Death as Orgasm

Love sucks.

To love is to desire communion with the beloved, to ache for unity, oneness, and a coming-together. But my beloved is infinitely not me, just as I am infinitely not her. Love seeks to bring me and not-me into one, that the “two become one flesh”,  that “we’ll be one tonight,” that “you’ll be in my heart” that “I’ll melt with you,” “lose myself” and on and on, a heaving tumble of ill-thought love-songs and poorly-constructed sonnets that lie to our hopeful faces.

How can the two be one, when “two” is by definition not ”one”? How can I love my beloved to the point of total unity? Love seems a lot like a sham diet-plan espoused on late-night TV: Everyone talks about it, everyone wants its boldly proclaimed results, but there is not a human alive who can claim to have achieved what it urges us to achieve — communion.

After all, no lovers would say, “We are finished with our project of love.” No friends love each other to the point of complete communion.

If we were one with our beloved we’d no more divorce her than kill ourselves. If we were one with our friends, to hate them would be suicide. If we loved our children as ourselves, then our abuse would only ever be a self-maiming — we’d avoid it like we avoid running cheese-graters across our foreheads.

But we don’t. We fail to love quite happily, suffering little remorse and far less repentance. How often the tearing asunder of two that are one flesh is called a freedom! But actually, I understand the feeling. For if love is impossible, the end of love is a relief. Who would wish to forever follow the carrot of complete communion, the ever sought and never attained? Far better to play video games and drink Yeungling.

Happiness.

Unless the point of love is not the attaining, but the strive itself.

The desire that seeks to unite two infinitely separate subjects must be an infinite desire, and the passionate work of bringing her and I into communion must be an infinite work. Why else would love tend towards rash promises of forever and ever? If love was an attaining — that is, if the project of communion could be completed — all we would need to say is “I’ll love you until we are one.”

But we don’t. We know oneness is unattainable. All we can do is infinitely strive for it. Thus we promise to love forever, because only an infinite time can bridge an infinite distance. Love must be an infinite act, that is, an act acted every moment of our lives, or it is not love. Love is reach. Love is strive. Love is a dissatisfaction more satisfying than any worldly satisfaction.

And so love is accompanied by the strangest of facial expressions and the most awkward of noises — the groan, the moan, the gasp, the screwed-up face, the tears, the ah! and the oh! These are not the blossoms of attainment, these are the sufferings of an infinite strive. The face of love seems caught between pleasure and pain, because love is not a thing achieved, but a heroic tug against impossibility, a herculean pull of infinite separation into communion. Who would not moan in such a self-destroying stretch? The lover does not hold equality with his beloved as something to be grasped at, rather he empties himself, taking the form of a slave, a slave who freely goes about the work of love without relief, for relief would mean the end of love.

Sex is the sacramentalized, incarnational expression of the erotic. Its sounds are but the sounds of love brought to a boil, and the aching mix of pleasure and pain should not be limited to its bliss. The sounds, faces, and feelings of strive are present in all love, in the coos of the mother to her child, in the cry of the child for his father, the reunification of friends, and — perhaps above all — in the face of worship.

The Ecstasy of St. Theresa

To be in love is to be ever on the brink of metaphorical orgasm, ever before the finish-line, the communion so madly desired precisely what we will never have, yet precisely what we pant after every day of our lives. Thus love — contrary to its description in American media and politics — is absurdly difficult, hard as being punched in the face. It is a race that requires an infinite effort with no earthly hope of satisfaction. It is uncomfortable, which is perfect, for we were not made for comfort, but for infinity.

Sorry, that sounded Christian. Perhaps we are not made for infinity. Perhaps death is the end of love, because death is the end of existence. In this case, love is a disappointment, a coming closer and closer until the two are done utterly apart. Without eternal life, the desire for communion is an absurdity, a thing never fulfilled, only suffered. If this is the case — which I concede it very well may be — I return my ticket. Love can piss off. Abuse seems a far kinder dish to ladle out than a death-match of no resolution.

