On holding and being held: Hart Crane's queer intimacy.
In his rapturous description of crossing Brooklyn Bridge with Emil Opffer, the sailor with whom he shared the most intense affair of his short life, the lovestruck Hart Crane imagines New York's monument to modernity as a kind of rocking cradle. Crane's "beautiful" bridge "encloses" and lifts Hart and Emil, offering refuge and support while they experience their "ecstasy" (Letters 181). Just as a cradle replicates the holding environment of the mother's body, Crane's experience of the bridge--whose "cables breathe" as its "arms" lift in the address "To Brooklyn Bridge" that begins his 1930 epic The Bridge--also recalls the earliest scene of intersubjective intimacy (Poems 46). For the object relations psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott, holding is both the first stage of satisfactory parental care and a form of loving. Winnicott stresses that the term "holding" denotes "not only the actual physical holding of the infant" which starts of course in inter-uterine life, "but also the total environmental provision prior to the concept of living with" (Maturational 43). (1) Yet beside the image of being safely held, held up, and, implicitly (in their ec-stasy) held together by the other, the passage depicts the intimate hand-holding of the two lovers. The symmetrical touching of "hand in hand," performed syntactically in the phrase's chiasmus, contrasts with the clear asymmetry of the bridge's maternal holding. In what we might be tempted to dismiss as an embarrassingly sentimental letter, Crane hints at the possible complexities of intimacy, suggesting two distinct models of object relations; two distinct somatic and affective partnerships.
This article explores intimate contact in Crane's two published volumes of poetry--White Buildings (1926) and The Bridge--and in several of his uncollected poems. I am interested in the ways Crane's work explores the conceptual and spatial bounds of intimacy--especially how it relies on confusion between sexual and non-sexual registers and affects, and is predicated on a dynamic between containment and space. Evoking Winnicott's concept of "unintegration"--a state in which one can safely experience the feeling of falling apart because another "holds" the environment--I explore an alternative to the Lacanian emphasis on jouissance that has dominated queer readings of Crane's poetry. Finally I argue that Crane's poetry articulates (and enacts) an intense desire for a hard-won reciprocal intimacy based on recognition, a form of intersubjective exchange that may be illuminated by the psychoanalysis of Jessica Benjamin.
Following Benjamin, we might characterize the two distinct models of intimate partnership in Crane's Brooklyn Bridge letter by the terms "mutuality" and "complementarity." Classical psychoanalysis, Benjamin argues, has stressed "complementarity in interaction over mutuality. The other is represented as an answer, and the self as the need; the other is the breast, and the self is the hunger; the other actively holding, the self is actively being held" (47-48). Significantly, Benjamin claims that such complementary dual unity forms the basic structure of domination, while mutuality forms the path to recognition and equality. I want to suggest that the distinction between these relationships is key to Crane's exploration of intimacy. While Crane's lyric "I" sometimes wants or even needs to be held, he also aspires towards a form of recognition characterized by such tropes as mutual looking and handholding.
As Langdon Hammer notes, "Hands and eyes are the parts of the body that fashion bonds in Crane's poetry, and the marks that they frequently bear testify to the extreme difficulty of this task: 'blamed bleeding hands' in 'For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen,' the swimmers' 'lost morning eyes' in 'Voyages II'" (130). (2) Intimacy is often as much of a problem as longed-for possibility in Crane, but it remains a constant preoccupation enacted at the level of the body. The words hand/s, lift, and hold feature prominently across the work, and eye and eyes are in fact the most frequently recurring words in Crane's relatively slight poetic corpus. (3) Most often such references are to the eyes of another rather than to the speaker's own eyes, and this interocular looking--as the lyric "I" gazes into the eyes of the poem's "you"--signals the kind of recognition central to Crane's understanding of successful intimacy. While recent queer readings have been more attentive to Crane's interest in the body, there has been a tendency to bypass such moments of apparent slush in favor of scenes that might be read as examples of jouissance. Intimate pleasures, complex in their own right, have been presumed to be less interesting than the painful pleasures of the death drive. Rather than choosing not to read moments of intimacy, or reading beyond or behind such scenes for metaphysical significance, I want to explore the full complexity of these often fraught accounts of spatial proximity and bodily and affective contact. (4) In making such excursions, I suggest that we might consider the discrepancies between queer theory's Hart Crane and Hart Crane's queer theory, if it may be termed as such. Crane's poetry offers an alternative to solipsistic (but paradoxically self-splitting) representations of desire and sexuality on which a particular incarnation of queer theory, rooted in intrapsychic Lacanian paradigms, would encourage us to dwell. Indeed, I think that a turn to the intersubjective theories of the British Independent Group (5) allows us to shift the focus from "desire" to terms such as "love," a word that Hart Crane, who frequently enjoyed making puns on his own first name, might well have preferred. (6)
In attempting to trace a more affirmative strand in Crane's poetics, I follow the instructive lead of Michael Snediker, who has also sought to think outside of the "narratives of jouissance and self-destruction" (45) that have dominated queer readings of the poet's work. (7) As Snediker argues, queer theory's fetishization of self-shattering has guided most queer readings of Crane, which take his biographical suicide and poetic failure/ textual difficulty as paradigmatic of queer self-dissolution.
Merrill Cole, Gordon Tapper, and Tim Dean all agree on the centrality of jouissance to Crane's work, Dean, for instance, arguing that "Crane's reader is asked not to identify with a textually generated subject position (homosexual or otherwise) but to reexperience a jouissance that eliminates every subject position" (105). While such works as "Possessions," Crane's bleak meditation on the painful pleasures of cruising, do suggest a congruence between queer desire and a deathly jouissance, they also initiate an exploration of structures of intersubjectivity that might be discussed in terms of recognition, mutuality, sociality--and intimacy. The emphasis on self-shattering not only obscures crucial aspects of Crane's poetic project, but also contributes to the overwhelming discourse of failure that, as John Emil Vincent has powerfully argued, is relied on by Crane critics to describe his "life, his alcoholism, suicide, sexuality, and career, as well as single poems, groups of poems, his poetics, his execution of those poetics, and his cosmology" (127). As Vincent astutely notes, however, reading Crane's as a failure "suggests things about a successful life that seem suspect" (131). (8)
In his 2003 essay on Lacan and queer theory, Dean suggested that US queer theorists, influenced by Foucault's The History of Sexuality, had in fact shown little interest in the Lacanian concept of jouissance: "Queer theory, which has such an elaborate discourse of pleasure, shows little regard for what exceeds the pleasure principle" (248). (9) A notable exception to this apparent moratorium on jouissance, Dean acknowledges, was Leo Bersani's 1987 essay "Is the Rectum a Grave?," a powerful critique of the "redemptive reinvention of sex" which, written at the height of the AIDS crisis, famously argues for the "inestimable value of sex as ... anticommunal, antiegalitarian, antinuturing, antiloving" (Bersani 215). But by the time Dean's essay was published, this "exception" was already becoming the rule. In 2004 the fetishization of self-shattering found its most dramatic, influential, and persuasive incarnation in No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Lee Edelman's dizzying celebration of queer negativity. No Future finds in jouissance the basis for a queer politics, or rather a queer anti-politics: the end of politics and its dependence on futurity. Throughout the book, Edelman (who, like Dean, has also written on Crane) opposes reproductive sexuality to sinthomosexuality, "a term that links the jouissance to which we gain access through the sinthome with a homosexuality made to figure the lack in symbolic meaning-production on account of which, as Lacan declares, 'there is no sexual relation'" (113). Edelman argues that the death drive names what the social calls on the queer to figure (in opposition to the future-facing figure of the Child), and impels queers to take this role seriously: to embrace negativity as a means of challenging value as defined by the social, and thus to challenge "the very value of the social itself" (6).
