That the Soul Discharges Her Passions upon False Objects

The amorous part that is in us, for want of a legitimate object, rather than lie idle, does after that manner forge and create one false and frivolous.

—Montaigne, from his essay with more or less the same title as this poem


Montaigne tells us, Man (in good earnest) is a marvelously vain,

fickle, and unstable subject, and that seems about right,

though I don’t know why I should be thinking of Montaigne

just now, as I search for movies on Netflix,

where I am deciding between a foreign film or a cartoon,

but an adult one, like Fritz the Cat, with its cartoon magpies

playing jazz—and by the blackness of their feathers

and the blackness of their music we’re meant

to know that these are black men, not magpies,

or not really magpies but metaphorical magpies,

and that the segregation of species is wrong,

that these magpies are real cool cats (ha, get it?),

but there’s a problem with this, the idea

that different species can represent different human races

because we’re all one species, and so, as someone

like Judith Butler or Slavoj Žižek might say, the act

of critiquing race relations actually reinforces

the racist ideological assumptions about the differences

between the races, and they’d be right to say that,

but when I was twelve and living in Argyle, Kentucky,

watching Fritz the Cat with Trace Reams I thought I was seeing

something (and therefore being someone) very profound.

I thought about human equality and freedom

and about whether I could sneak back into the movie room

later to watch the R-rated cartoon Heavy Metal

to which I had masturbated once, which was only maybe

the second or third time I’d ever done that,

and so like a boy who grows attached to his first lover,

I felt the heroine of this cartoon was necessary

for me, never mind that she had purple hair and flew

a reptilian creature and chopped people to bits

with a massive sword—none of that mattered since she wore

leather lingerie while she did all her flying and killing,

and she had matching purple nipples

which were shown several times. And so I make my Netflix decision.

I’ll watch Heavy Metal and see what twenty years have done

to it and me. I half-wonder if I’ll end up jerking off to a cartoon,

which was forgivable twenty years ago but would be a mixture

of pathetic, deviant, and just plain sad now,

especially with me thinking of Montaigne for no good reason

and unable to find a way to bring all this back around to his point

so that my poem can have a satisfying end—an end that closes

the hermeneutic circle like we expect from poems.


* * *


Okla Elliott has published non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and translations in Indiana Review, International Poetry Review, New Letters, A Public Space, and The Southeast Reviewamong others. He has written a book of short fiction, From the Crooked Timber; three poetry chapbooks; and the forthcoming novel, The Doors You Mark Are Your Own, coauthored with Raul Clement. Elliott is a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois, where he works in the fields of comparative literature and trauma studies.

“That the Soul Discharges Her Passions upon False Objects” was published in Artificial Intelligence (TLR, Fall 2013).