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With Mishana Hosseinioun

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

November 1, 2006



By Mishana Hosseinioun

The extent to which love is rooted in sheer terror and dread might spook us. It is all that haunts us well into the night, causes our hair to stand on end, our heart to race, and wrenches our guts, that makes Halloween so eerily similar to Valentine's Day.

Dressing to impress, knocking on doors, bartering chocolate, uttering those three hallowed words-trick-or-treat-the parallels are uncanny. We have learned that donning a costume or hiding behind a revolting rubber mask is our instant ticket to a sugary reward.

Lovers, too, readily wear pokerfaced expressions in an attempt to desperately conceal traces of their untamed flame brimming below. Hide and Seek, then it seems, is perhaps not just a children's game, but rather the mantra we live and love by.

Such is the ironic claim supported by Adam Phillips in Houdini's Box, which examines the vicissitudes of the art of escape.

Contrary to conventional thought, we often turn our backs on that which we desire most, perhaps so that we may have an excuse to mentally ruminate over the object in question, especially in our darkest and loneliest hours. In other words, by distancing ourselves from the much sought after target, we manufacture a gulf in our psyche, which, with every passing moment thirsts more and more to be filled.

It is that very inclination toward flight that serves to stir the embers of our passion even further and to prolong within us the tension that is central to kindling the flame of love.

The phenomenon of escape in romance is also tantamount to the equivalent of a nice and satisfying 'runners high,' but never without simultaneously entailing a painful chase. When one runs away, it is practically an open call to all ravenous predators-an invitation to be hunted and have one's heart eaten out. In the end, the wells of our passion are also what potentially threaten to drown us.

Coincidentally, the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was not unfamiliar with the intimate kinship between love, death and consumption-a connection, which possibly explains the kitsch mania surrounding commercial holidays. Dahmer dismembered, and literally consumed his victims, all with the skilled precision of a lover.

Like a magician, Dahmer performed the quintessential disappearing act of death upon his subjects. He delicately took in the flesh of his male and predominantly African American and Asian victims, morsel by morsel, in the ultimate achievement of interpenetration and oneness. He would not settle, like the rest of 'consumerist' society, on candy and bubbly greeting cards to demonstrate his affection. He had a rare gift to unconditionally worship every mole, every marginalized dark or pasty skin, every revolting intestine of the other, and was never the least bit apologetic for his epicurean audacity.

Like a crazed Da Vinci, Dahmer even took to meticulously imaging and scientifically chronicling the every innards, twists and turns of the human bodies he dissected-crafting Hallmark cards, one could say, in his own way.

When another famed cannibal, the German, Armin Meiwes, received an overwhelming response to his online ads soliciting individuals willing to be killed and eaten by him, the prospect sent chills down the spine of a nation and eventually, the globe. The desire to be eaten, however, is not far removed from that of wanting to be loved, lock, stock, and barrel; in this sense, love and passion are also strangely tied up with the notion of disappearance, and hence escape-a balance which Houdini was able to strike masterfully by vicariously leading his open-mouthed audience to the brink of death and back through his death defying showmanship.

Love, it appears, is our escape and escape, our great love. Whether we gasp at the sight of a ghost made of bed sheets or stand breathless before our beloved, our gut instinct will instruct us all the same: RUN!

Mishana Hosseinioun is the Program Director of International Convention on Human Rights (ICHR), a non-profit dedicated to drafting a legally enforceable international human rights document. She is a longstanding intern in Mayor Gavin Newsom's office in San Francisco and a recent graduate of Rhetoric and Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Email Mishana at Mishana@ichr.org




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