Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Writing Self: Love Letters and the Unadorned Intensity of Prose
Words, written or pondered, jostle through my veins hitching a ride with the haemoglobin in the swirl and stream of red blood cells, or cascade through the neural network like the flash and fire of a storm-lit cloudbank; they are an integral component within the context of a writer's life, as essential to intellectual nourishment as water is to the sustenance of the physical self. Perhaps I might take Kafka's rumination and add a caveat of my own: for the laboring writer a pondered word oft-becomes a written one...unspoken perhaps, but for all it's muteness encapsulating a powerful intensity that can, in certain circumstances, achieve an absolute pinnacle of expression.
With this in mind I have been musing upon the emotive force of simply written words; contemplating most particularly the powerful phrase and the manner in which the deliberate aggregation, clustering and recombination of letters can produce a sequence of words so imbued with an emotional intensity that they can bring us to tears. Love letters convey a message more fervent than the spoken equivalent could do - they are unadorned by material trappings, literally a congregation of ink on paper that somehow envelops and conveys a broader impassioned ardor: a metaphorical life-blood spill, a tremulous heartbeat defined in ink.
Imagine, if you will, the lover's utterance at the other end of a scrawled declaration: pronounced with all the attendant nervousness of uncertain reception, or with the languid smoothness of an accomplished Lothario - and almost immediately your mind's eye is assailed with distractions - the appearance of things, the oily sheen of hair, the twitch and murmur of restless limbs, the thrum and clatter of ambient bustle. One must force a certain attentive focus to the spoken words and even then a sentence is pronounced and the previous forgotten....that within the confines of breathless moment, the uttered words fly and disperse like mist in the warmth of the rising sun. Writing these words, however, I am reminded of Eliot's Love Song and the shallow digressions of indifferently languorous women denigrating onset baldness and lanky limbs. I do not disparage the declaration of affection, quite the contrary - but simply admire the stark intensity of the written equivalent.
Jack London writes to Anna: "You elude me. I cannot place you, cannot grasp you. I may boast that of nine out of ten, by their word or action, I may feel the pulse of their hearts. But of the tenth I despair. It is beyond me. You are that tenth." Or Balzac to Evaline: "My beloved angel. I am nearly mad about you, as much as one can be mad: I cannot bring together two ideas that you do not interpose yourself between them." Or Kafka:."for hours on end my head hums with the desire to hear the name Felice..." I cannot help but feel that love letters achieve a certain ascendency; perhaps it is also the implied nakedness, the laying bare of the soul, the revelation of vulnerabilities and the poignantly yearning hope.
When reading these ardently eloquent letters, so utterly private in their intended audience, I abhor the very notion of another reading them aloud - a misplaced intermediary that squarely positions themselves between myself and the narrative. One cannot get lost in the content with such physical impediments to the imagination; but then I have never been inclined to books-on-tape: infinitely preferring a self-directed pace, the flexibility to read and re-read, the prerogative to formulate my own perceptions of the narrative sound and rhythm. But it is a context-specific preference - literary prose of the descriptive kind, the lush gorgeousness of depicted environment, or the particular predilections of a well-drawn out character - these works I invariably prefer to linger over, to read and re-read passages of delighted appreciation....relying for interpretation upon my unique imaginative landscape that colors the literary hillside and imbues it with the most pungent of flavors.
It may also be a nostalgic thing - for indubitably the love letters of the kind referenced above were of a different age, one of letters ink-penned and stamped, where lipstick marks, coffee rings, smears and blotches provided visual clues to the writer's state of mind. Love letters now tend to be of an electronically transmitted variety, formulated in the relative sterility of binary code and instantaneously sent and delivered through the dark obscurity of cyberspace. Sans wineglass rings, tear-stains and inky flourishes. The words are the same, they are simply draped in a more blandly uniform garment - generically typed as opposed to the flamboyance of unique penmanship. Certainly, contemporary penned letters of love are not unknown - but what treasures they are indeed! Denoting the painstaking care taken, the implied patience in post and receipt - they are a rarity in the rapid-fire age of electronic immediacy.
For the writer, it is not simply the romantic allure of love, but the written expression of the innermost emotional self - the laying bare of what lies at the center. It is the labored work of focused emotional intent transcribed by all manner of men and women - writers and otherwise. Missives that were intended to be read, fraught with the stops, starts and stutters, the scrawls and start-overs, the crossed out bits and the smeared corrections, they are a literary testimonial (from the fluttering paper to the faint lingering fragrance) of a profound emotional connection. Reading them I can readily imagine the eager haste with which the envelope is torn and discarded, the anxious rush over words, the fearful crescendo of a heartbeat slowly subsiding...' they are alive - they love me still.' With an intensity all the greater for the lack of all else - simply the eloquent loneliness of ink-clustered letters that fill a page or two...