Postscripts for “Letters to Salonika”

by Méira Cook

but if I don’t even bother to mail the letter she’ll learn what it feels like to be ignored.

The Sad Phoenician


I applied to the Government
I wanted to become a postman,
to deliver real words to real people.

There was no one to receive
my application.

                     The Seed Catalogue


She wrote erotic letters to those imprisoned men, spoke of her long ing, of her dream of their thin suffering bodies, of their pale hands. She caressed their thighs with words. . . And she never opened the letters she received.. . The pure sensuality of desire aroused and de med had become her greatest pleasure.

What the Crow Said


I was writing intensely pained love letters.., and one day I realized ... hey these letters are kind of interesting there was this awful moment when I started to notice, and I said, I’d better make a carbon copy of this letter.

Robert Kroetsch quoted in Labyrinths of Voice


To know that one does not write for the other, to know that these things I am going to write will never cause me to be loved by the one I love (the other), to know that it is precisely there where you are not— this is the beginning of writing.

Roland Barthes A Lover’s Discourse


The narrator of “Letters to Salonika” selfconsciously constructs himself as lover, in the process emerging as writer, the one who inscribes within himself as discursive site, the body of the absent, silent, other. And since the letters are no longer private devotions, but in the context of the book, public declarations, he implicates the reader in this transaction, inserting him/her as third term in a lover’s discourse structured as triangle.

     The reader’s position in these love letters is one of complicity, she is the other towards whom (as much as the beloved) these let ters are addressed, and as such, the reading act is one of interroga tion As Other. I am constructed variously as confidant and interlocutor, the one both to whom and against whom the lover writes in his writing of the beloved. This paper is an attempt then, to articulate the reader as she is implicated in the writing act and it is for this reason that I have chosen the term “postscripts” in my title. This paper is presented as an annotation to the letters, as that which is written in response to the lover’s discourse. It is also, to use Derrida’s metaphor of reception in The Post Card (1980), a letter itself addressed to another reader, the reader that is, of this letter.

     The reader in Kroetsch’s “Letters to Salonika” occupies an ambiguous and intriguing position. She is the one to whom the lover addresses himself but she is also the Other, the third term in a triangular relation, the one in the presence of whom the lover’s dis course is enacted. In the selfconscious transformation of these letters from private to public artifacts, we may even ask if it were possible to construct the lover at all except in the scopic field of the observing other, the witness in the presence of whom, love is at once artificial and articulate. She is, in short, the other woman.

     Finally, in privileging the writing act in the term “postscripts,” I refer to the agency of the reader/lover in and of the text. Since, as Barthes maintains, the amorous subject is incapable of writing his own love story, it is the task of the reader as Other to bring to the text the resonance of the absent body.

     I would like to acknowledge the enormous influence of Barthes’ text A Lover’s Discourse on this paper. I have used his aleotoric figures and tropes extensively as strategies in my own reading of the rhetorics of desire.

     All references to Barthes in this paper are from A Lover’s Discourse, referred to as (LD).

*         *          *

PostScript to the Letter of May 27

(But isn’t desire always the same, whether the object is present or absent? Isn’t the object always absent?)  (Barthes 15)

If absence is the first premise of desire, then the love letter is the most perfect motive of its expression, because it is the form of writ ing that transforms the beloved’s absence into what Barthes has called an “ordeal of abandonment” (13) through an episode of lan guage. Caught between two locutions—the lover/writer addresses his beloved, absent to him as object, at the moment when she is most present to him as referent. The relationship between the fugitive other and the desiring self is best expressed by the metaphysical poets with their intricate cartographies of the body’s compass and in “Letters to Salonika” by the figure of the journeyer, the “strange Columbus” (139) who, like the Sad Phoenician of love, is simultaneously “at sea” and becalmed by the treacherous absence of the other.

