With Mishana Hosseinioun
November 1, 2006
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
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
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
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
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