A Book On Desire
The work of Katharine Angel, Unmastered: A Book on Desire Most Difficult To Tell, stands apart in its level of intimacy, vulnerability and courage. It sketches out an emotionally and physically aware psychology of heterosexual feminine desire, loosely but perceptively journaled in the context of an actual relationship.
It begins with an uncomfortable sensuality – an anxious glimpse into the fear of moths, of all things. This vignette might be a way to limber up readers’ nerves for what lies ahead; an uncomfortable, exhilarating and painful journey. On display are the realms of sex, sensuality, power, emotion, and the preliminary signs of deeper attachment. Also present are the same forces that cause most people to lose their core sense of self, and with it, eventually, their passion.
Longing In Relationships
Intensely personal books usually need to find some commonality and connection with readers. In this regard, I think readers of this book will be divided. I felt that her raw and direct expressions would speak forcefully to readers who feel themselves “locked in” to relationships that have low desire, frustrated sensuality and fear of power dynamics. Her longings are not unusual, held by many partners in long-term committed relationships.
I agree with the author: this book, and desire itself, is very much about “speaking up”. That’s a simple act of courage, whether it’s her – or you, or me. In my office, I do all that I can to stimulate this kind of courage.
“The desire to speak desire is a desire to burst through silence, to puncture. As such, it is also erotic; it contains its own excitement.”
I look for ways to encourage and empower people in relationships to speak up and self-validate their desire to want (and to be that vulnerable) – physicality, power, fantasy, distance and mystery, and intense sensation. You must have a firm grip on yourself to speak up in a relationship for the eroticism you believe you have, and want to develop.
Another truth is that your fingerprints are all over your problems. In striving to change your situation, you simultaneously make it less secure for yourself. What holds people back is the anxiety that intimacy creates. It’s the part of us that does not want to get that close, to be in that much “conflict” or confusion, with the most important person in your life.
Writing Style Evokes Imagination
The author has chosen a writing style that creates the effect of space between the partners. The style brings in both mystery and imagination, right alongside the frequent codas of “please fuck me!”. The oblique, angular prose heightens the mystery and space between author and reader, even though the author is describing very intimate encounters.
As I’ve previously blogged, I agree with (and thank) Esther Perel for speaking up for the role of a playful, imaginative life as the way to sustain desire. There’s also the privacy and distance that good lovers keep between them.
They are also willing to experience longing. Longing gives desire its depth, intensity and overall maturity. Longing is the tension between the indulgence of desire, and frustration at having to wait. It brings maturity and intensity to sex, simultaneously.
If it’s any help, the Portugese have a word for it, sort of: saudades. Brazil also celebrates this feeling, which is a merger of strong loving and longing. While love and longing are universally recognized, saudades is a passionate cultural meaning that expresses the struggle between loving and aloneness.
Speaking Up For Desire’s Variety
She elicits a variety of quite specific states of desire: wanting things to be suggested to her; slick pornography, being directed, having others be directed to fulfill every wish; sheer physical infatuation, or the loving of specific body parts. She wonderfully displays how silence and using few words is erotic. Her way of asserting and wondering about desire at the same time is a refreshing voice to hear.
Tension Between Hot Opposites
She likes pornography quite a bit, both in its elegant and tackiest forms. Beautful but robotic actors turn her off, and on (porn as out of body experience achieved through strict objectifying.) She sets up her own submission/compliance (“being good”) to accommodate the typical male “wanton aggressor” role. She sees herself ending up being more likable, but out of touch with many other feelings.
Physical Sex, Then Dissociation
The physicality of sex is heavily emphasized in the difference in heft and strength between her and the “Man”. This hot mash of thought, feeling and sensation is offset by the way she also becomes nearly dissociative, disconnecting them all at once:
“In this way you come to know that you are not quite yourself, but someone else”.
I might call it emotional fusion, which can produce a powerful ‘charge’ early in relationships, but soon leads to a loss of self, and therefore passion.
‘Being Good’, And Lost
She writes a recurring self-observation: “If there is a draft, I sit in it, If there is a chicken, I take the leg.” The sacrificing/accommodating stance, a stereotypical feminine relationship position, is very much alive in this otherwise thoroughly modern relationship. She expresses the way one partner tries to function for the other, to patch over losses. She lets him “win.” She calls this being “porous” to partner desires. Here again, I might use the word ‘fusion’ to describe it. He determines much of her sense of self, even if she’s ultimately posturing.
An Inevitable Relational Fracture
Their stylishly hot relationship develops to a critical point where she says,
“If I am hungrier than you, you have not fulfilled your role. You are not playing your part.”
“It’s OK, it’s OK. I’m really not that hungry.”
This couple is like many: outrageously passionate at first, but ultimately they must develop and grow, past the early relationship system that forms. He’s wedded to his roles, and she to hers. They fit together well enough to lose themselves in the bargain, as each develops a sense of self reflected off the other, over and over. She raises anxiety, he tries to smooth it over, keeping everything at a simmer.
Yet they seem to have a happy enough ending to their story, the legacy perhaps of all that good lovemaking.