     It is always the other who leaves, so that the condition of desire is one which forces the subject into a series of awkward and necessary truces with place: “Because your absence that fills this apart ment fills my mind at this hour” (139). The subject who writes this line is curiously feminised in his position as the waiting lover, tak ing his place at the window with Tennyson’s Marianne and Homer’s Penelope: “A man is not feminised because he is inverted but because he is in love” (Barthes 14).

     Yet the desiring subject is more nearly androgynous, the lover is infantile, polymorphic, an ungendered, pre-weaned child greedy for oral pleasures: “Finding only that my mouth hurts for you. My lips needing your hair, the skin of your back. I bite your absence. I want . . .” (139). What the lover wants is indescribable—the lost plenitude of childhood comes closest to representing what it is he has lost and seeks now to recover at the unimaginable source of the imagined body:

. . . the small scars of your back when you were cut, when a child, and sick; cut with a razor and bled and healed. I want each scar to be a lit tle cunt that I can heat with my tongue.  (139)

     In seeking to transform wound into the originary place of desire, the lover would seem to be ascribing a curative quality to the act of writing, as if in writing the absence he is able to heal it. But it is the lover-as-writer who has conferred the wound in the first place, opening it to our inspection by evoking the scarred and bleeding body at the site of writing.

     And it is the body of the lover, like that of his beloved, which is marked by the scar, as when, in the letter of June 21 he describes the scar he suffered whilst trying to steam himself (“I was home alone that day too,” 158). The time around scars, the body marked by datelines, like the letters carefully coded by month and day, is what divides the year into convenient units of waiting.

*         *          *

Wednesday. I’m up at 4:00 A.M. I was up at 4:00, it’s 5:00 now. Had tea. Prowled around our apartment. Our home. Looked at Lacan. Looked at a poem I should work on but won’t let myself work on until this fall. But should work on.  (LS 139)

Let us look now, with the lover “at Lacan” for an explanation of the process by which desire like language is predicated on absence.1

     What Lacan calls the imaginary register is the dimension of the image and is characterised by the relation of similitude, the concor dance apparent between the object and its image. And if, as is most often the case, the figure projected conforms to the lineaments of the psyche, then the ego must seek its own congruence in the image. Lacan’s “symbolic” register is located in the domain of the signifier and is characterised by relationships of conjunction.

     The symbolic register pre-exists the subject who is defined through her entry into it and her articulated response to language and the law, the dual axes of symbolisation. The child located in the imaginary phase may best be described by an identification that is at once fusional and perversely dual. The mirror stage is that mythic moment symbolised by the first glance of the subject into the looking glass—when she apprehends her image separate from herself and witnesses the physical fragmentation into ego and image. Presented with the apparent disintegration of the self, the infant identifies her body as “other”; anarchic, subversive and rebellious. Lacan’s mirror stage is brought about through the inter vention of the father’s law which severs the dyadic unity of mother and child. The loss of this imaginary identity with the mother (and through her, with that of the world,) the violent separation from the maternal bounty, can only be experienced as a physical expulsion from the mother’s body—as amputation or as birth.

     It is here that language begins, here at the place where the subject articulates its loss, so that language first uttered by the “I” who has lost, must be defined and structured about an absence, an insatiable desire. Since the speaking subject comes into existence through loss and desire, loss and desire must be the orientation of all language.

     The courtly lover as a condition of his waiting (for the tokens of the beloved, a ribbon, a handkerchief, a letter) for the signifier, that is, that announces her presence (like the infant in the absence of the mother’s breast) hallucinates his desire. This is the lover’s dis course; to proceed along a metonymic circuit of exchange in search of the one thing that can best stand in for the lost object of desire, what Lacan has called l’objet petit a. And what is this object but that which is hallucinated and destroyed again but always in effigy—as fetish, as image, as letter?

