Looking Back on Looking Back

A re-examination of the hero: Orpheus as inept in letting go.

Of course, Orpheus was a musician, not a painter, and his music was the means through which he worked his seduction, expressed his sorrow, but also pleaded his case. In a way, it was the power he had, but what was finally asked of him was to give up this very power, to walk silently, without audience, without being able to work any effects on the situation. What did he know about quiet walking and soundless trust, and not being able to see for certain that others are moved by what you do?
I just love the long title of the source for this take on Eurydice and Orpheus: Judith Butler. Lecture presented at the Symposium Bracha Ettinger: Aesthetics/Ethics/Politics. At the Slade School of Fine Arts, London, University College, 3 June 2009 On the occasion of the exhibition: Bracha L. Ettinger: Resonance/Overlay/Interweave, Freud Museum, 3 June - 26 July. Printed in a limited edition on the occasion of the exhibition: Bracha L. Ettinger: Fragilization and Resistance. The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts 21-31 August. [Helsinki 2009].

Ovid in Book X of the Metamorphoses emphases that two lovers, one dead and the other mourning, walked the steep path upwards from the nether world "per muta silentia" through a speechless silence. But by what agency is this silence imposed, if it is? Orpheus is silent but under what obligation? Why is speech or music here in Butler's account tied so closely with sight?

Eyes closed... I know you are there by the sound of your voice. A new power of imagination I gain by listening to breath betraying a reaction.

Is it not the very steepness of the path that leads to silence, the struggle to make one's way without rest, without break, just when can the eyes close to listen to the other's breath? (One risks stumbling.) Doesn't steepness result in some form of panting out of which some sort of music can emerge? Overtaken by the body's sounds, accelerated heart and deep inhalations, Orpheus is in some sense deaf and hence moves on to verification by sight and seals his plight. Betrayed by terrain, it is not that he cannot remain silent, it is that he cannot hear. Indeed he has trouble hearing Eurydice's last words to him. They grow faint.

In Ovid, Orpheus in the course of time abandons the love of women and takes up boys. In Golding's translation: And of the flowring pryme of boayes the pleasure for to take. Well, to be fair, that is not the end of the story of Orpheus (see Book XI).

And so for day 1156