I don't wish to claim that jouissance should have no place in accounts of queer sexuality and queer (anti-)sociality, but, rather, to show that it provides a limited field of vision for the kinds of affective and embodied relations depicted in, among other things, the poetry of Hart Crane. While Bersani and Edelman's celebration of the negativity of queer sexuality offers a powerful resistance against attempts to put affirmative forms of sociality at the service of homophobia, it is, not at all surprisingly, less helpful in the analysis of queer affections at their most communal, egalitarian, nurturing, and loving. (10) Revealingly, Bersani's attention has recently turned to the question of intimacy. In the 2008 book intimacies (co-authored with Adam Phillips), Bersani offers his own version of queer intimacy, one that remains rooted--or claims to remain rooted--in a negative logic of intrapsychic analysis. This "impersonal intimacy" (28) is born out of narcissism, the very thing that, in Bersani's view, psychoanalysis has misled us into regarding as the enemy of intimacy.
The first chapter of intimacies outlines a mode of "pure potentiality" (26), an ontological anterior to subjecthood that he finds most evident in the analytic exchange. For Bersani, the analytic encounter allows us to imagine an "impersonal intimacy divested of sexual longings and anxieties ... a special kind of talk unrestrained by any consequences other than further talk" (28). Crucially, this "special kind of talk" allows access to the It (the Es) in the I: the "self-hypotheses of the unconscious are realized--more exactly, suspended in the real--only in talk. And this talk may be the only imaginable form of a nondestructive jouissance, the jouissance of giving and receiving, through embodied language, the subjecthood of others" (29). But framing the dilemma of intimacy as a choice between talk and sex is a much less obvious move if we turn from a Lacanian to a Winnicottian mode of analysis. In the Independent Group we find an emphasis on the somatic, spatial, even haptic elements of the analytic scene that might reveal a further layer of complexity in the Adam Phillips aphorism that begins Bersani's meditations, "psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex." Patrick Casement has written on the role of space in the analytic process, while Christopher Bollas has emphasized the patients relationship to the objects in the room, including the sensation of being on the couch. (11) And touch played an important and controversial role in Winnicott's practice as well as his theory, as Graeme Galton notes, observing that Winnicott "subscribed to the idea that physical holding might sometimes be required as a means of providing extra containment for the neediest of his patients" (2). As I hope to elaborate through my readings of Crane, object relations psychoanalysis thus allows us to think though the erotic and non-erotic haptics of intimacy in ways that escape Lacanian paradigms.
While he relies on Lacan's emphasis on the narcissistic structure of love, Bersani calls for a reinvention of "the relational possibilities of narcissism itself" (intimacies 76) and notes that "every theory of love is, necessarily, a theory of object relations" (72). Crucially, I think that talking about even impersonal models of intimacy pushes Bersani towards the limits of the Lacanian purview, and, as Phillips points out in his response to Bersani's thesis, towards "a language that is at once germane though rarely explicitly alluded to in Bersani's words: the language of early development, of mothers and fathers and babies" (intimacies 104). Phillips points in particular to Bersani's section on Plato, where he writes that Phaedrus "undoes the opposition between the active lover and the passive loved one by instituting a kind of reciprocal self-recognition in which the opposition between sameness and difference becomes irrelevant as a structuring category of being" (86). Indeed the term "reciprocal self-recognition," for example, would not be out of place in the work by Jessica Benjamin I cite throughout this essay.
The developmental psychoanalysis of the object relations school allows us to imagine affirmative relations that challenge the emphasis on queer negativity and the Lacanian fetishization of the impossible pleasure beyond the pleasure principle. Perhaps more surprisingly, it also offers plenty of room for queer ambivalence. Although object relations views the mother-infant relationship as paradigmatic of all models of subjectivity, Winnicott's mothers and infants are, equally, not always or only mothers and infants. As Phillips points out elsewhere, Winnicott often uses mothers and babies to talk about different kinds of relationships, enabling him to say things about sexual relationships that he wouldn't otherwise be able to do (Winnicott x). Such a slippage, I suggest, points to the ways in which thinking about intimacy invites us to imagine spatial dynamics and affective bonds which challenge normative taxonomies of intersubjectivity. Equally, Winnicott's writing is rooted in the logic of paradox in a way that allows us to honor the celebration of alternate and contradictory meaning in Hart Crane. (12) Winnicott's most well-known theory, that of the transitional object, relies fundamentally on "the paradox, and the acceptance of the paradox: the baby creates the object, but the object was there waiting to be created and to become a cathected object": paradox is, Winnicott reminds us, the theory's "essential feature" (Playing 119). And, as we shall see, Benjamin's theory of mutual recognition is equally dependent on the sustaining of paradox. But perhaps most vital of all for my reading of Crane, object relations psychoanalysis brings into focus the body: while Winnicott understands holding to encompass more than the physical he in no way obviates or obscures the literal and bodily. Maternal holding, he stresses, protects the infant from "physiological insult," and takes account of "the infant's skin sensitivity--touch, temperature, auditory sensitivity, visual sensitivity, sensitivity to falling (action of gravity) and of the infant's lack of knowledge of anything other than the self" (Maturational 49). Furthermore, the body as Winnicott understand it is not simply a body dominated by drives, but a social and affective body. Phillips emphasizes Winnicott's belief that the infant seeks contact with a person, not simply instinctual gratification from an object: "the infant starts life as a profoundly sociable being: he clamors for intimacy, not only relief of tension--for relatedness, not simply for satisfaction" (Winnicott 9).
While I want to show how object relations psychoanalysis might help us think about Crane's queer intimacies, I hope also to point towards the common reading practices invited by both Crane's poetry and object relations accounts of intersubjectivity. As Phillips notes, Winnicott rarely uses the word "insight"; he focuses instead on discovering, through pleasure and play, what interests one, rather than what one knows (144). This generates a ludic tolerance for unknowing that seems an especially hospitable reading position from which one might find delight and interest (as opposed to frustration or anxiety) in Crane's particular brand of modernist obscurity. Jacqueline Rose describes the mode of reading invited by Christopher Bollas as an "ideal version of how a mother would treat her child": "Read me, hold me, but don't crush me, don't get too close. Above all, don't think you know, and I would want to add, don't expect to get it right" (121). I think Rose's account of the negotiated, precarious, yet generative intimacies that become synonymous with a certain kind of reading practice could also serve as a description of the playful work of Crane's poetry. In a move that implicitly yokes Crane's modernism to his apparent sentimentalism, I suggest that the qualities for which Crane's poetry is notorious--"paradoxical," "challenging," "difficult"--emerge because of and not despite the intimacies it attempts to depict and produce.