*         *          *

PostScript to the letters of May 29 and May 30

. . . what is in this loved body which has the vocation of a fetish for me?   (Barthes 20)

“Only one letter from you” begins the lover in the letter of May 29 (LS 141) but we know that his word “one” belittled by the modifier “only” stands in for the integer, the letter x that accommodates the equation—there is no number adequate to stand in the place of the one letter that has arrived, the only one. For what is awaited, as we have discussed, is that plenitude, signalled by Lacan as jubilance, what is awaited is the festival of the other’s presence.

     And it is the banality of the fetish that structures this fête as con tingency and language: “The incident is trivial (it is always trivial) but it will attract to it whatever language I possess” (Barthes 69). The lover who measures his waiting in baskets of fruit, the reader who riffles the pages of a dozen novels searching for insight, what is he enacting here but the presence in his life of the fetish-substi tute? As strawberry / as clue / as scene of desire: “I have neglected for a whole day to remember the clarity of your collarbones” (141).

     In order to make the missing other speak, in order that is, to make absence signify, the lover creates meaning—poignant and pro found—out of almost nothing; the eggplant in the refrigerator that “for all its growing smallness . . . remains powerful” reminds the narrator of the colour of her eyes. The contradiction at the heart of that clause expresses the paradox of similitude—the colour of her eyes like that of the eggplant—the absent object evoked by that to which it is compared, the stand-in, the object-at-hand.

     The presence of the beloved within the text is inscribed in this way, as fragment, as decoy of the inscrutable desire of the writer who fantasises by way of another, the plenitude of the Other:

I watched a woman, desirable in her bikini, and I thought of you . . . those hairs that are so indecent and exciting, those hairs that your swimsuit can’t contain . . .  (LS 146)

     The letter dated May 30 provides us with a series of these decoys, invented alibis along which desire circulates metonymi cally. This configuration is similar to that presented by Baudrillard in his concept of the “Simulacrum”2 where he speaks of the prolif eration of signs that reference nothing but themselves, and that over and over again. In the process of losing “the real” we have pro duced images of images, substitutes of substitutes, under the regime of a paradigm where the position of language within repre sentation has been erased. In this context, Kroetsch’s lover is attracted by a precession of simulacra that glide across the surface of the text, each one standing in for the one that precedes it, only to be discarded in favour of the one that follows: the eggplant—the colour of her eyes—the black shoes, fated like the eggplant, to be thrown out—the colour black (“I may throw away black itself”)— Greek widowhood—a grandmother slicing olives—the widow he has become.

     The lover signifies his mourning—a mourning that has already occurred incidentally, at the beginning of the love affair, since all love is predicated on the premise of loss—through a procession of fetishes that move over the surface of the text.*

*         *          *

It is not everyday that you encounter what is so constituted as to give you precisely the image of your desire.

Jacques Lacan

On receiving five letters from his beloved, the lover kisses her photograph. They do not touch (152). What is the function of the image as fetish, the singular icon that corresponds so painstakingly to the specialty of his desire? Since the photograph as replica corresponds exactly to the image of the beloved, this is the penultimate simu lacra (beyond that is, the presence of the subject), the solution to the equation:

to desire an end to desire
is to desire
                        (LS 159)

In the letter that follows, the lover gazes at her ass, her legs (always these dismembered body-parts, as if to look at the whole would be to gaze upon the face of God—an oblation) and sees the old woman she will become. If the eye is the organ of sexual signification, the scopic field is the play of surfaces, the text the body upon which the theatre of desire is performed.

     In another poem, no less erotic because it is about the lost beloved mother, the poet on his birthday looks at a photograph of his mother when she was seventeen and imagines himself her approaching lover (CFN 210). Desire, it would seem from these let ters, is a performance of the act of seeing, the image / icon / photo by means of which we hallucinate our otherwise unrepresentable desires: “Love at first sight is a hypnosis: I am fascinated by an image” (Barthes 189).

What accommodates itself exactly to the desire of the lover in these poems is the fetish, constituted, as we have seen, by the absent object in the presence of the gaze. Yet the scene of love is not always visual, Barthes speaks of an aural frame, a linguistic synecdoche:

I can fall in love with a sentence spoken to me: and not only because it says something which manages to touch my desire, but because of its syntactical turn (framing) which will inhabit me like a memory.

