Has there ever been a moment in your life when you encountered something so beautiful it did something to you? Places you visited. Books you enjoyed. Stories you heard. Women you loved. Bodies you touched. Things you craved. Were you enraptured? Did you passively submits to the captivation? Or did you resist its hold on you? Did you fight back? What feeling do you attach to that moment? Joy? Ecstasy? Anger? Powerlessness? Desire? Does the image of the beautiful thing ever haunt you?
As for me, beautiful things always leave me desolate. I experience beauty the same way I experience love. Loving leaves me empty and broken. If I tell you that I enjoy being bereaved, you’ll probably think me perverse. But think about it this way. My first reaction to beauty is always rapture. Let’s say I read a line from Rilke’s Duino Elegies, it quickly transports me. It really doesn’t matter where. Maybe to the castle Duino itself where Rilke first heard the mysterious voice that inspired the poem. But this transport never lasts. I find myself back in my bed, in my dingy room, under the flickering light bulb, with the smell of cold coffee making my stomach churn. Desperately, I read the same line. I flip through the pages, searching for another line, another portal, another encounter with the beautiful. But it is lost. Then the thought comes to me that the discomfort of this loss is not altogether unwelcome. If beauty has deserted me, the pain of its loss still keeps me company. If the wretchedness that comes after the passion is not divine, it is at least graceful in its earthliness. And it is satisfying beyond all measure.
I love the longing for lost and beautiful things. And the suffering can be sweet. Take for example my beloved. The image of her body lives in me even though her face eludes me. When she was alive I did not know her face. I did not love her for that. Her body, goddess-like, was what moved me. Not when she was warming my bed but when she just stood there, like a statue in sublime lifelessness. Looking at her was sincerely enough. But now she is no more. Yet I never miss her. In my room I have the perfect picture of her, dead as a statue and without a face.