21 October 2018

The Garden

In James Baldwin’s 1956 novel, Giovanni’s Room, the character Jacques says, “Nobody can stay in the garden of Eden . . . I wonder why.” I have long considered that question, and I have come to accept that that we do not stay in the Garden because there is nothing to do there. In myth the Garden is paradisiacal: there is no death, no labor, no effort necessary to do or to receive anything. In the Garden all is provided for and there is no disruption of ease. In the Garden of Eden the mother’s breast is always full and immediately available. In the Garden all desires are fulfilled, which is to say there are no Desires. There is nothing in the Garden that requires any forward movement. In the Garden there is nothing to think about. David, the novel’s narrator, says that to remember Eden is to remember innocence and to suffer the pain of its death; but to forget Eden is to suffer the madness that derives from a denial of pain and from the hatred of innocence. David suggests that a hero can do both: remember Eden and forget it. Heroes, David admits, are rare. But I think that our onward movements depend on an oscillatory alternation of moments of remembering and forgetting. In the Garden there exists no motive to neither remember nor to forget.
     It might be true as the novel’s narrator says that everyone has his or her own Garden of Eden, but each individual Eden is structurally similar: it is the place where all is perfect—the women, if you want them, or the men if that is what is desired. In the Garden there should be no consequences because the Garden of Eden is the fulfillment of Desire and in the Garden exists no obstruction to the realization of it.
     But I know that there is a world that exists outside of Eden. The world and reality (always an insult, says Winnicott) is out here and unlike are things in the Garden, out here what I want is not immediately available. Out here I must make an effort to achieve anything. Out here I can begin the repair of myself and the world. David, the narrator, says that the phrase to find oneself “betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced.” Indeed! But to me it seems more accurate to believe that out here one doesn’t find oneself so much as create that self. In the Garden without resistance there is no growth, and growth doesn’t come without sweat and cost.
     Nobody can (or even should) stay in the Garden, of course, because there is too much to be accomplished and gained, ah, and destroyed and lost out here. Yes, by the sweat of our brows we must earn our keep, the difficult ground out here must be cultivated, and our births are often harrowing and dangerous. Like Death, the Garden is a place of nothingness. Life exists outside it.