The great dilemma love faces:
Attractiveness is admired more than anything—yet attraction is condemned.
The leer, or stare, is never attractive to anyone, no matter how attractive the person giving the hungry look.
We are not sure why this is, since attention to attractiveness must be of use to the attractive, and attraction must be the natural outcome of attractiveness.
Why should attractiveness and attraction be completely at odds?
Some would say they are not at odds, and the paradox I am conveying does not exist—it is only that attractive persons wish to attract the right person, and so it is not that attraction is condemned; it is just that attraction is highly selective.
I object to this objection:
First. Attractiveness is nothing if not universal; the more truly attractive, the wider and greater its effect. Narrow and selective use inhibits and counters its whole excellence.
Second. Let us take the example of a hungry look displayed by a very attractive person—certainly, in many cases, this sign of attraction would not be condemned; it would be welcomed.
In most cases it would not be welcomed, simply because public displays of attraction signal two things: desperation and rudeness; it implies that in some hidden manner the attractive one is not attractive—for the attractive, if truly attractive, attracts attention; they do not give it.
But further, even if the hungry look is treated positively and not with disdain, because let’s say the hungry look is presented tactfully by a person of overwhelming beauty, it is not the attraction which is welcomed. It is really the attractiveness—or, more accurately, the idea that possessing this attractiveness might be possible in the future, which is welcomed. For once the attractive is possessed, attraction vanishes. This situation, then—an attractive person giving us the eye—thrills us because it gives us hope that irksome, painful, hungry, hopeless, embarrassing attraction will hound us no more, and we will be rid of this vain and sad aspect of existence forever.
But how can I be saying this? The attractive is real; real persons who are attractive really do exist, and we are attracted to them; how can I possibly say that yes, the attractive exists, and we derive great pleasure from looking at, and contemplating, the attractive, and yet somehow the attraction of this attractiveness is paradoxically rejected? How can the attractive be separated from attraction? We cannot take pleasure in the attractive if we don’t take pleasure in the attraction to the attractive, right?
Apparently it is the attraction which makes us unhappy, however. Why? Because attraction means we do not have something. We think attraction is pleasurable, but this is only an illusion involving the attractive; attraction is really the painful, lacking, sad aspect of the attractive. Attraction only exists when the attractive exists, and therefore this painful and unhappy state insinuates itself into the beauty of attraction itself. We are attracted to attraction itself—or believe we are; for it is only the attractive which truly gives us pleasure.
Think of it this way. We can see the attractive in a picture. But are we satisfied with a picture if we can’t have the real person? The attractive is seen in a picture. We are attracted to the picture, and yet we realize that by looking at a picture, attraction is at an end, for the attractiveness of the picture is utterly possessed by our greedy eyes. Or is it? Life forces us to look elsewhere. The picture remains an object of attraction, not merely an object of attractiveness. Further, we know there is more to what is depicted in the picture—somewhere the “real” exists and we are attracted to that. If attraction and attractiveness were simply two pleasant aspects of the same thing, we would all be happy with pictures, and love would die.
I find the picture attractive—and yes—yawn—by the way, I’m also attracted to it—but so what? Of course one is attracted to the attractive! They are two sides of the same pretty coin.
No. For this doesn’t explain why pictures are never enough, even as they are enough. Attraction is precisely that which makes a picture more than a picture—attraction is the three dimensional reality of flat attractiveness. Attraction is perspective, which requires space, which requires distance, which requires absence, which requires longing, which is sadness—so attraction ends up being the very opposite of the attractive picture.
We do not know whether it is the unfolding dimensionality which lives inside attraction, or whether attraction lives inside unfolding dimensionality—the idea is co-adaptive.
Now finally here we see that even though attraction is the very opposite of attractiveness—we don’t even know what the attractive is until the mechanism of three dimensional longing and movement begins to assert itself—and here is where the two, sad attraction and happy attractiveness, really co-exist: within moving perspective. The attractive exists only as a step in attraction’s journey. The desire for what is absent becomes the first and last sign of love, love which is always desire itself, love which is always at a loss before the merely attractive—since it is unable to show its attraction for it in a socially acceptable manner. The paradox we are contemplating in this essay is not only real, it is the key to everything.
We recently read a first-hand account in a quasi-public forum, of a wife and mother in India—a country where all the women seem gloriously feminine and all the males gloriously geeky—who confessed an affair to her husband, an affair which, apparently exists first, as an act of courageous free will on her part, and, second, as an affair distant and poetic and romantic—although the “other man” possesses ideal male attributes. Her husband, upset at first, has accepted the affair, and the two men have become friends.
What this means is that attraction requires distance, and with the advocate of the Internet, it is more and more possible for distantly chaste affairs to occur, conducted by those who are otherwise good and moral, who otherwise serve husbands and wives and children, affairs which use, more than anything else, the language of poetry. It is poetry’s new function to serve this new love of highly chaste and refined longing: passion as poetry meant passion to be.
Romanticism is not yet dead.
T.S. Eliot and the poetry of learned obscurity has run its course. For now.
Also dying out, for some reason, is the Brooklyn poetry of open mic rape and pussy frankness in front of brick walls.
The poetry which is now exploding is the poetry of Shelley and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
At least half the world consists of polite people in relationships without passion. Good people who sacrifice passion for stability. Common sense people who avoid the disappointing pitfalls of fantasy.
It is the desire of these people who will give the poetry of the future its dimensionality.