notes from 1st week

lettre

When Werther (in the Ambassador’s employ) writes to Charlotte, his letter follows this outline: 1. What joy to be thinking of you! 2. Here I am in a mundane situation, and without you I feel utterly alone. 3. I have met someone […] who resembles you and with whom I can speak of you. 4. I keep hoping that we can be reunited. —A single piece of information is varied, in the manner of a musical theme: I am thinking of you.

What does “thinking of you” mean? It means: forgetting “you” (without forgetting, life itself is not possible) and frequently waking out of that forgetfulness. Many things, by association, bring you back into my discourse. “Thinking of you” means precisely this metonymy. For, in itself, such thinking is blank: I do not think you; I simply make you recur (to the very degree that I forget you). It is this form (this rhythm) which I call “thought”: I have nothing to tell you, save that it is to you that I tell this nothing.

— Roland Barthes

After all, isn’t that part of why we communicate? Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the message, the signifier, contains: the signified is merely “I am thinking of you” or “I want to talk to you, regardless of the topic”. This explains, in part, why my teenage sisters would say that two friends of theirs were perhaps not yet in a relationship, but that they were “texting”, a descriptor which is totally useless if you only recognise the value of text messages in their content, and not in their function. To be “texting” someone indicates interest, a level of involvement that demonstrates investment in their life, an enjoyment of and commitment to the conversation. This also explains how much energy we collectively invest in hashing out a kind of digital etiquette: “double texting” is not perceived as bad, or desperate, because of the physical presence of two consecutive messages from the same person, but because the level of interest is now seen as imbalanced: one person has said “I am thinking of you” multiple times now without the necessary rejoinder from the other to sustain the conversation.

*

[on endings and beginnings] I saw The Sense of an Ending recently and was reminded of how much the book irritated me in its (inadvertent) positing of life as nothing more than the shortest distance between two points on a plane: or worse, a homeomorphism. Indeed, the entire point of the book is to remind the reader that any life, even a seemingly uneventful one, is long and complex, and that a perfect continuous map between any two topological spaces, or events in said life, is all but impossible: yet, by removing all the substance of the life between those two spaces (the 1960s university days of the protagonist and the present day), the effect is that, supposing we imagine the life of the protagonist as a cylinder, the two circular faces (the spaces in question) are glued together, collapsing the walls of the cylinder (the rest of the substance of the life) in the mind of the reader and implying that the distance between these faces is irrelevant, that these faces are the only relevant and interesting aspects of the life, because they are the ones being treated in the text. The film attempts to remedy this by involving the protagonist’s family more heavily in the plot, and is almost successful.

I did find it interesting that, alongside all the various endings in the story, a new beginning was added in the form of the birth of a baby parallel to the plot. Do beginnings and endings always coincide? Do we look for beginnings in our lives to lessen the sting of an (occasionally unrelated) ending? Endings often get a bad rap: sometimes we need endings, whether partial or complete, to make room for new blooms, new loves. Endings, yes, are often painful: I, standing on the street corner, searching for you, people pushing past me, searching for a face I can recognise and claim as yours: the break, the breach, unconscionable, untrammelled, unreasonable, uncensored, yes, but necessary, finally, the truth will and did out, I loved you, but no longer. The heavy, hazy fog lifts and dissipates: in the aftermath, all has given way to a clear autumn sky, not the heady turquoise of summer heat, but the crispness of my childhood, school uniform in the early mornings, the shortcut to the alliterative avenue cloaked in leaves: clarity, calm, it is impossible for us to deceive each other. I had hidden my feelings for so long that I feel almost naked now in this startling honesty—how straightforward, childlike even, to say what you feel, free of design or artifice!

I think of you often—constantly—and I wonder how to remember you. I am surprisingly bad at memories. How can someone be bad at memories? —What I mean by that is I can never return to those moments, to relive those moments in isolation, those moments which, at the time, seemed so wondrous and sparkling, but have by now formed part of a longer chain of events that have almost inevitably lead to endings and unhappiness—remember how badly that turned out? remember how you were hurt?—meaning I cannot bear to revisit that kiss, the dinner that night, those sun-drenched afternoons, because I cannot untangle them from the things that were said to me in moments of rancour, the screaming fight in the street in the middle of the night, the way it ended. Even now, in the present, with you, with this unheard-of lightness of days, your goodness and your sweetness, with this feeling, a tender union of hope and conviction, I almost want to call it to a halt, to end its trajectory (worldline?) here, prematurely, to save ourselves from what right now seems impossible, the anger and the end, to set these moments in amber and keep them always as a burnished reminder of all that can be good and bright and free of malice or design. These moments, where we drive off the map, disregarding the assumptions set out for us—where, away from the labs, the offices and the libraries, we find new space and new ways to exist, to be, to find each other not only as scholars, workers, writers, thinkers, but as people, as humans. For the first time, I want to remember: I gather up the images of these moments and hold them close to me, your smile as you lean in to me—my dress in your hands—your arms round my waist as you lift me into the air—your fingers tracing an apostrophe-curve on my stomach—my hands smoothing your shirt over your shoulders—you through the bus window, waiting in the street, your face, your immovable, straightforward gaze, both disarming and reassuring in its clarity, its calm intensity.

I glow in the light I reflect from you, but it is not enough to say you shine—every thing about you is suffused with brilliance, and when it ends, when it is over, as it must and will, this—this is what I want to remember.

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