Everyday Semiotics

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Song for the dumped

At the risk of steering what has so far been a very serious and mostly impersonal blog in an opposite and possibly LiveJournal-ish direction....

It’s been roughly six months since I got dumped. Hard. To express at the turbulent and feverish emotions following the event, I had my own private diary. Having gained a little distance and composure, I think it might be worthwhile here to try and parse the experience as a semiotician might. I’ll enlist the help of Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse.

I’ve known all along the discourse of love is a selfish one, one spoken by the ego if not the id. I now know this is especially true of the discourse of canceled love, of love wrenched away. It’s been useful of course to survey my turmoil by superimposing upon it the six “stages” of mourning, particularly denial and bargaining. But ultimately what’s at issue is the self, less so the mechanisms it swings into place nonsequentially, gratuitously, and ineffectually. I yearned to come to grips with what happened, but I rarely let a lack of results get in the way of continuous probing.

To understand – is that not to divide the image, to undo the I, proud organ of misapprehension?
Interpretation: no, that is not what your cry means. As a matter of fact, that cry is still a cry of love: “I want to understand myself, to make myself understood, make myself known, be embraced; I want someone to take me with him.” That is what your cry means. (60)
It is shocking and infuriating that a change of circumstances can abolish love. Love, if indeed it was love – shouldn’t it have withstood the change? Isn’t it transcendent? Evidently not.
There exists a “higher value” for me: my love. I never say to myself: “What’s the use?” I am not nihilistic. I do not ask myself the question of ends. Never a “why” in my monotonous discourse, except for one, always the same: But why is it that you don’t love me? How can one not love this me whom love renders perfect (who gives so much, who confers happiness, etc.)? (186)
A hard realization, but still an acceptable one. It allows me to revile myself, but for reasons under my control. It is a personal failing, selfishness, that sustains my agony of separation; not, instead, a deficiency perceived by her. This enables the realization that her motivations are internal as well, selfish also – I don’t enter into her actions; or if I do, it is only as an afterthought.

This too is disheartening, but not insuperable. If, after everything we vowed and demonstrated and shouted from the rooftops (indeed, we often did these things with irony), I suddenly become trivial to her, then to hell with her! [I draw my mouth to a noble frown and angle my chin upward slightly.]

I am caught in a contradiction: on the one hand, I believe I know the other better than anyone and triumphantly assert my knowledge to the other (“I know you – I’m the only one who really knows you!”); and on the other hand, I am often struck by the obvious fact that the other is impenetrable, intractable, not o be found; I cannot open up the other, trace back the other’s origins, solve the riddle. Where does the other come from? Who is the other? I wear myself out, I shall never know. (134)
My estimation of her was off kilter, insufficient, idealized. Now, I do not try to correct the model: I cease to measure: I become stoic. The latest stage is an impasse. Not so many years ago I was a skeptic where love was concerned. Talking Heads’ “More Songs about Buildings and Food” seemed to sum it all up. She negated that for a time; now again the album is upon my turntable.
I-love-you [je-t’-aime] is without nuance. It suppresses explanations, adjustments, degrees, scruples. In a way – exorbitant paradox of language – to say I-love-you is to proceed as if there were no theater of speech, and this word is always true (has no other referent than its utterance: it is a performative). (148)
A page later Barthes is so bold as to call the utterance “phatic.” Perhaps. It is at any rate dialectic: once she began to hesitate in the performance, I knew something was up. It couldn’t be missed. But then, by that point, what was there to be done?

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