Flesh of My Flesh

Flesh of My Flesh

Flesh of My Flesh

Flesh of My Flesh

Synopsis

What is a woman? What is a man? How do they- and how should they- relate to each other? Does our yearning for "wholeness" refer to something real, and if there is a Whole, what is it, and why do we feel so estranged from it? For centuries now, art and literature have increasingly valorized uniqueness and self-sufficiency. The theoreticians who loom so large within contemporary thought also privilege difference over similarity. Silverman reminds us that this is but half the story, and a dangerous half at that, for if we are all individuals, we are doomed to be rivals and enemies. A much older story, one that prevailed through the early modern era, held that likeness or resemblance was what organized the universe, and that everything emerges out of the same flesh. Silverman shows that analogy, so discredited by much of twentieth-century thought, offers a much more promising view of human relations. In the West, the emblematic story of turning away is that of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the heroes of Silverman's sweeping new reading of nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture, the modern heirs to the old, analogical view of the world, also gravitate to this myth. They embrace the correspondences that bind Orpheus to Eurydice and acknowledge their kinship with others past and present. The first half of this book assembles a cast of characters not usually brought together: Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Marcel Proust, Lou-Andréas Salomé, Romain Rolland, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wilhelm Jensen, and Paula Modersohn-Becker. The second half is devoted to three contemporary artists, whose works we see in a moving new light:Terrence Malick, James Coleman, and Gerhard Richter.

Excerpt

Somewhere between the ages of six and eighteen months, we have been told, the typical infant is held up to a mirror by a parent or caretaker and encouraged to identify with its refection. This identification creates something that did not previously exist: a self. But since the child is sunk in “nursling dependence” and is little more than a disorganized mass of motor responses, this identification is impossible to sustain. As soon as the mirror asserts its exteriority, the infant self begins to disintegrate. Only by overcoming the otherness of its newly emergent rival can the child reassemble the pieces. and because the subject's identity will continue to be propped upon external images, its battleto-the-death with its own mirror image is only the first installment in a lifelong war between itself and everything else. This rivalry makes similarity even harder to tolerate than alterity, since the more an external object resembles the subject, the more it undercuts the latter's claim to be unique and autonomous. Sometimes all that it takes to get the war machine up and running is a whiff of likeness.

However, the notion that we cannot be ourselves unless we are different from everyone else is relatively new. From Plato until the end of the sixteenth century, resemblance, not difference, was the organizing principle of the universe. As Foucault observes in The Order of Things, the “earth echo[ed] the sky, faces [saw] themselves reflected in the stars, and plants [held] within their stems the secrets that were of use to man.” Not all of these echoes and reflections were as egalitarian as this passage suggests. Christian analogies subordinate our world to a higher world and institute hierarchical and nonreciprocal relationships within it. They are also divinely authored and bound within the covers of two already-written volumes: the Bible and the Book of Nature. Platonic analogies work in a similar way; the earth is a pale refection or a degraded copy of the Realm of Ideas. But in Ovid's Metamorphoses, every phenomenal form rhymes with many others. These rhymes also teach us that we should “revere” all creatures and “keep [them] safe,” because everything emerges from the same . . .

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