Felix Culpa and Anne Senhal

Measure
Horizon
Cover/Uncover
the property of propositions
....reactions to reflections on what we know before reflection

from h2so4 7: Measure by Anne Senhal

This is written for Felix Culpa, to whom Harley Psalter has failed to reply for a year now. Felix and I are cut from the same cloth, but never wear the same size. Still, I can't let his questions go unaddressed. --AS

Is it always what you hate about someone that drives you to love her or him as well? This paradox (not irony) underlies all our happiness, and all our discontent. My love speaks of epithets, dares to call himself "circumspect." I told him, We may live in a state of paradox, but that does not mean we can make ourselves what we aren't simply by speaking its names. 

He is, like a man, very enclosed in his body, often looking but not seeing, having to be shown what is in front of his face--my tattoo, his arrogance, the beauty of poetry he hasn't written... my desire that he not perform for me, that he talk to me as human, not as woman, or man.

The sadness of romance is already anticipated in any happiness it produces. This is so obvious that it should be second nature to us now. And yet betrayal never fails to shock; and if it doesn't surface on its own, we force it into our lives as if we felt the loss of it. Jeanette Winterson asks, Why is the measure of love loss? Indeed. There is no measure, of love, or loss. Measurement cannot help but betray its origins--in science. And science speaks of distance, objectivity and the arrogance of what men call "truth."

We create betrayal by constraining our own choices, and the choices of those we love. When a pair is established, any new friendship always borders on betrayal; intellectual intimacy, change in preference for art or clothing, desire to try something new: all these are dangerous.... I am inconstant according to popular terminology, because I want to escape what destroys me by means of its preconception of what can be. This, of course, cannot work in a world in which even the nonconventional conform to convention in romance. 

I don't want to leave you, I simply want to change. I want to change myself. I want to change the world. If you don't let me, you have lost me already.

We need to create a new way to read betrayal. Our overwhelming desire to be loved leads us to limit the possibility of finding such blessing. We may live in a state of paradox, but that does not mean we can make ourselves what we aren't simply by speaking its names. We want change, to exact it from everything save what is close to us. We want change, and yet we fabricate every source of movement as betrayal. 

Is my conclusion to be, then, that we, mere mortals, cannot ask for more than what the world-as-it-is provides, cannot have lovers, friends, change in our lives and others, have the freedom to pursue all dreams at the same time; that these blockages of development merely serve as reminders of how it must be, loved ones posing as stones tied around our necks? 

Read my stone: I am taken; our path together is predetermined by what has come before; do not seek anything new in me--I am hopeless of a better world.

It is a blockage of ownership, as if a pairing off of two were a selling off of both into one untouchable impermeable one. This point of cut-off precludes more than its share; it is tit for tat-tat-tat. Am I now expected to assert that it is worth it, in the long run, for my love? What I want to do is question the basis on which that judgment must be made. Who is worth who when who is two noncomparables? When one of those whos may be me? What I don't want to continue to do is say "it's OK," and "thus it has to be," when it makes no sense to continue believing so. When in fact everything I work live write and struggle for demands that I not accept such an idea. --Anne Senhal

From h2so4 7: Horizon by Felix Culpa

For Harley: You don't have to read this in order to know. 

The desert. The sea. These are opposites. We think in opposites and categories. The desert is not and never will be the sea; it is characterized by dry, it holds you up, above the ground. The sea is wet, it draws you in, beneath the surface. It must be either/or. You tell me it must be either/or. My love. The Dead Sea defies clear edges--it is a sea in the midst of the desert, it is a desert in a sea. It stands for my love. The Dead Sea won't let you sink in, expelling your lighter parts to the surface despite their work to probe its waters. Any trace of previous injury stings bitterly, salt in wounds. The sea doesn't care--you chose to enter. You approach it, placing it in its category, a sea, water. It draws your attention to your mistake. You fight to maintain the distinction.

When the water finally expels you, when you leave, exhausted by pain and work, you are in a strange land. Men gaze at you as if you are not of them, a curiosity. Their eyes define you and you believe their definitions, for a moment. 

Looking back, the water is not beautiful. Dark, dirty, thickly boiling. What drew you to it? Curiosity, vague longing, suppressed knowledge, difference? You reached out to touch it because in an unguarded moment it touched you. There is a privilege in craving difference—the privilege of being able to afford to fail, be expelled, thrown back to your origins.

For in another land you always are your origins; nothing is transcended. Inhabitants see the form of your origin in the bend of your eyelid, its monuments in your eyes. They read the text of your history on your skin, in your clothing. The bill of sale was attached at the moment of your birth. It reflects the spaces that interrupt the horizons of "home."