Leaky urns and loose girdles: the bounds of Cranian intimacy
In focusing primarily on scenes of intimate partnership, I do not wish to unqueerly celebrate that already-over-celebrated emblem of heteronormativity, the couple. But while the relationship between "I" and "you" can, in Crane, in fact refer to a plural "you," the exchange between the self and singular other remains central to my consideration. The two in question might be the "nursing couple" (mother and infant), the two lovers on Brooklyn Bridge, the lyric "I" and the reader, or the analyst and analysand. Yet sliding between and connecting such culturally distinct scenes of intersubjectivity--the erotic and the platonic, the sexual and the textual, the scene of familial dependence and, for instance, the scene of cruising--has its own kind of queerness. Cole argues that Cranes poetry violates the carefully prescribed (but clearly precarious) boundaries of lyric intimacy by construing "fraternal feeling as sexual interest": by "crossing the erotic boundary," he renders "explicit what is supposed to remain closeted" (123). But while Crane's poetry remaps the homosocial conventions of lyric poetry, it also, more fundamentally, allows us to appreciate the messiness of intimacy. Intimacy often feels queer, Crane's work suggests, because of its paradigmatic confusion between sexual and non-sexual registers and affects. (13) In his correspondence with literary friends and mentors, Crane frequently draws on the language of immoderate feeling to express platonic intimacy: his letters are peppered with declarations of fidelity, jealous tantrums, accusations of betrayal, and dramatic break-ups. Cranes correspondence suggests the kinds of discursive mixing through which intimacy in fact becomes readable.
While those who emphasize the solipsistic "pleasures" of the death drive at work in Crane's poetry might argue that queer sex has very little to do with intimacy, intimacy is, conversely, often understood as really being about sex. I suggest that we might think of Crane's intimacies less as signs of queer desire, than as signs that intimacy itself challenges the taxonomies that govern our thinking about relationships. As Cole's analysis implies, Crane's intimacy refuses to make the distinctions between the erotic and non-erotic that heteronormative culture demands and, crucially, it suggests that there are forms of intimacy where intense affective and physical connections cannot simply be reduced to signifiers of sexual desire.
The early lyric "Praise for an Urn" seems to dramatize some of these ideas as it plays with the notion of affect as spillage. Crane imagines the poem as a leaky container of feeling, where affect is coded as by definition excessive, discoloring, messy. The poem strikes a strangely intimate tone for an address to someone whom Crane had not in fact known terribly well: it was written for Ernest Nelson, a mere acquaintance whose sudden death in an automobile accident had touched the poet (Fisher 141). The second stanza plays upon the idea of intimate address or "pillow talk" in its reference to thoughts delivered "From the white coverlet and pillow" (Poems 8). Whether this intimacy is read as that of the death bed or the lovers' bed, the ambivalence clearly cannot be hygienically resolved in the manner suggested by R. W. B. Lewis, who warns:
We should be careful about the reference to the coverlet and pillow. To one correspondent, who had evidently surmised a sexual relationship, Crane replied: "There were no accouchements there at all. Not even temptations in that direction. It is, or was, entirely 'platonic.'" (37)
These quotations (and indeed Crane's quotation marks around "platonic") help us to appreciate how the language of intimacy must either flirt with the language of eroticism or else risk remaining unreadable as intimacy. But furthermore, the anxieties that arise for those who encounter intimate poetics ("we should be careful") are encoded into the poem, functioning as productive taboos through which the intimate may actually be read.
The notion of inappropriate affect that becomes synonymous with intimacy is in fact the ground on which the poem is produced: Crane was not a lover or even a close friend of the man for whom he writes this emotionally-charged elegy. And the sense of excessive, misplaced feelings is compounded by the fact that, as Lewis notes, the poem's images of Pierrot's eyes and Gargantua's laughter had already occurred in "The Bridge of Estador" before Crane had even met Nelson, who, besides, "may have been Pierrotic but was anything but Gargantuan" (38). Just as the intimate mingles with the inappropriate, it is also characterized as that which leaks or creeps out from within: it emerges when boundaries fail to contain, when bodily integrity is compromised. Of course, such thinking assumes rigid boundaries between subjects and text, and if thinking about intimacy teaches us anything it is that such boundaries are only ever relationally and precariously constituted.
The ostentatiously circumlocutory phrasing in this poem also suggests intimacy as necessarily excessive and discoloring, as corrupting meaning and compromising clarity. In phrases such as "Once moved us toward presentiments" and " Touching as well upon our praise" (emphasis added) the poem's intimate undertones seem as unnecessary as they are insistent: in both cases, the language of touching and feeling produces a convolution that interrupts our reading and defers our comprehension. A similar effect is achieved in the penultimate stanza when, with strange indirection, the speaker tells us:
I cannot see that broken brow And miss the dry sound of bees Stretching across a lucid space.
"Miss" in this context would seem to mean "fail to notice," continuing the visual emphasis set up in the preceding line with "see." But in a context focused on loss, "miss" has affective connotations too, exemplifying again how Crane characterizes intimate language as uncontainable: meanings bleed into each other, disturbing rational taxonomies. These signifiers of intimate feeling spill out of the poem, coding such feeling as unmanageable and excessive.
Intimacy's uncontainability is further suggested by the poem's central organizing image, the urn. This poetic urn, like many cremation urns, points toward a dissemination, the final lines suggesting that the contents of the urn/poem are to be scattered "Into the smoky spring that fills / The suburbs, where they will be lost." Without boundaries, intimate affects are undone, dispersed beyond meaning. Crane's "well-meant idioms" will be lost, as what has made the lines "well-meaning" (contingent on a particular affective orientation) and indeed "idiomatic" (participating in a specific common and shared language) has depended not only on porous boundaries between subjects, but also on a form of containment. While intimacy between two subjects suggests the precariousness of borders, Crane implies, a degree of common holding might be required--an imagined border not between subjects, but surrounding them. Intimacy relies on boundaries both secure and permeable, on feelings both of containment and of escape; it both transgresses and delineates, suggesting the porousness of skins as it welcomes the notion of a second skin, an enclosing membrane that holds the two subjects in space. (14)
Intimacy as requiring both containment and space is explored in another early Crane poem, "My Grandmother's Love Letters," where Crane elaborates how the feeling of intersubjective closeness relies on making enough room for the other. As Peter Nickowitz points out, while excess often engenders anxiety in Crane's poetry, in "My Grandmother's Love Letters" the question "becomes one of there being sufficient space for the spiritual and linguistic texts the grandmother provides" (116). Crane meditates on "how much room" there is for his memories; there is "even room enough / For the letters of my mother's mother, / Elizabeth." (Poems 6). Connecting "how much room" to "room enough" equates expansiveness with plenitude, and a comfortable expansiveness is emphasized by repeating the long vowel of "roof" in "loose." "Elizabeth" takes up or marks out space, with the name occupying a single line, as does the repetition in "mother's mother," which Nickowitz understands in terms of excess, but I read as an affectively positive plenitude.
If intimate remembering depends on adequate space, then insufficient space, or compression, is associated not with integrity but a risk of dissolution. Elizabeth's love letters have been squeezed together so tightly that they are in danger of falling apart, "pressed so long"
Into a corner of the roof That they are brown and soft, And liable to melt as snow.
Being held together too tightly is a threat both to the individual subject and to intersubjective intimacy: just as Elizabeth's intimate textual exchanges risk becoming a liquid mass, subjects risk becoming insubstantial, incoherent, and unrecognizable. Yet alongside this fear of being too close, a similar threat to intersubjective relations--a similar threat to the subject--is produced if the gulf is too wide: "Over the greatness of such space / Steps must be gentle." The images of melting and of treading on unsafe ground (where the risk is, presumably, the abyss) differently express the threat of disappearing, dramatizing the dilemma of an intimacy destroyed by both too little and too much space. Such images, moreover, dramatize the fear that if the other is too close we might cease to exist as a discernible individual subject, all distinctions melted away, but if the space is too great, if the other is too far away to recognize us, we might disappear entirely.
