Death, Sex, and Love in “Diana” – A Reader’s Response

Yet another take, from a reader who prefers to be identified by
initial only. This is fascinating! – Mary Anne

J: I was very interested in the dialog that you shared with “S” regarding
your story “Diana.” (In fact, although i have not browsed all your links
yet to check whether you have done this or not, i think it would be really
interesting to see more responses to your stories. . . . Well, at least, if
they’re half as interesting as your dialog with “S.” On the other hand,
having read some of your journal, i guess you’ve already got your work cut
out for you . . .)

(Note: I would love to see more responses to other stories from the
readers. If J means he’d like to see more commentary on the stories from
me alone…well, I’ll think about it. Seems a bit narcisisstic, don’t you
think? Perhaps this entire dialogue is, though. – MA)

J: I will start by saying that i was not in the least
disturbed by what you wrote. But i wanted to contribute my thoughts on the
dialog with “S” not because i think i can clear the air or make this more
comfortable for anyone who reads the story. Quite the contrary, i would
even like to encourage you to further challenge readers like “S.” I mean by
that simply that “S” wants you to do all the work — wants too clear-cut of
a story — wants it 100% right (by some moral code or another) because it
might be dangerous to make people think. At least that’s how i look at

J: Consider this. Although it doesn’t necessarily fit your story, death
itself has important relationships with sexuality, relationships with
others, and with orgasm specifically. Being a writer, i’m sure you know
about the “little-death” and the various ways that it is imagined.
(Shakespeare, just to use one example, uses “death” or “killing” to
indicate sexual relations at times. “Antony and Cleopatra,” one of my
personal favorites, presents the sexual relation specifically in those
terms. And Shakespeare even sets up a nice contrast between the
martial/Roman/misogynistic “killing” of women and the loving/fecund
“little-death” (symbolized as well in the actual deaths in which the two
are united) of Antony and Cleopatra (Antony falls on his sword; the snakes
bite Cleopatra’s breast. But the underlying imagery is of a blissful and
egalitarian sexual giving of one to the other).)

J: But more important than the “little-death” and the specifically
orgasmic relation (and any deeper communion that symbolizes), i’d like to
take this even one step further. “S” mentioned in one of the later
responses something about the responsible or ethical self-sacrifice of a
“hero” and properly indicated the violence that must be done to the self
to make this gift to another. I don’t simply mean that responsibility
sometimes extends as far as giving one’s life to somebody in the
legalistic sense. But i do mean that death is related to any true giving
of oneself to another. Because it is in the moment that i give myself
responsibily that i cease to be merely self-identical. I open myself to a
(risk of) wounding by giving something without expecting something in
return. To put it bluntly (and perhaps risking superficiality), when i am
responsible, i cease to be merely concerned with my own well-being.

J: And this seems to me what love for another requires — this continual
risk, this giving. And in particular, when two (and not just two, though
it becomes substantially more difficult to speak about more than two)
people have a very special relationship with each other in which they are
both attentive to the other, they both make these offerings to each other
(and they are also receptive of the other’s gifts). In love, the two
cease to have those clearly marked borders of subjectivity that we seem to
tacitly accept in normal public, political, and legal circumstances.
Again, to put it bluntly, those we love (however deeply, however
passionately) make up who we are. There is a little-death in the
responsibilities to each of these others. And, of course, the deeper that
relationship is felt, the closer that person is, the more passionate those
connections, the more fully my death affects me (in a strange sense, the
life of the passion seems related to the death). I have the fewest
borders “protecting” me against my lover — s/he writes on my body, writes
part of the book that affects who i am at the deepest level.

J: (Also, there is one interesting consequence of this kind of thinking
about responsibility. It also requires a responsibility to the self which
extends as far as a prohibition on suicide (somewhat of a paradox) since,
in my responsibilities to these others, i cannot simply escape into the
“comfort” of self-annihilation or apathy. The distinction between the one
kind of suicide (in self-sacrifice) and the other suicide (in selfishness)
is not as clear as it may appear . . . but that’s another matter and
requires a lot more than a simple, blunt statement.)

J: I would be hard-pressed to frame these thoughts as an interpretation of
“Diana,” but i’m not trying to make the case for it as an interpretation of
that story. I am more concerned with making a different point. Your
stories encourage thinking, not merely arousal. That is probably because
they are written by someone at least as serious about writing as about
turning-on other people. But you don’t have to pander to your audience (i’m
sure you know this, but it bears saying). If anything, you could push your
readers further (particularly if they seem as unwilling to budge as “S”).
Make them do more of the work. Make them think. Dare them to see the
underlying threads and understand how the images connect.

J: Well . . . that’s just my opinion. But i wouldn’t bother telling you
what i thought if i wasn’t interested in reading more. I know that you
like to challenge people to think. I read those articles about TV ratings
and why you write what you write. I agree with your political
motivations. And i suspect that you maintain different comportments in
different genres. But it’s like you said in your journal entry for August
1: “it all comes down to doing the work” (and not unimportantly, in making
the reader do some work, too). But whatever you do, keep writing those
wonderful stories! Thank you.



I responded, some of which is contained below.

MA: Thanks for the thoughtful comments on Diana. It interests me, this
idea of my responsibility to the reader. I don’t really think ‘S’ was lazy,
y’know, or minded doing work. It may be more of a differing perception of
what fiction is for, or of what the author is supposed to do.

J: That is probably more generous than i would be, but i think it says
the same thing. I don’t think ‘S’ was lazy in a general sense — he wrote
quite a bit about his opinons of the text. But i had the feeling that ‘S’
wanted the author to provide a crystal-clear allegorical work, easy to
interpret and easy to accept (or at least the latter). I didn’t take your
story as a commentary on the way life should be lived . . . and even if
somebody were to make the case that it is such a commentary, i still don’t
think i would have a problem with it. I just felt like ‘S’s viewpoint was
a little narrow-minded regarding the very issue of the role of

MA: But I find that I prefer fictional ambiguity, areas where the author
does not say, “these are my ethics”, but instead, “here’s an interesting
ethical problem to think about”.

J: Which puts us precisely in agreement. (I think you got to the heart of
the matter more quickly than i did.)

J: If you’d like to add my email, feel free. Include any of it that you
want (and feel free to edit it — some of it isn’t specifically pertinent,
some of it rambles, some of it might be taken as rude to ‘S,’ etc. etc.).
I’d prefer that you keep it at least somewhat anonymous for no other
reason than that i’d rather not have my gender identified (a nickname or
an initial would suit that purpose just fine). (You now have the benefit
of knowing and you can make up your own mind about my motivations for
wanting to keep it secret from my readers (in general as well as in this
specific case) as well as about how that affects (if at all) your own
reading of what i wrote/write to you.)