Catherine Deneuve, the iconic French film star, has said in a recent interview in Paris Match, “Desire is the motor of my life.”  There is nothing unusual in this, nor does it pertain to film stars uniquely.  Desire is the motor of every life.

What is one supposed to do or think about that?  Years ago, in a Paris café, a good friend of mine was approached by a young man of her acquaintance who told her, “I know what you need.”  Instantly she shot back, “That’s the last thing I need.  And if I needed it, you’re the last person I would go to, to get it!”

The other day, I spent some hours at a horse clinic.  Since childhood, I’ve had a crush on horses.  But I’m a city kid and it’s not reciprocated.  Horses don’t respect me.  So I thought, perhaps they might, if I learned to understand them better.  The teacher was a master, a horse rescuer and humane trainer, about whom his wife, who is my friend, told the following story.

There was a mare that he’d been working with, to overcome early abuse and get her in shape for a suitable buyer, thereby rescuing her from the meat marts.  After some weeks, the mare showed much improvement and he was able to turn his attention to other horses.  One day, rather suddenly, he needed to round up some stray cattle in a nearby field.  The mare was the nearest horse, so he saddled her up without getting reacquainted and prepared to take off at a gallop.  She promptly reared up high and then, with a hard buck, sent him sailing.  (A natural athlete, he landed on his feet behind her, whereupon the mare sent him a reflective stare over one shoulder.)  “What did he expect?” his wife commented.  “He’d made her feel important, then went off to spend weeks with other horses!  She’s a woman!”

What I learned about horses was that, like us, they have personal histories, relationships and a psychology.  Also like us, they can suffer from traumas that lead to exaggerated fears and defenses.  But it’s greatly in their favor that their desires are not veiled and obscured by heavy-handed theories with little in the way of predictive or explanatory power.  The would-be seducer in the Paris café  was evidently operating out of such a theory.

We all begin with a past.  With horses, the past is curable, with gentle persistence, attention to the present situation, and horse sense.  We should try that.


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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