Abundance obscures suffering, contrary to the pretenses of self-inflicted exile. Don't let me be misunderstood, I am not a cynic — I abhor the meekness of the term. I'm trying to tell you that something is being taken from us that won't be given back. Do you understand? I perform through you every morning.
ELEVENTH SESSION ON 26 MAY 2020.
It is difficult to tell you this. (It is difficult to tell you anything). But I'm always telling you the same thing. An exercise in relinquishing oneself? Well, I’ve been speaking to a person I haven’t met both intimately and at length. Last night, towards the end of our three-hour conversation on Skype, I remarked a recurring moment in which the frame of the iPhone emboldens itself and contains him after I successfully and briefly repress the medium into oblivion. It’s traumatizing, we once mutually remarked, because I realize that he’s not there and I have never seen him. The refocus of the iPhone frame into the foreground is an apple bleeding real blood, spilling over my hands. Everything I'm learning right now is some of the worst things I've ever learned.
TENTH SESSION ON 25 MAY 2020.
You live in the very impossibility I demanded of you. This text is an outpost somewhere between desire and fantasy — a layered saga of patience and graft. What is so irresistible about this moment? The violence, of course, muted behind a perverse longing for normalcy. Will order redeem its already vacant shell? Grappling with thoughts of actually catching the virus has been my great pre-occupant: I cannot imagine a greater freedom. The dismal, corporeal expanse of the present solitude is a kind of limbo. I watch bodies touch each other on film as a study in history. Capital has a swift way in perpetually cannibalizing and reinventing itself — duly rewarding itself in the process. It's the end of modernity, some declared. Forced isolation is a commemoration of its opposite, and writing is neither sacrificial or sacrilegious: nothing about this moment is intrinsically meaningful. That's the real tragedy. What can one expect from an order that accentuates loneliness, encourages surveillance, kills the sick alone, forbids mourning, isolates the healthy and renders them more desperately online than before, and ultimately leaves infrastructural modernity intact? All the glass in the city looks the same. The electricity lines are resilient. Lovers in cars, groceries in suitcases, flour in baby carriages, policemen in protective masks, the moment's urgency like a freckle between your eyes. Imagine the nightmare of arriving at a destination after suspicion and delay and finding it indistinguishable from the point of departure? It's like giving birth to a baby and wishing to swallow it whole again. What comes after neoliberalism is undoubtedly much worse.
NINTH SESSION ON 23 MAY 2020.
To be not sick and in isolation is a kind of pain that, in and of itself, is a strange privilege. I wish that was the subject of my lyricism — solitude. But this loneliness (without a problem) requires grace and dignity to intelligently describe. Perhaps I'm searching for that which rhetorically resembles you — my pithy glimpses of that which is in you more than you. I was obsessed with describing my life to you. Much of that description was about you, so about you that it outperforms you, spoils you, no longer needs you. Was that my greatest sin with you? (I often evade admission by insisting on doubt or its opposite). Not fear nor cowardice, but demanding the impossible. You gave me the greatest gift by allowing me to plunge deep into self-destruction. By allowing me to do so, I watched you relish in that which is much worse: self-abnegation. That was the cost of my metaphor. When you demanded the less-fictitious, I insisted on fantasy. Perhaps that's what forbids us from looking at each other in the eye.
EIGHTH SESSION ON 21 MAY 2020.
Every one of my wishes simultaneously contains its opposite. I am trying to memorize your face.
SEVENTH SESSION ON 18 MAY 2020.
I am calmer now than I have been in months, and this present stillness will come at a hefty cost. It’s the same atavistic urge one endures in the aftermath of a calamity. (I recall attending in 2017 the “President’s Ball,” the annual formal at my alma mater. I was there for twenty-five minutes all in all (casual obligation, hesitant invitation from a friend, kept my word). I was nervous — as I tended to be in large crowds. A permanent state of certainty that something terrible was always on the verge of occurring, an impenetrable uncertainty as to what it would be. A balloon popped, followed by a knee-jerk conviction that it was an active shooter, but no one else flinched. I ran outside the dance hall, feeling the safest and dumbest I have ever felt. Finally, the object of my fear is here, no longer a lewd, unidentifiable silhouette. (Have I told you this story before?) The whole encounter was oiled with reason — the safest place to be is the place that has just been devastated. I wish you could’ve seen this. But your tragic sense of presence is now a tragic sense of absence and you see everything, don’t you? The disease lacks any trackable contours, exacerbating the state of anxiety. It will be impossible to forget the sight of hazmat suits armed with rifles. The invisible enemy and the white army. Of course, the invisibility of an enemy condemns it to omnipresence: everything is hell, and my room is the only corona-free island of certainty. I sometimes find myself wishing for a more beautiful tragedy.
SIXTH SESSION ON 13 MAY 2020.