A space for intimacy in the poem is established by the "loose girdle of soft rain" that provides room for memory. Like the "invisible white hair," and trembling "birch limbs," such a girdle suggests a light and responsive holding rather than an oppressive imprisonment. While a tight girdle would constrict, shape, and change the body, a loose girdle would both contain and allow room to move. (15) In this sense, the spatial dynamics of the "loose girdle" resemble those Gaston Bachelard associates with the oneiric qualities of intimate space exemplified by the childhood home, citing Georges Spyridaki, who refers to his house as "of the nature of vapour. Its walls contract and expand as I desire" (51). Like Spyridaki's house, Crane's "girdle of soft rain" encloses, providing security for daydreaming, even as it also allows for breathing and expansion.
In this context of expansive containment, the self can emerge as other. The penultimate stanza is enclosed in quotation marks as the speaker addresses himself, a kind of self-reflexivity that such expansive containment makes possible: the speaker is gently held together in a state of negotiated intimacy. Again, he becomes concerned with bridging the space that has, somewhat paradoxically, become the grounds for intersubjective exchange: he asks himself if his fingers are "long enough to play" and if the music will get back "to its source / And back to you again, / As though to her?" The concern here is with covering space, making up ground: the inward-breathing motion that follows the breathing out, we might say, following Bachelard. Significantly, the poem ends with one of Crane's intimate tableaux:
Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand Through much of what she would not understand; And so I stumble.
Here Crane suggests the mutuality inherent in seemingly unequal intersubjective scenarios: as he imagines leading his grandmother, he acknowledges that his subjectivity depends on the presence of the other. His stumble reflects that dependence, a dependence upon which all independence is predicated, and which recalls the primary intersubjective scenes of infancy.
Crane's "holding phase": experiencing unintegration
In its depiction of intimacy as expansive containment, "My Grandmothers Love Letters" suggests the conditions for the subject's experience of unintegration. As in the scene of Crane walking hand in hand with Opffer, being held together allows the subject to safely undergo such potentially alarming affects as ecstasy without the threat of permanent dissolution. The "holding phase" as Winnicott understands it is a state of absolute dependence, where the infant has not separated out a self from the maternal environment, but also where crucial developments and a movement towards separation occurs: "All this leads right up to, includes, and co-exists with the establishment of the infant's first object relationships and his first experiences of instinctual gratification" (Maturational 49). At this early phase, the infants id-experiences are only meaningful when the mother "holds" the environment: without this ego-relatedness desire is experienced as overwhelming assault. Significantly, when the infant is held well, unintegration, a bundle of different feeling states, can be tolerated and even enjoyed. Here, Winnicott argues, the infant begins to gain "unit status," where the ego changes from an "unintegrated state to a structured integration, and so the infant becomes able to experience anxiety associated with disintegration" (44). "In healthy development at this stage," Winnicott continues, "the infant retains the capacity for re-experiencing unintegrated states, but this depends on the continuation of reliable maternal care or on the build-up in the infant of memories of maternal care beginning gradually to be perceived as such." There is a crucial difference here between unintegration and disintegration, which is a pathological state. In the case of unintegration, one can safely experience "a number of motility phases and sensory perceptions" (Family 5) without the feeling of falling apart forever. With disintegration, in contrast, a failure in the holding environment leads to "the sense of going to pieces," "the sense of falling forever," and "the feeling that external reality cannot be used for reassurance, and other anxieties that are usually described as 'psychotic'"^?). In the healthy adult unintegrated states recur in relaxation and in dreaming, and indeed it is "out of the unintegrated state that the creative impulse appears and reappears" (Home 29). Winnicott thus speaks of creativity as "a coming together after relaxation, which is the opposite of integration" (Playing 86). In light of this proposition--that being held together allows one to safely come apart without fear of permanent and catastrophic dissolution--we can counter some of the negative readings of Crane's poetic corpus.
A significant scene of unintegration in the presence of another occurs in the "Cape Hatteras" section of The Bridge, where a depiction of falling apart is "held" between intimate apostrophes to Whitman, who contains the subjective crisis that is a condition of modernity. Following Harold Bloom, Edelman reads the relationship between Crane and Whitman in Oedipal terms, arguing that Cranes "revisionary binding displaces the violence directed toward the poetic 'father' onto his figural practice" (Transmemberment 189-90). But if we read the relationship in light of an intersubjective model, allowing for maternal structures of identification, Crane and Whitman's relationship needn't appear essentially antagonistic. Indeed, difference and even opposition appear less a barrier to intimacy than a condition for it.
In "Cape Hatteras" Crane describes an expansive space of both desire and anxiety: "Space, instantaneous, / Flickers a moment, consumes us in its smile" (Poems 89). The "cantos of unvanquished space" (90) suggest that the speaker does not comfortably inhabit his verse, but is, rather, unmoored and homeless. Yet, alongside this are repeated apostrophes to Walt Whitman, called upon as a figure who might watch over the poem as he watches over modernity and the American landscape, his eyes "like the Great Navigator's without ship" and "undenying, bright with myth" (89). With "undenying" eyes providing recognition, Whitman is the witness whose holding presence enables the speaker to experience the trauma of modernity, the "tournament of space, the threshed and chiselled height" (91).
The central section of "Cape Hatteras" describes the Wright brothers' aeronautical adventures, a conquering of space that is affectively distinct from Whitman's presence in space; it is destruction and dissolution ("space-gnawing") as opposed to plenitude: the aeroplane, that emblem of modernity "Hast splintered space!" Significantly, the middle of "Cape Hatteras" represents an aircraft crash:
But first, here at this height receive The benediction of the shell's deep, sure reprieve! Lead-perforated fuselage, escutcheoned wings Lift agonized quittance, tilting from the invisible brink Now eagle-bright, now quarry-hid, twisting,- -sink with Enormous repercussive list- -ings down Giddily spiralled gauntlets, upturned, unlooping In guerrilla sleights, trapped in combustion gyring, dance the curled depth down whizzing Zodiacs, dashed (now nearing fast the Cape!) down gravitation's vortex into crashed .... dispersion ... into mashed and shapeless debris.... By Hatteras bunched the beached heap of high bravery! (92-93)
The aircraft first appears as "shell," an enclosed space for "benediction," apparently "sure" and safe. But it turns out to be hall of holes, its fuselage is "lead-perforated." (16) The shell or skin of the individual body in the excessive, hostile space is precarious, liable to rupture, despite its "escutcheoned wings." This description of the aircraft evokes Crane s prescription for the modernist artist in a 1920 letter to Gorham Munson, where he associates a coat of mail with brittleness and vulnerability: "The modern artist has got to harden himself, and the walls of an ivory tower are too delicate and brittle a coat of mail for substitute. The keen[est] and most sensitive edges will result from this 'hardening' process" (Letters 31). While the modernist must "harden" to create the "keenest" edge, and so in fact open the body towards others rather than enclose it in a protective shell, there is an even stronger resistance in "Cape Hatteras" to a solipsistic sealing-off as a response to the problems of modernity. (17) Houses and other intimate spaces constitute a beneficial holding environment, but too tight an enclosure precludes space for expansion, or breathing, or others.
