FOR DEAR, DIVINE JANE...
Certainly you, God, my friends expect me to declare what they know is here inside me--my undying, unending love for Jane, who just passed unexpectedly from us for reasons we still do not know. But I have a greater and finer I-Love-You in mind with specific dates, instincts, and causes. And it will tell you more about her, this great presence in our lives than some of you--and even I thought, until I sat down and bled this from my brain cells and pores last night.
I-Love-You goes back to the exhilarating dangers of Cold War Berlin and the Wall, to my decision--inspired by John F. Kennedy's great speech on the wall, which I remember watching inside a Washington, D.C. bar long ago, to go to Berlin in 1977, mainly because I had Jane with me, managing me, the two daughters of my first marriage, my vision of a live satellite video performance at Documenta 6 with Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys (who came to love Jane almost as much as I), and later Roland Barthes' great book, A Lover's Discourse, not published/translated here until 1978.
Those of you hearing this now, or later, on the Web, through the brilliant camera work of my friend John Long, the calming hands of Father Callaway, Heidi Koring (Jane's closest friend), and the late Eugene Schwartz, whose fateful book, You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of Heaven, gave me a sprawling, horizontal view of religious thought ...i ask you to think, interact, speak, email or video us later on our new anti-Blog Blog... your thoughts about humble task: defeating death and grief, and probe (most of all) the great mystery known as I-Love-You.
On our way home from embattled Berlin (yes, Wir waren Berliner, as Kennedy wished, for six months in that year, the four of us) in the fall of 1977, Newsweek Magazine, my dictator, fed up with my leave of absence to make art, insisted I stop off in Paris to meet Barthes, this great man, this linguist to end all linguists, primed (or so my editor thought) to write a daring, dashing book about love and sex, of all things, just the sort of topic a people's magazine, reaching 30 million readers per week...wanted to know everything about.
Obedient servant, I went, though I loathed the imperial structuralism with which Roland was associated. And I could only go because of Jane, whose elegant, lovely French, fashioned in Geneva, far from the Bronx tint to French spoken in Paris, even by Barthes...was by my side. Every word he spoke she repeated virtually as his lips moved. And he never once corrected her, for more than two hours, those his English was no better than my Frog, which I could read and write but not speak.
From now on you'll be hearing his words on this subject, on the phrase I-love-you which he had chosen to tear asunder, then rebuild, to my great surprise and delight. You may hear other bits of biography, even a line or two from the Shakespearn sonnet both Jane and i loved--and have repeated over and over on my voicemail now since her death (Let me not....). But our central center here is...I-Love-You.
Listen to him now, through Jane's divine lips. He stood in the center of his apartment, ringed around by his husky male graduate students, holding the book up high. Beneath him I sensed almost from the start a human presence rustling below. Jane, the divine Jane, stood poised with a notebook I later learned to cherish when I made a performance out of it, linking the Whitney and Centre Pompidou on a day in 1981 when the Pope was also shot in Rome and the Socialists won their first election in France in 30 years.
"Je-t'aime," he said, "I-Love-You.' The figure refers not to the declaration of love, but to the avowal, to the repeated utterance of the love cry." (Remember, you are really listening to Jane).
"Once the first avowal is made, "I-Love-You" has no meaning whatever. It merely repeats, in an enigmatic mode--so blank does it appear--the old message (which may or may not have been repeated in these words). I repeat it exclusive of any pertinence: it comes out of the language: it divagates--where?"
"To Love does not exist in the infinitive (except by...artifice): the subject and the object come to the word even as it is being uttered and I-love-you must be understood in the Hungarian fashion..for Hungarian uses a single word....This clump, is, so to speak, beyond syntax and yields itself to no structural transformation....I can say I-love-you for days on end without having to proceed tio "I-love-her"....
I-love-you has no usages. Like a child's word, it enters into no social constraint: it can be sublime, solemn, trivial...It can be erotic...pornographic. It is a socially irresponsible word....
II-love-you is without nuance...I-love-you has no "elsewhere"--it is the word of the dyad...it is a metaphor of nothing else.
Though spoken billions of times, I-love-you is extra-lexxicographical; it is a figure whose definition cannot transcend the heading....
(I was warming up: this wasn't fascist, rule-bound structuralism at all. Jane was also smiling, shocked, surprised. Then he gets better: "The word...has a meaning only at the moment I utter it: there is no other information in it but its immediate saying: no reservoir, no armory of meaning. Everything is in the speaking of it....The situations in which I say I-love-you cannot be classified. I-
love-you is irrepressible and unforeseeable."
I am ecstatic. Coiled inside the beginnings of video art, which was one with the moment tracking it, as now. though it's on the Web, where everyone, including my Iranian colleagues, was/is dependent always on what is happening now, at the moment, unlike scripted, prepared theater. Is he actually on our side?
