Words > Artist's Writings

The love machine.

he seems to me equal to the god that man
who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

and lovely laughing - oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, a moment, then no speaking
is left in me.

no: tongue breaks, and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am dead - or almost
I seem to me.

Ann Carson, in her book Eros: the Bittersweet, describes this poem by Sappho (fragment 31) as not a poem about individuals, about jealousy or about the beloved, but an image of distances between three individuals, lines describing relationships that form a triangle. It is about the process of love made extraordinary by the consciousness of the emotional mechanics of eros. This love machine requires three parts - the lover, the beloved and that which comes between them. These act as points of transformation on a circuit of possibilities. "They touch, not touching," she writes, "Conjoined they are held apart. The third component plays a paradoxical role, for it both connects and separates, marking that two are not one, irradiating the absence whose presence is demanded by eros. When the circuit points connect, perception leaps. And something becomes visible on the triangular path where bolts are moving, that would not be visible without the three part structure. The difference between what is and what could be is visible. The ideal is projected on a screen of the actual, in a kind of stereoscopy. The man sits like a God, the poet almost dies: two poles of response within the same desiring mind. Triangulation makes both present at once by a shift of distance, replacing erotic action with a ruse of heart and language. For in this dance the people do not move. Desire moves. Eros is a verb."

The painter (or I should say this painter) creates a machine to produce, a process, to act as "that which comes between them." Carving, etching, pouring: process comes between the painter and the painting, the painting and the viewer, the viewer and the painter. This love relationship has many partners in many positions. "When the circuit points connect, perception leaps." We become aware of contingencies, of possibilities. The triangulation between painter, painting and viewer becomes spacial, electric and experiential, animated by eros.

"There is a human body when," Maurice Merleau-Ponty says, "between the seeing and the seen, between touching and the touched, between one eye and the other, between hand and hand, a blending of some sort takes place - when the spark is lit between sensing and sensible, lighting the fire that will not stop burning. I call the world flesh in order to say that it is a pregnancy of possibilities." We long for "flesh" as Merleau-Ponty describes it - and that longing is expressed by an ongoing movement of genesis, self-genesis and expression.

Human exchange becomes both affect and effect as experiences are transcribed again and again repeating and repeating, and by their very repetition move from memory into the present. The experience lives - fresh again each time. Re-inscribed, but different. Eros is a rose, arose as eros. How many love songs are there? How many paintings? Each tracing, each transcription creates a new texture, and that texture moves us across a different terrain and each time calls up a different past and each time a different present. Maurice, again on painting: "...it offers the gaze traces of vision, from the inside, in order that it may expose them; it gives vision that which clothes it, the imaginary texture of the real."

And how do we respond to texture - real or imagined? With desire? We only have, in painting, the visual representation of tactility. Or do we? Of course not, the material of its construction is real, paint, wax, plastics, dirt, there are multiplicities of material to make paintings with - and so we enter into the triangle of eros through a surface that offers itself to be touched, but yet withholds itself as a condition of its objectness. And is that not the attraction? Yes, no, love, hate, attraction, repulsion. The painting taunts us, it flirts and teases "don't touch me there." It reminds us that "two are not one." It is the movement between impulses that carries the emotional charge. The more textural a painting actually is the closer to repulsion we swing in the movement between hate and love. As the taunt becomes louder and more vulgar, the surface more exaggerated, the impulse to touch is harder to control - and yet, becoming close to grotesque, perhaps easier. It certainly is safer, more refined, to experience a slight tremor, rather than to shudder as we surrender to desire.

The Mock Turtle tells Alice, in Alice's Adventure in Wonderland, what he studied in school. "'Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with, and then the different branches of Arithmetic - Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision.' 'I never heard of uglification,' Alice ventured to say. 'What is it?' The Gryphon lifted both its paws in surprise. 'What! Never heard of uglifying!' it exclaimed. 'You know what it is to beautify I suppose?' 'Yes,' said Alice doubtfully: 'it means - to - make anything prettier.' 'Well then,' the Gryphon went on, 'if you don't know what to uglify is, then you are a simpleton.'"

"Shudder is a kind of premonition of subjectivity," wrote Adorno, "a sense of being touched by the other. ...without shudder, consciousness is trapped in reification...the subject is lifeless except when it is able to shudder in response to the total spell...the spell is the subjective form of the world spirit, of its primacy over the external processes of life." Texture, in painting, creates a desire for touch and that desire restores a sense of the body's subjective aliveness.

To induce shudder is embarrassing - and who has not been embarrassed by outward expressions of love, be it the nearly invisible gropings of the couple in the corner, or an individual's own trembling with uncontrollable desire? We are embarrassed because when desire is made visible our incompleteness is exposed, we become truly aware of the boundaries of individual identity that we cannot cross. Unless we leap across the gap to embrace rapture...ah, but that comes later.

