Desire and Denial

by William Bronk

This essay, along with the essay "Costume as Metaphor," originally appeared in the pamphlet: A PARTIAL GLOSSARY in 1974, printed by Showada Co. Ltd., Kyoto, Japan for the Elizabeth Press, designed by Cid Corman. This version was revised by William Bronk for the journal Polis in 1982, reprinted here with their permission.

At length, the mental and physical structures of the world lose strength and articulation so we are nearly free of them and we begin to see, through and around and under the clutter they were, the real world which they encrusted. The real world, though not really a world: no world is real. We see how curious it is that we live at once in a world which is not real and a reality which is not a world and how little the two resemble each other, how impossible it is that the other should ever become the one. What we settle for, if we settle, is not important; but the two are, and no doubt will be, in separate ways.

My friend sends me a picture of Mayan monuments from a site which surprises both of us. These were parts of a world we never knew -- might never have known. Though it is quite gone, we can a little way, with their aid, feel into it. Reality is, as always, and needs no monuments. It is for anyone there. But it is also true that anyone there wants, in his time and place, to imagine a world and this imagining imagines a time and place constituting the time and place of that world to which monuments are built. No worlds otherwise exist as worlds. But reality exists always -- for them, for us, for anyone. It is shapeless and timeless and, one supposes, always the same, so that in spite of those times and places which we imagine, those particular worlds in which we give ourselves sites and sequences, we say we are nowhere and eternal, that is to say timeless and not in the world. This acuity is direct and immediate which we come to without thinking and often fearfully.

Worlds are refuge and sanctuary but how they penalize us and set us apart, how they subvert our experience as though it happened only in a world and could happen only if there, could only be said to have really happened if it can be related to that world's premises and temporal schemes. As we become increasingly at home in a world and more loyally citizens of it, so our experience does seem to happen there, -- within those confines. We dismiss it otherwise as of no consequence.

Dreams, of course: we condescend to these most valid experiences as divagant fantasy, impossible of realization, or as clues to a therapy in a world we failed. And it is true that much of what we dream is impossible in the sense that it can never be incorporated in any more tangible world. And it is also true that that world which we imagine, which we call the actual world, has been imagined as a world of consequences and, within its spaces, works that way. Its parts are related in ways that cause and effort make an effect. We see this happening. What we never see is any consequence outside the confines of that imagined actual world. There are no large consequences. Barring not even the total destruction of that actual world, there are no large consequences.

The real is inconsequential and is still reality. Dreams are part of it as the actual world of consequence is not. We suffer things that occur to us that have no place in the actual world. Waking at night or walking out in the morning, we experience irrational joy, irrational despair. They seem causeless and we think of nothing to do with them. We let them pass if they pass and often they do. Apart from the world, we let them be as if apart from us, from our true experience.

What else, however are we, or what else is reality? We know it is not in that imagined world of mundane invention where we try to act it out, try to contain and prove it in games and stories which shape our lives to their shape. Wars and careers. Engaged in these, we feel an outside form in which we participate, escaping our shapelessness.

Desire is our door into the world. We see shapes there and want then and we go after them into the world. But desire is our door out again also when the shapes we saw leave our desires unsatisfied. What could we ever have wanted? More than a door to enter, the world offers us a prospect to peer into whose shapes suggest a reality which they, themselves, are not. And reality is what we want -- our own or any other -- and reality is shapeless and disparate. We live in reality without possession or occupation and the love of reality unpossessed transfigures us.

How uneasy our lives are: we are denied those shapes and spaces of desire by our desire which rejects them. Shapeless and impalpable ourselves, we want that reality which has no shape to occupy.

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