But maybe death is not the end of love. Maybe death is the orgasm. This pulls our language into play in a fascinating way, for the word for orgasm in French is la petite mort, literally the little death. We used to have an English equivalent: To die was to orgasm, which lead to the wonderful double-entendre in Much Ado About Nothing, when Benedick says to Beatrice, “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes,” or when John Donne, in The Canonization, puns away:

Call us what you will, we are made such by love.
Call her one, me another fly,
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us ; we two being one, are it.
So to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

The synonymity of death and orgasm clarifies the Christian conception of Eternity. Eternal life is not simply a reward for good behavior, nor a purely theological concept. Eternity is precisely what we are oriented towards when we strive infinitely for communion with the beloved, and death, when it comes, is the doorway to that oneness, the final gasp and the shudder of relief as me and not-me come crashing into one.

Our “going to Heaven” is the consequence of our infinite act of love. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love our brothers,” that is, because we apply ourself infinitely to infinity, making a pact with eternity by promising to love “forever” even when we have no assurance of “forever” in finite existence.

For the Christian, Death is not the death-toll ending a doomed attempt at communion — it is the orgasm and the victory of Love, the dawn by whose light our striving breaks away into eternal depths of peace, and our infinite efforts towards communion find fulfillment and repose in — where else? — infinity. Les Miserables ends with the cry, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” and it occurs to me that this is more than sentiment. If you want to orient your being towards Eternity, that is, if you want to believe in God, love.

  • Caroline

    This is so beautiful but the title will make my browser history SO awkward

  • Amber

    Wow.

  • Paul

    Yeah. Awesome.

  • Beth T.

    I sometimes fail to track with your philosophizing, but this one I followed all the way through. Wow is right!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Trish-Coate/1045664853 Trish Coate

    “But maybe death is not the end of love.”

    Certainly not, especially if you have loved so consummately during your own life that you have created new children. Then, the “end” of love is not to die but to increase. Love is that funny substance that when we share it, our own portion increases. When we procreate, our little death results in a little resurrection. :)

    Think then of all the people in the world who mistake that fleeting orgasm for the end of sex rather than its process. They seek not to live but to die and die and die, again and again – not to love and be loved, not to commune and not to create new life but to feel pleasure. It’s not the same thing at all. Some people can become addicted to sex, treating the orgasm like a drug that numbs them to some inner pain. And if they’re not careful, they’ll die, oblivious of those who love them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/neal.l.meyer Neal Meyer

    Wonderful post.

    reading about how death is not the end of love, I thought to myself “but it is the end of marriage” but that’s okay, ’cause the plane ticket to Rome looses it’s value once you land in FCO.

  • Holland Wagenbach

    “Perhaps death is the end of love, because death is the end of existence. In this case, love is a disappointment, a coming closer and closer until the two are done utterly apart. Without eternal life, the desire for communion is an absurdity, a thing never fulfilled, only suffered. If this is the case — which I concede it very well may be — I return my ticket. Love can piss off. Abuse seems a far kinder dish to ladle out than a death-match of no resolution.”

    This is a common Christian sentiment that I find myself utterly unable to relate to. The idea that something is worthless just because it ends seems absurd to me. I wonder if your banking on having an eternity’s worth of experiences doesn’t make you a bit…picky? I think any journey is fulfilling and worth remembering, even those that end tragically. There’s always something to savor, something to learn. The idea that all lovers will one day be separated is not, to my mind, a reason to curse love, but to celebrate it. The fact that it happened and continues to happen at all in this largely crapsack world is–dare I say it?–a miracle.

    Love doesn’t suck because we never get enough of it. We suck because we fail to appreciate that we get it at all.

    • Kerry Wolf

      Having just lost my beloved husband to an untimely death, I have to say that the agony of the line about “no marriages in heaven” taunts and tortures me, and no amount of “Ahhhh, but we won’t care when we get there, we shall be perfectly happy without each other in any marital sense–we may occasionally pass by each other in heaven and wave but that’s it” makes me feel any better. I know this is because I don’t see the “big picture” or whatever but right now I don’t care. I loved him–I still love him–and I want to love him again in Heaven.

      • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com/ Arkanabar

        Kerry, I can well believe that the heaven you describe is cold or no comfort in your loss. The thing to remember is that every good thing on earth (such as the marital communion you had with your husband here on earth) is a prefigurement of or metaphor for a much better thing in heaven. There will be communion with your husband in heaven, but as our Lord told us, it won’t be marriage — it will be *better*.

      • Benjamin Woolums

        Kerry, I know how hard it is to see.

        The fact is, though, you will have this communion with him.

        What others often forget is that just because there is more of something, that thing is not necessarily any less. It is the economy bit that society throws into love, as mentioned in the post. But love does not diminish because there is more of it, instead it is perfected.

        But in heaven, we are perfectly united as the body in Christ. Not only will the communion with your husband be made perfect, but so will your communion with God, and all members of the body of Christ.

        It is not that your husband has become less significant to you. It is that everyone has become all-significant to you. Now, I don’t claim to know what happens when our bodies get resurrected at the end of time, or even to truly understand what happens to our souls.

        But, the way I see our spirits, if God is Love, when we die, we enter into communion with Love. For those who lived a life of hate, this Love is a fire that consumes them, to the point of not being able to bear it. So they are cut off from God because being in communion with God would destroy them. But for those who lived a life of love, their Love is perfected in God, and to have perfect Love would mean to Love everyone, not just the people we loved on earth.

        In a sense, we are created to have this perfect Love, so we are not truly living until we die and perfect this Love with God.

        Thank you for sharing, and God bless!

  • Y. A. Warren

    Very well said, and in keeping with what I have experienced. I have written extensively on the subject of love and marriage on my blog OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com. Simply search “marriage” and you’ll find several posts on the subject.

  • Michael

    I have to disagree with this one; it lacks a reasoned foundation and smacks of aesceticism. The value or lack thereof of something has nothing to do with its promise of infinity. By the very own theology of the Catholic Church, marriage/earthly love are gone in heaven. So its the same waste you posited. Which to say love would be a dissapointment even if it was “short-lived” is rubbish.

    If you were on your death-bed, and someone came to you to say definitively there was nothing on the other side, would you decide the love you had for your siblings, parents, friends, and beloved was a “dissapointment” and just suffering? If so that says more about you, than anything theological.

    As Niebuhr rightfully pointed out, the only truth we can take is that man cannot develop something perfect, for by our nature we are not. We cannot build a relationship that is perfect because we by our nature are not. But that is to say nothing about the inherent good within the act of loving, or its worthiness… Rather, what greater love is there than to try?

    Look at any child before the age of reason; before the theologies and philosophies of adults have formed their minds. When they are injured where do they go? Straight to the parents for comfort. Or anyone at that, situation depending. In any uncomfortable situation, they constantly cry to be… Comforted.

    This article is, as always, interesting, but sadly it rests too heavily on the shoulders of asceticism and fatalism, in my opinion, to be valid.

    • Guest

      Of course it would be said to have been a disappointment – it was pointless. Maybe when you read something like this, you should try to separate yourself from a mode of emotional reaction.

      • Michael

        Thank you for your reply. I’m not sure what to say, except that I made numerous reasoned arguments in my original post against what you have said. Your ad hominem response makes it difficult to respond to you completely. So I am sorry if something in my original post offended you.

    • Phil

      Hey Michael,

      I would actually disagree on the point that “By the very own theology of the Catholic Church, marriage/earthly love are gone in heaven.” It is actually not gone, it is elevated. (This hinges on participation metaphysics and the univocation/equivocation/anaogy distinction where the Church takes analogy as the starting point for Theology.)

