â€œUnderstand me, when I write, right here, on these innumerable post cards, I annihilate not only what I am saying but also the unique addressee that I constitute, and therefore every possible addressee, and every destination. I kill you, I annul you at my fingertips, wrapped around my finger. To do so it suffices only that I be legible—-and I become illegible to you, you are dead. If I say that I write for dead addressees, not dead in the future but already dead at the moment when I get to the end of a sentence, it is not in order to play. Genet said that his theater was addressed to the dead and I take it like that on the train in which I am going writing you without endâ€¦ And you are, my love, unique
the proof, the living proof precisely, that a letter can always not arrive at its destination, and that therefore it never arrives. And this is really how it is, it is not a misfortune, thatâ€™s life, living life, beaten down, tragedy, by the still surviving life. For this, for life I must lose you, for life, and make myself illegible for you. Jâ€™accepte.â€
Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond.
â€œThe one who has disappeared appears still to be there, and his apparition is not nothing. It does not do nothing. Assuming that the remains can be identified, we know better than ever today that the dead must be able to work. And to cause to work, perhaps more than ever.â€
Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning & the New International.
Dead (dear) friend and love: remind me once again. Why is my writing life—-which is to say, my life—-still so defined by what Viktor Shklovsky says to Elsa Triolet in Zoo: Or Letters Not About Love: â€œMy whole life is a letter to youâ€? A writing thatâ€™s all: epistolary, epigraph, epitaph. A writing like a cartoon arrow to a single, overly melodramatic heart. What Heath Ledgerâ€™s character barks to Rufus Sewellâ€™s character in A Knightâ€™s Tale: â€œYou speak of Jocelyn as if she is a target.â€ Sewellâ€™s character, the antagonist Count Ademar, responds with a villainâ€™s bemusement: â€œIsnâ€™t she?â€ Ledgerâ€™s William gives him a hard look. â€œNo,â€ he replies. The clarity and firmness in his face and voice. â€œShe is the arrow.â€ Arrow that splinters upon impact, of course. Singular but still: expansive, radiating. Living shrapnel. Makes the space of the heart a field, a constellation. And: a writing where everything has to hang on the apostrophe like a hook. By apostrophe, I mean: all forms of apostrophe. What itâ€™s trying to possess (Elaineâ€™s), what it has to elide or lose entirely, for the purposes of economy or vitality (sheâ€™s, canâ€™t). Who itâ€™s speaking to, or for (you, not-you). What itâ€™s calling to, or back. Calling, because in apostrophe the object is always absent. Has already (been) disappeared, left town, died off-screen or off-stage. Or even: never existed to begin with. Is all in the head; or lives now only in the heart. Whatâ€™s the difference between the imaginary lovers I wrote to as a child, and the dead love I cannot stop myself from writing to now? The answer is there, just there, where most difference tends to be housed: in the body. The flesh. The ghost has always had a body, but the body is now beyond me. And itâ€™s this irretrievable beyond that I have to love and grieve. Have to write, and write into.
