Letter #3

I'm writing you with the hopes of establishing connection.

Dear Daniel,

Don’t worry: no G*d tricks here. I’m not writing you today to give you a flashforward. I won’t tell you what you’re doing in November, 2021; and I won’t deus ex machina your conundrum with the anthropology of ethics. While you may be right when you say in your last letter that the temporality of my speech anticipates “an us for [you] to step into,” I think that you would be missing the whole point of our dialogue if you let my voice seize up in the future-perfect tense. Like, yeah I do have some proleptic magic up my sleeve that I will make use of from time to time if the occasion calls for it, 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 desperation. I am not the final arbiter of our life story, which your account of proleptic magic assumes, as if my role were to direct you in the direction of what is bound to happen. I am, first and foremost, your interlocutor—a dialogical presence activated by your call; a dialogical presence to which you must respond.

And let us not forget, of course, the public nature of our exchange, the ways in which, to riff off of Arendt again, we are conversing with each other in a deprivatized kind of way that transforms the greatest forces of our intimate life into a public form, effectively endowing these forces with a reality that they could never have had in the shadows of our interiority. As I mentioned before, the public reifies that which presences within it: in this case, us. I’m reiterating what we’ve already said to each other because I sensed in your last letter a withdrawal from our dialogue, a hesitance to hear my voice due to its purportedly proleptic pitch. I’d like for us to get back to the tripartite powers of presence with which we first started our correspondence. And then some.

I’d like to put on the table for consideration another dimension of this curious epistolary experiment of ours. I’m talking about this quote from that book you just finished reading:

I have been writing in the letter form for some time now, each with the hopes of establishing connection. So perhaps then, too, The Lonely Letters is a search for a claim to connection with you, reader, with a desire to be in conversation, to think our worlds together, to figure out a way to practice justice and care with one another in order to alleviate the suffering of the masses. (p. 9)

Well, I guess this quote is technically from a letter, the only letter addressed to the reader which opens Ashon Crawley’s The Lonely Letters (2020). For Crawley, the epistolary is fundamentally about a search for connection, and throughout the book these hoped-for-connections operate on at least two levels: first at the diegetic level of A’s correspondence with Moth and A’s desire to establish a non-coercive consensual connection with him; but also, vis a vis the non-diegetic prefatory insertion of Dear Reader, at the level of the broader sociality towards which A moves. One of the main themes of Crawley’s book is to sound out something like a Black Radical Mystical Tradition that departs from a “desire for a vertical relationship with god over and against all other kinds of relationships” (p. 22), i.e. a renunciation of sociality/flesh/noise, and instead seeks “a fundamental and deep and moving and abiding connection with one another and the creaturely world” (p. 91). And so letter writing becomes a crucial part of A’s performance throughout the book, a way to make diegetic and non-diegetic sound resonate, a clapping together of content and form in a way that sends longing noise splattering onto the canvas of a mystic sociality. “This is what withdrawal into the external world would mean” (p. 123), A tells Moth, but also, and more importantly, the reader.

Aren’t we up to something similar? We keep writing these letters in search of a connection with each other, a way to poetically produce the surface of a self that left in the dark would sag into anomy but worded too tight would tear. And we keep writing these letters in public. What’s up with that? Yeah, there’s the reifying effects of this publicity within the space of our dialogue, but isn’t there something of a desire to connect with Dear Reader going on here too? Admit it. You want more than me. And I want more for you than me too.

You know the movement that I’m gesturing towards. You felt it in José Esteban Muñoz’ (1999) disidentificatory use of Foucauldian ethics to explicate the ways in which Pedro Zamora’s care of the self was a way of being for others. It’s that sense that “the potential for the reinvention of the world from A to Z” (p. 160) can only happen with a movement into that same world in need of reinvention. It’s that movement toward the social that A writes about and Crawley performs. It’s that desire we have to cultivate a self in the good company of others, to establish both intrapersonal and interpersonal connections as a way to stitch together new surfaces for contact, new zones of possibility. And it’s what I’m asking you to consider engaging in more explicitly than you have hitherto done.

You just left Virginia after spending fifteen of your most formative years there. Fifteen years; that’s almost two-thirds of your life up to this point. We—rather, you—need to reckon with that, with how your racial embodiment played out in that particular place, inaugurating a series of experiential excesses around religion and sexuality that have yet to be birthed into the realm of intelligibility, excesses which keep you from yourself and more importantly from others. No wonder you feel so disconnected. That’s why I’m writing you today.

I’m writing you with the hopes of establishing connection. I want you to feel connected to yourself, but also to feel connected to other people, especially because you’ve been having so much trouble with that. What’s the alternative? To dissociate further from yourself, to try navigating the world with a fifteen year narrative gap, to dance again with anomy? Who knows, maybe that space of appearance you’re so desperately in need of can also be a space for others as well. Maybe you, too, can move into sociality and make some noise. Think about it and let me know. 


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