      To truly love another person is to truly reflect God’s love and the love that will be present in heaven. But to say that there is no relationship at all between earthly and heavenly transcendentals (goodness/love, beauty, truth) would be to fall into the trap of equivocation where one can say nothing positive about God’s attributes and the heavenly reality.

      Take Care!

      • Michael

        Phil,

        Thank you for your reasoned response. Yes, I do understand the evolution of “marriage” into the Church bride analogy in the afterlife but I don’t think this discourages my point… Rather, Christ himself found it pertinent enough to mention marriages on Earth are done in heaven (Mt.22:23-30). They aren’t “elevated” in any empirical way… Perhaps that’s an interpretation you have made but at that point it is open to interpretation and I will have to disagree. We enter communion with the whole of Creation, focused on God, and no longer have ties to our earthly vows (evident in the invocation of the sacrament, which ends at death).

        As for the heavenly transcendentals, I never mentioned that there is no connection between what happens here and what is above. If that was somehow clear in my other post, it was in my error. I agree with you on this point. I did, for example, mention at the end of my paragraph about Niebuhr that there were inherent truths behind such positives beyond the human.

        Take care.

        • Phil

          I gotcha. I think I might have misunderstood your OP. I had thought that you had mentioned how there was no connection between love that takes place between spouses here on earth and the love in heaven, which is what I believe Marc’s article focused on. It sounds like you were focusing more on the fact that marriage does not exist in Heaven as it does here on earth, which is exactly what Catholic Theology would say.

          Take Care!

  • Kid Charlemagne

    Very distorted ideas about love. Endemic these days.

    “To love is to desire communion with the beloved, to ache for unity, oneness, and a coming-together”

    According to whom? Certainly not God, our Creator. God’s definition of love is “Jesus,” aka SELF DONATION. It is that simple.

    The “love” you wax about here is the sort of Eros (erotic) passion the Greeks philosophized about. It is not related to the agape, self donating sort of love that is required for two spouses to graft to the Vine and become one.

    Keep reading and learning. Some GREAT discoveries await you if you can get low in humility and seek them earnestly

    • http://catholicismforcutters.wordpress.com/ Broken Whole

      I don’t know if what Marc is describing in this post is solely about eros (or if he’s as inclined to keep as strict a separation between eros and agape as you are). The “infinite striving” of which he speaks certainly seems to involve a movement out of oneself and towards the other (or as Marc says a “self destroying stretch”) and that sounds awfully akin to “self-donation” to me.

    • Jeremy

      Read Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical ‘Deus Caritas Est.’ In it, Pope BXVI explains how God’s love for mankind is BOTH agape and eros. People these days have a reductionistic understanding of what Plato described eros to be. Eros and agape are derived from the same one love.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marcjohnpaul Marc Barnes

      Yes, love is self-donation. And yes, love tends toward communion. As it’s been said by a wiser philosopher than I: Why not both? After all, I don’t think I can get any more obvious in my agreement with love-as-self-donation than what I said in my post: The lover does not hold equality with his beloved as something to be grasped at, rather he empties himself, taking the form of a slave, a slave who freely goes about the work of love without relief, for relief would mean the end of love.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marcjohnpaul Marc Barnes

      Yes, love is self-donation. And yes, love tends toward communion. As it’s been said by a wiser philosopher than I: Why not both? After all, I don’t think I can get any more obvious in my agreement with love-as-self-donation than what I said in my post: The lover does not hold equality with his beloved as something to be grasped at, rather he empties himself, taking the form of a slave, a slave who freely goes about the work of love without relief, for relief would mean the end of love.

    • Benjamin Woolums

      I can see where you are coming from, Kid.

      But do you know why Jesus died? Specifically why he resurrected? After all, if he died for our sins, was there a point to the Resurrection? There is. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the reasons of the Resurrection was uniting humanity to God. That sounds an awful lot like God desired communion with us.

      And, if that is not enough, we can look at the sacrament that was instituted by Jesus with the name “Communion”. By consuming Jesus’ body and blood, we do acknowledge that we become united with Christ. Why would Christ give us a way for us to be in communion with him if he did not desire it?