I had a long dream of you. We were kissing in ATM rooms and walking around the greyscale city with our hands in each other’s back pockets. Everyone else seemed to be stuck in a television commercial. We were spending time talking to bank tellers before their big wooden desks in their big grotesque buildings, the great phallus of the dollar. We were tired, our right eyeballs kept falling out. We would adjust them, suppressing our laughter. We were running around in white garments and no underwear in the grass fields of our high school, strutting between piles of moral rubble. We were being chased by doctors and nurses. We were hiding in elevators. Is this a sign of restraint? We were happy. You were looking at me with lethal accuracy and saying, “That’s not funny,” yourself bursting in uncontrollable laughter. I was evoking your authority when I was scared, with the intention of infantilizing hope and in adoration of the confidence of your masculinity. Any mistake during our strolls could have been a fatal error no revision could have absolved or redeemed. Our desire was being mediated by stainless steel and insurance money. My silence was rarely an act of retribution. At worst, it was an act of evasion: an inexorable stage of this interaction. All of this evinced a wonderful sense of humor in us.
FIFTH SESSION ON 11 MAY 2020.
I haven’t interacted with a stranger in 57 days, and there is no longer an interesting way to suffer alone. (You of all people understand that there is always an interesting way to be quiet). Cutting tomatoes superstitiously on the kitchen counter, I talk to my mother about the perversion of discovering each other during this. I am clumsy and callous, and she’s instinctive and agreeable. We haven’t so much as altercated since we locked ourselves together here, but neither were we able to grow bored together — an impossible state to share with one’s parents. Jealous of my own capacity for abjection and too haughty to recognize its obtuseness in her, I remained quiet. She taught me how to translate (by way of translating me), and I’m searching for possibilities in her language. Are there limits to the humiliations of daughterhood? Mothers are dollhouses and all secrets begin under the sun. To take responsibility for oppressive feelings of guilt is the first step out of dysnomia. (I prance around the house defending our mutual tragedies, giving them names). The conditions of my dismal isolation is a small passion at best and a game of endurance at worst. What is there to be done? I have invented new ways to feel hopeless.
FOURTH SESSION ON 26 APRIL 2020.
Our interaction is best exemplified in the theremin. It's an L-shaped instrument with two metal antennas: one shooting skyward (determining frequency) and the other piercing in the distance (determining volume). In between is a mum, invisible cloud of electromagnetic fields, which surely exist but make no sign of existing until and only with the interruption of the thereminist's hands. The instrument involves no physical contact to be played, making it also one of the most difficult to master. An amateur will only produce clamor and roar. A skilled thereminist will make the air sing. It sounds like a wailing woman, or moaning. It is the line between genius and monstrosity. No, it's the line between genius and the innocent monstrosity of children. Rather, it is the monstrosity inherent to genius. It's haunted and haunting. It is a tribute to nature while at the same time its core antithesis. (It is the first electronic instrument. By definition, it is the opposite of nature). Clara Rockmore played it best. There should be books written about her eyes (always closed). It is only with your careful hands that I am able to make an intelligible sound. But it is fundamental that you don't see me. It will keep the terror to a minimum.
THIRD SESSION ON 13 APRIL 2020.
I am lonely without your language. And I don't misunderstand the cruelty of the state.
SECOND SESSION ON 10 APRIL 2020.
I wanted to show you footage my mother took on her 38th birthday in Telford, England in 2005. We had arrived at my aunt's house days earlier while my father stayed behind in Amman. I remember being forced to drink milk at dinner our entire stay. I remember seeing my mother behind the camera for the first time. My mother is no artist, but she is vulnerable enough in what she does to be an artistic genius. She understands, à la Baldwin, that the function of the artist is identical to that of the lover. She is trying to make my father conscious of the things he doesn't see. I shared her gift for brutal pathos and moral imagination. She was the first body I was close to, and I was her first child to survive. I implicated her in my decay and recoiled in abhorrence at her detection of its early symptoms. More than her love, I elicited her reverence, but at the expense of sensibility, I never demanded it. My birth was a tender study in conviction in a vacuum of loss. I misread her grief for a white flag of defeat and spent my adolescence searching for the unprecedented in her history to try to mirror it. Surely, our relationship was one of surveillance. In order to go on living, her gaze became part of the furniture and mine became evidence of her disillusionment. In the film, she takes my father around her sister's house, and ends with three-minute footage of staring right in the eye of the blazing red sun, halved in half. That's the only way to tell someone the truth: you dissolve the symbolic frame and let the Real spill everywhere. My mother was the first absence, the first desert, the first solitude, the first white page.
FIRST SESSION ON 7 APRIL 2020.
Dearest. The former salutation is whole, in the manner of Lukács. It already contains you; an amalgamation of two synonymous words carrying one another. (Here I invite Elaine Scarry’s defense of beauty as justice. Both words combined lead to fairness). I am already interrogating the anatomy of this letter (or footnote?) and I haven’t even begun parsing the nuances of your silence (accurate in perpetuum) or contemplating its breakage (always explicit). In fact, it is less important that you receive those words than it is to recognize yourself in them. Epistolary writing almost empirically begins with your name. Your gaze is the hardware of my imagination — and will be, till hell freezes over. Let us transcribe each other. What was once voluntary solitude (discipline) has turned into lawful solitude (punishment). To be a willing prisoner of the text sanitizes it. But now, does the text have the right to exist? (The rights of the text are not enshrined in any constitutions). There is lust to the perversity of it all — something fundamentally and pleasantly irredeemable about this moment. Consider the first word a declaration of war, a lesson in solitude, footnotes to an unwritten body, letters of an unrealized affair.