"Everything," he goes on, " is in the speaking of it: it is a formula," but this formula corresponds to no ritual: the situations in which I say I-love-you is irrepressible and unforeseeable. ... I-Love-You belongs neither in the realm of linguistics nor in that of semiology. Its occasion (the point of departure for speaking it, would be, rather, Music. ...In the proferring of I-love-you, desire is neither repressed ... nor recognized (where we did not expect it, as in the uttering itself) but simply: released, as an orgasm. Orgasm is not spoken, but it speaks and it says: I-love-you."
I thought of Jane then and think of her now. How, given the responsibility of caring for two daughters, a bachelor father in the days when they did not exist (fumbling more over how to make coffee and dress the girls for school than Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer). Suddenlly I meet this incredible woman: we spend a summer together in Long Island. On the way home to Washington, D.C., she begins rhapsodizing about Bennington in the fall. Will I ever see her again? 'PLEASE MARRY ME," I blurt out. For a moment she freezes, worried. "Oh, God," she says. But then..."All right." Believe it or not--and please remember Mary Magdalene washing Christ's feet with her h air before you condemn me--we get out of the car on the New Jersey Turnpike...and make love.
Back to Barthes, whose French Jane is improving: " I hallucinate what is empirically impossible: that our two proferrings are made at the same time: that one does not follow the other. Proferring cannot be double (doubled)....
...A revolution, in short--not so far, perhaps, from the political kind: for in both cases what I hallucinate is the absolute New (sing for God a New Song, we sing here in this church every Christmas eve). "Whence," he goes on,a new view of I-love-you. Not as a symptom but as an action: I speak so that you may answer....I-love-you is active. It affirms itself as a force--against other forces. Which ones? The thousand forces of the world, which are, all of them, disparaging forces (science...reason, reality, etc.) Or again: against language....
...As a counter-sign, I-love-you is on the side of Dionysius: suffering is not denied...As proferring, I-love-you is on the side of expenditure....Those who seek the proferring of the word (lyric poets, liars, wanderers) are subjects of Expenditure: they spend the word, as if it were impertinent...they are at the extreme limit of language...where language itself...recognizes that it is without backing or guarantee, working without a net.
The heat, the power of this outburst is overwhelming. But there is a sudden break that I shall have to explain near the end--a thumping now under the rug on which the great man stands. "Excuse me," he says, through Jane, who is more surprised than I (from the beginning a new a human presence lurked there): Barthes unrolls the rug, opens a trapdoor, descends, returns after some muffled talk to say--hold on now for a bit--"Ma Mere" ("my mother").
For a moment let me leave Paris and go to Kassel, to Documenta, and think now of Beuys, as I end, how they tried to censor him off our global innovation: He is a Communist, said some of the right wing papers in Germany. Once they asked me if Joseph should be allowed to say on the satellite whatever he wished. Jane was beside me, furious. "If you want to go back to Nazi germany," I said, "shut him off the air. If you want to test democracy...Let Joseph speak." I remember her stamping her foot, to push the point home.
They did leave him alone.. I'll never forget his first words: Meine
Damen und Herrn and Liebe Kinder ("Ladies, Gentleman, small children"). Joseph loved Jane. He knew she was guiding my every step. He came to her birthday party that summer and gave her a huge life=sized portrait of himself--giving her himself--signed over to her.
Let me end. Let me not quote that lovely sonnet on the marriage of true minds unless you want it, later. Let me end with what I told you in the beginning I would say. But now, don't you see, you will hear it in an entirely extra-lexicographal way, like a roar, a heart beat, like the blood rushing through our veins. If I-Love-You has no canned, absolute meaning, if it only means what is in your mind at the moment you say it...then...it is always different, like the human race then I-Love-You Dear Jane means something totally unique and singular...as Ma Mere might have meant had Barthes followed his own guidelines and declared his intense love for a mother whose death he later followed a few months later, in 1980, walking into a car.* It means I love you now Divine Jane, as I always have, with an intensity that knows no end, that mixes with it caring for you, your mind, your lovely face, your divine French, your ability to raise three daughters against all the odds, your unlimited skills in writing, editing, preparing food like no one ever has. It means I know you want me to keep on going, getting better and better, making art, spiritual love, life. Yes, dear, Sweet Jane...you do.
And it not only means all these things: It means, thank you Roland Barthes, if not God, if not that ridiculous Newsweek editor....it means...that no man has ever said I-Love-You to any woman so completely, so totally..ever.
*cf. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (1980), which graphically describes his love for his mother.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments/Love is not love which alters where it alternation finds/ Oh, no, it is an everlasting mark, whose worth is unknown although its height is taken/Love's not time's fool, tho rosy lips and cheeks within its bending cycle's comes/Love alters not in its brief hours and weeks/but bears it out even to the edge of doom/If this be error and upon me proved/I never writ nor now man ever loved.