Loving at a distance. The delayed response, the writing medium, the complexity of calligraphy and the whole technical apparatus of writing. The technology of written love forces the lover to pick their words very carefully. Domesticating the emotion while at once rendering it all the more dangerous. The letter allows for the strategic deployment of affections, a deliberate forceful impact made possible through the mindful technique of self-writing.
Distance marks the love-letter; its defining feature. The emotion lags behind. Through an irreducible multiplicity of forms, the love letter has existed in every historical formation. In each case, a particular mode of writing oneself; inscribing oneself in the other, took place. A governmentality for managing and channeling the passions, dispatching them with the calculated intent of extracting the desired emotion from the victim. The lover’s inscriptions would cross multiple thresholds, moving from the personal to the literary, from the familiar and humdrum to the very blueprint of the classical novel.
When love was written, each word was charged with the energy required to influence the lover, to trigger a precise somatic response. The love letter is a surgical operation; its purpose is not a straightforward discursive discharge nor a matter of basic biological release. Even when aiming to hurt the lover, one sews the body back together, but with the organs brutally displaced.
Writing one’s love serves to establish a complex relation of power — a love-function with multiple variables. The functional relationship can easily re-align itself, changing into an elaborate torture-device.
The materiality of the letter speaks to the affective states of the lover no less than the content of the text itself. It provides valuable insight into the specific milieu where the act of writing took place. The rhythm, the cadence of the written words, their order and the general pace of the discursive inflections; the tone and the pitch.
The letter bears witness to the separation of the body and its molecular forces, forces which enter into relationships with the forces of paper and ink. Writing is an embodied practice, a political tool that trains the body in the strangest ways. In unique ways. Not only does writing mutilate the body, but the body in its entirety is merely a product of diverse writing practices. The body is an invention. One does not write about oneself, one quite literally — writes the self. In a similar fashion, it is the letter that shapes the lovers, the love-function constitutes the relationship. The letter creates the very affects that each lover believes to be “expressing” or “describing” as emotion; as “my” emotion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The letter, far from a transparent medium, is in reality the third party which determines and gives birth to their love.
Barclay, K. (2020). The History of Emotions: A Student Guide to Methods and Sources. Bloomsbury