      And lastly, completing the cycle back through Jesus’ life, we arrive at the conception and birth of Jesus. By becoming man, God united himself with humanity, he came together as God and Man, being fully God, and fully man, but in perfect communion.

      I could go on with countless examples of Jesus’ love throughout his time on earth, and through what the saints have written about with their experiences of God.

      Love is not something that is finite, that can be divided up. We can not draw a pie chart, and say I give this much love here, and this proportion here, or this much is eros and this much is agape. Instead, love is infinite, and in being such, it does not just have one definition. If I were to love a woman with just Eros, then that is not true love. If I love a woman with agape, but never eros, it is still lacking in true love. If I can love her erotically, and self-donating, but I can not love as if she were familiar (storge), It is yet lacking again. And if I have all three of these loves, but refuse to love her as a friend (Phileo), which, according to C.S. Lewis, is profound because it is unnecessary and yet we freely choose it, then it is not true love. My point is that while you may see each branch of love as separate, they share the same tree. Genuine love includes all four of these loves. And God has this genuine love of us. And we desire to both receive and give that genuine love: the passion, the self-sacrifice, the familiarity and affection, and the friendship.

      A newborn dies within days if it comes into this world and never feels the touch of a human. Think of how powerful that fact is: without love, given all physical necessities, a newborn dies.

  • Samuel

    You need to write a book.

  • Claritas Pastor

    Are…are you implying that Marc already got his girlfriend pregnant?

    O_o

  • Wretched Sinner

    “Eternity is precisely what we are oriented towards when we strive infinitely for communion with the beloved, and death, when it comes, is the doorway to that oneness, the final gasp and the shudder of relief as me and not-me come crashing into one.”

    Marc,
    I sure hope we don’t worship the same God. I have absolutely no desire to “crash” into God – much less to have Him “crash” into me. Plus, death is no glorified doorway not a magical portal of sorts. It’s the consequence of original sin! Period. It’s a punishment. It’s dreadful. You die and immediately after you are face to face with your Creator, Almighty God. No veils, no time for warm up, no foreplay.

    The union of God and soul IS possible in this life. It is called the transforming union – where “God and soul give themselves to each other in the ultimate consummation of divine love”. Many saints have achieved this union. St. John explains further that “the spiritual marriage is incomparably greater than the spiritual espousal, for it is a total transformation in the Beloved…. The soul thereby becomes divine, becomes God through participation, insofar as is possible in this life….There are two natures in one spirit and love…. This union resembles the union of the light of a star or candle with the light of the sun, for what then sheds light is not the star or candle, but the sun, which has absorbed the other lights into its own… the union wrought between the two natures and the communication of the divine to the human in this state is such that even though neither change their being, both appear to be God”

    God, creator of all beauty and delights, of all sweetness of all (to use your own words) orgasms – the source of all being and goodness and light. My being can be so united with Him, even here on earth – it is possible.

    Further, St. John explains that death for those who have reached such sublime union with God “is far different in its cause and mode than the death of others, even though it is similar in natural circumstances. If the death of other people is caused by sickness or old age, the death of these persons is not so induced, in spite of their being sick or old; their soul is not wrested from them unless by some impetus and encounter of love, far more sublime than previous ones… the death of such persons is very gentle and very sweet, sweeter and more gentle than was their whole spiritual life on earth”

    Now THAT is what I long and pant and utterly desire!

  • http://www.facebook.com/glenna.bradshaw.5 Glenna Bradshaw

    For those who can’t see the connection in Church teaching between eros & agape love, please do yourself a favor & read “Deus Caritas Est” by Benedict XVi.

  • flankus7

    This is filthy blasphemy. This is not theology of the body.

  • The Llama

    I just died in your arms tonight… it must have been somethin’ you said. I should’ve walked away!!

    Thanks dude, song stuck in my head now.

  • Charles Runels
  • Charles Runels