The distinctive feature of the living being is that nothing appeases its vital tension, as if any realization were at the same time a failure and as if any point of arrival were at the same time a point of departure... Desire defines the very essence of the living being. (Renaud Barbaras, "Life, Movement, and Desire," p. 15
Reading a very dense article by Renaud Barbaras this morning, I kept thinking about hands. When he got into the section on desire, what came to mind is lovers’ hands, and how lovers’ hands love. If you’re lucky, you’ve had some profound experiences of this. It reveals the paradox in Barbaras’ account.
Rapt, entwined, our bodies press to one another, welling with desire – a desire that arrives or becomes within us, if the flesh is willing. Even if the encounter is planned, even staged, the advent of desire cannot be. Induced, seduced, entrapped even? – but not invented. It arrives from a dimension, or from the element, of flesh, of carnality. But then, why? Barbaras says, because desire is the fundamental movement of our flesh, impelling us into the world, unto the flesh it finds for us there, striving for the impossible satisfaction of this insatiable tension.
A moment comes when my hands are no longer instruments of my intentions, but creatures of desire, arriving and departing, alighting here to barely touch, there to stroke, to pinch or clutch, to grasp, to hold, to hold down. Flesh willing, hands become flesh-desiring flesh, as if hands could eat and drink, as if hands themselves desired.
Yet hands do not desire; they are, in themselves, only potential for touching, stroking, pinching, clutching, grasping, holding, holding down. These are potentials that we can habituate, over which we can acquire technical skill or mastery, to become “good at...” They become at times our deliberately directed instruments of typing, or of testing the water temperature... And of course, we hold those whose hands they are responsible for what those hands have done – our hands are not invisible, after all.
And yet, again, hands insatiably feel and move, and in this way are always flesh-desiring flesh. I don’t think we unconsciously palpate a favorite object as a fetish or proof to ourselves that we and the world still exist. The patina rubbed onto those familiar objects is the trace of our hands’ desire, which is our desire, which is the desire of flesh. Because I don’t think it’s wrong to say our hands’ desire is the desire of flesh our hands desire. In our passionate clutch, our hands express the desire of our lovers’ flesh, the desire to be touched, a desire that is of the flesh.