Friday, June 26, 2015

The Wound and the Bow

Edmund Wilson
Sometimes you have a wound that never heals. That was the story of the Greek warrior Philoctetes who was exiled to the island of Lemnos due to a suppurating laceration that also smelled. There was the wound and the additional insult resulting from being ostracized and made into a pariah by his peers. Loss of any kind is such a wound, whether it's unreciprocated love, unfulfilled ambition or the death of a loved one. At first you're surrounded with family and friends who console you. Jews sit shiva and Catholics have wakes, but the purpose is not only to remember the dead. It’s to help the living go on. However, after it’s all over the person in mourning always comes back to the empty house or apartment, one of those dirty brick pre-war affairs one imagines the Glass family occupying in Franny and Zooey—with a window overlooking an aging water tower and stamped with a built-in solitude. There's no person or thing that can replace loss. It just sits there and then life takes its course and the pain turns into memory that is ultimately distorted by some degree of denigration or idealization depending on the compromise formation that occurs in the psyche of the mourner. The pain never goes away, though there are people for whom it becomes a kind of fuel as Edmund Wilson describes in his famous series of essays, The Wound and the Bow, based on the Philoctetes myth. Others  succumb and eventually drown in their sorrows.

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