The desolate sandblasted lonely haunted horizon gazed full upon the open green farmland lonely distant-foreign horizon and made a choice--you are not me, you will not be of me.

We stood face-to-face, looking and not seeing.

Is it true that what is most desirable is that which can never be captured? And what of the search? The conquest. How we define ourselves by excluding others, and pay the price by being excluded when we seek inclusion? Our designs punish us, and we blame the designs.

But I think we both recognize that this can never be true. The horizon is defined by the meeting of two colors, no matter where it is, where or how you look. Blue and brown, blue and blue, grey and grey. These are different colors. Who would believe it? But you've seen it. Language will not do justice to what you and I have seen. But we will strain it, try to force it to... why? Because to contain language is to conquer history It draws lines; you feel comfort. If they are drawn to suit you.

And yet... you are a doubting Thomas, always needing to stick your full hand in the wound, to prove it's there, prove your own existence.

I quote someone else's poetry at you. You can learn/from the edges that blur O you who love clear edges/more than anything watch the edges that blur.* Categories will not help you in this land.

You abandon the Dead Sea and set out to conquer the next obstacle, climb Masada and I follow. But, we've read our histories; no fortress is impregnable. We want to live in freedom, and yet we want to live in peace, and yet we want something to change. Drifting from center, drawn to edges/a privilege we can't afford in the world that is.* It is this simple: we have to be willing to take risks, live differently, if we want anything to change. I hope that you don't have to read this to know.

The desert stretches out endlessly, even in a small land. The ocean rolls forth to infinity. The sea is always hemmed in by history, by boundary, borderlands, men. Thousands of feet above it, I long to be of it. -- Felix Culpa

*Adrienne Rich, Your Native Land, Your Life, #29 Contradictions: Tracking Poems and Yom Kippur.

from h2so4 8: Cover/Uncover by Felix Culpa

Dear Anne:

Truth is neither a property of things in the sense of beings, nor a property of propositions; it is that I love you. There is no turning back from such a love. Even unattained, it stands. How to say this to you, who trusts me but does not trust love, I don't know. There is always so much left uncovered.

Read that in so many contradictory ways, and I mean them all. In speaking, I uncover something of my heart that was heretofore veiled, kept safe from penetrating eye and intellect. But no matter how much I say or reveal, I never reach a state of completeness... there is something remaining which I have been unable to cover, which I have not found the means to uncover.

Cover, uncover.

The drive to say it all, to assume that I could cover the topic totally, uncover all the dark spots in you, is perhaps an arrogance in me. There is a magic in people, and there is a force that draws two certain people together, and the relentless drive to draw it out, speak it into life, drown it in interpretation, is akin to defilement. I resist this. Because I love you.

Every moment of light that I experience with you has its attendant darkness. And even this is not tragedy. Be it deliberate or not, whether I seek deception or shelter, what is covered over in darkness remains eternally linked to what happens in the light that is my love for you. Believe it or not, I do not need to read philosophy to know this. And if I sometimes cover over even these dark moments, so that it seems I have told you everything, the darkness all made light, know that I dearly long to tell you everything despite the impossibility. If my fear does not hold me back, the ineffability of what most needs to be said will. 

Darkness, light.

Love is of course an abstraction, but is such a kind of abstraction as also claims me on a physiological level. I tremble visibly at the sight of you, or even at the thought of you. Even so, nothing is pure; my idea of love is pushed in from all sides by societal expectations, past experiences and my unspoken longings. Impossible. 

If I love you, it must mean I long to possess you: that is the truth of the logical proposition. If I love you, it must mean I no longer love Harley Psalter, whose love inspired our original correspondence. It is only logical to think so: yet logic is the drive itself that makes the world run logically. And logic is formed by our need for order, and order is what keeps the world as it is, and such a world is not of my design. I crave the chaos of a love that knows no bounds. I can offer this, I think. Still, if all I know is what is of this world, how can I hope to move beyond it, into what you and I would call truth? To experience darkness, chaos, all cover, as the very condition of possibility? A possibility that the world cannot yet envision? Impossible.

Chaos, order.

What, after all, is my love for you? Does this endless examination of what-I-feel do violence to what is essential in love? I think it may. I would give the world to have the time to live this wondering, daily, with you, and I would give up time to have a world where this was possible. 

Would you?

