Eros the Bittersweet

Norbert Ruebsaat

Ann Carson has written a sensual and thought-provoking book about desire and called it Eros the Bittersweet (Dalkey Archive Press). My friends tell me you can't theorize about desire, and my lovers tell me (when I begin to theorize about desire) that I'm thinking, not loving—or, what's worse, I'm making things up rather than experiencing them. When I ask my friends if we could become lovers while remaining friends, a kind of silence descends, as if an angel or a policeman had just walked into the room: the angel is the erotic semblance Rilke often writes about, and the policeman is the semblance of eros some Polish friends spoke about jokingly some years ago, before the "thaw in eastern Europe," when they told me a lull in conversation meant another policeman had just been born.

Ann Carson writes that eros is a third being whom lovers address with both hate and desire once this being is conjured into existence by God-knows-what, probably language, and she then makes the lyrical claim that this being is utterly circumscribed and therefore both horribly and miraculously comprised of and compromised by, yes, language—an argument made also by Lacan, the French psychoanalyst and philosopher, and Foucault, the French philosopher and historian.

Carson compares Plato's dialogues and Sappho's poems and finds the tune for her narrative when she learns while explicating Greek drama that our desire for eros and the eros in our desire is actually our gift for speech. Each sentence she writes is a little lyric, and each lyric she writes remembers a single moment of experience in both the history of philosophy and the philosophy of poetry.

This is as wonderful a book as you could imagine giving to someone; I want to give it to you, the reader; I already know who you are (I imagine) as a result of having read this book.

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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