In this passage from The World is Round by Gertrude Stein, Rose, the main subject, has just finished carving "a Rose is a Rose is a Rose" on a tree. She looks around her and:

"...just then well just then her eyes went on and they were round with wonder and alarm and her mouth was round and she almost burst into a song because she saw on another tree over there that some one had been there and had carved a name and the name dear me the name was the same it was Rose and under Rose was Willie and under Willie was Billie. It made Rose feel very funny it really did."

To display desire, to display need is to create a passage for imagination. It is only through the admission of incompleteness that creativity can be given free reign. Here we have Gertrude Stein again speaking with three voices as she playfully begs her lover Alice to take a place in the triangle of eros. Listen to a fragment from her love poem, "Lifting Belly."

Lifting belly waits splendidly.
For essence.
For essence too.
Can you assure me.
I can and do.
Very well it will come
And I will be happy.
You are happy.
And I will be
You always will be
Lifting belly sings nicely.

I love you I love you I love you...The words I love you try to make a passage from the lover to the beloved, and yet, isolate the lover from the beloved. The writer can create the ideal response, like Gertrude, but really, am I not separated from you by the verb eros? It is within the space of eros that the imaginary thrives through the solitary I. And so text communicates, displays desire, while raising the edge in sharp relief between me and you.

Text, like texture, quickens the dance that is eros by accentuating the difference between the actual and the possible. And our imagination leaps to fill the gap. William H. Gass in his Cartesian Sonatas gives us this erotic imagery in "The Writing on the Wall." Here imagination is at the center of desire.

"I am an inveterate pencil carver and I consequently understand the qualities of wood. I know how, for instance, the grain will cause the most determined line to quake and wriggle. My first attempt to engrave the letter c in the plank from the Covenant tree left a very bent and shaken l, though you would never guess it now, the original is so overlaid with flourishes. The secret is to proceed by a series of gentle scratches, repeated often; never an impatient deep gouge, which the wood will surely put a crick in, but always the patiently light scratch. A painted surface is tricky. Oh, it's easy enough to make pencil marks on a fine enamel, but that's not the aim, you know. Get under the skin, that's the idea. You must watch that the paint doesn't flake or you will spoil the clarity and decision of your line. I'm not much interested in images myself. I always carve letters or abstract designs: five pointed stars sometimes, the capital L, which in script curls its edges like a sheet of stamps, or f or k, or the word Isobel, or thickity black scrawls bunched like tumbleweeds and mazes of dizzily turning lines like the spill and flow of hair, whole worlds really, the track deepening as you journey on, as if at any moment you might penetrate something, find yourself inside the sacred wood, say, or simply, like Alice land thump in another part of the soul where a voice is exclaiming my, my, my as you arrive, and there is a vague flash of white from something running or a pink glow from the lobe of an animal's ear or the faint but steady ringing of a distant alarm. Then frequently: balloon."

Or, as the artist formerly known as Prince sings:
"I'm Delirious. Baby lay me down, delirous, the room, the room, the room, the room is spinning round, yeah, I'm delirio, oh I'm, oh I'm delirous oh yeah. Delirious."

Eros is the verb that propels us to rapture. Farewell to inhibiting reason, make room for confused love and a harmonious discord. In painting, fluctuations of speed - alternating surfaces of smoothness or texture generates anticipation. Color, warm or cool, stimulates the rising and lowering of our temperature. We become possessed by the perceived.

Listen to Merleau-Ponty. "I give ear or look, in the expectation of a sensation, and suddenly the sensible takes possession of my ear or my gaze, and I surrender a part of my body, even my whole body, to this particular manner of vibrating and filling space known as blue or red."

These shifts of vibration create intervals that give way to moments of rapture. It is through the swing of the pendulum between pleasure and abjection, excess and negation, that we experience this orgasm of the gaze. At that moment - past present and future are collapsed. Time has dissolved. Language is inaccessible.

Alice, in Through the Looking Glass, speaks to herself after such a moment. She is delirious too.

"She was rambling on this way when she reached the wood: it looked very cool and shady. 'Well at any rate it's a great comfort,' she said as she stepped under the trees. 'After being so hot, to get into the - into the - into what?' she went on, rather surprised at not being able to remember the word. 'I mean to get under the - under the - under this, you know!' putting her hand on the trunk of the tree. 'What does it call itself, I wonder? I do believe it's got no name - why, to be sure it hasn't!"

Her figure melts into the ground, she has melted, the landscape is in her and she can't name it. But only for a moment. And it's always like that, isn't it, this rapture, it's always just for a moment. She becomes aware that she has experienced something crucial to her being and struggles to etch it into her consciousness.

"She stood silent for a minute, thinking: then she suddenly began again. 'Then it really has happened, after all! And now, who am I? I will remember, if I can! I'm determined to do it!' But being determined didn't help her much, and all she could say, after a great deal of puzzling, was, 'L, I know it begins with L!'"

Sabina Ott
February, 1999

The Love Machine