In the description of the airplane crash, the sense of falling apart is performed textually by the fractured syntax, dissolving the false assurance of the initial neat couplet, whose rhyme of "receive" and "reprieve" suggests the (false) hope and security provided by the armored "shell." As this illusion is shattered, lines and words go to pieces. There is intense pleasure here in falling apart, a celebration and enjoyment of destruction, but the solipsistic emphasis of theories of jouissance is belied, I contend, as such pleasure is conditioned on Whitman's holding presence. The description of the crash is "held" in the middle of the poem, between Walt's "undenying eyes" and his arms: "But who has held the heights more sure that thou, / O Walt!" (Poems 93)--and this holding allows this potentially catastrophic scene to be experienced. As Whitman rises from the dead, bringing "a pact, new bound / Of living brotherhood!," he supplants the lone individual's fractured "shell" with a renewed intimacy.'
If Whitman's holding here suggests a one-sided dependence, the "brotherhood" he brings suggests a more mutual form of intimacy, one implied by the reference to his eyes as "tranquil with the blaze / Of love's own diametric gaze" (94). Whitman's "undenying" gaze is a simple holding structure, but being held in a "diametric" gaze implies a more complex and mutual form of intimacy. A "diametric" gaze goes back and forth, from one subject to the other, and syntactically the gaze belongs to "love" rather than Whitman, so must be understood in entirely relational terms as an intersubjective exchange. A "diametric" gaze suggests not sameness but difference, a love premised not on the blurring of bodily boundaries, as in more simple holding, but on a distinction between subjects. The scene thus ends with a key tableau of mutual intimacy akin to the scene of Hart and Emil on the Brooklyn Bridge:
yes, Walt, Afoot again, and onward without halt,-- Not soon, nor suddenly,--no, never to let go My hand in yours, Walt Whitman-- so-- (95)
Such an intense intimacy is troubling for theories that seek to elaborate the negativity of Crane's poetics or to associate him with a particular kind of modernist difficulty. Indeed, two of Crane's most attentive readers deny or dismiss the affective claims that stare us in the face. Edelman argues that Crane is "warily and uneasily bound" to Whitman and so this scene "represents no simple and literal affirmation of an Eliotic sense of 'tradition,' but rather, a complex and almost desperate gesture of submission and willed continuity" (Transmemberment 188). Here complexity is bound to negativity and Oedipal opposition: the affirmative answer is the deceptively simple one. Brian Reed reads Crane's relationship with Whitman here not in Oedipal terms but in more dismissive, generic ones: "Crane and Whitman walking off hand in hand reads like the schmaltzy finale of a B-movie romance" (20). The assumption here is that intimacy is generically inappropriate, that it cannot be incorporated within the modernist purview. For Edelman the scene is affectively negative, then, while for Reed it can appear only as "schmaltzy." Either way, Crane's intimacy cannot be recognized in terms of a difficult genre like modernist poetry. As a result, the intensity and complex nature of Crane's intersubjective intimacy has itself gone unrecognized.
Deep surfaces: skin, subjectivity, and "handling"
As I have suggested, Winnicott understands the "holding phase" as the vital stage of the infant's separating out a self from the maternal environment. During this phase, the psyche begins to "indwell" in the soma: "The basis for this indwelling is a linkage of motor and sensory and functional experiences with the infant's new state of being a person" (Maturational 45). Winnicott describes how the environmental provision of "handling," necessarily involving the touching of skins, "corresponds loosely with the establishment of a psycho-somatic partnership" (62). The perception of a limiting membrane, equated with the surface of the skin, occurs as the infant begins to discern the distinction between the "me" and the "not-me." Describing the process he elsewhere calls "personalization," Winnicott writes: "In favourable circumstances, the skin becomes the boundary between the me and the not-me. In other words, the psyche has come to live in the soma and an individual psycho-somatic life has been initiated" (61). For Winnicott, then, touching provides not only closeness and connection but also the boundaries and integrity of self: the contact between skins is what allows us to feel that we are separate and coherent within our own bodies.
In "Carrier Letter" (1918), an early poem about the separation of lovers, Crane writes, "My hands have not touched water since your hands" (Poems 135). Again, the language of intimacy must necessarily run the risk of sentimentality; such entanglements are crucial to the interest and complexity of Crane's poetics of intimacy. In fact, Crane's description of the apparently cliched desire not to wash one's hands after touching the object of one's affection tells us something important about how intimacy is enacted at the surface of the skin, how it seems at times to create a second membrane that, it might be felt, could be removed by washing. While touching allows us to experience the boundaries of our own bodies, or--in Winnicottian terms--facilitates somatic indwelling and personalization, it also challenges the distinctions between inside and outside, surface and depth.
In "The Dance," contained within the "Van Winkle" section of The Bridge, such qualities of touch emerge in a sensual description of an encounter with Pocahontas:
And in the autumn drouth, whose burnished hands With mineral wariness found out the stone Where prayers, forgotten, streamed the mesa sands? He holds the twilight's dim, perpetual throne. (Poems 70)
To "burnish" is to form a new surface by creating friction with another object--a form of touching that changes the quality of the object's surface. In this case, the image of "burnished hands" suggests the way skin contact changes the very nature of the skin itself. Similarly, "mineral wariness" imparts a metallic aspect to the body: the skin has taken on the qualities of the metal, and is defined and understood through what it has touched. And mutual dependence between bodies is implicit in the holding of the throne, which is itself a holding environment.
But the connections between touching and subjectivity are perhaps most fully explored in Crane's early poem, "An Episode of Hands" (1948), which invites us to imagine the complexities of the body's surface. The poem describes a moment of intimacy between a factory owner's son and an injured blue-collar worker. In its muddling of erotic and fraternal registers, "An Episode of Hands" again suggests intimacy's anti-taxonomic qualities. And while suggesting that intersubjective contact defines the surfaces and limits of the body and that bodily intimacy changes and shapes selves, the poem also challenges the distinction between penetration and surface contact.
The phenomenology of touch replaces all other senses as one man lays his hands on the other's: "And factory sounds and factory thoughts / Were banished" (Poems 141). And touch here is inherent in selfhood, as the factory owner's son's shifting identity is suggested by his tactile memory of "books and tennis" and "iron and leather." In one sense, this defining contact between skin and outside world emphasizes surface over depth: selfhood is not immanent but, rather, made and unmade by whom and what we touch. But Crane also figures intimacy as a kind of penetration, referring to "the bed of the wound." That phrase connects erotic intimacy and brutal penetration, but Crane's heteronymic play with "wound" also suggests penetration as a form of binding together: "his taut, spare fingers wound the gauze / Around the thick bed of the wound." As a trope that incorporates difference and similarity, heteronymity itself is apt here, and this particular play, with wounding/winding, emphasizes the binding and the individuating functions of skin. The pain of the wound individuates the subject, yet this bodily integrity is established only through the constant policing of what is inside and what is outside. The painful pleasure of the scene is figured by the bleeding gash penetrated by a glittering "shaft of sun" falling "lightly, warmly, down into the wound." In this image of penetration, Crane does describe a form of jouissance through the combination of violence and pleasure, bleeding and glittering. But the scene cannot be described as "self-shattering and solipsistic" (217) in the Bersanian sense, for the sense of intimacy between subjects is crucial. While the shaft of sunlight "penetrates" it does so "warmly" and "lightly." Breaking the surface of the skin is no more anathema to intimacy than it is queerly congruent with sexual pleasure.
