Foie Gras, Bondage, Cronuts at Dawn

"LOVE Stamp, 8c," 1973, designed by Robert Indiana.

 Content Warning: This story includes passages that, while satiric, might be construed as offensive to some religions.

 

The more traditional moral philosophers would argue that the logical terminus of hedonism is nihilism, but I must say: this chorizo is really delicious. In fact, it tastes nothing like nothingness.

*

Contra those paunchy, bifocaled, dully married, grimly bearded traditional moral philosophers, I would argue the logical terminus of hedonism is awesome – and I wouldn’t call it a terminus. I would call it Valhalla, nirvana, one of the eschatological plesauredomes of the non-Abrahamic religions. Not that I’m one of those scowling Norse neo-pagans, insufferable and anachronistic, nor one of those threadbare humming Buddhists, a bit vacant intellectually, gastro-intestinally, and otherwise.

*

I wouldn’t say I don’t believe in anything. I believe in myself, most of the time. I believe in the restorative power of a Bloody Mary. I believe in the value of a dollar, hard-earned and otherwise. I believe in the social niceties, society’s interpersonal garnishes – shaking hands heartily, tipping the bellboy, picking up litter on the street, telling a woman her dress looks lovely even if you have no intention of sleeping with her. Speaking of which, I believe we have much to learn from the bonobos, who resolve their conflicts by giving oral sex to both hostile parties. I can’t honestly say I believe in a thing called love, but I did believe in Blair and me, as far as it goes. Together we’d cantered far down the tree-lined boulevard of sensual gratification. Our entelechy bent toward that ultimate epicurean credo: get some. Cotton sheets as smooth as water. Vintage Krug. Two-hour Chinese massages. Whole days in which we never left the bedroom. Prudent quantities of very pure cocaine. Tahiti, Bora Bora, Nice, Vail, Hong Kong, Tierra del Fuego. Foie gras, bondage, cronuts at dawn.

 *

I would describe us as ethically itinerant. To put it another way, we preferred aesthetics to ethics – or better yet, we saw an ethic in our aesthetics, a value in the appreciation of beauty for its own sake. To put it another way, we both liked looking at each other. At the party where we met, the one later overrun by the Marxist-Millennialists, I saw her standing there, to quote McCartney, that modern philosopher of love, and in that moment, I first experienced Kant’s notion of the sublime, awe in the presence of terrifying beauty: the stately neck, savage eyebrows, incongruously generous lips, the warm green eye coupled with the depthless oceanic blue, a vivid visualization of Fitzgerald’s statement that the mark of a first-rate intelligence is to be able to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and retain the ability to function.

*

Blair’s is an idiosyncratic feminism, gapped and jagged and fuzzy-edged: when grading freshman comp essays at Cal Arts, she would dock dramatically those few students who used the pronoun “he” when referring to a hypothetical individual; as an undergrad at USC she started a club to raise awareness of the practice of female genital mutilation in various sub-Saharan countries; and yet: she watches porn as much as most men I know, thinks equal-pay laws are bullshit, calls women she doesn’t like c****, and likes sex best when she’s being humiliated. To put it another way, Blair’s brand of feminism is sex-positive, her view of marriage dim. To put it another way, on our first date after our initial encounter, Blair asked me, “What is fidelity, anyway?” To put it another way, our relationship has only ever approximated monogamy. To put it another way: if, as Kierkegaard said, purity of heart is to will one thing, we were not exactly lily-white. To put it another other way: if only ever having sex with one person is practicing your scales, we played jazz.

*

But since dalliances aren’t dealbreakers, I don’t know why she’s crying. Her dad? I liked her dad. Niels preferred Aristotle to Plato, and Seneca to both. He often recommend to me The Consolation of Philosophy. He also made his fortunes betting against the currencies of fragile economies and then winning, sending the nations into death spirals of draconian monetary policy, nativist fervor, sectarianism, juntas and purges and death squads and failed UN peacekeeping missions. He was one of the few people I knew who used Quaaludes for their intended purpose as a sleeping aid. Blair’s relationship with him was a particularly Californian brand of Elektra complex, constellated by lavish sushi dinners, the interruption of business negotiations to attend her poetry readings, the purchase of swimwear well into her 20s, and on her end, worrying constantly over his health (ironically, in retrospect), visiting him weekly during his brief stint at a minimum security prison, and dedicating to him her two volumes of poetry, Other Minds, Other Bodies and Quantum Vulva. I was touched when Blair’s mother asked me to read “O Captain, My Captain” at his funeral.

