Written as a series of unsent love-letters to a lanky drummer boy named Curt, Geraldine Snell’s overlove is, as the cover blurb suggests, “a non-fiction novella concerned with love, boundaries, leaky jars and the female gaze.” It is also a portrait of a young artistic intellectual in the throws of limerence, the state of being infatuated with another person to the point of obsession. And, like a rose already in full, abundant bloom, that obsession is resplendent from the first page. The question in overlove is not if limerent obsession will blossom, but the degree to which it might rot, and, ultimately, whether or not it will collapse in spectacular decay.
As a text, overlove is a perfect length for reading on the train or nipping into a coffee shop. Each entry is brief, yet dense enough to be worth savoring and considering independently. If you’re in a rush it is equally able to pull you through with the promise of the next letter, all building to a final confrontation with Curt at a house party in London. As the protagonist, Snell shines as both a storyteller and intellect, precisely because her capacity to experience and describe her limerence is matched by an equal ability to analyze its progress and consequences. If this were simply a review, I’d say it’s really good. That’s the short answer. Go buy it! What’s that? You’ve got your copy and you’ve read it already? Great! Then here’s why I think so:
First off, let’s make no mistake: limerence is a divergent psychological state. It is characterized by acute sensitivity, which leads to magnification of perception (including the divining, fabrication, or invention of intention) such that some neutral gesture (a fleeting moment of eye contact) is interpreted as a potential sign of reciprocal attraction. However, unlike infatuation or the sensation of falling in love, limerence becomes stalled, deferred, unresolved, and, left in this state of potentiality, it becomes attenuated, thinned, stretched, perhaps even hardened into repetitive semi-permanence. That’s the core of limerence. It is not the same as falling in love precisely because it depends on absence. The person who is desired must be semi-vacant for the state to perpetuate. Misread gestures create a false interpretation of the other’s intent, and consequently limerence is always, to some degree, a fantasy.
What makes Snell such a perfect match as protagonist is that in many ways limerence’s magnification of perception mirrors the very function of academic intellectualism. Critical contemplation and psychological analysis thrive on the contemplation of resonant detail. Limerence, as divergent thinking, transforms the stuff of reality to create a new path through the NOW much as Jacques Derrida traced lines of ulterior meaning running unintentionally through TEXT. It deconstructs the mundane world to create possibility by suspending the singularity of the ‘real’. In doing so, it chases itself into the unreal.
And that’s what we get. A semi-vacant Curt, Snell’s fantasy obsession, and the text’s own question: is this ok?
Because overlove is self-aware. It recognizes its own “weird psycho lady stalker dynamic,” that if the gender roles were reversed, “this activity would definitely be seen as predatory at worst and misguidedly creepy at best.” That’s what the book itself likes to imagine you’re thinking about. Does the creativity, intellectual/critical engagement, and artistic expression of Snell’s limerence give it a positive value? Is it OK for the artistic-intellectual female to be “horny for all sorts of impossible things, horny in a sad and lonely way?” The female gaze, by way of inversion, asks: is there a boundary of acceptability? Is obsessive behavior safe if a non-threatening girl (woman) is the source? Would Curt, in his (hypothetical) narcissistic boys-play-rougher maleness shrug, because why wouldn’t a girl obsess about him? If the art is analytical, critical, intelligent enough, does it validate the darker, obsessive, accelerated, intensified, out-scale expression of female desire captured in Snell’s own limerent episode? Perhaps most bluntly: does the intellect redeem?
To me, asking this is a bit like searching for the ‘safe word’ after the fact. Can a critical ‘yeah, that’s ok!’ stand in for deferred consent? Can our appreciation take the place of that secret, magic, pre-arranged utterance which unlocks the realm where dark, dangerous, masochistic, sadistic, bonded, painful sex / erotics can be practiced, celebrated, enjoyed, and exulted — creating by its very deferred-absence a controlled environment where desire can run rampant, spreading unchecked as it puts social propriety under a leather heel? Submission. Dominance. Roles, inverted or not. The safe word is the workaround, the check-in that constitutes the first rule of good (safe, sane) sex. It says (without saying) keep going unless I ask you to stop. It’s the CONsent that subverts. It’s also perhaps the most singular component of sexuality that limerent obsession expressly lacks, precisely by the nature of its divergence from reality, its distance and irreciprocity. As such, in overlove asking ‘is it OK?’ oscillates with ‘are you ok?’ only there is no you fully present, only the semi-vacant possibility of Curt.
