The Spirit of the Erotic
EVE, THE GNOSTIC
Several years ago, on a winter’s eve, I was sitting at my desk reading a rather central passage in a very good book:
Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden. But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest you die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
Nothing unusual to be absorbed in that passage. It’s a text to which we’re all drawn — repeatedly — if for no other reason than that none of us really understands how we got to where we so perilously are. But on this particular winter’s eve this tale about a garden lost was freighted with special meaning. For I was scanning the lines much as I might have scanned the lines of a critic’s review after seeing a movie.
The movie had shown that afternoon, and, starting from the moment when my daughter and I pulled into our driveway after returning from her preschool, it took all of five minutes. It went like this. Car noses into port. Its pilot, call him Father, turns off engine, unfastens Daughter’s seat belt, and leaves Daughter to fend for herself while he carries groceries up steps and into house. By the time Father makes it to dining room window to check on Daughter’s progress, Daughter is already out of car and on her way up steps. Halfway up she stops and looks around, obviously savoring her freedom. Then a bicycle, locked to step railing, catches her eye. For several days now Father has been telling Daughter not to touch the bicycle’s chain because the grease thereon might stain her hands and clothes, and as Daughter eyes the bike this instruction is clearly in mind. She’s still for a few seconds, then glances up toward the front door to see if Father is watching. Convinced of his absence, Daughter returns her attention to the bike. Suddenly she reaches out, unhesitatingly grabs hold of the chain, and brings her hand close to see, to know the effect. A minute later Daughter enters house. As if called, she marches straight up to the Lord God her Father and unblinkingly states: “I didn’t touch Mummy’s bicycle.”
It is an outright lie. A first lie, a quintessential lie. And as Daughter utters it she literally holds her begreased hand behind her back in order to hide her nakedness.
What amazed me about this scenario was not so much its content as that its transcript had been on public record for as far back as mankind could remember. I knew, because I had the transcript before me. Reading over that Genesis text caused me to sock my brow. There, in a testament descended from a strange people in a strange land, was a blow-by-blow account, plus analysis, of what had just transpired in the head of my three-year-old daughter. It all fit, and to the tee. I couldn’t decide which was more incredible: Was it that my child’s act should be a direct recapitulation of Eve’s? Or that Eve’s act was possibly every bit as concrete and individual as my child’s? For a second I lost myself in an effort to summon, from the depth of 35,000 years, a Cro-Magnon time of bear-claw necklaces and bone flutes and elaborate burial rites. But soon I gave that up and returned to the fact that was closest — namely, that on the evidence of that day my daughter had, from my point of view, passed over and joined the rest of us. Like Eve, she had fallen under the sway of what I propose to call the spirit of the erotic.
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