This post was written by Luka Romney, a Humanities Center student fellow.
It seems to me that heartbreak is the constant negotiation and renegotiation between two forces within the self: the first, the deep inner knowing that one is both a deserving recipient and a ready vessel for the fundamental metamorphosis that reciprocal love brings. The second, the inevitable reality that the love we encounter in the world is fragmented, stunted, unready, and often unwilling. And of course, that kind of broken love is what we, despite the ideals of our hearts, have to give others as well. When we interface with the Other—with our Lacanian reflection—we see a full body, conjoined arms and legs and torso, altogether ready to sprint into the world of interrelationality. We see a wholeness that is, in reality, a jumbled mess of limbs. Indeed, we ourselves are as dismembered as the imperfect love we criticize from across the table.
So what are we meant to do? Should we ever attempt to reach across the way, to touch, to come to know? Or should we turn inward and calcify ourselves against the harsh splinters of relationality gone wrong? Perhaps it is first necessary to turn inwards and look directly into our own shadows to confront our own internal incompletion.
I believe in the centrality of a fundamental internal hiddenness (like the dark, dusty, cavernous hollow of an ancient cathedral) and our own willful ignorance of its enormity. These carved out darknesses that we hide within ourselves, long shadows cast away from the sun, are where everything we disavow about ourselves resides. This is the dappled shade where our hidden selves rest.
People often only come into contact with their own shadows through the eyes of a lover, which can be a terrifying ordeal. Against the weight of another mass, we can begin to sense our own shape. We are not hard, bright, perfect shells. It is as if the mirror of the Other is more telling than the reflective shards of glass we look into to see ourselves. The shadows under our eyes, we assert, are mere blemishes, and they are never constitutive of what lies below the skin. While, in such an encounter, we wish to only see our own supposed love and wholeness of light reflected back at us, the shadows that define us—the shape of our jaws, the curl of our lips, the recess our of brows—are inescapable.
I have seen myself darkly through the glass of another’s eyes. I am trying to fear it less, this dark underbelly of myself, and I have grown more used to it with time. But now I want to encounter it on my own, free and unmediated. I want to “know even as also I am known.” You could call it preparation for when I find myself, inevitably, cheek to cheek with a lover. But I also want to come to know myself in all of my contrasts for the sake of its self. To repurpose Rainer Maria Rilke’s words, I want to “Flare up like a flame / and make big shadows I can move in.” I want to imagine myself, how my “wholeness cascades into many shapes,” how I “run like a herd of luminous deer, / and I am dark; / I am forest.”
I want to look in the mirror and see myself, no longer blasted with an artificial light meant to burn away any of my shadow lines. I want to welcome these contours of contrast, those which give me shape and depth. For, after all, in A.R. Ammons’ words, “Light blinds; / Darkness opens the eyes.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, I, 59 in Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, trans. by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), 118.
Ibid., I, 45, 105.
A.R. Ammons, “The Grave Is,” in Chicago Review 57, no. 1/2 (2012): 87-90.