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Category Archives: Sappho

Looking at the Limb-loosener: Between Image and Word

Roxana Ghita over at the floating bridge of dreams posts a gorgeous photographic expression of the “limb-loosener”, drawing in part on my own thoughts of Sappho’s erotic figure. She seems to specialize in the transposition of photography and poetry, and the site is haunting,  and the poem there by Amy Lowell called to mind another Sappho fragment, number 2, of which I include a lexically highly experimental translation.

…there, water cold-soul’d was ringing through braids

of apple-wool, as with roses, the whole child-place

had cast shadows, and from the shimmering of leaves

a coma was pouring down.

What is elegant about her image (and it is set askew by my cropping) is that the overt sensuality of the gaze, the hair, is captured by its frame. Not the border of the photograph, its frame. This is the marvelous thing about the internet. A single strain of thought encounters an image at a cross-section, and the duplication produces a marking, indulable transverse change of direction, beyond the imagination of each. This, not to mention, that 2,500 years lives suddeny compressed into a relative instant.

I want to say, do peer as well (…the way my eyes squint when I look at some of these condensations), into her the beautiful fullishness of things. And the visually fragile however fallible. Something quakes.

Eros/Thanatos One Drive: The Limb-Loosener of Sappho

Eros the Crawler

Reading over at Fido the Yak, “A Continuous Stream of Emerging Pattern” Fido expressed the desire to sing the praises of paralysis, invoking something of the Greek etymology of the word, loosening-beside. This called to mind Sappho’s use of a related word and concept, and I repeat hear my comment:  

I’m not sure if you have this in mind with your affinity for “paralysis,” but Sappho’s beautiful use of the word λυσιμέλης (fragment130) comes to mind; the word is often translated “limb-loosening,” used to describe the powers of the creeping, undefeatable, sweetly-bitter creature Eros, who has returned. Limb-loosening of course is what Homer uses to describe what happens upon a death-blow in battle [sleep as well], but there is a word-play here, as μέλος (limb), also can mean a “song, or strain” (melody, the song-road). The loosening is both a re/lease of limbs and song, but also a death. But even more, there is a hint of the verb μέλω, “I care, I have concern,” so the limb-loosener is also the care-loosener.

This phrase, and fragment has always haunted me every since I have read it many years back. She condenses so very much about the powers and experience of Eros in just a few compound words, in just a brief shard survived now for more than 2,500 years.

Expansion of Eros: The Loosening

The line reads thus in the Greek (I am never sure if fonts appear on all computers):

ἔρος δηὖτέ μ᾽ ὀ λυσιμέλης δόνει,

γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον.

David A. Campbell (Loeb ed.), translates the line:

Once again limb-loosening Love makes me tremble,

the bitter-sweet, irresistable creature

I translate much more literally/experimentally:

Eros again, me of limb-loosening was shaking,

the sweetly-bitter, aidless creeper.

Aside from the nuances of association and wordplay, the word has the curious fortune of condensing a very significant question in the history of philosophy. Is there one drive, Eros, or pleasure, Joy (Spinoza). Or are there two, Pleasure and Death (Freud). I’m reminded of a recent reading over at Complete Lies, where there are musings about the nature of two drives understood as one:

What must be understood for this explication of drive is that things are continuously moved towards these impossible extremes. Does this mean that there is a fundamental dualism however? No; the drives to expansion and contraction, while seeming to have entirely different goals, achieve the same end: collapse. When a thing expands or contracts too much, that is, is taken from it’s precarious position of existence as we know it, it essentially disintegrates in the sense that is it no longer linked to other ghosts in the same way. This is the end that all things achieve at some point, their own elimination from this network we are a part of, the network of haunting and mourning. This is why both drives are ultimate death drives, as they both achieve death, in one form or another, in their drive to infinity.

I do not keep with Complete Lies’ position which is somewhat homologous with, though inverting of Empedocles’ theory of two forces (Aphrodite and Nike). But I would say that Sappho presents something of the internal forces, the ambiguities of what “loosening” means, as it can be both release and death, finding a correspondent in G&D’s (these initials should be reversed), territorialization and deterritorialization.

I think something of the apparent contradiction also exists in Spinoza’s One Drive format, as he argues that the more selfish we become, the more self-interested in power and its increase, the less of a “self” we realize that we are, finding expression in the distinct and determinative expressions of all that is beyond us. The pursuit and undestanding of love ends up with the integrative dissolution of the “self”, as a matter of perspective. Sappho gives us both, a literal Eros that crawls and creeps in such a way that the bitter, the sharpness is sweet, and our loosening helplessness beyond all device, is both a deathlike release, but also the release of a song, a melody. It shakes you, releasing you.

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