Now, absence can only exist as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain. The other is in a condition of perpetual departure, of journeying; the other is, by vocation, migrant, fugitive; I — I who love, by converse vocation, am sedentary, motionless, at hand, in expectation, nailed to the spot, in suspense — like a package in some forgotten corner of a railway station. Amorous absence functions in a single direction, expressed by the one who stays, never by the one who leaves: and always present I is constituted only by a confrontation with an always absent you. To speak this absence is from the start to propose that the subject’s place and the other’s place cannot permute; it is to say: “I am loved less than I love.”
→ From “The Absent One”
Among the many books I idly — or otherwise — return to: A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, by Roland Barthes [translated from the French by Richard Howard.] I first read this book when I was seventeen, and too in love. Of course. Those were dangerous circumstances, no matter their aptness. I read this now because, well, I want to. I want to rediscover this. So I’m taking it in slowly. Feeling, yes — it isn’t humanly possible to remove all affect from this bundle of awesomeness — but I want to actively think more than when I first read it. Because then, I’d just squeal/sigh and murmur, “You wrote this for me, Mr. Barthes.” Now, I want to do that too. But I want to temper that. See the book as less of a Bible [that I turned it into three years ago], and more of a book. Maybe, well, maybe I’ll end up where I first began.
Now. I’m currently reading — among others, once again — Vanishing and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction by Deborah Willis. It is, well, about vanishing. About disappearances. About someone leaving. About someone staying, and waiting. About the absent one, and how this presence constantly and continuously haunts the one who’s stayed. The stories have this thematic clutch, and the words I’ve excerpted from Barthes perfectly capture that. The stories themselves, it’s good going so far, I’m about halfway done with the collection. And yes, I admit to being giddy about the organic and reflective quality of this bibliophilic detour.
Another: The title of this post comes from the book’s foreword-of-sorts. And ever since I reread that and wrote it down, it seemed to echo. And echo. Only with saying the phrase over and over out loud — extreme solitude, extreme solitude; a phrase that doesn’t exactly fade quietly inside you — I figured out where it came from:
Jeffrey Eugenides published his story, “Extreme Solitude,” earlier this year. And that’s an excerpt from the book he’s writing right now, his third novel, which he talks about in an interview with his editor, as well as in The New Yorker. And that book’s about love, and college, and seeing the world, and more love, and — holy cheesecake — Roland Barthes: Madeleine falls in love twice in the story. Once with her classmate Leonard and once with Roland Barthes and his book “A Lover’s Discourse.” My brain, it exploded. I’m going to love this book when it comes out. Might just built an altar to honor it.
So. I will take this giddiness in private now. Thank you.