On letters

When I first read, many years ago, Titian, nymph and shepherd by John Berger, I discovered the strange power communicating by letters can have. I find there is something mesmerising about them. Not only in their physicality, which of course counts (the things themselves, the handwriting of the loved one, the journey through the postal system…) but the voice. Blogs are usually written for a multiple audience, but one not intimately known; emails are, well, work-like; micro-blogging (facebook status, twitter) can be poetic but does not carry the soul. Letters, on the other hand, are from me to you. Choderlos de Laclos could not have written the intrigues of Les liaisons dangereuses if not using an epistolary style. P.G. Wodehouse thought there was such power to letters that he did an experiment where he threw stamped addressed letters out of his London window, certain that people would post them (a practical and literal demonstration of Lacan’s maxim ‘A letter always arrives at its destination’) . Then there is Lacan, again, and what is at stake in Poe’s The Purloined Letter.

Titian, nymph and shepherd is even more dear to me because it also contains a letter to me, one written in its second and third pages (it is a long letter) by my brother. I keep all the personal letters I have received (not the cards, letters are usually not cards. I have even written conference papers in the form of letters, plan to write my PhD conclusion as a letter to my examiners and asked students to write them, to anyone, to everyone, to their perplexity… I think about letters almost constantly but this little reflexion on how much they mean to me started after reading Belen’s story. She had been teasing us on the forum, saying she had a story to tell about letter and, when she told it, it was as wonderful as an astonishing sunset. You know what I mean, a mini sublime. Belen and I used to share a studio when we studied for our Bachelor’s degree in Spain. We shared thoughts, meals, books. We expanded to the small community that El Guindo has become today. We shared a baffling but charming sculpture teacher who showed us to love Lacan and, above all John Berger. We couldn’t get enough. At lunch, we would sit under our cherry tree (el guindo), eating soup and croquettes while we read our favourite And our faces, my heart, brief as photos. We would buy his novels to our boyfriends and let them into our private circle only if they passed the initiation rite of having read them AND loved them. Well, Belen was going through a rough patch a couple of years ago. She was in Madrid, where Berger was exhibiting (he takes photographs, like many of us) and something within her made her write him a letter telling him the lot. After that, she thought nothing more of it. Maybe it did not even get to him. Then, earlier this week, she revealed in El Guindo that he had replied to her with a short, handwritten message, the end of the note bidding her farewell in Spanish, her mother tongue. HE HAD REPLIED. The dream of every letter writer is to get a reply. Belen’s story made me think that, a letter is only second to a kiss.

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