Tuesday, December 30, 2008

W@H: 27 Jennifers

Saw you in the subway station Shining with a strange light Girl, you’re like a weird vacation How am I gonna make you mine? Make you mine. --Mike Doughty, “Like a Luminous Girl” It’s a story as old as time. A schlub with a dead-end job who’s still mourning the crappy things that happened to him five years ago accidentally ends up getting a secret CIA computer downloaded in to his brain. All of the sudden he finds himself at the center of a project, protected by a beautiful secret agent who is the former girlfriend of his greatest enemy but seems to be falling for him. Happens all the time, right? It took forever for a friend of mine to convince me to watch Chuck, but now I love the show. I forgave Chuck’s endearing nerdiness and obvious Mary Sue-ness because I enjoyed the show at first. Now I realize that the very nature of Chuck as Mary Sue is what makes it a beautifully pitched bit of modern mythology. For, you see, Chuck is everyone who is wondering what the purpose of life is while Sarah, his beautiful CIA protector, is none other than the Golden-Haired Woman. Eldredge first gave me the notion of the Golden-Haired Woman after he lifted it from Robert Bly. Not only did he lift it, he cherry-picked the idea. This is Eldredge’s introduction of the Golden-Haired Woman, using the words of Bly:
He sees a woman across the room, knows immediately that it is “She.” He drops the relationship he has, pursues her, feels wild excitement, passion, beating heart, obsession. After a few months, everything collapses, she becomes an ordinary woman. He is confused and puzzled. Then he sees once more a radiant face across the room, and the old certainty again.
Eldredge introduces the quote with the idea that the man sees Juliet and suddenly assumes he must be Romeo. He then follows it with a diatribe against, of all things, pornography. I mean, on some level it makes sense. The purpose of the nude, whether in magazines or movies, is to give the observer that sense of fantasy. But the nude is not the same thing as the Golden-Haired Woman. She has almost nothing to do with sex, and the integration of sex for its own sake in to the equation diminishes the Golden-Haired Woman while the entire purpose of the nude is to present the fantasy of sex. In introducing the Golden-Haired Woman as simple object, then moving in to a diatribe about porn, Eldredge completely missed the point. See, Bly starts with an acquaintance’s recollected story of a bunch of fifteen year-old boys who see a beautiful sixteen year-old girl. Day by day the boys talked about the girl without actually talking to the girl. He then says this:
The girl, on her side, is equally confused. She may in reality be lacking in self-esteem, be insecure, shamed, even victimized, but on the outside, in the radiance from her face, she is queenly, self-possessed, golden, and invulnerable... If the boys had been eighteen, one of them might have spoken to her, and courted her. He might even have made love to her; and in the course of all that he would have realized that she wasn't "she." What a disappointment! "How could I have been so wrong?" he says to himself. When she asks him why he has lost interest, he may even tell her of his disappointment. We are looking at the source of a lot of desperation in certain men here, and a lot of suffering in certain women.
He then goes in to the part Eldredge sampled. Now, in the middle of his anti-porn diatribe, Eldredge did throw in Bly’s sentence about desperation in men and suffering in women. And, for the record, Bly and Eldredge do come to a similar conclusion. Eldredge, not surprisingly, says that the man obsessed with the Golden-Haired Woman must go to god. Bly says that he must search his soul, figure out what it is that he’s trying to find in the Woman and work on that. In this Bly and Eldredge, I believe, are motorists driving side-by side in the middle of the night. At the edge of the cone of radiance provided by their headlights they see a woman standing in the road. Both swerve, one right, one left. Both avoid the Golden-Haired Woman in the road, but in avoiding her both miss the point. (Also, that’s a horrible analogy, but I’m leaving it, dammit.) For this we need to go back to Chuck and Sarah. See, what Sarah does when she arrives in Chuck’s world is pull him out of his normal, everyday existence and make him look at the world differently. In doing so, she forces him to look at himself differently. Chuck doesn’t become something different, though, he simply begins to believe in himself and become what he is. His older sister, playing the role of the mother/goddess (also played by the amazingly attractive Sarah Lancaster, might I add), tries to tell him the same things Sarah does, but he won't listen to the mother, he'll only listen to Sarah. This is the true magic of the Golden-Haired Woman. The man who approaches her expecting to be given something will not get it and eventually end up disappointed. But his disappointment won’t be in her, it will be in himself. Chuck is, for a while, content with a fake relationship with a woman he doesn’t know. As time wears on, however, he grows discontent, wants to know about her, wants things to become real. This is the point where the Golden-Haired Woman becomes the woman. And this is why the story has absolutely nothing to do with sex, with fantasy, with pornography. The mistake of the man in the presence of the Golden-Haired Woman is to assume she can give him something that he himself does not possess. It has nothing to do with a search for some archetypal Eve like Eldredge would say or the Freudian search for the mother like Bly would say. There’s a different, Occam’s Razor answer to the problem. A man looks to a woman for validation. His assumption, in finding the Golden-Haired Woman is, basically, “If she’s awesome and she loves me, then I must be awesome, too.” Tossing in Eve or Oedipus only complicates that simple mental progression. Some men don’t have a particularly strong need for validation and don’t worry about the Golden-Haired Woman. More power to them, I say. Some men do have a need for validation and seek her out to give them something they feel they lack in themselves. This is where it ends badly. Quite simply, after a while even the most inebriated by worship discovers that her shit does, in fact, stink. The Golden-Haired Woman becomes human. Sometimes she even becomes sub-human, as she becomes clingy, or has abandonment issues, or brings up a past that the man would rather not deal with. I wonder, too, if there are certain unfortunate women who are predisposed to become Golden-Haired Women, just as there are some unfortunates with no gaydar who have a string of relationships that end with her man admitting he likes other men. I have no proof of this, but I have noticed that there are some girls who seem to be creepy stalker magnets and some who really should be, but aren’t. I also think that there’s a high correlation between the creepy-but-harmless stalker and the guy who needs validation from a woman. But this is all conjecture. All of this, meanwhile, isn’t designed to undo Bly’s (or, I guess, Eldredge’s if you’re the strongly religious type) advice for the man constantly running after the Golden-Haired Woman. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, “If she’s awesome and she loves me, then I must be awesome, too,” attitude. The beloved should be, on some level, amazing. And if the beloved, in turn, sees something in the lover that the lover strives to be (and vice-versa), then this is a good thing. Moving in to the other’s perspective and seeing one’s own potential can be a powerful inducement to self-improvement. But this should not be confused with being awesome because of the other. No one can make us what we are not already. They can only bring out qualities that already existed. Sometimes, too (as I’ve learned the hard way), this works in reverse, where the beloved actually brings out negative qualities and encourages the lover to wallow in a non self-actualizing state. All in all, though, the important thing to remember is that the Golden-Haired Woman does not exist in a vacuum. The man who constantly chases her across the room will never find her. In the process, he’ll break the hearts of a lot of real women. And real women are fully capable of being, in and of themselves, amazing. They can be, in their ordinariness, great. The issues that certain men take to the Golden-Haired Woman are taken to real women who are really hurt by it, not to women who take their clothes off for money. Bly seems to get this. Eldredge does not. That’s the real tragedy of the search for the Golden-Haired Woman and how it's presented in Wild at Heart. It goes back to the way we see things. I went to school with 27 Jennifers 16 Jenns, 10 Jennies, and then there was her You might be the one that I’ve been seeking for You might be the strange delightful You might be the girlie who shall end all girls You might be the sweet unspiteful --Mike Doughty, "27 Jennifers" Berger points out in Ways of Seeing that the painter or the cameraman is, in a way, interacting with an audience. Out of the millions of things a painter could paint, out of the infinite number of places a camera could be pointed, the observer is presented with this one, single scene. Similarly, out of the infinite number of other women, all of whom are fully capable of being great in their own way, there is her. The beloved. The Golden-Haired Woman. The ordinary woman who wakes up with bed-head, loses her temper, and whose shit most definitely stinks. They are the same person. It just depends who is looking and how. Up next, the battle to rescue the sacred from the jaws of the mundane begins…