But like limerence itself, this wish by the author to be good, to protect Curt from her own stalkerish ways, to assure him that nothing DANGERous will come of it because Snell’s obsession is controlled, the will to frame / justify / align the ARTifact (overlove itself) in the terms of an ascendent, radiant, potent female gaze is, alas, hyperfocused on the object of desire, who, by the nature of limerence itself, is there-not-there. If we, the critical reader, standing in for semi-vacant Curt, say it’s ok, does it make it so?
I don’t think that’s possible. Holding aside moral judgment altogether, what I mean is that I see no way to validate or make safe Snell’s willing step into limerence’s divergent realm. Definitionally, in limerence, there is no consent, no granting of right from the other. In this psychological territory, the gaze, no matter its intensity, forever precedes encounter. In limerence, the encounter (and reality itself) is deferred. In limerence, the gaze is magnificent*. In limerence, Power IS / is non-negotiable. In this territory, the gaze (gendered or not) is totality.
*Striking, extravagant, elaborate, impressively beautiful, excellent, if not morally ‘good’.
Which leads me to all the things that the text doesn’t necessarily think we’re thinking about. Because if the question is ‘is this OK’, the elaboration follows: ‘is this OK for Snell?’ As a real person, the negative aspects of limerence are, by definition, pathological. Compulsion, obsession, intrusive thinking. The degree to which these are present, and their negative impacts, matter. The intensity of infatuation in limerence is known to fade other elements of life to a dull gray background, as in overlove seems to be the case with Mack, Snell’s sOLiD boyfriend. Everyday life, in the periphery of limerence, becomes less appealing. Snell knows this, and proceeds.
Typically, stepping into a divergent reality is frowned upon. You might think, following Michel Foucault, that this is because Institutions (hospitals, mental health officials, the legal apparatus pertaining to psychology’s official interventions) are impelled to CONtrol, to exercise Power proscriptively. Of course. Which is obviously BAAAD, if the field of critique is theoretical. It can be obviously Bad, too, in real life, with normal people being subjected to damaging authority. But, might I suggest also that there exists, in such frowning, the possibility for sincere concern? Remove power and institution from this equation, and one might frown as a sign of worry for the other who is departing. That is what I mean. A concerned sociability, a peerage that allows for freedom but does not repress or abolish adjacent worry. This is the furrowed brow that silently calls ‘come back’ but knows enough to keep its mouth shut. It is critical contemplation, not communicated criticism. Because in general, descending headlong into limerent obsession is probably not OK, just as it’s probably not exactly safe or sane. But no, you’ll not hear me utter a word, even if my worry should be clear. Because not only am I in the business of Not Naysaying in this critical engagement with text, as reader I am fully along for the ride. We don’t stand and frown and watch her go, we get swept off with Snell into her limerent excursion into the otheRealm of obsession. I would worry if it were a friend or loved one who was on the path of divergence, but because it is the basis of overlove as ARTifact, I say that even though it’s probably not OK, hell yeah – GO!
But we’re not even there, really, at the time this choice was made, so why not reject the question altogether? ‘Is this ok for Snell?’ unwinds to ‘is this ok?’ and becomes, simply, This Is. Unnegotiably. That’s the text’s POWer.
But where’s that POWer going?
It seems somewhat obvious once stated, but it is hard to see at first glance that we are, fundamentally, the audience of a one person show. With so much attention directed obsessively toward Curt, it’s possible to forget that it is Snell herself who is the book’s true subject, just as she is the true Subject of limerence. Although everything is obsessed with and organized around Curt, it is Snell who is the person upon whom limerence’s emotive power acts, ratifies, exerts CONtrol. While it is Curt who we are always thinking about, it is Snell who is hyperseen. At their core, both limerence-as-emotion and overlove-as-text are founded upon misdirection, the rendering of their object/subjects semi-vacant, transparent as glass, the there-not-there of window. Snell is everything, but we’re so busy thinking about Curt that we forget we’re only ever watching her.
Presence and Absence.
Fact or Fiction.
