Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay

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Sometimes she crosses one genre too many; sometimes she calibrates her blends precisely. It may also be a deadpan love letter. Whenever I read it, I suspect the author wrote it with some particular person—lost or unattainable—in mind: it has exactly that quality of stoic melancholy. Eros pursues its elusive theme in a style both dogged and chaste. Slyly she suggests that this is the same point at which figurative language begins:. Let us keep these questions in mind as we consider another point on the landscape of human thinking, a point which is also a verb—moreover a verb that triangulates, haunts, splits, wrenches and delights us each time it acts.

Carson sustains this tragic monotone throughout all her books; she is the Nico of contemporary authors. Every so often, though, her pitch rises slightly, to beautiful effect. Imagine a city where there is no desire. Supposing for a moment that the inhabitants of the city continue to eat, drink and procreate in some mechanical way: still, their life looks flat.

They do not theorize or spin tops or speak figuratively. Few think to shun pain; none give gifts. It explains the compulsions that drive me to read and, to a lesser extent, to write and it explains how I like to love: deeply, and without reservation about the reality that complete understanding will always remain paradoxically just within reach, right behind a blind spot and a metaphor. Both the experience of desire and the experience of reading have something to teach us about edges. We have watched how archaic poets shape love poems as triangles and how ancient novelists construct novels as a sustained experience of paradox The unplucked apple, the beloved just out of touch, the meaning not quite attained, are desirable objects of knowledge.

It is the enterprise of eros to keep them so. The unknown must remain unknown or the novel ends. As all paradoxes are, in some way, paradoxes about paradox, so all eros is, to some degree, desire for desire. Hence, ruses. Poets and the novelist, like lovers, touch that space to life with their metaphors and subterfuges.

The edges of that space are the edges of the things you love, whose inconcinnities make your mind move. Jan 08, Kate Wyer rated it really liked it. How do they know an edge is an edge? By passionately wanting it not to be.

The experience of eros as lack alerts a person to the boundaries of himself, of other people, of things in general.. If we follow the trajectory of eros we consistently find it tracing out this same route: it moves out from the lover toward the beloved, then ricochets back to the lover himself and the hole in him, unnoticed before. Who is the real subject of most love "Infants begin to see by noticing the edges of things. Who is the real subject of most love poems? Not the beloved. It is that hole. The presence of want awakens in him nostalgia for wholeness.

His thought turn toward question of personal identity: he must recover and reincorporate what is gone if he is to be a complete person. It comes from the lover's classificatory process. Desire for an object that he never knew he lacked is defined, by a shift of distance, as desire for a necessary part of himself.

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Not a new acquisition but something that was always, properly, his. Two lacks become one. To think about one's own tactics is always a tricky business. All at once a self never know before, which now strikes you as the true one, is coming into focus. A gust of godlikeness may pass through you and for an instant a great many things look knowable, possible and present. Then the edge asserts itself.

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You are not a god. You are not that enlarged self. Indeed, you are not even a whole self, as you now see. Your new knowledge of possibilities is also a knowledge of what is lacking in the actual. Jul 20, Karlijn rated it it was amazing. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I "Eros is an issue of boundaries. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can.

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Jan 06, Will rated it it was amazing Shelves: ancient-world. Here are some things I learned while reading my bajillionth Anne Carson book: I don't understand love. Greek philosophy confuses me, but I love it. The chase really is better than the catch. Time is weird. I love love. Feb 21, Dawn rated it it was amazing. I really enjoyed this book! I had read some of Carson's translations of Euripides from her collection called Grief Lessons, which also features some really interesting but small commentary on, in the same vein as this book, the concepts of grief and rage in Greek tragedy and thought they were pretty good and then I found this at one of my favorite bookstores in Astoria.

First and foremost this book is about conceptually mapping eros and what it meant for the ancient Greeks.

Eros the Bittersweet Summary & Study Guide Description

Carson's analysis is I really enjoyed this book! Carson's analysis is by no means exhaustive, but she does include quite a few areas of interest including: Homer mostly the Iliad, a colleague inspired me to recognize that Odysseus and Penelope's relationship is not brought up , the Archaic lyric poets mostly Sappho and Archilochos, but also a little Anakreon , Plato best of the best! In addition to these ancient sources, she also frequently uses more modern sources to explain her points e. To that extent, she works through the aforementioned ancient authors and articulates a really interesting and vibrant picture of eros which fits nicely in its various contexts.

I would say for the uninformed reader, the book is highly understandable although somewhat specialized; for the informed reader, it may lack some academic rigour as I've learned some are biased against Carson because she "thinks she is a poet," others are happy to accept her scholarly work , but it is an extremely coherent argument and interesting to boot.

And what's more, she intersperses comments that prod the reader and make them consider the issues not just in the context of ancient Greece but in their own lives not necessarily in an alternate, modern context, but as concepts to know and understand. Overall, a book I am more than happy to place on my shelf. The book is divided into small chapters perhaps 15 pages at most that are various aspects of eros Ruse, Tactics, Finding the Edge, Something Paradoxical, Takeover, etc.

I've selected a few quotes that I think epitomize her methodology and give some insight into her interesting arguments and what they say I hope they aren't too awkward without more context accompanied by witty, pithy titles hehe and brief comments by me. But before I list those I'd like to mention the arguments I'm not going to quote because they are either too obscure without more context I can't type everything, jeez or some other reason.

The first is Zeno's paradoxes which she compares to the paradox of eros. Eros defined as lack can never be completed just like the paradoxes of Zeno defy the laws of time and motion to posit that nothing is ever completed, distance and time are untraverseable. The second is the Bellerophon myth from Homer he is sent by the king whose wife accuses him of erotic interest to another king with the old "kill the messenger" message. She uses the written message aspect of the tale to highlight its paradoxical elements Homer's orality, Bellerophon's disinterest in the content of the message and of course the eros that it revolves around.

I'm also not going to quote any sections about Greek novels I must profess a slight distaste for the genre!

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However, her analysis and arguments concerning them are very compelling and very on the mark in sum, the Greek novel is about delaying the union of the lovers to continue the narrative and thus the search for eros just like the desire for eros vanishes upon attaining it. This final falling short is gently, repeatedly prepared by what comes before.


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Each line launches an impression that is at once modified, then launched again. This motion is corroborated in the rhythm of the verse: dactyls in lines 1 and 2 slow and elongate to spondees in line 3 as the apple begins to look farther and farther away…In its sounds, in its rythmic effects, in its process of thought, in its narrative content and in its external occasion, if these lines are from an epithalamium this poem acts out the experience of eros.

It is a compound experience, both gluku and pikron: Sappho begins with a sweet apple and ends in infinite hunger. From her inchoate little poem we learn several things about eros. The reach of desire is defined in action: beautiful in its object , foiled in its attempt , endless in time. So his thought process is continually moving and searching through the borderland of language where puns occur. What is the lover searching for there? A pun is a figure of language that depends on similarity of sound and disparity of meaning. It matches two sounds that fit perfectly together as aural shapes yet stand insistently, provocatively apart in sense.

You perceive homophony and at the same time see the semantic space that separates the two words.