â€œThe specter is a paradoxical incorporation, the becoming-body, a certain phenomenal and carnal form of the spirit. It becomes, rather, some “thing” that remains difficult to name: neither soul nor body, and both one and the other. For it is flesh and phenomenality that give to the spirit its spectral apparition, but which disappear right away in the apparition, in the very coming of the REVENANT or the return of the specter. There is something disappeared, departed in the apparition itself as reapparition of the departed. The spirit, the specter, are not the same thing, and we will have to sharpen this difference; but as for what they have in common, one does not know what it is, what it presently. It is something that one does not know, precisely, and one does not know if precisely it is, if it exists, if it responds to a name and corresponds to an essence. One does not know: not out of ignorance, but because this non-object, this non-present present, this being-there of an absent or departed one no longer belongs to knowledge. At least no longer to that which one thinks one knows by the name of knowledge. One does not know if it is living or if it is dead. Here isâ€”or rather, there is, over there, an unnameable or almost unnameable thing: something, between something and someone, anyone or anything, some thing, “this thing,” but this thing and not any other, this thing that looks at us, that concerns us [QUI NOUS REGARDE] comes to defy semantics as much as ontology, psychoanalysis as much as philosophy…â€ (Specters of Marx)
Bhanu Kapil, in a post on her blog Was Jack Kerouac a Punjabi? writes of punctuation, of a grammar that gives itself up also as a thematics, an ethics, an erotics:
Semi-colons are like long scratches on a body. Vowels as saturated. Rimbaud drinking coffee in a room with red and yellow wallpaper, looking out the window at the jungle rain. But commas as a scarring process set in motion by the abrasions performed by other kinds of punctuation. I like commas. I like semi-colons. Though they mar a lyric effort, I want them. I want a sentence that takes up the theme of bodies and violence, thematically. The theme of the sentence is its grammar. “What appears in the photograph is unfamiliar. We don’t recognize it.” (Duras.) Like that: a content dissipating before a person’s eyes. Like smoke trapped beneath a glass, in fairytales. And bars. As a late-night trick, in the time when you could light up. Inside. So that what I assess is the pollen index of a poem, the places where the surface is speckled or torn, with drifting grains. A dash. A line. A stop. Every texture is diasporic. Every body, in its fundament, will loosen from its radical core and drift, too. This is why I prefer cremation over burial. I don’t want to be buried. I want my ashes to be taken to the Ganges, and to the coast of Oregon, at Florence, where I first saw the Pacific — I heard it before I saw it, and my heart swung wide. (Notes towards an Asian-American Grammar Book.) (Notes for the sea.)
â€œThis anxiety in the face of the ghost is properly revolutionary. If death weighs on the living brain for the living, and still more on the brains of revolutionaries, it must then have some spectral density. To weigh (lasten) is also to charge, tax, impose, indebt, accuse, assign, enjoin. And the more life there is, the graver the specter of the other becomes, the heavier its imposition. And the more the living have to answer for it. To answer for the dead, to respond to the dead.â€ (Specters of Marx)
What I am fated to love and grieve forever. A word like: you. Do I have many yous? I do not have many yous. I do not have many friends. I used to have many friends, back when I was comfortable lying about my entire inner life to protect it. Well, I thought I was comfortable, but I did have to leave the entire fucking country, so how comfortable could I have been? When you died, I hung that famous quote, â€œOh my friends, there is no friend,â€ often attributed to Aristotle, over my life. Placed it upon my life like an epitaph on a tomb, which my life was, then. Which I am climbing out of, now. Having had to roll away the stone myself. Heaven and its miracles were kept from me. (Kid Cudi, “Mr. Rager”: “When will the fantasy end / when will the heaven begin?”)
Things placed over a life like a marker or stamp. But this can be done joyfully, romantically, too. Hung like a banner, a standard, a coat of arms. A shield. Before sorrow takes up its labors; when loss is a bad dream from which you awake without fail, sweating with relief. Song of Solomon 8:6: â€œPlace me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.â€
Oh, my friends, there is no friend. Oh, my friend, my friend is dead. This is the horror of the postcard, of the sent word, which Derrida sketched in the first quote cited above, from The Post Card. The apostrophe is a grave. Or the incandescent spark that sets everything else aflame.
PLACE ME LIKE A SEAL OVER YOUR HEART
Perhaps I could also substitute the word â€œaudienceâ€ for friend. The quality most relevant to me about the word audience, or indeed the very idea of an audience, is the fact that it means hearing, listening, perceiving. Openness of the senses (especially the extrasensory senses) that is an openness of the soul. I want audience the way that when I am in the sun I want radiance. Not an audience (though I wouldn’t be mad at it; holla), but audience itself, the way I desire vigilance, or generosity, or love. This, too, is thematics, ethics and erotics.
