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Poet Mark Doty on the Passionate Fragility of Our Attachments – The Marginalian


Sentimentality and Being Mortal: Poet Mark Doty on the Passionate Fragility of Our Attachments

How lovely and insufferable that solely one among every exists — every lover, every baby, every canine; that this explicit chance-constellation of atoms has by no means earlier than existed and can by no means once more recur within the historical past of the universe. The actual fact of every such singularity is a surprise past why, as mysterious and irrefutable as the rationale you like one and never one other. The sensation trembling beneath the very fact — the brutal data that all the pieces we love is irreplaceable but will likely be misplaced: to dissolution and loss of life, to rejection and indifference, to our personal return to stardust — is the toughest factor to bear, the factor for which we have now devised our most elaborate theaters of denial.

Amongst these coping mechanisms is the invention of sentimentality. “Sentimentality is a superstructure masking brutality,” Carl Jung wrote. Its unusual psychological equipment is what the poet Mark Doty explores with unusual perception and sensitivity in a passage from his great memoir Canine Years (public library).

He writes:

The oversweetened floor of the sentimental exists so as to defend its maker, in addition to the viewers, from anger. On the lovely picture refusing to carry, on the tenderness we deliver to the objects of the world — our eagerness to like, make house, construct connection, belief the opposite — how all of that’s so readily swept away. Sentimental photographs of youngsters and of animals, sappy representations of affection — they’re fueled, in fact, by their opposites, by a horrible human rage that nothing stays. The greeting card verse, the airbrushed rainbow, the candy pet face on the fleecy pink sweatshirt — these photographs don’t honor the world as it’s, in its complexity and individuality, however distort issues in obvious service of a heat embrace. They really feel empty as a result of they won’t acknowledge the inherent anger that issues will not be as proven; the world, of their phrases, isn’t a universe of people however a collection of interchangeable situations of appeal. It’s obligatory to claim the insignificance of individuality to make mortality bearable. On this approach, the sentimental represents a rage in opposition to individuality, the singular, the irreplaceable. (Why don’t you simply get one other canine?) The anger that lies beneath the sentimental accounts for its bizarre hollowness. However it’s, I supposed, simpler to really feel than what lies beneath rage: the fear of vacancy, of waste, of the absence of which means or worth; the empty area of our personal loss of life, neither understandable nor representable.

Artwork by Margaret C. Prepare dinner for a 1913 version of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Accessible as a print.)

After all, our fury at entropy is the good driving force of our creativity — we make artwork to make which means out of our mortality, to counteract its brutality with magnificence. Each artistic act is an act of comfort for our transience, for our despair about our transience. A century after Albert Camus insisted that “there is no such thing as a love of life with out despair of life,” Doty contemplates this basic equivalence of existence:

Despair, I believe, is the fruit of a refusal to simply accept our mortal state of affairs. Maybe it’s much less passive than it could appear; is despair a deep assertion of will? The cussed self saying, I cannot have it, I don’t settle for it. High-quality, says the world, don’t settle for it. The collective continues; the entire goes on, whereas every half slips away. To connect, to connect passionately to the person, which is all the time doomed to fade — does that make one clever, or make one a idiot?

Complement with Annie Dillard on how one can bear your mortality and D.H. Lawrence on the most effective lifelong preparation for loss of life, then revisit Doty’s magnificent Whitman-lensed reflection on the braveness to like regardless of the certitude of loss.

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