Things these days change so rapidly and they fall away without giving notice. The world – from time to time (and for some, moment to moment) – disappears and relationships lose their vitality. When one’s fantasies or dreams are crushed, this speeds up the process of real estrangement and loss. And then the option to mourn is there before us. The bitterness toward this loss evokes the thought that what was…was a fantasy. Slavoj Zizek calls the dissolution of fantasy – which he sees active in every relationship – melancholy. Melancholia is a preface to what he calls – following Jacques Lacan – the Real.
But is the Real always in the wake of loss?
Julia Kristeva calls the person who goes through this state of loss the “blank subject.”
A blank subject…at the dump for non-objects….For he is not mad, he through whom the abject exists. Out of the daze that has petrified him before the untouchable, impossible, absent body of the mother, a daze that has cut off his impulses from their objects.
The problem is that the blank subject, for Kristeva, can’t seem to come out of his daze. He has no desire since his daze has “cut off his impulses from their objects.”
It is out of this state that one of my favorite poets, Paul Celan writes. He lost his family in the Holocaust and struggled with melancholia. He seemed to be in a perpetual state of mourning. But his poetry looks to leave the “daze” that Kristeva writes of behind. His poems often seek for relation.
By seeing himself amidst relations, he is able to think through and recover his desire. The object of his desire, in many of his poems, is “you.” This you could be the reader, his soul, his mother, or God. In a poem called “Largo,” from the book Snow Part (Shneepart), one can hear Celan’s voice in conversation with you. He is always already involved with you…but the relation comes out of a daze.
Sameways, you, hearthfaring near one:
Death we lie
Together, the autumn
Under your breathing lids
Celan notes the world around “us” and near “you.”
The ouzel (blackbird) pair hang
Beside us, under
The height of our white, fellow –
The world around us and the black birds “hanging” besides us are “under” the height of “our” “white, fellow traveling,” spreading diseases. The relationality, here, is at once redemptive and melancholic. One of the relations, above, spreads death. Although it is deemed a “fellow traveling” it is not friendly; it is deadly. This “fellow traveler” is contrasted to the space “we” share which is “larger than death.” Take note that the fellow traveler is “ours,” which suggest that its presence relates not to me or you but us. However, although the space “we” share is larger it is not un-related to and it does not negate death. The other traveler awakens me to “you” and what “we” share. It brings me out of the daze and into the real relation with death. But, at the very least, there is desire. And the relation to death, in this poem, is something that is shared, though singular.
This kind of poem and this kind of message is inspiring in the sense that it shows that one need not remain a “blank subject” in the “dump for non-objects.” It also shows us that this intimacy (between me and you) and this relation to “meta-stasis,” isn’t a fantasy. Your “lids” are “breathing.” They are alive, and they are near; while “meta-stasis” is “above” us and the pair of black birds (perhaps a sign of melancholia) is near us.
Melancholia may certainly wipe us out and make us blank (or black/dark) subjects but what poetry can do, what the other can do, if we are willing to go to her, is fill in the blank and end the daze of lost relations. Celan turned toward language because he wanted to come out of the daze and live again. And he knew that this language was toward the other.
His poetry gives this hope to the reader. And today, when things are so insecure and unpredictable, when Facebook and Twitter make us glaze over, more and more of us are becoming blank and dazed subjects. The language we use, the reflections we partake in, only increase the waste that piles up before us. Only by turning our language toward “you “ – whoever or whatever you are – can there be the hope of recovering desire and relation. Without this hope, we become not just a blank subject; we become one of the non-objects in the dump. In the dump there are no fantasies and there is also no hope.
Reading this poem helped me to see that. And I hope others can as well because you or I can barely see the “traveling metastasis” that is with “us” if we are not together (not just on the page, but in reality). Like the voice of the poem, I am looking and speaking to you, the “hearthfaring near one.” I must.
Celan insists “you” aren’t a fantasy and that we desire to be close to each other. Near you, I am home (or at least until our “fellow traveler” reaches us).