Sunday, March 04, 2012

Romance and Philosophy: Jo Leigh's Arm Candy

I think, therefore ... I love?
In "Heidegger, the Erotics of Ontology, and the Mass-Market Romance" (2003), Deborah Lutz states that
This essay's project is not to understand mass-market romance using ideas culled from philosophy, but rather to illuminate them with the same rarified light as philosophy. In fact, reading romance as we generally read philosophy not only sets romance up to speak about human experience in general, but it also serves to situate philosophy within a romantic paradigm. (2)
The essay is freely available online so you can read it in full. I'm merely going to cull a few quotes from it which possibly "illuminate" Jo Leigh's Arm Candy. Lutz writes that:
The desire, love, of both philosophy and romance is to reveal the truth, to illuminate and bring it to a confession. The loved one envelops and imprisons unknown worlds, which must be deciphered. The erotically charged removal of the veil points to the spark from which this erotic originates -- the veil itself. The hiding and the disclosing of the secret both create eroticism. Clearly, secretiveness is itself erotic. (5)
It seems to me that the desire for truth, and the eroticism of the "removal of the veil" are central to Jo Leigh's Arm Candy. Dan agrees to pose as Jessica's lover in return for getting to
"[...] ask you anything. No holding back. No thinking twice about propriety. I ask, you answer. Honestly. To the best of your ability. All the questions I've wanted to ask but haven't dared."
"You've never dated?"
"Oh, I've dated. Many times. I've had relationships. All of which have failed. Mostly, I fear, due to my fumbling. My lack of understanding. Seriously, I don't get it. Screw physics and the Big Bang theory, the great imponderable isn't God, it's women. Who are you people? The books are useless. Believe me, I've read them. Everything from Men are from Mars to Dr. Phil. And I still don't get you. [...]" (27)
As for Jessica, she's extremely attracted to this
man who had it all: the looks, the brains, the wit, the strong hands, the taste in clothes. Her only hope was getting to know him. No way he was everything he purported to be. Impossible. (39)
Of course, she's wrong, and the "removal of the veil" only makes him more attractive:
noticing a tiny twitch of his right eye, the way his nostrils flared, and his white teeth, not perfectly even, but made endearing by slight imperfections. It was as if her vision had gone far beyond the traditional twenty-twenty into a new kind of sight. Not just because they were so close to one another, but because a veil of ordinariness had been lifted. She could read him like a book, his need, his tension, his excitement and his pleasure. (137)
Jessica does not, however, immediately want to enter into a permanent, full-time commitment. Instead she wonders if she could prioritise her career, but still maintain her new relationship, by having an
intermittent affair [...] when they both deemed it time, they'd come together in what she fully expected to be a mind-blowing week of unadulterated bliss. Then they'd go to their separate corners until the next time.
Think of how much they would have to tell each other if they didn't see each other day after dull day. It would be like Christmas four times a year. Everything would be new and fresh and thrilling. (213)
In effect, this plan would involve repeatedly hiding and disclosing their secrets, and in some ways it would appear to be a solution similar to that adopted by Heidegger, who
consciously created a relationship with his students that supported his character of an aloof and mysterious genius, often tortured by society and the technological world around him, finally wanting to live, reclusively, in his hut in the Black Forest, in the solitude he felt was necessary for his work. The biographer Elzbieta Ettinger writes, "Aware of his allure to both male and female students and of his power over their minds, Heidegger purposely kept his distance, intensifying the mystique, the awe, the reverence". (3)
Dan isn't keen on Jessica's plan and his response to her proposal seems to be an attempt to address any concerns that the "secretiveness [which] is itself erotic" (Lutz 5) will be lost as a result of prolonged close contact:
The reason [...] that I haven't asked you more questions, is that for the first time in my life, I prefer the mystery. I like not being able to second-guess you. It's not frustrating at all, which I never would have believed. On the contrary, not knowing every little thing about you makes the days fascinating. I can't think of a better tomorrow and tomorrow than to unravel the mystery of you. (229)
The novel concludes with Jessica agreeing to marry Dan and
safe in the cocoon of his arms. His breath caressed her cheek. As she closed her eyes, she felt something new, something foreign. A second later it came to her ... She was home. (249)
Is this another indication that what is well known ("home") can nevertheless be mysterious ("foreign")? Lutz, writing about the German word "heim" (home), observes that an
etymological thread related to "heim" is "geheim," which also has the "home" in it but it means "secret" or "concealed." We already know of the "secret home" because of the Heideggerian idea that, in an everyday way, authentic homes are "secret." [...] The romantic heroine's potential, her "authentic," lies in the presence of love. Her "ownmost" possibility is unconcealed, disclosed meaning. Her possibility as fully present to love is the secret behind all other secrets and this is her final "home" -- destiny, fate. (Lutz 8)
As a sort of post-script, I'd like to mention that I'd only got as far as Lutz's initial comment that "The conjunction of these two registers -- philosophy and the mass-market romance -- seems one of the most unlikely and implausible" (2) when it occurred to me that this conjunction may perhaps seem rather less implausible in the wake of Professor Vincent Hendricks's recent and very controversial inclusion of lad-mag-style photographs on a page advertising his undergraduate-level course on Argumentation, Logic and Philosophy of Language. And although Hendricks has now removed the photos and stated that "The intention was that the pictures, as a cover on a forthcoming magazine, might be used to view logic from a somewhat humorous and untraditional perspective appealing to larger audience which the magazine covers," their underlying perspective is perhaps not so very untraditional after all: as Lutz notes regarding Heidegger, "In 1924, thirty-five years old, married and with two children, he seduced his eighteen-year-old student Hannah Arendt" (3).

Leigh, Jo. Arm Candy. 2004. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2005.

Lutz, Deborah. “Heidegger, the Erotics of Ontology, and the Mass-Market Romance.” Comparative Literature and Culture 5.3 (2003). [Available for download from ]

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating post. Lots of thoughts on secrets and the "heim," especially if read not through Heidegger but through Freud. Lots to think about.