Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

13 December 2011

Reading Eve

I finished my first draft of Chapter Two of the dissertation, and I only have about ten other things to do before I leave for California tomorrow morning, so I (obviously) didn't do any of those things this afternoon, and decided instead that I would finish a book that I've been reading before bed at a slow pace.

The book is A Dialogue on Love by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. The book is about EKS's therapy for depression. It's also about realizing she is going to die and also dealing with grief for several of her friends. It is, then, about childhood, sexuality, EKS's parents, her feelings of transference for her therapist, all kinds of things. It's a lovely, generous, extremely open book that about the author's self in the extreme – deeply private thoughts – and yet, I related to this woman in so many incredible ways. The book also includes her therapist's own notes about the sessions, and A Dialogue on Love itself moves in and out of haiku; so at times the prose elevates itself into haiku and then drops back into a kind of prose that still feels, vaguely, like poetry because of the beauty of her own writing. The whole experience of reading this book was rather extraordinary to me.

The part I want to share is so amazing that I immediately called my friend Michael and read it aloud to him. EKS begins reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead as a way to deal with her own dying and the deaths of her friends. And she comes to the following realization:

I used to think it was embarrassing, in a religion like Buddhism, to have images of divinity scattered all over the landscape. It had that whiff of idolatry.
But I was reading this book, and I happened to look around my living room, and what was there? Like, twelve or fifteen stuffed pandas and pictures of pandas.
Not because I view them as gods! Not because I believe, even, in God—like my belief mattered.
But because to see them makes me happy. Seeing self and others transmogrified through them—the presence, gravity, and clumsy comedy of these big, inefficient, contented, very endangered bodies. With all their sexual incompetence and soot-black, cookie-cutter ears. It seems so obvious that the more such images there are, the happier.
And it means a lot, to be happy.
It may even mean: to be good. Ungreedy, unattached, unrageful, unignorant. Far different from the pharisaism that says, "I am lucky and happy because I am good," a modest occasional knowledge: I'm good, if I am, because I'm lucky enough to be happy (if I am).
It never seems sensible to pass along moral injunctions. I sometimes think that beyond the Golden Rule,
the only one that
matters is this: if you can
be happy, you should.

I want to be Eve Sedgwick when I grow up.