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 Review, among 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).