Actæon

by on February 23, 2012

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Essays Issue 2 Nonfiction
Actæon

There exists in a near-forgotten book a description of the Land of the Pomegranate. Its inhabitants are singularly marked by incest. Their progeny are either incredibly beautiful or remarkably repugnant.The beautiful are removed in infancy and placed in “The Garden of the Loved Ones” where they know no sorrow. Upon reaching sexual maturity, they are removed from the garden to become objects of amusement for the ugly outside. After a few years of this, they are destroyed. Their remains are enshrined in a cemetery, where they are remembered as they always were: young and perfect.

In the Land of the Pomegranate the beautiful are temporal gods—deities existing only in the fleeting moment of sexual climax, the “highest moment of eternity.” Once achieved, their divinity ceases to be and what is left is consumed. The garden is a sty used to raise gods for slaughter.

When the would-be novelist responsible for this monstrous society is asked why the beautiful must be destroyed, he flippantly replies: because “they’re soon bored by living people.” They are no longer gods, and the ugly cannot bear to see their divinities fallen. That highest moment of eternity—itself a paradox as eternity can have no moments, just as one cannot divide zero—exists only in the act of possession of the ephemeral. They are murdered afterwards, because once possessed, the reason for that possession is rendered meaningless. The moment of divinity has now passed. He later elaborates:

The fundamental rule of possession is ‘to kill the loved one,’ which means that completion of any possession signifies simultaneous termination of possessing, and continued possession is a violation of love.

This rule, taken from Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of Dawn, angers me. It implies that, for the ardent lover, possession of the beloved is ultimately undesirable; a law that, by its seeming simplicity, goes a long a way in explaining the atrocious state of affairs that is the human heart—almost as far as justifying the whiskey that coated my tongue for days after she left. Almost. Yet in her absence, his rule seemed meaningless. Whatever divine moment there was had already fled before I’d even thought I could possess her.

“This is a passing fancy,” she told me. “You know this, right?”

I did. This was a whim, a fluke, a chance happening never to be repeated. Yet that moment of divinity, that fancy, lingered longer than it should have. Longer than Mishima would have you believe. And when it did finally pass, that is when I was spurred to attempt the impossible: claim her as my own. By chance I had seen a goddess naked. Was I a fool for wanting to see her so again?

Weeks afterwards, when the patina of whisky had finally been washed off my tongue, I thought of Mishima’s rule. I thought him wrong. The highest moment of existence occurred only when the act of possession seemed absurd. But I agreed with him that if I had possessed her, it would have signified the death of a goddess. That I couldn’t have her was what made her divine.

There was a story here. I knew it from long ago. So one rainy afternoon I staggered to my branch of the Brooklyn library. The copy I found was appropriately tattered, although Bullfinch’s Mythology was still legible on the spine. I was working on a whim—to be honest, the myth of Actæon and Diana had roiled in my mind ever since I had met her. But for most of that time, I had viewed it as just a fair warning. Later I came to see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. And yet, that afternoon—tucked away in an aisle to avoid the children mobbing the main floor—I suddenly saw the myth as something else: a clue, if not a blueprint, that would unify Mishma’s law with my own affairs. Though still she lingered in the pages as Diana, the basic story of a goddess and hunter leaped from a mundanely personal parable into something grand and universal.
 

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