Saturday, July 16, 2011

Readings: Jorie Graham on Tipping the Primal Scales


Adam and Eve in the primal Garden has been a recurring theme of mine, especially in poetry. I was therefore most appropriately smitten with drop-dead appreciation of this passage (number 9 of 33) in Jorie Graham’s poem “Self-Portrait as the Gesture Between Them [Adam and Eve]” from the collection The End of Beauty.

The passage describes Eve in the aftermath of having plucked the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge:


But a secret grows, a secret wants to be given away.
For a long time it swells and stains its bearer with beauty.
It is what we see swelling forth making the shape we know a thing by.
The thing inside, the critique of the given.

It is the final line that got to me: it seems to say that to be is to exist in opposition to. Simple being, then, is the Original Sin. Mea freakin’ culpa!


Fiocle said...

Yes, i think you got that right. Simple being is innocence and Original Sin was born out of innocence. She remains innocent throughout if she can remain simple. Yikes, now there's a thought!

Katley said...

mea culpa mea culpa,always the woman's fault....not fair

Ron King said...

That is an interesting line about the secret. Why would she "eat" in the first place? She was not content is my guess. Why not I ask. I answer, because there was a void created when she was not correctly identified by the man. He could only see her superficially and her instinctive response to this left her with a sense of missing something. Gaining knowledge about self cannot occur in isolation. When she eats nothing happens. Then he eats and a they both feel the "shame" of being naked. She responds immediately to what he has discovered. Now they are in a state of passionate innocence without knowing what to do except hide. It is the man who leads them into hiding. It is the man who initiates the shame in this story and contaminates her innocence. She feels what he feels and must now live with the vague awareness of the beauty of her essence and the reality of the power of his influence. What does she do now?

Rodak said...

Ron I think that you are projecting beyond the terminal point of the excerpt given.
I think the point made by Jorie Graham is that having eaten of the fruit and become a moral agent, Eve is dissatisfied with continuing to be no more than God's beautiful pet. It is she, now, instead of Adam, who is "alone" is her state of being. She wants to give her secret away in order to have a companion on her new level of existence.

Ron King said...

Rodak, Is Jorie Graham projecting in her terminal point what she experiences as the result of not being known for who she is? I think that Eve always felt alone otherwise she would not have wanted to gain more knowledge. I think she felt alone as soon as she was named woman because she came from man. She was told who she was by someone else and that did not fit. She was what Adam told her she was. I think that was the original sin. It left her longing to be known and to know who she is. It is the same longing we all share the moment someone tells us who we are. It is in that moment that what is innocent and beautiful that we become contaminated with the sin of being unknown by another. The secret I see that wants to be expressed is the truth of who she is and not who she is told who she is by Adam.

Rodak said...

After Eve became a moral agent, Adam (who was still "innocent") could no longer know her as an equal. He was now her inferior--at least so far as to be fully human is to be a moral agent, with free will--and she was beyond his range of understanding. She was "pregnant" with her need to be joined again with Adam. This 'shaped' who she was, as a pregnancy shapes a woman's body, defining her role as Woman.
If eating of the fruit was Original Sin, then merely being fully human, as we understand it, is that sin.

Ron King said...

I see what you are saying now. What is interesting to me then is that she was not seemingly troubled by what she had opened to, so she still appears to have retained her innocence, until, Adam knew what she knew. It seems to me that the knowledge she gained was not the original sin because of her lack of distress with what she had gained. It was the distress caused by Adam's reaction which then influenced her to suffer distress. What do you think? If you have time. Another thought along being fully human is that she appeared comfortable being fully human and he wasn't. She seems to resonate with his discomfort and then loses herself in the experience of his discomfort.

Rodak said...

Well, to go beyond the specific context of the excerpt from the poem, in order to discuss what I think about the myth of Eden in broader terms, I think that the 'curse' of self-consciousness (which is really what we're discussing here) is that it brings two things to humanity with which other creatures do not have to contend: 1) a sense of responsibility (and concommitant potential guilt); and 2) foreknowledge of death. These are heavy prices to pay in exchange for the rewards that individuality brings. It is not that Man became mortal with the Fall, but that he became aware of mortality. It was not that he was condemned to labor, but that he felt guilty if he did not do his share of the work.

Rodak said...

Adam and Eve, as male and female, have different gender-specific roles to fill, but each is a self-conscious moral agent; and each faces the psychical burdens that come with self-awareness. If they felt "shame" at their "nakedness," it wasn't shame concerning their physical bodies, but the shame resulting from the realization that each could understand and interpret the other's motives and shortcomings by analogy to his/her own. So, it was psychological "nudity" that they wanted to hide, not their "naughty bits."