So Long, Marianne

Just as there have been books written about Leonard Cohen’s best known song, there are movies being made about his best known love. Cohen had the archetypal artist-and-muse relationship with a real person named Marianne, a relationship we see as so anachronistic and exotic that we keep wanting to examine it and pick it apart, even though Marianne, unlike other famous modern-day muses, was a private citizen with no aspirations of being a celebrity in her own right. It’s a relationship dynamic we can’t quite wrap our heads around anymore, now that women are very rarely likely to settle for a life of making sandwiches in the warm glow of their partner’s genius. We even ask if it’s somehow unethical for an artist to leech inspiration not only from his own life but from the life of his partner. But we still find it romantic, because poetry. Who doesn’t want to be remembered forever in the flattering glow of love? That feeling when you’re in love that everything is more special, more beautiful and imbued with deeper meaning? It’s a feeling most of us can’t articulate, and may not even be able to hold on to in our memory. But poetry keeps that glow burning forever, and it serves as a proxy for people who don’t have the ability to set their feelings down in words and images.We may be uncomfortable, now, with the implications of articulating love and desire too well. It makes us think about objectification, possession, jealousy, control, all the things that can turn beautiful experiences into ugly ones. To be in love is to be subsumed, on some level, by another person’s view of ourselves, and it’s terrifying, especially now that the social rules of courtship have changed and we’re all fighting so hard to nail down the boundaries of our identities. How do you allow yourself to be another person’s object of love and desire, and yet still remain yourself? Well, don’t fall in love with an artist, I guess. Fall in love with someone who will take their vision of you to their grave with them. I guess that love songs and art will always be a little bit unethical, because they drag the most private feelings out into the open, and the artist opens themselves up because that’s what the artist does, but the muse is opened up, with or without consent, and on the artist’s terms. And the reward is to be loved by the world, not as you were, but as your loved one saw you.