Sheila Heti’s novel ‘How Should a Person Be?’ asks that candid and naive question with honesty, humor and sincerity. During the course of the book, she especially looks at love and all its difficulties, and in this passage she talks about the kind of obsessive sexual love that pushes us over cliffs and into the death drive, that longs for ‘annihilation, comfort and death’. Perhaps in the course of this renunciation, she suggests, we might actually bring ourselves round to a reaffirmation of life after all.
Then love, which can’t be helped, slips into the death drive. The death drive seeks comfort and knowledge of the future. It wants the final answer and is afraid of life. It is weary of life. It is weary of self-containment, the continuation of its purpose, the channeling of the energies of the self. It wants to step into the oblivion of someone else, and its heart races at annihilation. It renounces and gives up renouncing equally. Cliffs are the friend of the death drive, particularly cliffs into another person. It wants a mutual plummeting into the center, one into the other, like a sixty-nine. It hopes to drive you off your course like a car plunging into the center of the earth. It strives for love, annihilation, comfort, and death. Now the future is clear! it cries. It wants to drag you down.
But if you lie still, you may find that you want to lie there in bed beside him not because of the death drive, but for a different reason, which is that you are enjoying looking at his beautiful green-walled room and being alive— the sun coming in with the breeze, and the drawings on the wall tacked up with clear tacks and green tacks and yellow and blue, and it is not even so much about the man beside you in the bed, but what a room, what a room!
Then, when your heart sinks again, it sinks from the death drive like a serpent creeping in—but from another direction this time; so you thought you had closed up all the stops, but you missed this one. You missed it, and the serpent slithered in. It is death coming, masquerading as life, and blessed is the man who can see the death drive in the woman. Blessed is he who leaves in the morning without any promise of love. And blessed is the woman who can answer for herself, What about living? What is it about living that you want?