratefully receive it. 

The trope is particularly appropriate to a striking passage in the chapter on "Absence." Translated by Richard Howard, Barthes says:

2. Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the Woman: Woman is sedentary, Man hunts, journeys' Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). It is Woman who gives shape to absence, elaborates its fiction, for she has time to do so; she weaves and she sings; the Spinning Songs express both immobility (by the hum of the Wheel) and absence (far away, rhythms of travel, sea surges, cavalcades). It follows that in any man who utters the other's absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized. A man is not feminized because he is inverted but because he is in love. [Bold emphasis mine]

The spinner's thread: I am also reading, with a reading group that includes SW, The Odyssey (translated by H. D. Rouse), and so cannot help but think of Penelope, spinning her wheels at home, and Odysseus, driving into the winds of chance. Also thinking (reading and living, living and reading) about the passive reply I sent JPO who wrote after a spell of silence, I wonder if I should have taken a more muscular stance. Would he like that better, or less?

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