The Heavy Bear

“The withness of the body”: the body as not “me” but “with” me is at the same time the body that is inescapably “with me.” Like a Siamese twin, neither one with me nor separable from me, my body has “followed me since the black womb held,” moving where I move, accompanying my every act. Even in sleep, “he” is “breathing at my side.” Yet, while I cannot rid myself of this creature, while I am forced to lived [sic] with “him” in intimacy, he remains a strange, foreign presence to me: “private,” “near,” yet “opaque.”

The body is a bear–a brute, capable of random, chaotic violence and aggression, but not of calculated evil. For that would require intelligence and forethought, and the bear is above all else a creature of instinct, of primitive need. Ruled by orality, by hunger, blindly “mouthing” experience, seeking honey and sugar, he is “in love”–delicate, romantic sentiment–but with the most basic, infantile desires: to be soothed by sweet things, to discharge his anger, to fall exhausted into stupor. Even in that stupor he hungers, he craves, he howls for a repletion dimly remembered from life in the womb, when need and fulfillment occupied the same moment, when frustration (and desire) was unknown.

The bear who is the body is clumsy, gross, disgusting, a lumbering fool who trips me up in all my efforts to express myself clearly, to communicate love. Stupidly, unconsciously, dominated by appetite, he continually misrepresents my “spirit’s motive,” my finer, clearer self; like an image-maker from the darkness of Plato’s cave, he casts a false image of me before the world, a swollen, stupid caricature of my “inner” being. I would be a sensitive, caring lover, I would tell my love my innermost feelings, but he only “touches her grossly,” he only desires crude, physical release. I would face death bravely, but he is terrified, and in his terror, seeking comfort, petting, food to numb him to that knowledge, he is ridiculous, a silly clown performing tricks on a tightrope from which he must inevitably fall.

The bear who is my body is heavy, “dragging me with him.” “The central ton of every place,” he exerts a downward pull–toward the earth, and toward death. “Beneath” the tightrope on which he performs his stunts is the awful truth that one day the bear will become mere, lifeless matter, “meat” for worms. And he, “that inescapable animal,” will drag me to that destiny; for it is he, not I, who is in control, pulling me with him into the “scrimmage of appetite,” the Hobbesian scramble of instinct and aggression that is, in Schwartz’s vision, the human condition.

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Schwartz, who uses it [the bear] as a metaphor for the burdensome drag the body exerts on “the self”; my students, interpreting the poem, understood it as describing the sufferings of an overweight man. For Schwartz, the hunger for food is just one of the body’s appetites; for my female students, it is the most insistent craving and the preeminent source of their anger and frustration with the body, indeed, of their terror of it.”

Bordo, Susan. 1993. Pp. 2-4 in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [Bordo here is referring to a poem by Delmore Schwartz, “The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me“.]

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