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  • Love between Separation and ContinuityThe Poetics of Natality in Ralph Ellison
  • Michael Stone-Richards (bio)

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Michael Stone-Richards

Callaloo © 2012

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They just don’t recognize no continuance of anything after that: not love, not remembrance, not understanding, sacrifice, compassion—nothing.

Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth

The loss of the past is the fall into colonial servitude.

Simone Weil, “À propos de la question coloniale”

André Breton articulated a powerfully held belief amongst the Surrealists when he wrote that “There is no solution outside of love,” something with which the French, Lacanian-inflected culture of Psycho-Analysis agreed when, after taking the epistemology of the cure—its limits and even possibility—to aporetic ends, they would come to realize that the only cure worthy of the name would be that produced by love (301). Wladimir Granoff acknowledged this in his way when, many years after the split with Jacques Lacan, he would nevertheless say that “all the history of analysis is a story of love,” and Granoff makes this comment in the context of his concern with continuity and group formations and the way in which the historical awareness of the group is made part of its continuing conditions of being, for which Granoff’s term is filiations (Weill et al. 54).1 There is no thinking on love that does not run up against the problem of continuity, the nature of radical separation, and the dynamics of unconscious desire, and there is a surprisingly stable core of concerns in this comprehension of love worthy of being considered in terms of philosophical anthropology.

Allow me, then, to begin these reflections on the thinking of love in Ralph Ellison by first quoting from Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609), followed by an Elizabethan art song, Thomas Campion’s “What then is loue but mourning” set by Philip Rosseter (1601). The opening quatrain of Sonnet 1 reads:

From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s rose might never die, But as the riper should by time decease His tender heir might bear his memory.

(Booth 4) [End Page 626]

There is readily available a neo-Platonic reading of these verses, indeed, of the entire sonnet sequence, terms which can readily be modernized in Psycho-Analytic language, the core of which would say that there is an internal relation between beauty and goodness such that if a subject can but feel the attraction to one then this attraction, that is, at the level of felt experience, would also be the condition and trigger to the other. The dynamics of this attraction are nothing other than eros (which is here desire rhyming with fire), hence it will be asked in Ellison’s Juneteenth, “Fire! Why my Lord, what did he want with fire?” (101.) Desire animates the recognition of beauty and goodness such that it should want to see reproduced in the world more exempla of themselves, more beauty and goodness, so that desire itself might also be renewed and feed not merely upon itself (Narcissus as pathology) but upon another in reciprocal renewal and joy. Desire, then, not only is birth, but reproduction and, ultimately, as the first seventeen sonnets in Shakespeare’s cycle explore, desire needs, is, in a powerful sense, population:

From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty’s rose might never die, But as the riper should by time decease His tender heir might bear his memory.

Birth, reproduction, and population point, at the same time, to continuity; but there cannot be continuity—the bearing of memory—without the threat of separation, and here I do not mean something so obvious as—but not for all that trivial—there cannot be love without the possibility of loss. No, rather, that there is already a politics of bearing of memory at the heart of desire’s representation to itself of the possible reference for birth-reproduction-population, whence the Elizabethan art song famously set by Rosseter which opens:

What then is loue but mourning?   What desire, but a selfe-burning? Till shee that hates doth loue returne, Thus will I mourne, thus will I sing,   Come away, come away, my darling.