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The Impersonal Intimacies Within Literature

Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips examine the notion of “impersonal intimacies” in the chapter, “The It and the I” from their book Intimacies.  This chapter discusses the potential for a relationship to exist without desire or sexual longing. As a result, the participants of this relationship are forced to talk to one another, thereby allowing one to discover some potential that resides within them. Novels such as Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and plays such as The Tempest by William Shakespeare, draw on the idea of a couple having impersonal intimacies in the way the couples are not engaging with one another sexually, instead, they are forced to verbally communicate and simply dwell on the characteristics they learn from the other when courting.

The beginning of this chapter says, “Psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex” (2). The romance between Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights chronicles an unrequited love where the two were never able to physically be with one another. Similarly, Ferdinand and Miranda from The Tempest had recently met, without any time to know each other physically. Instead, they are only granted an opportunity to admire one another and fall madly in love based on the few conversations they had together. As a result, the couples in these two texts are forced to engage in a sexually neutralized encounter as a way of becoming intimate with one another.

Wuthering Heights is an excellent example of a romance that is built on the conversations had. Although Catherine and Heathcliff grew up together in their mischievous ways, they were never given the opportunity to be physically involved with one another. Their romantic relationship was solely a product of the way they spoke about one another and the way they simply to each other. For example, in Catherine’s iconic declaration of love for Heathcliff, she says to her handmaid Nelly, “I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind; not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being” (Brontë 100). Bersani and Phillips might examine such a declaration and consider it the “unearthing and resolution of psychic conflicts” in Catherine’s confession to Nelly. As the clinical method of psychoanalysis seems to be effective, Bersani and Phillips might argue that Catherine’s proclamation is her way of excavating the feelings she had she Heathcliff that she had to bury due to her brother’s disdain towards Heathcliff. However, we still see the longing and the desire for intimacy with Heathcliff, it is just obvious that such a relationship cannot exist.

In The Tempest by William Shakespeare, there is contrast in the way psychosexuality works. As we noticed in Wuthering Heights, Catherine was able to express her love for Heathcliff, becoming intimate and vulnerable as she unconsciously spoke of her feelings in what is called a clinical method of psychoanalysis. In this play, however, we see that the couple speak directly to one another. As a resident of a stranded island, Miranda has never met anyone other than her father, Prospero and one of his servants, Caliban. As Ferdinand, prince of Naples washes onto the island, he and Miranda fall madly in love at first sight. Upon seeing her, he says, “Most sure, the goddess on whom these airs attend!” He is astonished by her beauty, that he calls her a goddess for she is the first person he sees after he hears music that reminds him of his father.

As they speak more, and their love for one another grows, they decide to marry when Miranda says, “…by my modesty, the jewel in my dower, I would not wish any companion in the world but you…” (III.I.53-55). As she falls more in love with Ferdinand, Miranda isn’t able to imagine herself without him, even though she just met him. Ferdinand replies by saying, “The very instant that I saw you did my heart fly to your service, there resides to make me slave to it…” (III.I.64-66). Gladly, Ferdinand is offering his life to her. Through words, he was simply able to love Miranda and draw closer to her. Their relationship strengthened. As a result, they wished to be married. Phillips says that psychoanalysts will interpret this to be “a new way of being present to another person in a way that freed them to think and feel and speak freely”. This type of liberty ensured a development of intimacy in Shakespeare’s The Tempest where sexual longing was absent allowed the couple to discover the potential of a partner that resided within the other.

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~ by Ravenn Haynes on March 10, 2018.

One Response to “The Impersonal Intimacies Within Literature”

  1. This opens with a nice account of Bersani and Phillips. The examples that you chose don’t quite map on to the theory though. Bersani and Phillips write about IMPERSONAL intimacy, and these relationships form the text you chose are highly personal. In addition to the impersonality and the absence of sex, you’d also want to mention how the impersonal account allows for the surfacing of some potential in one or both members of the relationships.

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