The effect, I think, is to make nature seem to be in collusion with love. One message in some versions of the tale, particularly Grimm’s, is that love is like a force of nature, and nature will take its revenge on those who stand in its way. Many of the various cruel stepmothers and stepsisters meet violent ends. While Lin Lan’s ugly stepsister Pock Face is boiled in oil due to her own choice, in several tales her counterpart is punished by animals. The stepmother and stepsisters are pulled apart by wild horses in a Filipino version, and in the Grimm’s tale, birds pluck out the stepsisters’ eyes.
Fairy tales are also
… rife with transformation — from beast to handsome prince, from dirty scullery maid to well-dressed princess. It is perhaps no coincidence that nature in the Cinderella stories facilitates transformation, for nature itself is a changeable thing, from season to season, from a sunny day to rain, from an egg to a flying bird in a matter of weeks.
What is the connection here between love and transformation?
Rutkowski doesn’t say, but it’s hard not to think here of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is about both. Gods metamorphose as a means to subduing the mortal objects of their affections (Jove rapes Europa in the form of a bull), and these objects transform in attempt to evade divine sexual assault. Less figuratively: love transforms us, for better and for worse. It may strengthen us, but it so threatens us with disintegration – both in the ecstatic moments in which we “lose ourselves” in objects of desire and in others in which we feel invaded by them. And then there is the matter of time – an important theme for Shakespeare, who was strongly influenced by Ovid – which works against love by threatening to take away our love objects or make them less lovable. Love is transformative game played against a transforming clock.
Love is not just transformative, but psychically pervasive. For Freud, it is – in the form of “libido” – the fundamental psychical mechanism. We see its work in dreams and fantasies, in which certain ideas or images become imbued with meaning and emotional resonance by virtue of the promiscuous nature of libido in its search for discharge in the face of obstacles imposed by reality or conscience. Libido tends to jump, associatively, from one idea to another like it (metaphor) or to another contiguous with it (metonymy).
This is a process of inner metamorphosis. Love is a strong gravitational force wreaking havoc in its psychical microcosm: the fact that libido usually can’t immediately be discharged (we can’t always get what we want) means that it works instead on the psyche itself. We alter ourselves to the extent that we can’t alter the world according to our wishes. It is the history of our particular course of love that tells us how and why we became who we are. Love is character.
On some accounts, love is also cognition. Reading Plato’s Sophist and Symposium together, one might come to see language as libidinal unions of syllables and words that leave us at an unsatisfying distance from the reality we aim to grasp by it. Instead of fully obtaining (which is to say merging with) the object of our love, reality, we have to be satisfied with intermediate images (the offspring of linguistic copulations): adding Kant into the mix, language and concepts get us not “things in themselves” but mere “appearances.” These appearances are substitutes for reality in the same way that that in Freud a more palatable wish may become a metaphor for another that is prohibited. And so it should occur to us here that Truth is not merely Nietzschean “mistress,” but Freudian mother, and truth-seeking is fraught with the oedipal dangers that we frequently find in fairy tales.
As we have seen, linguistically and conceptually it is metaphor and metonymy that are the primary mechanisms of transformations wrought by love (Freud calls this “primary process,” which describes the unconscious workings of the libidinal drive). Similarly, Nietzsche calls the “drive toward the formation of metaphors … the most fundamental human drive …” (On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense). Nietzsche is thinking here of the kind of irrationality that finds its discharge in myth and art (because it has been otherwise censored by the activity of truth-seeking, including reasoning and concept formation). The drive “continually manifests an ardent desire to refashion the world which presents itself to waking man, so that it will be as colorful, irregular, lacking in results and coherence, charming, and eternally new as the world of dreams.” It is a drive to return to our disordered perceptual roots, because perception is inherently pleasurable.
So the idea of nature’s collusion with love is “no coincidence,” as Rutkowski notes: it’s an idea motivated by metaphorical association. Nature merely need make its own inevitable metamorphoses (the ravages of time and the elements and predation) collude with or offset our inner metamorphoses. Here the changeableness of the world provides a ready vehicle for the externalization of our own desire and its destabilizing effects. In this fantasy, the game once against played against nature’s transformative clock now incorporates it.
-- Wes Alwan