Saturday, March 11, 2006

a struggle for dominance

She came to him and said, "You are my soul."

He answered, "You're the lowest of my slaves."

Proud as the moon rising vain above the crowd

"You are mine," is what she hoped I would say.

#1951: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Last night I returned via DVD to the 1966 movie classic, Un homme et une femme (A man and a woman). It is a simple story, told with simple elegance and French flair. It seems to strip romance to the bone, down to the bare essentials.

Today's verse also appears to be a simple statement about love between woman and man. However, like yesterday's quatrain, it does have a dark and twisted meaning. (Thanks to Bob for affirming that in his comment.) If I apply the insights from the recent Fromm book on Having and Being, I can see lots of ownership metaphors in this verse. She says: "You are my soul." He says: "You're the lowest of my slaves." She had hoped that he'd say: "You are mine." Each owns or tries to own the other. Each also tries to dominate: he by characterizing her as standing at the bottom of the hierarchy of power and status, she by trying to rise proudly but vainly above the crowd.

I want to look at a couple of illustrations from the alchemical series of woodcuts, Rosarium philosophorum (commented on extensively by Jung in his "Psychology of the Transference"). In almost all of the images of Sol (King, male) and Luna (Queen, female), the couple stand opposite each other as equals or lie connected (one body, two heads) in a tomb. The two exceptions are shown below:

plate 5
plate 5
plate 11
plate 11

Rosarium philosophorum @ (see also larger uncoloured versions of these illustrations at

Both images show the sexual embrace of Sol and Luna. In the first, it is quite clear that Sol lies on top of Luna and their sun and moon emblems are depicted as well, for good measure. In the second image, the couple now have wings suggesting this is a spiritual version of the first embrace. The emblems are gone and there is (to my mind) a good deal of ambiguity in the sex of the couple. It is interesting how this ambiguity plays out in the commentaries of a female (Voss) and a male (McLean).

In Karen-Claire Voss's Spiritual Alchemy essay, she writes:

Plate 11 shows the beginning of the last stage of the work. The image is explicitly sexual. The king and queen, each winged, wear two crowns, and are submerged in water. Their limbs are entwined; her hand grasps his phallus; his left hand fondles the nipple of her breast; his right is under her neck supporting her.

In Adam McLean's Commentary on the series, he writes of plate 11: "This time the female forces are active, and in their intercourse it is the woman who lies on top of the man."

So, she sees the male clearly on top and he sees the female there!

The friendliest interpretation of Rumi that I can come up with is that today's verse is simply a record of a phase in the alchemical process where male/female dominance is a preoccupation. In the end, neither man nor woman, neither feminine nor masculine principle, comes out "on top". However, a struggle for dominance is definitely a phase in the overall game.


At Saturday, 11 March, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

And when I read it I was thinking "he/I" was the spirit and "she" was the body. But I guess that's nonsensical.

This appears to be not a difference of fact, but of attitude. In either case, she is his possession. In the first case, she's explicitly a slave, in the second case, she is vaguely and generically his. The only difference being in how he's phrased it: how he's spinned it, in other words. At least, that's one reading of it.

Still very tired. Just finished the book on Paul Celan, and the one on Leibniz and Spinoza. Perhaps it's fatigue; perhaps a bit of non-localized depression.

At Saturday, 11 March, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

Thanks for your male perspective on this. Woman is often associated with the body and matter, but "body" and "matter" are also ideas, hence spiritual or psychic in themselves.

I hope you come through this fatigue and general low soon.


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