Is overlove real… or not? All internal signs point to the affirmative. The text flat out claims it is non-fiction and says right at the beginning: “all of this is true.” The story concludes with a postscript describing how the text is/was being edited and readied for publication at Dostoyevsky Wannabe, in, you know, our reality. The distance between the real and the story narrows to nothing in the end. Nevertheless, wariness is warranted given that the whole point of limerence is that its subject (our author) is willing to diverge from reality by some degree.
Thinking of Snell as a real person creates a boundary, a way of regarding the work that dictates certain rules of engagement. The same goes for Curt. Let’s disregard this, then, from here to the end.
Limerence is a divergence, where the perception of a relationship outruns objective reality… dangerous in its demonstrated ability to confuse the subject’s (Snell’s) perception.
overlove, the ARTifact, is a creation / record of that divergent perception. It is the fantasy wrapped inside a departure from and return to reality, to non-fiction.
At what point does the illusory, fictive, fantasy work become primary? I mean, isn’t it the whole point?
Why should we go on pretending Curt is real, affording him full standing as a person who we, as a text, are creeping on, when what is real is myself reading a book where it doesn’t matter one bit if he’s real or a fiction? Why reserve to him a full standing in reality despite the fact that it’s pretty clear he’s semi-vacant at best just because the story asks me to? Especially when I/we/the reader keep being, ourselves, addressed as Curt? Why not consider the fact that we’re standing in Curt’s shoes, reading letters addressed to him? I think it’s honestly time to consider that we, as a reader, are semi-transparent as well, that we are, more or less, the semi-transparent Curt.
I’m afraid it gets worse. You see, what I didn’t mention until now is that there is an externality to the text. As of this writing, Snell is in the process of releasing video performances of various entries from overlove. I viewed the first entry before deciding to buy the book, experiencing Snell’s diction first-hand as it collapsed her prose and the particularity of her speech patterns. Somehow, when I read it, I did so in an approximation of her voice, letting her replace my own familiar internal monologue, that inner default me that is second nature (perhaps first nature, given its primacy to my perceptin’?). Its not something I’m typically aware of, but yes, this time it was ‘her’ voice reading in my head with ‘me’ listening. Another layer of intimacy, letting some stranger occupy such a position in the old noggin, even if it was just a reflection / puppeting / mimicry. I mean, really we’re doing it all the time when we read. It’s just weird if I say so out loud. For example: If you’re still here, then I’m in there. *whistles nonchalantly*
In my experience of the text, having this estranged internal voice speaking her words, leaves ‘me’ as what? The audience! Me the listener! Me, the Curt! But not real Curt, whom Snell meets in the book’s final showdown, and even white-lie confesses having written overlove to in stunted lines of dialog incapable not only of being heard over the party scene’s ambient background noise, but incapable, in their inherent brevity, of conveying the dramatic unfurling of what by that point has become the reader’s own, shared epic limerent experience. Let’s take a look:
Like, obviously it’s not really about you
per se, and
I’m in a relationship and stuff, but meh, this is all cool
and I dismissively hand gesture as you affirm :
yeah, of course, all literature is about the person who writes it
WTF? Our author, our creator of beautiful, abundant, confident prose, runs aground on the rockiest shore of interpersonal communication. So yeah, she’s technically informed her object of obsession that she’s written a book about it. The difference between ‘real’ Curt and we, the reader, the semi-transparent Curt couldn’t be any starker at this point.
But before I explain, let’s consider his response. Yeah, this guy who actually knows nothing about any of it — because he’s just a guy stuck in the departed reality of the mundane, literally just some dude who has no idea who Snell is beyond a girl who’s trying to chat him up at a party, who hasn’t even read overlove FFS— more or less says it all by defaulting to a simple, deeply uncritical truth. Of course Snell is the real subject of overlove/limerence. Because of course art is about the artist’s subjective experience. That’s like the opening move in chess: do I move a pawn one or two spaces. It’s still, you know, a pawn. But even though what Curt says is true, even though in the last resort the words themselves are deeply, uniquely applicable to this particular text, Curt couldn’t be more wrong – because he’s totally unengaged. He knows nothing! About any of it! It’s refined 100% grade narcissistic talk-in-class-even-though-I-didn’t-read-the-assignment ungrounded authority: of course. That what he says happens to coincide with one of the deeper truths of overlove is like Tarot mysticism: “you skew the interpretation to your situation so that it always relates.”
