Sublimating Post Traumatic Date Disorder Into Blog of Substance

I had the worst date ever on Wednesday night. Really. Even considering the republican who blamed AIDS on "the black and gays" and took me to the park for beers. Even the guy who asked me to dress up as a thirteen year old. Even, for the love of G-d, the gay man I dated when I was 19. I won't go into details. I'm not sure I want to go through the trauma of reliving the event by writing it down. Also I am deeply ashamed to admit what I myself was willing to put up with. I just have one word of advice for all of you and then I will move on: never date an a recovering alcoholic agoraphobic. Trust me on this one. It's really not as much fun as you think.

Of course, I've been having a dry two weeks. At this point I can't give myself away with a free cell phone. ( I actually said that the other day and one my male friends said, "Well, what kind of minute plan would I get with that?") So I have been sublimating all of that depression into textual analysis.

Since you all liked my Pan essays so much I thought I might share some thoughts with you about Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark.

The plot is fairly simple. It involves an eminent scientist, named Aylmer, who suddenly becomes deeply disturbed by the birthmark on his wife's cheek. The mark, like many scars in literature, is tied to her identity. Early on Hawthorne indicates the importance of the mark by describing it "as deeply interwoven...with the texture and substance of her face." Later, once Aylmer has undertaken to "cure" his wife of her purely cosmetic affliction, he comments "'I knew not the height and depth of you nature until now...Know, then, that this crimson hand, superficial as it seems, has clutched its grasp into your being."

Unlike other scars, which might indicate a rash act of youth (the Fisher King) or moral deviance (Oedipus Rex), the birthmark is indicative of Georgiana's mortality. The narrator describes the mark as "the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature...stamps on all her productions to imply that they are temporary and finite." Georgiana even remarks herself later in the text "I might wish to put off this birthmark of mortality..." In the conclusion of the tale, the birthmark is described as "the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame."

However, other places in the text indicate that the birthmark reflects the nature of the viewer and not the nature of the bearer. In the opening, Aylmer hesitates to term the mark "a defect or a beauty." Later in the text the mark varies "according to the difference of the temperament of the beholders." Aylmer's abhorrence of the mark reveals more about his character ( his inability to accept Nature and mortality) than about Georgiana's nature ( which is described throughout the piece as angelic and perfect). When Aylmer takes a picture of Georgiana in his laboratory to impress her, the picture is "blurred and indefinable" while the birthmark takes up her entire cheek. The photograph, instead of capturing Georgiana's likeness, reflects how Aylmer has come to see his wife. Her personality and traits have totally vanished, and all Alymer can see is the mark.

Aylmer's obsession with removing the mark predictably results in the death of his wife. The tale is filled with comments about misguided devotees of science attempting correct "what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work." "Nature" warns the text"...permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom to mend, and.. on no account to make." ( The Birthmark would have been published well after Frankenstein.) Aylmer's laboratory is filled with the works of those who "imagined themselves to have acquired from the investigations of Nature a power above Nature..." ( emphasis added). The tale ends with the warning "Yet, had Aylmer reached a profounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away his happiness which would have woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial." Alymer is clearly a representative of all those who "reject the best earth could offer" as the text proclaims, "Perhaps every man of genius in whatever sphere might recognize the image of his own experience in Aylmer's journal."

Georgiana makes an intriguing patient. Georgiana, unafflicted by disease, has merely a minor cosmetic blemish. When Aylmer points out the mark mars her beauty, she doesn't challenge him, but accepts his interpretation of the mark. ( Much in the same way a patient might trust a doctor's interpretation of symptoms.)Georgiana not only trusts her husband/doctor implicitly, but she submits entirely to his will. When presented with the a "draught of immortal happiness or misery" by Aylmer, Georgiana says "'I shall quaff whatever draught you bring me;but it will be on the same principle that would induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand." Later she says to him "'If there be the remotest possibility of [removing the mark]...let the attempt be made at whatever the risk.'" Like many patients, Georgiana sees her husband as God-like and remarks that reading his journals has made her "worship" him "more than ever." For her passivity, Georgiana endures rejection, experimentation, and ultimately death.

Of course, the Birthmark is not meant to purely be a tale about scientific hubris, but rather an instructive tale to direct the reader "to find the perfect future in the present." Such sentiments echo what recent scientific discoveries ( oh the irony) indicates about the futility of pursuing happiness. Those individuals chasing happiness perhaps should remember the words of Thomas Szaz, "Happiness is an imaginary condition."

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