January 5, 2007

Further Notes on Letters

"Writing letters is actually an intercourse with ghosts, and by no means just with the ghost of the addressee but also with one's own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing."

--Franz Kafka

Kafka tells Milena Jesenska he is her best reader and still we see the constant claim of misunderstanding. Letters pass one another en route so one's response is always a step behind. She writes to him in pencil, surely a sign of hesitancy, he apologizes for an emotional eruption, retracting reproaches.

There is a lesson in ethics in the writing of letters: true letters of pen onto paper, the kind that are kept boxed, their postmarks, odd stamps, choices of stationary, the kind of pen itself, handwriting style, the place of sending, all announcing the historical scene of their composition. There must be trust in phronesis, that judgment in reception that is open and discerning enough to see at once the truth and its ephemeral dating, its appearance, already passed, nothing but the possibility of a ghostly return, which as Kafka says, is the condition which binds the letter's I and Thou.

If not trust, then, at least that hope for some relation that is recognition without appropriation or distortion or cynical manipulation. The comforting old trivium of the boy--Dedalus's silence, exile, and cunning--must eventually give way to the ghostway of being in the world, narrating what will yield to language and sending it off, under way for some future finding.