From Sarah Schulmanâ€™s Empathy: â€œA lot of things happen when youâ€™re eight, he thought. And a lot of it is very important information. If you listen closely when people talk and look at the expressions on their faces, you will never forget them. Even when they die or disappear, you will always know how they felt and later, if you ever have that feeling, you will remember what it looked like on another personâ€™s face. If you listen you wonâ€™t lose it. You will remember.â€
Later: â€œWithout listening there is no love.â€
And when there is listening—-when there is such listening as the kind which thrilled between us for so many years—-
In the film of my heart, Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together, Chang Chen plays the archetype of the kind of person I fall in love with. Crucially, his character had vision problems when he was younger, so he was forced to listen in a kind of hyper-sensitive, almost supernatural way. Even when his vision was eventually surgically corrected, he says, he never lost the practice of listening. “I like voices that make my heart beat faster,” he declares, and my heart beats faster. He says these words to Tony Leung, who I believe has such a voice, and who in the film is practically a ghost himself, nearly destroyed by tempestuous and unhappy love. Chang’s words are a hint. Like a message, like a letter. Like arousal, or its promise, which is already arousal. They open up a vista. A future.
Without listening there is no love; and there is no life, either. Listening raises you from the dead.
â€œThe greatest risk is run at the very moment when one does have to try to know. Know what? Not what, but whom; not about what one speaks, but first of all to whom one says, â€˜and me, and you.â€™â€ (On Touching: Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida.)
“The question deserves perhaps to be put the other way: Could one address oneself in general if already some ghost did not come back? If he loves justice at least, the “scholar” of the future, the “intellectual” of tomorrow should learn it and from the ghost. He should learn to live by learning not how to make conversation with the ghost but how to talk with him, with her, how to let them speak or how to give them back speech, even if it is in oneself, in the other, in the other in oneself: they are always there, specters, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet. They give us to rethink the “there” as soon as we open our mouths, even at a colloquium and especially when one speaks there in a foreign language:
“Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.” (Specters of Marx)
PLACE ME LIKE A SEAL UPON YOUR ARM
A propos of nothing, really:
(—-or rather: Ã propos of something only you would understand the reason for, and will understand, if you come back and visit me today; if you come back to the world, if only to read a little essay on the Internet, which Iâ€™m sure many ghosts enjoy doing, the Internet being so ghostly in the first place—-)
True elegance has to do with economy; all other (false or incomplete) claims on elegance, economics.
Friend, remind me once again. Most beloved ghost, remind me once again. You are the dead one, not me, right? But I still get it mixed up. Get us mixed up. Like the twins Viola and Sebastian, tragically separated then happily reunited, in what was once my favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night. (Not Hamlet, which Specters of Marx hinges upon, refers to frequently.) A play of gender-bending, of unrequited or unspeakable (then requited, then speakable) love; of deep comedy and deep grief. Where joy and grief are like twins themselves. But theatre has always known that.
Viola thinks sheâ€™s lost her brother in a shipwreck. Has washed up on a foreign shore alone, a traumatized immigrant. (One of my primal, recurring scenes.) She dresses up as a man. She falls in love with Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, who is in love with a countess named Olivia, and asks Viola (in male disguise) to intercede on his behalf. But this being a Shakespearean comedy, Olivia doesn’t care for the Duke, and of course, ends up falling in love with Viola.
Olivia, which is an anagram of Viola. The only thing Viola is missing is that extra i; the question is, which I is it that she is missing, or concealing? Or perhaps even the i denotes the number of people lost? Olivia has two; Viola has one. Where the i, the i of an I, is a finger that points. An arrow to a heart. An epistle, an apostrophe. Where the I is always an implicated thing: conversational, relational. It is not alone; or is only alone because of what it’s lost. It had kin. Context. Beloveds.
And even in her emotions Olivia is an anagram of Viola. Olivia, too has lost her brother. Not only her brother, but also: her father. Everyone in the play keeps wondering, distantly irritated, why she mourns so long and so acutely. No one can understand why she wonâ€™t shuffle off her grief and grace the world with her beauty, her personhood. Why she wonâ€™t allow herself to be as adored as she could be. No one can understand why she stands in her grief with dignity, resolve and responsibility, the way other people might stand upon solid ground. Oliviaâ€™s wit, sharpness, vibrance. And her immediate flash of love for Viola-as-a-boy, Viola-as-Cesario. Because Viola/Cesario says exactly what s/he is thinking, feeling; rare in Olivia’s life. She is disarmed by Viola/Cesario’s candor, eloquence; hir way with words. Hir androgynous beauty. A flash of love, which is a flash back into life. Into wanting to live. Re-enter the world.
