Frames /sing


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.

12 responses to “Eros/Thanatos One Drive: The Limb-Loosener of Sappho

  1. Pingback: The Jouissance Beyond Life (and Death) « Complete Lies.

  2. Amarilla May 28, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I am left considering sleep paralysis (have you ever experienced this? It’s LOUD. It’s like being violently squeezed by sound), John Donne’s undoing, and times when I’ve come across something so beautiful and unscrutable it seems to destroy strategy.

    • kvond May 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm

      Yes, I am having a discussion over at Complete Lies on this aspect of jouissance interpretation:

      Holderlin calls it “the skull’s roar” of the Scamander. I think that there are something interesting phenomenological/conceptual negotiations to be unwound here. My sense is that yes, if there is too much energy, too much intensity (looking at God’s face, if you will) dumped into the system, then yes, paralysis (or dissolution) is the result. And we make protocols for these kinds of experiences (horror movies for one), but I also sense that there are modulated ways in which our experiential limits are worked to produce experiences of wholeness and action, levitant effectability. And then the careful line/oscillation between the two.

      Maybe Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo” which works like a distant detonation.

      • kvond May 28, 2009 at 12:35 pm

        The literal limb-loosener:

        We cannot know his legendary head
        with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
        is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
        like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

        gleams in all its power. Otherwise
        the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
        a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
        to that dark center where procreation flared.

        Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
        beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
        and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

        would not, from all the borders of itself,
        burst like a star: for here there is no place
        that does not see you. You must change your life.

  3. Pingback: The Limb-loosener of Rilke: The Torso of Dis/Integration « Frames /sing

  4. Amarilla May 28, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Can you say a little more about levitant effectability?

    • kvond May 28, 2009 at 1:09 pm

      I don’t know. Spinoza makes it nearly a defining aim of the The Good, an increase in the capacity of the body to affect others, or to be affected. Increases in “pleasure”, the loosening of limbs, while it can lead to a paralysis which is a phase in which it seems that the number of ways we can be affected or affect others is diminished, perhaps this is not so. It is that we are being affected beyond “count” so to speak. I think that these kind of terr-ific experiences can be and are modulated, and when cultivated produce an end result which places the body in a kind of levitation, a lightness (much as how a surfer is on a wave, lightly), which becoms highly efficient/effective. The capacity to act is increased. Arists, atheletes, craftsmen I think experiences this daily. But all of us do, in degrees.

      The reason why I say “levitant” is that much like Rilke’s marble statue, there comes a point where the expected laws and relations of habitual perception do not apply. We experience a certain perceptual violation which in the end (can) produce new capacities to act.

  5. Amarilla May 28, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Thank you. Here’s how I’m understanding it at the moment.

    It’s natural to invest a lot of effort in avoiding the power of the terrible. People spend entire lives tied up with the things that they’re phobic about. So if/when there’s a convergence between the self and the terrible object, if the other shoe drops, so to speak, a certain set of heavily laden /emotionally dense mental ramparts become useless, and a person may feel that they’ve broken open and become weightless. They feel less internal division. The intense energy tied up in avoiding certain truths seems to disappear, as if ground away by the power of the terrible. This involves surrender, it involves “yes.”

  6. kvond May 28, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I like that very much, the self and the terrible object I recall reading the biographical note of a world-leading entymologist. She had a dreadful fear of certain bugs, and decided to take a class in them to confront her fear a bit. She soon found herself dedicating her life and passion to them.

    I think it is a “yes”, but I see it more then mere submission, a kind of nuanced and articulate engagement, allowing the object to “speak”. But again, I am wary of binaries. Such “speaking” always comes at cross currents, and involves a host of nearly topological tides.

  7. Amarilla May 29, 2009 at 11:10 am

    I thought you might enjoy a another angle on the terrible object which I came across in Marcus Aurelius. I’ve quoted it here.

  8. kvond May 29, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Thank you. I will take a look.

  9. Pingback: Utopian Schemes: King Gillette and Frederick Engels « Planomenology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: