Patricia Highsmith and the Ghost of Rachilde

 

“When I desire you a part of me is gone.”
― Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet

Rachilde was enticing and inscrutable, passionate and angry. She was unafraid to speak openly with the sincerity of her feelings. She had no shame in marketing herself, but was also known as a tender and caring friend. Intimate in friendship and dedicated to supporting the careers of others, Rachilde was nevertheless always an outsider, forced to explain her thoughts and beliefs in terms of possession, because what was natural to her seemed to be so unnatural to everyone around her, including to herself as she tried to sort out what was her and what was in the reflection.

Unlike Rachilde, though, Highsmith was intimate erotically but not as a friend, nor did she much care about supporting other writers; in fact as her biographer puts it:

Patricia Highsmith was an improbably tough woman (and not just tough, but “Texas tough,” says her legendary American editor Larry Ashmead) with an impossibly sore center. Early and late, the hopes of many friends and lovers foundered on that adamantine shell of hers. What they saw beneath it, if they even got beneath it, was usually more than they could handle. But Pat could handle it, and she handled it with fortitude.1

Reading Highsmith’s biography by Shenkar, along with the contes cruels (cruel tales) in her Little Tales of Misogyny there is a definite family resemblance between her and Rachilde. These tales are both decadent and fascinating, exploring the perversities of humanity with a cruel joy; or, what Lacan once termed – “jouissance”: that mode of pleasure that goes beyond itself into transgressive acts of sensual perversity and cruelty.
Anne Carson in her Eros the Bittersweet would say this:

“Eros is an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance, between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too,’ the absent presence of desire comes alive. But the boundaries of time and glance and I love you are only aftershocks of the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can.”

It’s this bittersweet knowledge that one can never shoot the gap between self and other, that one will forever be locked away within the closed circle of one’s own perverse need to escape the self – the narcissistic capsule of isolation which turns love to hate and cruelty. It’s this dark world of the erotic that both the decadent Rachilde and her inheritor, Highsmith explore in infinite variations of repetition. It’s no longer Sartre’s hell of the Other, but rather the hell of one’s own Self-Conscious nullity, unable to merge with the Other of one’s erotic inferno. So that one repeats the gestures of love in endless labyrinthine trysts, writing the life – living the death of erotic longing…


  1. Schenkarm, Joan. The Talented Miss Highsmith. Picador; First edition (January 4, 2011)

 

*(Need to come back to this and fill in the gaps at a future date… had an interruption this morning!)

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