ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Relocations: Erotic love and interiority

Image from Youth Voices Live.
March 21, 2024

There’s a knowledge of self that only sexual knowledge can bring

By Herbert Rothschild

When Othello marries Desdemona, he hasn’t the slightest understanding of erotic love. After the Venetian signiory tells him he must go to Cyprus to defend it from the Turkish threat and she begs to be allowed to accompany him, Othello seconds his wife’s request by saying that her presence won’t distract him from “your serious and great business.” He’s not particularly interested in sex, “the young affects / In me defunct.” No, he says, “light-winged toys / Of feathered Cupid” won’t blind his judgments or “corrupt and taint my business.”

This man, whose life before we meet him has been straight out of a boy’s adventure novel, has no experience with women. When the action moves to Cyprus, what we witness is not only his growing sense of what Desdemona means to him, but also the awareness of an interiority that only an intense sexual relationship can reveal.

Ashland.news-Secretary-Herbert-Rothschild
Herbert Rothschild

Othello’s first experience of that intimate self comes after the different ships carrying him and his wife from Venice to Cyprus are separated by a storm and her ship lands first. When he arrives to find her waiting for him on shore, he exclaims,

It gives me wonder great as my content

To see you here before me.

. . . If it were now to die,
 ’Twere now to be most happy, for I fear
 My soul hath her content so absolute
 That not another comfort like to this
 Succeeds in unknown fate.

His contént is an almost physical experience of cóntent, of fullness. He goes on: “I cannot speak enough of this content. / It stops me here (pointing to his heart); it is too much of joy.”

As the possible loss of Desdemona in a quite different sense dawns on Othello thanks to Iago’s insinuations of her sexual infidelity, his wife becomes Othello’s only business (“Othello’s occupation’s gone!” he says, when Iago has poisoned his mind with doubt). The more he fears he has lost her love, the more precious she becomes to him. So, too, does that interiority that he had never experienced before. In anguish he cries to her that he could have borne every trial with patience except

 there where I have garnered up my heart,
Where either I must live or bear no life,
 The fountain from the which my current runs
 Or else dries up — to be discarded thence,
 Or keep it as a cistern for foul toads
 To knot and gender in.

What an extraordinary expression of the intimate self, a self that can be revealed to us only by intimacy. This is no longer the Othello of adventure stories. This is someone who has entered the human condition, with all its potential for joy and pain. He has become like Adam and Eve when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Othello” is Shakespeare’s great recasting of that seminal story. He perceived that it was about the knowledge of self that only sexual knowledge can bring.

Almost from the start of Relocations back in 2014, whenever Deborah would ask me what I was writing about that week, I would reply, “sex over 70.” After the Daily Tidings went defunct and the column resumed in Ashland.news, my reply became “sex over 80.” I never broached that subject, of course, nor ever will. I’ll leave it for the curriculum committee of OLLI, along with wills, revocable trusts and probate. Still, for a long time I’ve wanted to write this column.

Sex can be devoid of erotic love — in most cases it is — and erotic love can outlast its most obvious physical expressions. Nonetheless, there can be no experience of such love absent sexual desire. In no other way do two people open themselves as completely to each other. That’s why it’s so painful when one or both lovers cease to desire the other. It feels like a rejection of the self one has finally opened to someone else and perhaps has discovered for the first time oneself. Or the loss of something seemingly so real that it’s inconceivable it could have proved ephemeral.

And maybe erotic love ends because we forget — or never really grasped — how amazing it is that someone else entrusted us with what they hold most precious, and that we trusted them in the same way. How could we ever take that for granted? How can we not think that erotic love is among the serious and great business of our lives?

Herbert Rothschild’s columns appear on Friday in Ashland.news. Opinions expressed in them represent the author’s views. Email Rothschild at herbertrothschild6839@gmail.com.

Picture of Jim

Jim


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