Love, Felix

from h2so4 8: the property of propositions by Anne Senhal

Dear Felix:

Our love is philosophy, and both are precisely what is at stake. And for this very reason it is important that you ask yourself what you come to the table believing. I would say that your presupposition of the impossibility of this love is not the beginning but the end. It is what is always there in the scene of our love from beginning to end. Of course, any presupposition is embedded in the history of our era, and is to some extent inescapable. It is what is real and will remain there, waiting for us, whether we observe it or reduce ourselves to ridicule in ignoring it. 

But do we want to accept these assumptions, or do we want to challenge them? I certainly have put you in a difficult situation. Indeed there is no room for me there; exceedingly often it seems that there is still little room for me here. And yet, to welcome what doesn't fit is to challenge what has come before. To say no to such a challenge is to give up on the possibility of the inception of something better. And to give up on possibility is to die before death.

I've set my eye on something as my end, and, as the angel I wear around my neck states, "in my end is my beginning": the end result is always affected by the character of its beginning. The decision to stay on a difficult course is a source of distress, a distress which always exists alongside the appearance of truth where before there was nothing. Whosoever understands the necessity of this distress understands also that with such understanding everything changes, including the nature of that distress. Commitment is the power that reshapes distress into something that we might call true desire. Such a change, of necessity, drives us to seek freedom.

The source of all distress is, of course, our own unknowingness in the face of death, our mortality. The need to know, the catalyst of all questioning, is conditioned by this limitation. And yet I believe fervently that distress surfaces only when we are compelled at the level of our ownmost knowledge to question what we believe, what it is for us to "be." It seems beyond us and yet occurs within us.

We sometimes in our confusion label true desire "compulsion," and act as if we have no choice whether to commit ourselves to the end at hand. But in philosophy and love, and our love is philosophy, and both are precisely what is at stake, commitment is a necessity. Freedom is not the power to do anything, but the choice to limit oneself with commitments. And commitment's attendant is the difficult decision. Every decision finds its way into the world, where it nearly dies of exposure—to a world whose mind thinks it is always already made up and without room for the movement of another commitment. This world will distort your desire to a point at which it is almost unrecognizable.... 

It is entirely possible to stumble on the path of commitment. Only the truly committed can really hesitate, and know what it is to hesitate. The wanderer stumbles from one course to the next, equally open to each, without hesitation, never making the choice.

That distress and desire may seem to compel does not mean that they should be embraced and courted, but rather they should be examined for what they reveal, and thus transcend what is thoroughly inessential, leaving us with what is essential in desire: our love, and thought. 

I wrote to you last time, "I am inconstant according to popular terminology, because I want to escape what destroys me by means of its preconception of what can be." But you know at the only level that matters that I am the most constant, the most committed.

I wrote to you last time, twice, "We may live in a state of paradox, but that does not mean we can make ourselves what we aren't simply by speaking its names." Tell me this love is true, singular, all-encompassing, important. I believe you, because I love your words. But for you it is important that you live these words, and beyond them and in them. In the end, it is not the words that matter.

Love, Anne

From h2so4 10: ....reactions to reflections on what we know before reflection by Felix Culpa

What is love and what is it to say "I love you"? Are these equivalent? We all jump to say "No, they are not the same thing." And why, why not? Not simply because it is possible to lie with speech. That is not what we are questioning.

Instead we look where and how it is not possible to lie with the body. And even here it will be all too easy to slip into a literal meaning. Of course one can feign love or sexual pleasure, and this might be called lying with the body. But still the lie of literality, whether or not it be spoken, is not what concerns us here.

And so, once we are beyond this accounting for purposive lies, we may ask whence comes the "I love you".... 

It follows. Always comes second, is after the physicality of the feeling, or idea. The physicality of the idea. This is what is primary.

The phrase "I love you" makes explicit the feeling we have all known. This verbalization does not give us "love" itself, but is its second version, derivative, expressible, and thus both inadequate and wholly up to what is demanded of it. It can be said only because we have come to know the feeling that inspires the phrase. Words may not be enough, but what is it that we want from words? The words point to the meaning experienced prior to their utterance or formulation--they do this as best they can. To ask for more is to ask for less.

...Because the wonder of love or any nonverbal experience is in its very hiddenness from explicit language. This paradoxically drives us to commit more and more words to the project of defining it. But let us not confuse the seeking with the capture. To define it finally would be its end. And so the helplessness, utter panic, but also the surety and joy that comes with the experience of love, these are its aftereffects, our reactions to reflections on what we know before reflection.

The end is what we don't want to reach. It is possible to say too much. As it is possible to hear more than what is said. Trust this.