Consequently: what matters of what this great pretender has to say? This quote-unquote real Curt.
By this point WE are the Full Knowledge Curt, who have been there from the beginning of all this. We know Snell’s confession is false, downplayed, self-dismissive and diminished in magnitude. We are the opposite of False Curt. We understand everything. ‘Of Course’ the ‘real’ Curt is indifferent to Snell’s existence; we, the reader, are attentive, invested, created by her text. We, alone, are Really Curt, the ARTifact world, the text itself, our Geraldine.
That’s why we’re invisible, too. As readers, we flip the very experience of limerence inside out because Snell’s written it down and made the semi-vacancy of her desire capable of being occupied, indeed always-occupied by… us! And that, GODDAMNIT, is why this book is so good. That triplicate transparency. That tripartite inversion. Curt, Snell, and we/the reader.
That is what has been brought to reality, created by and through this journey into the realm of absence/presence. We, the audience who have listened to the story, who are the addressees of love-letters never sent, stand at the furthest point of departure from the mundane world. We know everything about Snell’s divergence, and exist only by knowing.
Meeting real Curt is the final confrontation. It breaks the spell of limerence, at least partially, and from this point on it is our lot to watch as Snell departs the deepest wilds of limerence’s otheRealm. She experiences a sensation of “terrible grief… so broken broken broken sick broken hearted but still somehow high.” The narrative arc is complete, the story is more or less over. Curt is indifferent, but finally, just to see, she demonstrates her ability to creep, to stalk, to pursue. Curt is there, at the end, more REveALed than ever before even as his absence is more fully accepted, too. Our champion never renounces her POWer, and while the emotion of infatuation has perhaps faded in this resolution leaving behind only intellectual curiosity, Snell has brought overlove itself back from her journey through the limerent otheRealm. The ARTifact itself is the true reward, the boon AND treasure to benefit the ordinary world. It is the rose that will not rot.
overlove asks ‘is this OK’, but what it finds is power where shame is anticipated. It is nerd love of an amplitude that, when it breaks, eradicates past rejections as inconsequential. That in the last resort gives no fucks about propriety. As an emotion, overlove allows Snell to exult in her desire, irregardless of the incapacity of others to follow. We follow in their place.
Since I sidestepped the question of the empowered female gaze back when I slipped out from under the question “is this OK?”, I’d like to note the form taken in overlove’s final confrontation. Snell depicts a lengthy litany of preparations she and her gal pal Rana make to ready themselves for their attempt to meet ‘real’ Curt by crashing a party. It is wonderful, aesthetically. There is a perfect, perfectly blank page. A Tarot reading, and all I can say is I feel like I should keep my mouth shut about it, but wow that 3rd card. A big (to me) resonance between the hedonist’s leaky jar and the stale tobacco tin that would make for a decent Marxist quip that I think maybe I’ve grown out of, but I’m not quite sure. Finally, after the spell is broken, the party’s end is ruined by a guy who wants to intrude on Snell’s moment by trying to pick her up. It’s the worst aspect of male gaze enacted, and it sucks that she’s forced to deal. That’s why I feel like we, attentive Curt, inhabited by the multi-gendered reader, are Better. It’s also my suspicion that ‘real’ Curt might actually be a letdown if we had a moment to catch his real gaze instead of his indifference. But that’s just dot connecting, and probably he’s an interesting guy. I’ll trust our champion on that one. But I’m glad she kept her creepiness at the end, not because of Curt, but because of all the guys who can’t catch a hint. Oblivion is no excuse, and here in the pages of overlove it is met with the opposite: exquisite attention. The idea that love can be understood as interchangeable with attentiveness has been bouncing around my twitter feed for a while now. obsession=overlove? In any case, the difference between that and the mere pursuit of self-gratification (via beauty/hotness/fucking) seems a pertinent barrier between male/female gaze as herein posited. overlove DNE hollow attention attempting merely to get off? *which is not necessarily morally bad, just bad via power/practice* In any case I’ve done my best not to replicate that gaze, but given subjectivity, ideology, etc… it’s hard, especially when talking vs listening. I hope this criticism is taken as a submission to the ARTifact, for I meant only to say back, as a reader, I see you you you.
– DK January 2019