*

Blair and I are at our cores physicalists, and as such, Niels’s death was an especially hard blow to her. Aware of this, I made a special effort in the months after his death to love the body that is her: hiring a violinist to play Paul Simon songs outside her window, going down on her constantly, painting for her a larger-than-life-sized portrait of her incontinent French bulldog Skittles, taking her dancing, cooking her favorite Vidalia-and-Portabella Napoleons. Yet now, sitting across from me at Real & Ideal, she’s talking about God, about heaven and purpose, convents and guilt and celibacy and the existence of a non-corporeal soul. I only realize a few seconds after she’s concluded the monologue that she’s breaking up with me. All at once, the chorizo tastes like the sediment in the bottom of a wine bottle. I spit it out and stand up, wobbling in my flip-flops. I wish I’d actually read The Consolation of Philosophy. 

*

The woman I bump on my way out looks too avid to be a physicalist, and the yin-yang on her kimono/track suit confirms it. The yin-yang, which I’ve always thought looked like the number 69, is a fraught symbol in the history of Chinese philosophy, since the Daoists use the yin-yang to explain how opposite principles and forces are actually complementary, (also incidentally suggesting a relativist moral schema, good and evil being only a matter of perception), whereas for the Confucians the yin-yang represents the duality of right and wrong, always opposed, eternally at war. It was in a Daoist spirit that I had my own arm tattooed with a large yin-yang, representing me and Blair, me the yang (solid, aggressive, fiery), Blair the yin (yielding, tranquil, lunar), and as my yin-yang-ed arm impacts the insignia above the woman’s breast, I feel both heat and hardness. Many cultists have coopted the symbol in a more Confucian, perhaps even Gnostic, stance. But the woman’s son looks like nothing so much as the Buddha.

*

Blair’s latest book, Quantum Vulva, contains 23 poems, one for every person she’s ever slept with, and when I asked why she’d decided to assemble them after she started dating me, she rolled her eyes and said I didn’t know how to take a compliment. I should add this salient detail: each poem is a break-up monologue addressed to the significant other, and although that 23rd is a fabulous poem, the Michael Jordan of free verse, I felt I had to ask her the obvious question. She replied by asking if I’d heard of parallel universes, to which I said of course. As a philosophy and physics major, I knew the idea long before it became popularized by those with cultist sympathies: to summarize briefly, relativity theory is fantastic at explaining really big stuff, and quantum theory is fantastic at explaining really small stuff, but as is so often true, things get blurry in the middle, and the partisans for each side war constantly in a potentially unresolvable yin-yang; however, in a rather Daoist solution to the conundrum, string theorists contend that instead of four dimensions, there are actually ten or eleven, universes within universes, and that in one of those universes, everything that ever could have happened – in every possible sequence and combination – has in fact happened. So, Blair said, she’s actually slept with every man in the history of the universe, and she’s broken up with all of them, including me, an infinite number of times. It says something about Blair that this is her idea of reassurance. But, she added, to take a very different set of first premises, it’s totally possible that she and I were in fact the sole occupants of the universe, that in a sort of double Cartesianism, we could be certain of only our own existence and that of the other, and that everything else existed only in our own minds; to put it another way, we binary stars, another yin-yang. As such, Blair said it’s conceivable that I’m actually the only person she’s every slept with, and we only break up to get back together, ad infinitum. She said that for a while she was thinking about naming the collection Singularity and Multiplicity. When I asked why she hadn’t, she replied that Quantum Vulva sounded sexier.

*

The origin of the phrase You Can’t Take It With You is uncertain, but some trace it back to 1 Timothy 6, in which Paul writes: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Christianity is a religion ridden with non sequitors, but few rival that. The first sentence is true, if obvious, and implies the exact opposite of the second sentence. Since we leave this world as we came, we should be content with nothing less than everything. Stuff is literally everything for us physicalists, our sine qua non, our oxygen, and Blair’s trust fund was an infinite atmosphere, nothing less than everything. Toddling toward the exit of Real & Ideal, I think: So this is what suffocation feels like.

*

I shoulder outside with sex and money on my mind, or to put it more precisely, I am haunted by the 9 digits of Blair’s trustfund, by the sight and taste and texture of her vulva, the self-contained universe of her satiny plump sex. However, since the haunted often do not pay attention to their immediate surroundings, I crash into a woman on the sidewalk, but before I can apologize, assess, or ogle, the pane of Real & Ideal shatters, and I feel a very real tear in my arm, on one side of my ribs, and then the other side. Prone on the curb as the woman kneels over me (pale, austerely beautiful, wild-haired, like the Delphic Oracle), I examine the arm. The yang’s blown clean away.

*

Another singularity: the terminus of everything turns out to be the same.

 

Michael Reid Busk recently received his PhD from the University of Southern California's Literature and Creative Writing Program, where he was a Feuchtwanger Fellow and Town and Gown Scholar. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Iowa Review, Conjunctions, Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner, and other journals.
 
tags: Culture, Politics & Society, Rethinking Religion   
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