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Emmet Penney

Towards a General Theory of Loss

  1. Gödel allowed for two mutually exclusive worlds: one certain, absurd; one uncertain, sensical.

  2. Loss splits itself between them.

  3. Before this can be borne out there must be clarification of loss qua loss.

  4. I watch my mother rinse asparagus in the sink. Small globes of water settle on their tips. I have seen such globes as dew. I have seen lawns agleam with them as gifted by fanned hands of water arcing out of sprinklers.

  5. What is true of loss: There is no hemisphere of the earth refuged from evaporation. The sun snatches all globes of water alike, just as my mother’s breath will become mere air-- necessary, ever-present, indifferent.

  6. All loss presupposes a kind of holding.

  7. There are many kinds of holding; all contain a kind of cruelty.

  8. Love is a kind of holding.

  9. Love stands as the event horizon of our union. It denies us the great realm of our solitude. Chiri wrote, “Blossom, we are not two. There is no road to or from. You cannot write a love poem. You cannot walk away."

  10. Love’s cruelty has as a fundamental element the cessation of holding, i.e. loss.

  11. In my twenties, I watched a couple sew shapes into each other’s bodies. They removed the yarn at dawn. We followed them out into the field in the valley, where flame caught the clotted blood and gave the ashes to the dew. This is how the yoke of each other became for them unbearable.

  12. Theirs was the first kind of loss: departure.

  13. Departure has as its main component the phenomenon of parallelism.

  14. Euclid defines parallelism as follows: “parallel straight lines are straight lines which, being in the same plane and being produced indefinitely in both directions, do not meet one another in either direction.

  15. An example: My brother will no longer speak with me. Photos of him arrive in my newsfeed freighted with his smile, the birthmark on the underside of his upper-arm. Our lives continue; we do not meet. I remember him as if he were still the child waving at me from the sandy dock of a manmade lake in Michigan. This memory seems borrowed. In neither direction, then nor now, do we meet.

  16. But when does the moment of parallelism arrive?

  17. Lobachevski puts forth in his Theory of Parallels the following conception: if we have a series of straight lines that intersect (i.e. cut) another straight line (designated DC), then a separate set of lines that move towards but do not cut DC, then “[i]n passing over from the cutting lines...to the not cutting lines […] we must come upon a line […] parallel to DC, a boundary line, upon which [on one side] do not meet line DC, while upon the other side every straight line […] cuts the line DC.”

    From The Theory of Parallels by Nicholas Lobachevski (1840).

  18. To simplify: Say you have one line intersecting with another line. Start tilting one of the lines away from the other--it is indifferent which line. At some point the lines will cease to “cut” each other. They become parallel. A moment of deviation occurs, touching ceases. One begins moving away from the other, drifting across the yawning caesura that becomes loss and we are, again, two.

  19. This is how I imagine it was for my mother, eventually, to wake up next to my father in their spartan room at the back of the house, where as a child I watched dust dance in the pillars of sunlight, and which became my father’s--the whole bed his. He never changed his sleeping position, as evidenced by his body’s indentation.

  20. This is how it was when one morning I awoke beside the woman I had wanted to marry and saw what we both secretly knew: we had become jailed to each other. The night before she stared at me as if I had broken into our apartment to cook dinner and make conversation.

  21. When I look at Fig. 1 in Theory of Parallels I feel as if my eyes betray me. Line AG appears to move towards DC. Yet we are convinced they never touch. At least, this is what we are told.

  22. Do we touch now? No. Now? No. Yet? No. Never? Yes, never. To bear witness to the moment of parallelism is to live in this state of confusion. Jesus Castillo writes, “...A lover’s agreement reads: / When you gain I will gain, when you lose I will / lose, and in the hour of your death I will be halved. / But when love ends and we are both alive, what then? / When the tangled parts are displaced? When odd / fractions of us break away and we’re left standing?”

  23. The disintegration of the lovers’ agreement strips from shared life its quilting points. As Badiou points out, once we have fallen in love we cannot even experience our pasts as isolated. Love clefts us together. And if we understand love as the event horizon of union as discussed above, then the moment of parallelism does the impossible: it rescinds that union and the quilted account of life.

  24. The event of parallelism does not take place only in the province of Eros and its disintegration.

  25. After his mother died, Greg told me he saw a woman crossing the street, dragging her son by his hand. “I looked at her and thought, ‘But you’re just going to die, and your son will be sad.’ But when I looked at the boy, I realized he’ll die, too. So, I guess it doesn’t matter.”

  26. Keenan’s aunt passed after years in the hospital. He stood on the sidewalk with her husband, all of her clothes swallowed in garbage bags on the curb. The whole next year was built around the questions, “Does it stop now? Will it?”

  27. I hadn’t been told how Mo died. The first thing her boyfriend told me after the memorial was, “I was always afraid this is how we would meet.” It was her third overdose in two days. She spent a week on life support. “See,” he’d said, “You don’t want to die.” This was a few hours before he found her in his tub. She had just returned from the ER.

  28. These last three qualify as the second type of loss: termination.

  29. The second postulate in Euclid’s Elements is the ability to produce a straight line between any two points. Either point makes the line’s termination depending on from which point the line is produced.

  30. Termination is the moment our boundedness becomes actual.

  31. Wittgenstein removed death from the realm of human experience because we do not experience our own deaths. Death cannot be relayed by the dead; they belong to a time without us.

  32. Loss is what happens to everyone else after you die.

  33. This is the structure of the new emptiness: Your arms encircle someone; your arms encircle air.

  34. Termination, like parallelism, instantiates the condition of questioning. Carl Phillips: “What will I do now, with my hands?” This stands as the question of mourning brought on by termination’s sudden coming.

  35. Our bodies are up to the task of perishing, but it is in bearing witness to the disappearance of the beloved from the body that we fail.

  36. Now, there is another point and the line terminates.

  37. Now, that ringing you hear is the emptiness of the room.

  38. Now, we stand in the air with our fumbling hands, our open mouths, the whole of us lack- hearted while the breath of our beloved goes unbelonging and lost in the wind about us.

  39. We are not two.

  40. Quod erat faciendum; that which was required to be done.

Emmet Martin Penney
's work has been featured in PopulaPaste MagazinePost TrashInvisible OrangesMadcap ReviewHollow and elsewhere. He lives in Los Angeles and you can find him on Twitter.