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The Anachronistic Romantic


Romantics are out of place. There is nothing to be done for them. They are not hopeless, just mad. Hallmark, everyday romantics are not in the running. They do not count. The real romantics are the equivalent of the early Christian martyrs. They know they are bound to die. And that is an acceptable situation. True romantics would rather die than renounce their faith in their special insanity. So die they do, by the numbers, one might suspect.

There is trouble with them; it comes off them like a fog. It is a fine and subtle disease, and once  you have caught it… Well, let’s say this: one cannot catch it, because one already has it. The romantic is born with this exquisite sickness, and must live a life in which that sickness fogs, then illuminates life, by turns.

It is a nostalgic longing for something never before experienced, which should, then, be a lie. But it is not a lie, not a bit of it. It is the very essence of romanticism (if we can call it an ism at all), which is a deep impulse, a killing longing for something transcendent and at the same time sensual, sexual, demanding, hungry. It is the transcendent rooted in the fevered now of desire; an almost impossible combination. And yet we continue to live for it, to love it, to become drunken, misshapen, feckless, hopeless, musical, suicidal, prayerful, for a taste of its reification, in which it dies.

Romanticism, though not an ism, is a highly political, but subterranean state of being. The romantic lives for the realization of deep love married to deep loss. The romantic acknowledges the almost, imperceptible, finality of loss and failure as it encroaches on every breath. The romantic continues to breathe and live for the impossible despite the facts, the sickness, the palpable death and abusive absurdity of living in human society. And it is political by making politics vanish altogether from the equation. As such, it is anarchic.

The romantic craves the society which kills the possibility of realizing such magnificent, suiciding, desire; because it is only in the society of other humans that this romanticism becomes possible, and at the same time virtually impossible. It lives through, is nourished by, nothing else but the devouring desire of another partner romantic. Is that its root then? To be an inherent, tragic contradiction? A pairing of annihilating realities?

Romance desires transcendence on the superhuman scale, but is forced to live it out in human, all-too-human pettiness. This is the root, the very key to romanticism. It must love passionately, and die in so doing. It can never realize what it so desires. It is a kiss suspended, a sexual coupling given beautiful flesh but bound, almost sundered, by the anatomical mechanics of lust in motion. In this, the deepest of inter-human knowing, the romantic wants sex to be a prayer. And since so few know how to wed prayer and fuck, then we fail; and the romantic celebrates that failure by dying, through martyrdom to this, our first psycho-biological failure. That first failure is the effort to render the primal ooze lyrical, idyllic and palpably beautiful.        

The romantic cannot do so, in much the same way that it cannot render the mundane battleground and furniture of petty life into something akin to prayer and orgasm. They seem forever separate, and it is that failure inherent between the human individual and the societal cipher, which romanticism always laments, and rises up to solve by the alchemy of sex, death and eternal hunger.



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“When Baby Jesus…”

In her novel Room, Emma Donoghue has re-calibrated the Christian mythos with one simple statement of a fictional five-year-old boy. The phrase is, “When Baby Jesus popped out of her vagina…”

          This is not the nativity story, part fairy story, part ancient politics, decorated with incense, myrrh, kings’ gold and sweet baby sheep. This is a beautifully bald statement; a subtle comic image with multiple overtones. The truth of it is that vagina trumps Christian establishment every time, when it comes to absolute reality and deep mystery. Christ as mystical, magical super-hero cannot be sustained in the face of the utterly fundamental reminder of the part that woman’s womb, vagina, birth pains, and the blood and primeval stuff of childbirth played in the biblical narrative. (If Baby Jesus were to grow up and find himself a wife, he, too, would know this, in the biblical sense, too.)

          In the face of Scriptural beauty and bombast, there is nothing more mysterious and profound than biology, in the way things live and simply be. In my heretical view, Baby Jesus, as a story, doesn’t come close. There is nothing more profound than the deep hunger and nourishing between true lovers: Nothing more than the language we call sex. Pheremonal biology celebrating itself  a sighing, yelping laughter-cascade of fleshing stars… the furious giving and taking pulsation that awakens the moors, the trees and roots and sky… the beautiful, beautiful body, dew on skin, humming an arcwise smile between two – and that drowning in scent, smell, taste, teeth on flesh, fingers clasping through hair. Love and lust incarnate…. That is the poetry.

How can we consider church and state and its horrors beside that?

Love: man and man, woman and woman, man and woman, mother and child, father and child, animal and babe…

Out of the very mouth of a babe, the vagina trumps church, state and phallocentricity in the most fundamental, and profoundly simple way.

The vaginal image in Donoghue’s Room, is a kind of slapstick, a mud-slinger of an image, the escaped piglet at the aristos’ banquet; the filthy, scrofulous joke at a convention of Analists. If I were a typical academic, I would turn it into a political polemic, a feminist attack on male dominance, and so on… But I will not fall prey to the seduction of the political vagina. Emma Donoghue had the esthetic sense, and humour, to not let the image be expressed in a political and abrasive way.

All that we need do is read it, and, without thinking on it, touch the primeval, and feel ourselves liberated, our bodies and minds unshackled from the mechanical world that threatens so to trap us, to make us forget…  Forget what? I almost remember… My mother, my fathermy deep, deep loves’ language still whispering of Brandy, and Linda, and Rose, and  … and beyondthen the return… “When Baby Jesus popped out of her vagina.”

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