Cat Pierro

eat the person


ISSUE 1 | VALENTINE’S DAY | FEB 2011

Read afterthoughts to this piece from Benjamin Leider.

When Rousseau was just a teenager, he dearly loved his caretaker, Madame de Warens. I mean dearly. When she wasn't around he kissed her sheet and curtains and the floor on which she walked, trying to recapture the essence of her missing person. He couldn’t tolerate her houseguests, jealous of the time that the two of them could have spent alone. And one day, when they were having dinner, he told a lover's lie.

"I saw a hair in that!" he yelled after she put a morsel of food in her mouth.

Madame de Warens spit it out.

Rousseau promptly seized it and ate it up.

Now, if that's not love, I don't know what is. I don't think Rousseau's desires are abnormal. What is it that we want from the people we love? Not just knowing they love us back, frankly. But not just being around them, either. And obviously not just sex. No: what we really want is to eat the person.

Since, alas, we can't, we have to find some other way of getting hold of the person's essence. We have to compromise with our desire by channeling it down some unnatural path or other. This is not easy to do. It is very confusing to want something. Even if we understand our enormous, vague sentiment as wanting, and as wanting that object, and as wanting to have that object, what is it, to "have" an object? What does our wanting want us to do?

The market economy helps us ignore our confusions on a day-to-day basis. When we want an object, there's a protocol: pay for it. After that we can stick it in a drawer and forget about it, totally assured that it is ours.

Desire directs us toward the object. But we forget what to do with desire as soon as we get too close, close enough that we have to define what "having" is. When we travel abroad, when we get to the country, when we come upon its prettiest cathedral, we don't know what to do. So we take pictures. We plan to look at the pictures later, when we're far enough away to feel normal desire again. We remind ourselves of being far away in order to help us enjoy what's right in front of us.

The very things that we imagine bring us closer to our objects actually just put us at a comfortable distance from them. That's clear for throwing money at them or snapping pictures of them or making a mental note to tell our "still counts!" buddies about them. But that's also the case with telling ourselves we "want" them or we "love" them or that they are "good people" or "really sexy" or anything at all. All of these interpretations unify our feelings in a way we can handle. All of these interpretations are masks. In reality, we have no idea what we want or why we want it and we have no idea how to get it. But I don't mean any of this to sound pessimistic, necessarily. I actually think that interpreting your feelings toward a person as romantic feelings can be beautiful and progressive.

It's true: "I love" is just another mask. But the wonderful thing about the LOVE mask in particular is that it admits of some further experimentation. It doesn't just stick the person in the drawer. We know (some of the time) that we don't quite know what we want, and we try various new things--going out to dinner, getting married, exchanging fluids, squeezing the person so hard that you might meld together. I once saw two people on a coffee shop couch just staring at each other for solidly fifteen minutes. How cute is that!

And the advantage of reciprocity is that your experiments are sort-of-kind-of endorsed by your object. Relationships don't have as stringent an etiquette as friendships. Imagine talking to your friends without the euphemisms "let's chill," "let's hang out," "let's do nothing." Could you really ever say to your friend, "Let's just be in each other's presence, okay. We will soak every bit of enjoyment out of each other that we can"? Or creepier still, "Let's make an oath to be together forever!" Your friends would freak out—I guarantee it. But these desperate, impossible experiments are what dating is for.

That's why romance is totally awesome.