Yet this is a poem that also explores the ways skin might confound or at least trouble the opposition between surface and depth. This blurring is evident in the factory owner's son's pleasure in the injured man's hands: "The knots and notches,--many in the wide / Deep hand that lay in his,--seemed beautiful." "Knots and notches" suggests grooves and indentations, related to the surface of the skin (they "seemed beautiful"), but they also record previous penetrations and remind us of the body's inside. And as the son registers the expansive surface of the hand, which is "wide," the hand is also "deep," in the same sense that Didier Anzieu describes sex as producing "the deepest psychical contact and the most complete form of skin contact" (10). This paradox of superficial depth, or deep surface, is imagined in the description of one hand lying in another: touching, surface contact between skins, is also conveyed as a form of penetration, going inside as well as alongside, a quality of intimacy suggested in the poem's final tableau: "smiled into each other's eyes." (18)
A similar confusion between depth and surface is suggested in the poem's first line: "The unexpected interest made him flush." Occurring both underneath and on the surface of the skin, a flush is, crucially, a scene of intimate communication between the two subjects. (19) The flush makes the injured man readable to the factory owner's son, and what it makes readable is the worker's awareness that he has been noticed; it is, therefore, a complex feedback mechanism expressed on/in the surface of the skin. As Eve Sedgwick, following Silvan Tomkins, has written, blushing, like all corporeal signifiers of shame, is at once individuating and communicative: it makes the blusher painfully aware of the boundaries of her own skin yet may also be experienced as an intimate communication between skins (35-65).
Similar questions of rupture, integrity, and border control govern both the representation of a room and the human bodies it contains in Crane's significantly titled early poem "Interior" (1919). In fact, in the poem the sparse but protecting room in which the "stolen hour" of intimacy takes place is itself figured as a kind of skin. In its final stanza the lovers' feeling of intimate enclosure is predicated on their awareness of an outside that could penetrate their inside space: "And even should the world break in" (Poems 140). The first lines, "It sheds a shy solemnity, / This lamp in our poor room," introduce a verb often associated with skin, the suggestion of a shed skin again evoking a feeling of vulnerable enclosure. The poem oscillates between representations of oneness (utter isolation or a fusion that erases all difference) and a besideness based on the permeable boundaries of individual skins. The former creeps into a poem ostensibly about "we" in stanza two's "shy solemnity" and "none." A "shy solemnity" suggests feeling stuck inside one's own skin in a negative sense: shyness isolates through shame, but it also reflects a failure (and a failed desire) to communicate. And shyness might well produce a blush, which, again, epitomizes the paradoxical relationship between insularity and communication, destabilizing the boundary of inside/outside.
Blushing is again hinted at by the references to "blooms" and "after-glow" in the second stanza. But here the latter signifies a different kind of intimacy, the rosy afterglow of lovemaking. Winnicott's writing about this form of intimacy might help us make sense of the poem's playfulness about different kinds of intersubjective relationships, and its shifting depictions of union and solitude. Responding to psychoanalysis's silence on the positive capacity to be alone (as opposed to the wish to be alone or the fear of being alone), Winnicott stresses that this capacity is in fact a paradox: "it is the experience of being alone while someone else is present" (Maturational 30). This capacity is based on the infant's experience of being "alone" in the presence of the mother, he suggests, and is retained as the individual introjects the ego-supportive mother. Productively upsetting some common assumptions about aloneness, Winnicott refers to "sharing solitude"--a "solitude that is relatively free from the property that we call withdrawal" (31). Importantly, the state of "sharing solitude," like the holding environment, allows for the infant to experience and enjoy a state of unintegration. When "alone (that is to say in the presence of someone)" the infant can "become unintegrated, to flounder, to be in a state in which there is no orientation, to be able to exist for a time without being either a reactor to an external impingement or an active person with a direction of interest or movement" (34). The notion of "sharing solitude" is another way to consider the idea of unintegrated states in a way that challenges the notion of solipsism, and further complicates the object relations of Crane's intimate scenes.
"Twin shadowed halves": mutuality and recognition
Overall in Crane's poetry intimate relations between subjects emerge as mobile and shifting, as a constant changing of positions in relation to need, desire, and affect. The idea that intersubjective relationships ideally should be fraught and unfixed is at the heart of Jessica Benjamin's work in The Bonds of Love. In this section I want to consider the ways Crane's poetry dramatizes the difficulty of achieving and sustaining what Benjamin considers to be the ideal form of human intimacy: mutual recognition.
For Winnicott, recognition by the (m)other is an essential component of a sense of personhood. In "The Mirror Role of Mother and Family in Child Development," he considers the concept of mirroring in intersubjective terms quite distinct from Lacan's more well-known theory of the Mirror Stage. Here Winnicott explains that when the infant sees himself in the mother's face, the mother gives the infant back to himself, so that a sense of self depends on being seen: "When I look I am seen, so I exist" (Playing 151). Benjamin's work is rooted both in Winnicott's insights and in what she sees as their limitations--chiefly, the way figuring the mother simply as a mirroring object obscures the mother's subjectivity. Benjamin emphasizes the need for mutual recognition; if recognition is to avoid becoming a form of domination, she argues, the mother "should not merely reflect back what the child asserts; she must embody something of the not-me; she must be an independent other who responds in her different way" (24).
Benjamin points to the fundamental paradox entailed in the need for recognition--a paradox ignored in classical psychoanalytic theory and Hegelian dialectics--that in order to affirm itself the self must acknowledge the other, which in itself is to "deny the absoluteness of the self" (33). "The ideal 'resolution' of the paradox of recognition" is, as Benjamin's scare quotes imply, not a resolution as such but--in what is a very Winnicottian (and indeed Cranian) way of thinking--for the paradox to be sustained, "for it to remain as a constant tension" (36). Indeed, to clarify this notion, Benjamin herself turns to Winnicott, who argues that one of the most important elements in feeling authentic is the recognition of an outside reality that is not one's own projection--the recognition effected by an object's survival of the infant's attempts to destroy it. Benjamin points out that if we ultimately destroy others then we will have negated ourselves as well, "for there is no one there to recognize us, no one there for us to desire" (39). Her crucial insight, though, is that mutual recognition "cannot be achieved through obedience, through identification with the other's power, or through repression. It requires, finally, contact with the other" (40). The difficulties of sustaining this back-and-forth relationship, defined by constant tension and contact, are indicated by Benjamin's emphasis on how the search for recognition can become a power struggle. Such a struggle constitutes a "kind of sticky, frustrating interaction" where the child loses the capacity for feeling attuned or united, or for knowing the mother: "Neither separateness nor union is possible" (28).While the failure of early mutuality leads to a premature formation of a defensive boundary between inside and outside, the experience of attunement generates a permeable boundary, allowing the felt distinction between inside and outside to be momentarily suspended. In turn, "the capacity to enter into states in which distinctness and union are reconciled underlies the most intense experience of adult erotic life" (29). And as we've seen, this sense of permeable boundaries--the experience at once of individual distinctness and union, difference and sameness--is key to Crane's scenes of erotic and non-erotic intimacy.
