The first thing that struck me after reading this poem is its explicitly erotic tone. One is hard not to imagine the visual image of the poem upon reading it: breathing, kissing, grabbing, sucking etc, all constitutive of a consummate sexual experience. The image is a passionate, almost violent one, as “you” and “I” go out of their way to satisfy each other’s desires. “The pointed nails” of the other’s hand is unceasingly on one’s throat. “Pleasure” of the flesh is accompanied by “shame” and “pain.” Finally, there is not just caressing, but “suck[ing of] blood,” rendering a vivid, primitive, animalist image.
As my above quotation has already somewhat alluded to, intersubjectivity is key to this poem. There is a constant shifting of perspective from “you” to “I,” from the possessive adjective “your” to “my.” With no exception, a description of the Other is immediately followed by a description of oneself, e.g. “your breath” is followed by “in my mouth.” While other surrealists have also paid varying attention to intersubjectivity, Mansour employs this “technique” systematically. This hyper-attention to the shifting of gazes reminds me strongly of the cinema of Varda and Akerman; in fact, upon reading this poem, one cannot help but feel that this is the work of a female poet.
Mansour’s use of intersubjectivity is concretized in two levels. On the one level, the sexual activity is characterized by both a constant awareness of the Other and the self. Arguably it is precisely during the sexual activity that one’s level of awareness reaches the height, hence the fixation on the physical bodies (“your” dry hands, “my” waxen flesh), especially their color (“my” crimson throat, “your” violent lips) as well as one’s inner sensations (“shame pain pleasure”).
On the other level, the sexual activity is likely the primary location where the I-Other distinction breaks down. During the activity, one feels maximally close to one’s partner, physically and emotionally, to the extent that a credible distinction between the two can no longer be satisfactorily drawn. Mansour destabilizes the I-Other distinction by projecting the activity infinitely into the future — “the pointed nails of our dry hands will never loose my crimson throat,” and “my waxen flesh still tempt you as long as my eyes stay closed.” These italic descriptions help to permanentize the “pleasures of the moments,” stamping them with an almost ontological status. It is in these “eternally recurrent” moments, to appropriate Nietzsche’s phrase, that the subjectivities of “you” and “I” are somehow merged. The physical merging is clearly there as, for example, “your” nails grasp “my” throat and “your violent lips will suck my blood.” But there is, on a more fundamental level, the merging of consciousness: the simultaneous double awareness between the partners, the sharing of pleasure and pain, the shared projection into the future. In the final analysis, therefore, Mansour succeeds in essentializing what is a very common experience in our lives.
Essay by Larry Hong
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