I always imagined myself to be Viola, but I definitely would have fallen in love with you, Olivia. I would have chosen you.
â€œ—-smiling at grief—-â€ (Twelfth Night)
OLIVIA: Now, sir, what is your text?
VIOLA: Most sweet Lady.
OLIVIA: A comfortable doctrine and much may be said of it. Where lies your text?
VIOLA: In Orsinoâ€™s bosom.
OLIVIA: In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?
VIOLA: To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.
OLIVIA: O, I have read it: it is heresy. Have you no more to say?
VIOLA: Good Madam, let me see your face.
OLIVIA: Have you any commission from your Lord, to negotiate with my face: you are now out of your text: but we will draw the curtain, and show you the picture. Look you sir, such a one I was this present: isâ€™t not well done?
VIOLA: Excellently done, if God did all.
OLIVIA: â€˜Tis in grain sir, â€˜twill endure wind and weather. (Twelfth Night)
Readable text of the heart, enduring grain of the flesh.
FOR LOVE IS AS STRONG AS DEATH
One day Iâ€™ll figure out why it must be spontaneous or not at all, why I have to fall into it backwards or jump into it headfirst. It being the writing. The it of writing, the it like a furrow within the writing. Still writing with my heart pounding like a lover who fears banishment more than death. Only don’t banish me. This is all I ask of you. Don’t banish me. In a clinic, a woman who was trying to heal my immune system asked about my dreams. I told her about your visitations. I told her how in all the dream-visitations, I am always panicking, always running out of time. The situation is always this: you are sick, or in bed, or simply remaining at home. I have an unmissable appointment elsewhere. But I am terrified to leave you, so I keep assuring you that I will return. Keep assuring you that I love you, that I am thinking of you. Keep making entreaties to you, ensuring that you will wait for me, that you won’t go anywhere. Even in the dreams where you are not dying, there is always the lingering dread that you will vanish, you will tip off some unseen edge of the earth, into a ravine. A ravine where you might—-to my great and unconfessable chagrin—-be happier.
I say, I’ll be back, wait for me, I’m coming back, I’ll only be a few minutes, just wait. I kiss your entire face, I grasp your hair, I embrace you as if to become you. I am always struggling not to weep. I tell you I love you again and again. And every time, you only look at me with weary but loving amusement. Your little smile, which is my little smile; just as your big smile is my big smile. The smile means to say: Stop worrying. I know all that. Just go. I’ll be fine. I have to leave. I don’t want to leave. I have to leave. One more kiss. One more embrace. Whose fragrance is that? Do I smell like you, or do you smell like me? Which one of us was dying again? One more kiss. One more embrace. I have to leave. I don’t want to leave. I have to leave.
In the clinic, the woman stared at me. I waited for her to begin gently turning my words into allegory, some revelatory metaphor.
She said: You are so lucky. Do you know how lucky you are? Can you imagine how loved you must be, that he is remaining here for you—that he keeps returning for you?
I couldn’t say anything. She continued: He’ll stay until you’re ready to let him go. At some point you’ll have to. But he won’t go until you’re ready. So don’t let go until you know for sure that you’re ready.
â€œBut to learn to live, to learn it from oneself and by oneself, all alone, to teach oneself to live (â€˜I would like to learn to live finallyâ€™), is that not impossible for a living being? To live, by definition, is not something one learns. Not from oneself, it is not learned from life, taught by life. Only from the other and by death. In any case from the other at the edge of life.â€ (Specters of Marx)
I will never be ready. It turns out in this story I’m the villain, not the star. Jealous lover who won’t step aside.
Do you hear me? I will never be ready. You’ll have to talk me into it. I will listen, at least. Only: talk to me. Talk to me. I will listen.