Because intersubjectivity, or attunement, is essentially contingent, intimacy in Crane necessarily remains a negotiation. Again, his most pleasurable intimate tableaux depict an oscillation between separation and union, and they involve the suspension of felt boundaries between inside and outside. But Cranes poetry also suggests a negotiation between what we might term "immature" and "mature" forms of intimate contact: between complementarity and mutuality; between the desire to be held, and the desire for mutual contact; between seeing the other as answer to the self's need and recognizing the other as a subject. An exploration of these forms can be seen in the shift from an "undenying" to a "diametric" gaze in "Cape Hatteras," as Whitman is conceived first as a holding presence and then as subject whose hand the speaker holds. Crane's masterful sequence "Voyages" equally charts an intimate journey from being held by a not-quite-good-enough mother, the "too wide a breast" of the expansive sea, to a mutual and active touching (Poems 35). While the maternal realm brings freedom--"rimless floods, unfettered leewardings"--the scene of sexual consummation and blissful intimacy in "Voyages III" is understood in terms of bridging space, of "arresting] all distance otherwise" (36). Interestingly, the union involves containment in a smaller space, and the entrance into the body, "through black swollen gates" and "past whirling pillars and lithe pediments" (37), is described as an architectural structure. Yet, crucially, this is an active body, responsive flesh rather than immovable stone; not simply an object that contains, its response to touch touches the speaker, who perceives it as "swollen," "whirling," "lithe." And this complex image of entry and containment, where the subjectivity of the containing one is recognized, then turns into an image of intersubjective touching: the non-containing touching between skins suggested by "wrestling" and "kissing." The final line reads less as a demand for mutuality, than as a request: "Permit me voyage, love, into your hands." A negotiation between subjects, intimacy here involves an active exchange, where being held implies not passivity but an active giving, a momentary, positive submission.
"Voyages" offers a terrifically affirmative depiction of mutuality achieved, in all of its complexity, but I want to conclude with a reading of the more fraught scenes of intimacy in "Recitative." "Recitative" registers the difficulties of mutual recognition as it obsessively but playfully considers different kinds of "twoness": doubles, splits, repetitions, shadows, echoes, and mirrors. It reflects the anxiety that "holding" might equate to "capturing," and considers whether "two" means sameness or difference. The kinds of mirroring and doubling here suggest a relationship variously governed by mutuality and domination. Even the title evokes two distinct kinds of twoness: a "recitative" is simply a recital, and so a repetition or a reiteration, but it is also a musical declaration between singing and ordinary speech. The title, that is, refuses to decide between the intermediary and the identical. And indeed at different points in the poem the sense of doubleness might be understood in both intersubjective terms and intrapsychic ones, as both relationality/ dependence and a kind of fracturing of the self. Such division of the self is, I suggest, an unintegratation that can ultimately be tolerated precisely because of that way that the poet's speaker imagines, at moments, being "held" by another in a relationship of complementarity. Crane's oft-cited lines about the poem are helpful on this point:
Imagine the poet, say, on a platform speaking it. The audience is one half of Humanity, Man (in the sense of Blake) and the poet the other. ALSO, the poet sees himself in the audience as in a mirror. ALSO, the audience sees itself, in part, in the poet. Against this paradoxical DUALITY is posed the UNITY, or the conception of it (as you got it) in the last verse. In another sense, the poet is talking to himself all the way through the poem, and there are, as too often in my poems, other reflexes and symbolisms in the poem, also, which it would be silly to write here--at least for the present. (Letters 176)
Crane confirms that the poet is addressing himself and the audience; he and the audience recognize themselves in each other (but perhaps struggle to recognize each other as others); and the poem oscillates between a sense of separation and unity.
If we consider the opening scene as one in which the poet is speaking to his own reflection in a mirror and to another, then it appears to dramatize the distinction between truly recognizing the other as an other and simply using the other as a reflecting object in order to affirm the self. The poem's arresting opening phrase--"Regard the capture here, O Janus-faced" (Poems 25)--might be interpreted as "look at yourself being looked at" or, as a more emphatic appeal: "look at me looking at you." In this sense the poem suggests the paradoxical logic of the mirroring, as the person who would look to affirm his own subjectivity is also absolutely dependent upon the other to grant that subjectivity. This sort of dependence is implied by "capture": the subject is indeed held in and by the other's gaze, and is a prisoner in the sense that he cannot exist outside it. His failure to ascribe any agency, or indeed subjectivity, to the reflecting other is suggested by the stanza's final lines: "Such eyes at search or rest you cannot see; / Reciting pain of glee, how can you bear!" Because the eyes in/of the mirror, the eyes of the other, exist only to reflect back the self, they cannot look at anything but the subject: they are denied an active or affective life outside of their role of giving the subject back to himself.
The playfulness of the title continues throughout the poem, as various relationships between twos are repeatedly imagined alongside each other. Here, for example, is the second stanza:
Twin shadowed halves: the breaking second holds In each the skin alone, and so it is I crust a plate of vibrant mercury Born cleft to you, and brother in the half.
Lacking punctuation or conjunction, the phrase "Twin shadowed halves" might suggest a conflation, yet each term in fact troubles the last. "Twin" describes a relationship understood through likeness, literally kinship, but while this suggests equality, it is an equality based on a disavowal of difference. A "shadow," on the other hand, bears a substitutional relationship to its other, which is by contrast the "real." And "halves" are of course two made out of one, and so indicate splitting and fragmentation. While the accretion of these terms might suggest unity, then, it also allows that this unity might derive from a failure to work out the distinctions between self and other. The phrase "the breaking second holds / In each the skin alone" is typically difficult but suggests, I think, a failed intimacy: when the m/other (the "second") holds the subject, each become separate, within their own skins. While such individuation might seem a triumphant outcome (and suggest that both selves have been given back to each other by mutual looking) the boundaries appear to be too rigid and impermeable: in this stanza full of pairs and doubles, "alone" hangs heavy. Likewise, when we realize that mercury actually amalgamates with other metals, the "vibrant mercury" of the mirrors crust, or skin, is also troubling: mercury is absorbed and taken over, failing to maintain its integrity.
That seeking recognition can become an attempt at domination, as Benjamin warns, is suggested by the high concentration of imperatives in "Recitative," all of which---"Regard," "Inquire," "Defer," "Look," "Watch"--frame the search for recognition as a demand. In the line "Inquire this much-exacting fragment smile," the smile might be characterized as "much exacting" because it asks to be matched. In contrast, the fifth stanza includes a turn, common in Crane's poetry, from the first person singular to the first person plural: "Let the same nameless gulf beleaguer us--/ alike suspend us from atrocious sums." This depicts a shared experience of a kind of bad holding. "Sums" suggests not only groups (or pairs) of people, but considering the poem's obsession with the dynamics of two, also mathematical problems. Even at this moment of supposed unity, we are reminded of the fraught negotiations and calculations of intimacy. Does 2, we might still wonder, figure as 1 + 1, or 1/2, or as still some other "atrocious sum"?
While the dawning "white buildings" suggest a comfortable domestic enclosure and a refuge for intimacy, the idea of being suspended together that follows is more complex. If good-enough holding provides comfort to the Cranian subject, then this image of hanging is a bad form of holding. Indeed, the significance of the vertical posture of suspension is explored by Anzieu, who discusses the myth of Marsyas, suspended by the arms from a pine tree by Apollo. While standing on the ground constitutes a "positive verticality," Marsyas suffers the punishment of "negative verticality"; hanging defenseless and humiliated, he re-experiences "the original distress of the infant either not held or held badly by its mother" (49). In "Recitative," the subjects are held "like Absalom" (Poems 25), who was hung by his hair, though they can return to the primal scene of bad holding precisely because of their symmetrical, mutually supporting intimacy with one another. The "gulf" that beleaguers them jointly, produced by bad holding, crucially does not become a gulf between them.
