Saturday, November 05, 2016


When I began to think about intermittent intimacy, the narrative example that came to mind was “28 Hotel Rooms.” (2012).  (It can be found free online.)  There are other films whose structure is recurrent intimate meetings between two people so well suited and attuned to each other that each meeting is intense and satisfying.  “Same Time, Next Year” (1978) was a pop version.  “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961) might have been about this subject if anyone could figure it out.  

Other relationships in “real life” are excluded from these liminal times.  It’s hoped that though marriage and children are inevitably controlled by time because of growing up and aging and therefore change, perhaps go bad, the ceremonial aspect of the intermittent intimacy might escape that.  Escape the arrow by occupying the impact.  (But if there is a series of impacts, the path of the arrow will be revealed.)

This film addresses that problem directly, the divided desire between the ease of a time-limited encounter versus the greater yearning for a constant dependability, maybe even growth as a human.  If one wants to watch sex, this film depicts it very well.  In fact, I had to use a personal trick to put it in perspective, which is to read up on the technicalities of how it was done: the issues of the actors, the problem of moving the equipment from one hotel to the next, and so on.  Then when it gets too “hot,” one can move from empathic participation to a framed analysis of content and execution. 

If one is watching the film alone, that will be quite different from sharing the experience with someone else — even one’s own sequential intimate.  To step over to framed analysis then might make real trouble, even damage the relationship.  Intimate arousal is a kind of brain drug and is not best mixed with “stepping away,” staying sober.  The good thing about confining the rendezvous to a day or so in an unfamiliar place, is there will be so much to process that there probably won’t be time for anything but participation.  Last year’s wounds might have healed and been forgotten or just pushed out of the way.

Since there are other kinds of intimacy than sexual, the story could be about a strong friendship that exists “in person” only at professional meetings.  Instead of sex, the intimacy might be shared thought.  Or drinking and eating.  Maybe now we’re talking about “My Dinner with Andre.”  There won’t be as many high school students watching and downloading.

Charlie Russell and O. C. Seltzer were such good friends and shared such a strong attachment to a certain interpretation and time period of the West, that they painted the same scene on the same canvas at the same time.  Was that intimacy?  Is it a matter of seeing the world the same way or about the minute by minute reciprocating decisions of brushwork and color?  If the two men’s paintings are so close that they must be distinguished by experts, was their likeness to each other a sign of intimacy or must intimacy always be a dialogue that requires enough difference to have something to reflect about?

An idea is going around in the world of human development is about “attachment theory”.  One’s attachment “style” is formed in the first months and years of life.  That’s pretty standard, but this theory suggests three outcomes:  secure attachment to care-givers which is the best possibility and gives a person confidence and security in life, expecting to be welcomed and embraced.  Overprotective attachment by care-givers or the opposite — desertion — which can mean energy wasted by having to hold off controllers or having to care for oneself beyond one’s means as a child.  This can distort relationships.  

The situation that attracts attention is come-and-go parenting which was once typical of animals, including hominins who had to leave to get food and then return to provide warmth and protection to infants.  The infamous “hunter-gatherer” pattern precedes settled agriculture and seems to have returned today when we talk about the “gig economy.”  It’s also typical of drug users who binge, pulse in and out of competence and connection to their children, left alone in squalid foodless circumstances.  Intermittent rewards are far more effective in conditioning behavior than are consistent results.  Reunions will be ecstatic, desertions will be devastating — maybe deadly.

My cynical but dependable premise is that intimacy is always controlled by economics.  Hotel rooms and international travel are expensive and so is attendance at professional conferences.  But collaborating on a painting might mean better productivity, though I have no idea what it would do to quality or sales.  I suppose that’s a separate issue.  

War is a notorious imposer of forced intermittence, and can make the intimate moments either more intense, saturated with adrenaline, or can destroy intimacy by overwhelming it with terror.  Many books explore this.  The literature of the sailor’s wife is very strong.  Of course, an early example, meant to emphasize the faithfulness of waiting during the intervals, is that of Penelope weaving to delay remarriage while waiting for Odysseus.

Growth blooms within the liminal protection of an embrace, and for humans that might include mental and emotional intimacy as much — or even more — than actual skin-to-skin interaction as in taking care of an infant.  Letters, delivering intimacy in a composed and enclosed manner, are a classic means of closeness, esp. if safely kept secret.  Email and texting are phenomena of our hookup attitudes and eliminate the romantic risk that letters might be lost or delayed, creating complications and misunderstandings.  Print intimacy means the possibility of rereading again and again, so that different states of the reader vary what seems to be the plain meaning.  And yet writing approaches being a contract, requiring at least some consistency.

Ideas about faithfulness and exclusiveness are cultural influences on intimacy that have huge economic and political consequences.  Institutions, like the church, try to limit intimacy to church-sanctioned devotion.  Mixed success  -- a tendency to fantasize and hallucinate, ignore consequences.

Long-term continuous relationships are hard to hide, but an annual assignation can be kept secret, which escapes the jealousies and critical opinions of outsiders.  Those might have damaging consequences, but we probably underestimate the worth of friends and family as maintaining identity and steadiness, which can also be a cage.  To have a secret lover who sees a different side is seductive and renewing.

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