Sometimes, the title is the first thing that comes to mind and one likes the expression or phrase so much that an entire essay is built to support or justify its existence and persistence. I thought of this phrase – the fragmentary nature of desire – not directly thinking about love – although that is always in the background, for us all, I believe – but about a nap or rather how much I desired a nap at that very moment. Actually, that moment is around 3 o’clock every afternoon when, momentarily, everything becomes fuzzy around and inside me. Then, even if the world around me started crumbling, I think I would barely realize or find the will to move. Yet, I never take advantage of this opportunity to nap even when I have it.
One day, I was lying down in that delirious– and delicious when one is in a good mood, as otherwise it can be nightmarish also –semi-conscious state between being awake and sleeping during the day, with the sun infiltrating the room, an experience quite different from the one at night. I was thinking of the nap, of how much I used to enjoy it when I was a child, in my grandparent’s magnificently sunny and utterly comforting room, where time, deadlines, goals didn’t yet exist. Thinking of nothing that I can remember, having no great fear of the future – except during the sunset when I would sense a formless and vague sadness and dread – one could say that I was more of a cat than a human.
But, now, I fully realized that I could never enjoy naps in the same unabashedly relaxed and wholly absorbed, unmindful way. I can never take a nap again without being aware of time, something that must be done, a person one has to meet, a million other things that are more productive, useful, automatically erased by a simple shutting of the eyes. No one prevents me from doing whatever I want, but, I suppose this seemingly external pressure happens because I have gradually become more aware of the time and its or, rather, my eventual running out. And, so, from now on – excluding other moments which, through the sheer power of emotion or involvement they contain, erase the external world, including measured time – I can only half-nap.
The nap is the most innocent example of desire and limited enjoyment. Being used to a certain generous treatment by the world and life, I am often frustrated by the refusal of external circumstances in allowing me to fully experience and freely enjoy chosen activities that are not duties. These external limitations become especially stifling and heavy when one is in the magical, place-less and time-less, but isolated world of two. Yet, even this world can only exist in fragments; time limitations, imperfect place, weather, other people – something or other will always interfere. And, yet, if they didn’t, would the desire remain as strong?
I clearly remember André Aciman’s answer in his beautiful essay, In Search of Blue. Born in Alexandria but away from it since his childhood, Aciman is always looking for pieces of it in his future cities – Paris, Rome, New York. Yet, it seems clear that his constant search and nostalgia does not necessarily indicate the desire to return to the old city. Indeed, he doesn’t and could not handle it even if it was offered him.
The image that has remained with me the longest from this essay – or rather this entire collection of essays – is younger Aciman’s train journey from Rome to Paris, looking at the sea obstructed from trees and other visual barriers. Yet, its fragments, by their very nature of suggesting the sea rather than allowing it to be viewed in its entirety, intensely arouse his senses and the memory of the sea in Alexandria. Looking at the merciless slices of blue, he almost seems to smell and touch the water. He searches for the entire sea, the one promised him by the fragments.
And, yet, when he finds it, in a perfect place, a room shared by someone he loves, with a wonderful view of just blue, he remains overwhelmed and finds himself unable to enjoy the fullness of his happiness. “What do you do with all this blue once you have seen it?” asks Aciman suggesting that he, and, in turn, we, are unequipped to experience complete things that are more powerful than us. Their very existence rather than inspire, terrifies and paralyzes us and, often, we pretend we don’t notice something, someone, a feeling that is clearly greater, better than others. We need pieces, fragments which allow us to both dream and regret. As in the Garcia Marquez’ story, The Most Handsome Drowned Man in The World, in which the villagers who find the man, consider him so virile and beautiful that “he didn’t even fit in their imagination,” we also need imperfection, absence, restriction. They give our limited bodies, minds, souls the much needed space to crave that which we cannot handle.