"Recitative" ends with one of Crane's unequivocal utopian visions of reciprocal brotherhood: "And let us walk through time with equal pride" (26). As with the mutual intimacies imagined with Whitman, the glorious simplicity of this vision belies the difficult negotiations that are the necessary conditions of its production. Hammer, a critic who has appreciated better than most the "shared connections" called for in Crane's poetry, writes that "when a poem is truly and fully read, poet and reader encounter each other as equal and kindred 'twin shadowed halves'; they recognize an essential relation beyond their random connection, assuaging the loneliness each of them feels in his body" (159). This points to how Crane posits an intimate, bodily relationship as a model for the ideal reading practice, yet the phrase with which Hammer illustrates this--"twin shadowed halves"--in fact bears testament to the complex shifting of positions necessarily required for an intersubjective relationship based on mutual recognition. Hart Crane's work demands, finally, that to Benjamin's list of "near-synonyms" for recognition--"to recognize is to affirm, validate, acknowledge, know, accept, understand, empathize, take in, tolerate, appreciate, see, identify with, find familiar, ... love" (16)--we include the word "read." If imagining a reading practice as an act of love sounds inimical to serious critical inquiry, reductively affirmative, we might do well to dwell on Crane's elaboration of the difficulties and complexities of this act.
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(1.) In Winnicott, "living with" suggests true object relating after the infant has ceased to feel merged with the mother.
(2.) See Brian Reed's "Hand in Hand: Jasper Johns and Hart Crane" for a fascinating discussion of how the hand prints in Johns's artwork reach out to Crane's hands. Reed contrasts the impossible utopian connection between Crane and the dead Whitman in "Cape Hatteras" with that between Johns and Crane in the painting Land's End, which "highlights this unbridgeable gap between actual and virtual artists":
While the end of "Cape Hatteras" might depict poetry as a refuge from "time's realm," Johns cannot imagine himself gaining access to such a space while still "alive." In Land's End the two hands, the artist's and the poet's, can come together only via a parodic re-enactment of the close of "Cape Hatteras." (40)
The significance of hands for Johns (and for Reed) ultimately relates to his investigation of artistic agency: "The 'hand' of the artist became a 'pressing' issue requiring investigation in a 'hands-on' fashion" (42).
(3.) The Crane Concordance lists eighty-eight occurrences of eye/eyes/eyes and fifty-three occurrences of hand or hands. Herbert Leibowitz (whose figures on word frequency tend to differ quite substantially from Gary Lane's in the Concordance) catalogues lift as Crane's sixteenth most used word, occurring thirty-one times, and hold as occurring twenty-five times.
(4.) Alan Trachtenberg offers a standard metaphysical reading of the significance of the bridges and bridging motifs throughout Crane's oeuvre, describing them as symbols of "crossing-over from one state to another," clear signifiers of Crane's quest for Romantic unity and his desire for "mediation ... fusion, healing, transcendence" (9).
(5.) The British Independent or "Middle" Group in the post-war British Psychoanalytic Society identified themselves neither with Anna Freud nor Melanie Klein, though like the Kleinians, the views of the Independents are classified in terms of object relations. Alongside Winnicott, notable members of this group include Ronald Fairbairn, John Bowlby, and Michael Balint, and, more recently, Christopher Bollas and Patrick Casement.
(6.) In his analysis of the relationship between Crane and Elizabeth Bishop, Michael Snediker distinguishes "love's reparative, resuscitative energies from the oppositely and variously destructive, undoing energies of desire" (168).
(7.) Snediker challenges narratives of self-splitting by focusing on the durability of the smiles that occur in Crane's poetry, reading them as signifiers of durability itself, and of the centrality of affirmation to his oeuvre. Like my reading of Crane's intimacy, Snediker's understanding of durability is informed by Winnicott. For Winnicott, he writes,
an object's durability as such signals that it is an object, and this durability is not recognizable to the Winnicottian subject without the fantasy of destroying it. The destructiveness that an object can withstand, for Winnicott, demonstrates not just the subject's own integrity (an integrity from which the subject might subsequently learn), but its own capacity for loving in spite of feeling damaged, or even repelled, by the subject. (10)
(8.) There also seems to be something circular about this logic: critics turn to the concept of jouissance to emphasize Crane's "failure," and such "failure" contributes to the sense that self-splitting is indeed the key to unlock his work.
(9.) Dean elaborates: "Foucault's strategic account of pleasure has misled many US queer theorists into viewing pleasure optimistically, as if it weren't complicated by jouissance and could be extended without encountering anything but ideological barriers" (251).
(10.) Although I'm specifically thinking of Crane's poetry here, I'm also reminded of the real-world examples of queer life that escape the anti-social paradigm, such as the response of the queer community to the AIDS crisis, including the kinds of activities discussed by Ann Cvetkovich in Chapter 5 of An Archive of Feelings ("AIDS Activism and Public Feelings: Documenting ACT UP's Lesbians").
(11.) See, for instance, Casement's Further Learning from the Patient and Bollas's description of "ordinary regression to dependence" (256-74) in The Shadow of the Object.
(12.) Paul Giles has demonstrated that The Bridge is "constructed out of a series of puns and paradoxes: indeed ... the pun, a bridge between alternative meanings, is the structural principle" (1).
(13.) Hammer, who offers the most thoroughgoing and sensitive readings of intersubjectivity in Cranes work, notes: "The codes and conditions of male homosexual fellowship inform Crane's projection of a relation between reader and poet that is not properly sexual, perhaps, but peculiarly, even transgressively intimate, secretive, and physical" (159).
(14.) Casement has emphasized this point about intimacy: "To be healthy, every intimate relationship needs space and personal boundaries, and a corresponding respect by each person for the 'otherness' of the other" (160).
(15.) While since medieval times "girdle" had denoted a "cord or band, tied or buckled, encircling the waist or hips" and was typically worn outside the clothes, in 1920s America it began to refer to "an elasticated, rather than a boned, corset" (Cumming 93). When Crane wrote this poem, then, the meaning of the word "girdle" was itself loosening, growing more capacious.
(16.) This detail, and the fact that the Wright brothers never crashed at Kitty Hawk, suggests a conflation of their early flights with the aeronautical disasters of the First World War, Crane favoring a dramatic depiction of the trauma of modernity over strict historical accuracy.
(17.) That this section is about the crisis of modernity is emphasized towards the end of "Cape Hatteras," when, addressing Whitman, the speaker exclaims: "Years of the Modern! Propulsions toward what capes?" (Poems 94).
(18.) If one is to argue for the significance of surfaces (as Anzieu clearly does) then one might question the wider semantic opposition between "depth" and "surface." Claiming that intimacy provides a "deep" connection might therefore appear redundant if one is to claim that meaning exists at the very surface. But because "depth" still carries rhetorical weight in Crane, just as surfaces become interesting, I think that "deep surface" remains a meaningful conceit within his poetics of intimacy.
(19.) The somewhat paradoxical location of blushing is suggested in the notion of the "deep blush" in Crane's "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen" (Poems 28).
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|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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