Fiat Lex said...

The only aspect of this post with which I disagree is your description of what happens when the woman who has been mistaken for the GHW turns out to be a real person.

This quote from the end is illustrative:
The Golden-Haired Woman. The ordinary woman who wakes up with bed-head, loses her temper, and whose shit most definitely stinks.
They are the same person. It just depends who is looking and how.

The real woman is real.
The GHW is imaginary.

They are manifestly not "the same person". And while I don't think you are confused on that score in your own mind, in a discussion like this you've gotta make the definition explicit or it causes problems later on. Like if you launched a shuttle to the moon and your flight path calculations had a couple of digits wrong at the third or fourth decimal place.

The GHW, I will continue to insist, is the Muse. In Jungian terms, the contra-sexual image, that is, the archetype used by a person's unconscious mind to embody all that is desirable. Which qualities a man's GHW possesses are a reflection on himself. And in an important sense, the idealized Beloved only exists within the personality of the Lover.

There's a chapter in Gareth Knight's big book of crazyness that deals with this subject in detail. It really helped me out when I was a teenager struggling to understand this experience for the first time:
[T]he archetypes of the unconscious, particularly the contra-sexual image, are images of the Individuality of man.

When, however, contact with the Individuality, essentially an inner experience, is confused with objective reality by projection upon another, then obviously there is going to be trouble, whether in more modern times as a bad marriage or tragic love affair or in Homeric legend as the launching of a thousand ships and the ten year siege and burning of a city. These are the lengths to which glamour can lead man and glamour is still very much with us.

That moment when the "GHW" turns out to be a real woman is one of disillusionment. The problems you describe so aptly come into play when someone attempts to retain the illusion that the GHW (or GHM, whatever) can be a person who exists objectively. If he tries to hold onto the fantasy of a flesh-and-blood Muse, the disillusionment drives the man away from the GHW, who has lost her glamor. If, on the other hand, he is able to separate the glamorous ideal from the real woman, then he can keep both without doing harm to either.

Geds said...

I maintain that the Golden-Haired Person, if allowed to become a real person and appreciated as such, maintains some aspects of the Golden-Hairedness.

Then again, what do I know, anyway? When it comes to dating and women, I might as well be a leper. And you know they hardly ever give a leper a chance, Golden-Haired or not.

Fiat Lex said...

That, I can agree with. The real person can still be glamorous, can still evoke lots of GHP-type wonder and awe. From time to time. If the the light hits them just right as they're waking up with bed hair, or if they do something totally sweet when you'd expected crabbiness. And you say "Wow! I'm so glad I'm with this person!"

Problems arise, as you and Bly and Eldredge all agree, when the lover expects this evocation of the imagined ideal to be continuous. To remain unsullied by a real other person's desires, actions and choices.

"What can I tell you?" indeed. You can tell plenty! I only quibble because I think you are 95% right on the money in this post. As opposed to 100% rightness most of the time. You don't see me arguing with the rest of it. :)