Letter #1

... after reflecting on why a past self of mine would want to call my dialogical presence into being, I found that this too makes sense.

Dear Daniel,

Don’t close yourself off from me. I know you’ve been doing that to a lot of people lately. It’s like you’ve stiffened up solid in a familiar hermetic posture that you can’t quite slouch out of. I was delighted to hear from you when I received your letter and was wondering when you were going to figure out that I may be the only person who can help you in your current predicament.

In your initial letter, you lamented that the “blog-post-Band-Aids” weren’t working, that writing the way that you have for the past three months was starting to feel forced and thus counterproductive to the cultivation of self you initially sought when starting your blog. After reading your letter, I read some of your blog posts and agree that your highly intellectualized reflections, while efficacious in articulating both past and present aspects of your lived experience and metabolizing them into something coherent, feels a bit contrived. Nevertheless, it seems to me that your writing is helping you to make more tangible that mushy mess in your head, giving it a more definitive shape and thus opening up the possibility of molding.

I think you are onto something when you wrote in your last post that you are “sitting comfortably and kneeling anxiously” as both confessor and confessant on your blog. I can understand why, after experiencing anomic dismemberment to the extent that you did as a result of your full conscientization, you would gravitate towards confession as a truth producing apparatus and seize that same apparatus as both operator and operated. I will not evaluate the feasibility, desirability, and prospects of continuing this particular practice of yours for fear of introducing more flux into an already fluctuating situation. Instead, I want you to simply know that I understand what you are doing and what you hope to accomplish—and I, who am you and not you, am deeply sympathetic to your project.

I can also understand why you have taken up Hannah Arendt’s notion of the public in The Human Condition (1998 [1958]) as the space of appearance where men act amongst one another in full recognition of human plurality and in pursuit of excellence. While you are rightfully suspicious of Arendt’s unabated Hellenophilia, you nevertheless found her attention to the ways in which the public realm reifies that which presences within it—namely, persons—by displaying them into view. I think this is the passage that you failed to cite in your correspondence to me:

“[E]ven the greatest forces of intimate life—the passions of the heart, the thoughts of the mind, the delights of the senses—lead an uncertain, shadowy kind of existence unless and until they are transformed, deprivatized and deindividualized, as it were, into a shape to fit them for public appearance … Each time we talk about things that can be experienced only in privacy or intimacy, we bring them out into a sphere where they will assume a kind of reality which, their intensity notwithstanding, they never could have had before.” (p. 50)

The quality of “being seen and heard by others” (ibid.) that inheres in the public realm, Arendt suggests, allows for a kind of durability of presence unattainable in the squishy shadows of the private, or in your case, deeply felt intuitions too steeped in skull slosh to distinguish. It makes sense that your awareness of your blog as a public confession lends you a certain affinity to Arendt. It also makes sense that, given these insights, you are continuing your self-making project through blogging.

What makes less sense is your use of the letter. Why write me in the first place? I can remember the blush of affection you felt when you first read anthropologist David Scott’s letters to the belated Stuart Hall. Scott’s letters intrigued you primarily because they were an explicit attempt to exegete Hall’s inimitable intellectual style, a style that in some way has helped you to figure out your own shifting relationship to intellectual life. But they also enlivened your sense of the epistolary as a kind of relational presencing, or to use Scott’s words, a way “to call into being, to activate, the dialogical presence of a specific interlocutor” (p. 6). It took me awhile to understand the vague reference to Scott’s book in your initial letter, but after reflecting on why a past self of mine would want to call my dialogical presence into being, I found that this too makes sense. You called, and I, who am you and not you, have answered.

It seems to me that this Foucauldian-confessional Arendtian-public blog post epistle of yours is another one of your attempts to hobble yourself together by harnessing the tripartite powers of presence that collide into each other in this most curious of literary experiments. And I am happy to indulge you this fancy. Furthermore, I realize that the urgency with which you wrote me goes beyond mere fancy.

I say all this to signal that I understand where you are coming from, that, to play to your most recent aural inclinations, I hear you. I hope that by recounting the headspace that you are currently in that I have convinced you to open up at least a little bit to me. It seems that all of this intellectual bushwhacking that I have been doing is necessary to get anywhere with you. Assuming that I have been at least partially successful in wriggling myself into a space of intimacy where you can hear me, I will now try to speak to your request. Well, you never formally worded it as a request, but it was obvious to me that your letter was a cry for help. Most rambling accounts of how lonely one feels are.

I am writing you today with words of encouragement that will hopefully sustain you in your current predicament: the seemingly Sisphyean task of self-making, especially, as it is in your case, when the self has been multiply unmade. Only I, who am you and not you, can speak such words to you, because only I have complete and total access to you, a former self.

You are doing fine. Re-read this as many times as you need to: You are doing fine.

You are doing fine for someone who has completely torn down their sacred canopy in the past year; whose social network accordingly shriveled up to the size of a pebble small enough to throw with the flick of a finger and flat enough to skip across a seemingly endless puddle of poor mental health outcomes; who is navigating a whole new social reality and trying very earnestly to forget how to read the world with old grammars; who is trying just as hard to stay on nodding terms with their past self; whose social skills are equal parts sore and schizoid from the whiplash of a complete Gestalt switch. 

You are doing fine. You have a stable job; a beautiful mind; access to a university library; a personal hobby that brings you immense joy; friends, colleagues, and mentors, both in town and elsewhere, that notice you, make space for you, and dare I even say care about you.

I think that if any of your friends, colleagues, or mentors were to tell you what I am telling you (in fact, some already have), you wouldn’t have ears to hear them. I get that too. You had to stuff your ears so full of cotton that the individual fibers lashed against your eardrums so as to block out all of the interpellating chatter around you and hear, perhaps for the first time, the sound of your own voice. Can you recognize the sound of that voice—yours, mine, ours—now? I hope so. May it be a comfort when you start to feel discouraged.

Do write me again with an update as things progress. I look forward to hearing how you are doing and continuing this conversation.

Sincerely,
Daniel

2 Comments

  1. […] but that’s not what I’m primarily here for; and yes, I did use some of that magic in my last correspondence with you, but only because I didn’t know how else I could have intervened in your state of […]

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