I was looking for asylum, that much I know. I was looking for, as Philip Larkin wrote, "a serious house on serious earth."
And if I couldn't follow Thomas Merton into Gethsemani, signing onto the closest thing to it that would have me would have to suffice. Note how little this original impulse had to do with Jesus. I was comforted by the Dalai Lama's famous advice to seekers: look to your own tradition. I could, by that advice, legitimately contract an arranged marriage and hope for the best. One could say that I desired to desire what Merton had desired, or -- and maybe it's saying the same thing -- I desired to be Merton. Not just like Merton, but Merton himself.
Thereby achieving a double asylum -- escape from the world and escape from myself.
This week I was in New York, in Times Square, an absolute cauldron of mimetic desire. On every towering and illuminated surface are moving -- writhing, scrolling, flashing, morphing -- images of people wanting what someone wants us to want.
There she floats, cool, serene and utterly self-absorbed, over the fray, her bare arm as impossibly thin as her skinny soda can, her cheekbone as angular as the even-skinnier bent straw she holds in her pursed, crimson lips. She is all in cold blue, except for the bits of red and white that make her All-American; the sensual sweep of the hat brim belies her angles, and hint at the subtext which, like everything in Times Square, is sexual. The can is thin like her, but also elongated like a dick. The fire-engine red lips around the straw can suck and blow.
And yet chances are that such a fleshless, malnourished creature hasn't much actual libido. She drowns her hunger in 0 calorie soda pop, she hasn't menstruated in years, and the best thing about sex are the glimpses she gets of the hollows of her thighs and knees in the ceiling mirror. Who would want to caress that barely enfleshed humeral head ? The arm, thin as the skinny Pepsi can, is oddly phallic; it is an arrow pointing at the ad's other object of desire, the soft drink, which is almost secondary to the actual thing it's selling: skinniness.
I desired a serious house on serious earth.
Instead I found a hall of haunted mirrors.