Tuesday, April 14, 2009


So I was thinking...(you know that's always a dangerous start)...

I was thinking that there has to be a silver lining in all this infertility suffering. For all the things it's bad for, it has to be good for something. For what is profound, almost existential unhappiness useful? Well, you know, I'm almost embarassed I asked; it seems so obvious. Dr. Google (Ph.D.) was particularly helpful here, because he found me something I vaguely remembered reading in college: Roland Barthes's "fragments," from his book A Lover's Discourse.

Barthes - somewhat like his predecessor Baudelaire - had a very specific, rather abstracted notion of love. By the standards of any student of literature who's kept up with his trade, I'll botch this, but the idea was something like this. "Love" is the irresistible compulsion to be close to, to make oneself and one's feelings known and understood by, the loved object; but the process of expressing oneself, in order to know and be known by someone else, means that the lover can't truly or fully know, or be fully known. Even as he pours out his words to draw the loved object near, he pushes her further away, with all his words; his ocean of self-expression, which connects him to her, also creates a sort of insurmountable blockade of self-outpouring between him and her. So he's rather tortured. Barthes, that is.

If you read the fragments, this will make a little more sense; read a dozen or so, and you'll get the overall feel of the thing.

Anyway, my point, which I've been approaching somewhat obliquely, is that unhappiness is, in fact, useful for something, as it's produced some if not most of the best art that we have. (I'm not saying here that Barthes is the best poet in the history of literature. Just that his work made a sort of explicit study of what state of mind makes this kind of work possible.) So buried somewhere in the rather complicated and symbolically rich sadness of the infertile is a wellspring of beautiful, if somber, art. And certainly it is a place from which we, the infertile, can appreciate the rest of the suffering and the tormented beauty out there.

I've thought a bit on my own particular journey with barenness, of the particular quality of motherlessness (my mother is alive and relatively well but, as previously explained, she's never been able to be much of a mother), that fascinating mirror of childlessness. And I've realized the need I have, particularly in this particular part of my life, for a mother I don't really have - to love me, to reassure me that I'm not worthless (don't tell me, I know; but it would be nice to know), and to have been here before, in this dark territory, and know that it's all right. As I've mentioned before, I'm seeing bits of this maternal comfort in various places recently, in my IF wanderings.

I was delighted the first time I saw Pamela Jeanne's blog, a rare blog by an IFer who has stopped treatment, does not have children, and is nevertheless living a life, being infertile; because she is, in that, a sort of mother figure for the relatively new IFers. Not, heaven knows, that she's of even the right generation to be my biological mother, or that of anybody else in the IFosphere; but her experience of having walked this way before gives me, I know, a certain peace. And here, of course, is the poem - a famous one by Edna St. Vincent Millay - with those bloggers who've gone before as Persephone; and I (doubtless like many other young IFers) a new entrant to Hades, lonely and lost.
Be to her, Persephone,
All the things I might not be:
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell,—Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee:
Say to her, "My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."

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