A chapel speaker I heard during my undergrad, who was one of the translators for the New Living Translation of the Bible, told us about a disagreement she had with the translators of Genesis 3:16 (God’s curse of Eve). She told us that there was an ambiguity in one of the pronouns used in the original Hebrew. She felt that the most common translation was the least accurate and that it should instead read “Your desire shall be for your husband and it shall rule over you” (not he). Nearly every woman I’ve shared this with has practically responded, “Well, that’s pretty accurate.”
Biblical translation aside (I’ve no real interest in sparking that debate just now), I think her translation articulates a profound truth about most women. Maybe I shouldn’t pretend to speak on behalf of other women and should simply admit how much that re-translated verse explains something in me. Though the commitaphobe in me and the part of me much more devoted to other endeavors, prevents me from being one of those meek women who seeks to simply be the perfect house wife (I truly mean that with little disrespect) this desire is still lodged in my chest. It has still very much ruled over me and rather outrageously for years.
This struck me again after reading a recent-ish post my friend Jade wrote about obsessions. She said that in her creative nonfiction class the teacher’s icebreaker was that everyone had to go around and share an obsession. She was fascinated by her classmates’ responses and it made her ponder the different obsessions she’s had through the years: Stormchasers, The Home Alone Movies, Titanic, etc. She gave a few cute stories from childhood and shared some profoundly thoughtful research some sparked. Reading her post, how could I help but wonder about my own? Though I marathon my way through any tv show I get really into, and force everyone around me to endure sharing in my latest and greatest book read, and will listen over and over and over to a favorite song practically until I wear out the track, the only true obsessions I’ve had have been men.
This can’t entirely be blamed on this desire for a partner. To some extent, these obsessions were the result of the fact that these men presented themselves as puzzles that I might be able to piece together. Or, as one friend put it, they played into my fascination with transformation. This, combined with a very Western impulse to want to possess anything that we wish to hold onto, was a recipe for obsession.
Even so, I spent years confusing these obsessions with romance. That I attribute to this deep and persistent desire. To a need beyond necessity to feel desired beyond reason or to, at the very least, convince myself I am. Thinking of it I’m reminded of Žižek’s* assertion that what we desire is desire. That we crave the abyss. I do not think this is true of all desires, nor of a healthy desire for love, companionship, intimacy and family, but I cannot help but see this somewhat in myself. To realize how much I’ve been ruled by a rather vacant desire for desire.
Žižek blames capitalism for our desire for desire. More specifically, both within that system and within myself, the cause is a radical devaluation of things (in a world without value, there is nothing to exchange or gain that can gratify thus desire by definition becomes vacant and insatiable). The more I’m waking up to a realization that I have and have had many truly amazing men in my life, the more I’m realizing how very little value I have placed on men other than as objects of fascination, amusement and obsession. The more I’ve wrestled with my identity as I’ve lost weight, the more I’ve come to see how radically I have not fully valued myself. Through this process, this vacant desire for desire is being displaced as I’m beginning to value what is valuable.
*By the way, I don’t miss the irony that I recently dissed on Rollins for how much he relies on Žižek yet I referenced himself. But I don’t think any contemporary thinker can completely disregard Žižek, and this is one of a few areas that I find him useful (but to even say we agree here wouldn’t be accurate). It’s fitting I’d use him for psychoanalysis because he uses that discipline to come up with his cultural theories.