On the unbearable madness of being

February 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Love as an obsession overrides love as everything else. In Hitomi Kanehara’s Autofiction, the protagonist is consumed by love – literally and metaphorically. She talks of nothing else. She thinks of nothing else. Every thought, even those of plastic mineral water bottles, leads back to the concept of love and unity. For the character, Rin, to be in love with someone is not just to BE with them, but to be them. To become the other.

She’s manic and paranoid, and within a few pages of reading you’re tempted to wonder why any of these guys are seeing her to begin with. Or why any of them have led the relationship to progress as far as it has. The alarm bells would have started sounding awhile back. It leads you to wonder – is she hot? Is it the sex? Does her hotness override her raging paranoia, jealousy, and insecurity?

Or maybe she’s just a really nice girl, and loveable despite all that.

But she gets under your skin. I read chunks of this slim novel late at night, under the covers, and I got goosebumps. There’s a certain skulking creepiness about her, because she sees things that other people can’t. Not dead people, just… things. Her perception is twisted, but that’s a large generalisation. Her perception could be the real one. Or maybe that’s the point of perception – one woman’s twisted is another woman’s ho-hum.

Much as we all want love to be roses and sunflowers and buttercream frosting and mutually-fulfilling sex, it’s really about this: loneliness, uncertainty, anger, and the endless desire for more. More from yourself, more from your partner, more from The Relationship.

Rin would rather imagine the presence of another entity, an imaginary entity – Smith-Smith – in the house, than she would face the ‘secrets’ of her husband Shin, who disappears to his room every night for a few hours despite Rin’s pleas, tears, and drama. He goes into his room, and… who knows? Rin hears the sound of the trunk in his room opening and shutting. That sound has superseded all fears for Rin. She’d rather have a ‘ghost’ named Smith-Smith hanging about the place than listen to the sound of the trunk cover opening and shutting from the closed door of her husband’s bedroom.

I thought about this at length. I’m a wimp. I don’t watch horror movies, can’t listen to ghost stories, can’t stand old women and kids turning into demons (to which a previous post on Legion attests), and will rather face a roomful of relatives questioning me on my single status and marital intentions than tramp about in a graveyard at night all alone. (Wait, no… no, I take that back.) Okay, so there are things that will force me to face abject horror or unknown entities. But personally, would I rather have a Smith-Smith in the house than face up to my husband’s big secret? NO. Give me that big secret, and I will conquer it, I tell you. Well, give me the secret or the option of a creature named Smith-Smith hovering about the place, and yes, I will conquer that secret.

But that secret gets to you. It gets to Rin, too. As she says, without Smith-Smith to believe in, she’ll die. She’ll die without the love of her husband, she’ll die if she finds out his secret. And really, what is Shin doing? What’s in that trunk? And why can’t Rin, being the obsessive paranoid that she is, simply storm into his room and demand an answer? Or alternatively, sneak into the room during the day when her husband’s at work? Instead, she chooses the path of endless rumination; she opts to drive herself crazy while drowning out the sound of what goes on in that room by playing music on the computer and CD player, and turning on the TV, and ceaselessly wondering what her husband is doing.

Because following Rin’s train of thought, soon you’re thinking like her. Or maybe all of us have a Rin in us, in lesser or greater degrees. Your husband should be allowed to hang out by himself in his room, for a few hours, if he wants. He can climb in and out of that trunk and it should be okay. Technically speaking. In a normal, loving relationship, it should be okay. In other words, it will never be okay.

And what it madness? Does that mean being completely self-aware? Because Rin is completely self-aware. She knows what she’s doing, she’s semi-alert or receptive to how others respond to her behaviour, and she makes promises to herself to stop, or to change. But she can’t. Maybe that’s what Kanehara wants to show us. Love is an addiction, it cannot be willed or rationalised. And most importantly, love and sex are never separate:

“The desire to be wanted by a man. The desire to get a man. Most females go into hysterics if either of these can’t be fulfilled or the fulfilment of these two desires is unbalanced. Their pussies get all irritable, restless. What is hysteria, after all? It’s the disease of the pussy.”

Hysteria, then, is solely in the domain of the female. And the female can only be fully satisfied by the male. Wombs may wander, but the pussy merely wants to sit by the fire with a male lover and companion to chase away all anxieties. Rin believes that a well-tended pussy will be satiated, calm, fulfilled. Interestingly, she conflates the need for masculine attention with sex. Do we want men to notice us for anything else? Apparently not, because Rin wants men so that they want her. If they want her, they’ll love her. But not forever, as she discovers.

Pussy only gets you so far, but not so much for Rin, because she sees her pussy as a living, thinking aspect of herself. So she talks to her pussy, she placates it with soothing words, she gives it advice. Sometimes Rin’s betrayed by her pussy, and she conveys her anger. Or sometimes, she’s just tired of being ruled by it. “How dare my pussy rule my thoughts! Shut up! Shut up. You’re just a cunt,” Rin tells her pussy. Her pussy can also be condescending. “Oh you poor thing,” her pussy tells Rin, and Rin gets mad.

Let’s face it – we all want to give our pussies a talking to, sometimes.

(I’m curious, however… what’s the disease of the balls? I mean, besides blue balls.)

Sex is also rape, for the most part of this book. In one of the flashback scenes, Rin hangs out with a group of women who make part-time money as escorts. They attend a party where one girl is dragged out kicking and screaming by two men. Rin asks her companion, “Are they going to rape her?” He answers: “I suppose so. Yeah.” And while Rin doesn’t want to be raped, and she hopes she won’t be, she’s attracted to her companion and so asks him if she’s going to be raped too, to gauge his response as his level of attraction to her. She’s happy with his answer: “I want to say that because you’re cute, you’ll definitely be raped.”

It’s a bit alarming to hear the word rape being bandied about so easily. Maybe Whoopi Goldberg might pause to ask, is it rape rape?

One of the female characters in this book says, “I don’t mind being raped by one person, but then it was group rape, and I felt betrayed.” They don’t mind or object to having sex, or to the concept of sex, but there is no chosen penis, no chosen one with whom to have sex. So, they leave themselves open to the idea of being penetrated by just about anyone – and they conflate that with rape, because there is no agency in the choice of their sexual partner. For them, that’s rape that’s not quite rape. But we’re unclear if these female characters want to have sex at all. Maybe they only want it insofar as they think it makes them desirable and desired. Or maybe if it’s something you’re not invested in, physically and mentally, then it’s okay if it’s consensual or not… the latter is unpleasant and possibly painful, but for these girls, it’s no big deal.

As Laura Kipnis asserts in The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability, the concept of the vagina as ‘valuable real estate’ and a ‘costly attribute to lug around’ is that maybe, oftentimes, the vagina is more than not ‘overpriced’:

“But as indicated, the big problem with these high-value vaginas is that the more they’re overpriced, the more theft-prone they become; thus constant vigilance is required to keep out marauders and trespassers, those who would pluck your trophy, steal your jewel, with feigned promises and sweet talk or sometimes even force.”

All this guarding against theft can deplete you of your faculties – mental, emotional, and creative.

Love is sex and sex is rape, and love is therefore rape? I think that’s the most perplexing and alarming aspects of Autofiction. Love is a stranger walking up to you and taking what’s yours, leaving you a shivering, suspicious, uncertain shell of your former self.


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