Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Embodied Love

There's no hotter topic in memoir than love.

To look at someone's sexual history up close (from trite 365 day dating projects, to heartfelt analyses of former lovers) is something a lot of us seem to be craving.

To reveal love in the context of marriage or divorce is also big (Eat, Pray, Love).

But in her book In the Body of the World, Eve Ensler breaks open all our previous concepts of love and bodies, sex and sexism. She slashes together her own bouts with cancer alongside rape in Congo with incredible eloquence. She has been there, owns her privilege, never lets her memoir be only her story of love, or sex, or rape, or loss. An incredible blend of the personal and political.

From something so universal and then so very specific:
A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life.
To her cancer, and the felt body understanding it gave her that her body is all bodies, that cancer connects to capitalism:
Suddenly the cancer in me was the cancer that is everywhere. The cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed, the cancer that gets inside people who live downstream from chemical plants, the cancer inside the lungs of coal miners. The cancer from the stress of not achieving enough, the cancer of buried trauma. The cancer that lives in caged chickens and oil-drenched fish. The cancer of carelessness. The cancer in fast-paced must-make-it-have-it-smoke-it-own-it formaldehydeasbestospesticideshairdyecigarettescellphonesnow. My body was no longer an abstraction.
And because the body is no longer abstraction, she writes with precise abandon about shit and piss, about blood and cells, fistulas, rape, vaginas, violence. Somehow, the underpinning contains trust, clarity, insight, which keeps the reader going despite a very intense and full-blown consumption in huge issues. How?

Just read her insights on love:
I was always reaching for love, but it turns out love doesn’t involve reaching. I was always dreaming of the big love, the ultimate love, the love that would sweep me off my feet or “break open the hard shell of my lesser self” (Daisaku Ikeda). The love that would bring on my surrender. The love that would inspire me to give everything. As I lay there, it occurred to me that while I had been dreaming of this big love, this ultimate love, I had, without realizing it, been giving and receiving love for most of my life. 
It is incredibly difficult to write a personal memoir which also taps strongly into political experiences without co-opting others' suffering in some way. Ensler has done it. It is amazing, ruthless, endless, and loving.

Read it, if you can. Take your time, if you need to. This is not the only way to do memoir, but if you are going to do memoir and politics mindfully, this is what it looks like.

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