(Barthes 192)

     As mnemonic, the love letter is the episode of language that accompanies the amorous gift, that which like all gifts is offered as sensual exchange: you will be touching what I have touched / you will be reading what I have written.

*         *          *

Powerless to utter itself, powerless to speak, love nonetheless wants to proclaim itself, to exclaim, to write itself everywhere.

(Barthes 78)

In his continuing long poem Completed Field Notes, Robert Kroetsch dedicates the book to “that reader I call Ishtar, that undiscoverable and discovered reader towards whom one, always, writes” (CFN, 270). Since Ishtar is female, Kroetsch would seem to be taking the same position in his dedication, of the anxious lover writing letters to an erratic and inscrutable other. This inscription of the female in the text, not only as lover, but as reader, is immensely resonant:

No mail at all from you. None. I talk to myself. I begin to suspect I am writing these letters to myself, writing myself the poem of you. Its title is, I Think About Women Much of the Time. That is the poem about you and your silence.  (LS 147)

     The beloved’s silence in the wake of his letters corresponds to the reader’s silence, the uninflected silence that follows any declara tion, any act of writing: “If writing isn’t read it stays on the page and that is silence. But writing when it is read does not go with silence” (Kroetsch in Labyrinths of Voice 164).

     What then is the love letter but the unread unrequited letter, the letter for which there is no adequate response but silence? The letter is in this sense, another way of mourning, by invoking absence through a scenography of writing. To speak of love is itself a jouissance, says Lacan,3 and the love letter addresses nothing less than this absence of the absent body. Insofar as writing prolongs desire, all writing is the writing of a love letter, addressed to the self, post marked “return to sender.”4

     Because the love letter is framed as apostrophe, an “I-love-you” that has no propriety of tense or tone, no appropriate reply and no surcease, that has no exchange value, is offered not simply as gift or theft as debt or demand—for all these reasons, the love letter waits for only one thing: an answer. Without a reply, the love letter repli cates, and since there is no way to deplete a reading, the love letter is infinitely replicable. It is only in the presence of a reply that the love letter forecloses.

*         *          *

PostScript to the letter of June 16

What is a letter? Sometimes it is a star that fell.
Sometimes it is a rock, a stone.

                                                        (LS 153)

After the plenitude and exuberance of the previous day’s entry, “five FIVE five letters from you today” (152), the lover forces us to confront the narrative of the blank page. Something has been elided, the image of the other (as fetish / as letter) has begun to fade: “Like a kind of melancholy mirage, the other withdraws into infinity and I wear myself out trying to get there” (Barthes 112).

     The letter that we read—the fallen star, the rock—is also the let ter we have been prevented from reading. Like the mirror that holds the room in its stare (LS 157) the letter reflects back to us a world “made strange” by the particularities of loss.

*         *          *

PostScript to letter of May 28

Sometimes I think this going away of yours has hurt me beyond all re pair. I am not myself and cannot ever be again. I am my own empti ness, trying to fill my emptiness with words. (LS 140)

The narrator of “Letters to Salonika” like most of Kroetsch’s protag onists, constructs himself in the telling of his story. And like most of these, does not exist until told as story. Yet it is his own story that he is telling, so that the “I” is divided from the moment of its utterance; it is both speaking subject and subject of the sentence. The repeti tion of “I” in the first three sentences of this letter testifies to the sub ject’s anxiety with regard to his identity as an amorous subject. Constructed in the negative, as “not,” the barred subject can only represent himself as emptiness, he is no longer himself without her: “But my actual dreams, my dreams of each night, are empty. I have learned to dream emptiness” (LS 140). Simultaneous with this pre dicament, however, is the realization that not only is the subject not himself, but he is also not the other:5I am not someone else: that is what I realize with horror” (Barthes 121). Who then is the lover?

     The lover is the subject who identifies himself most strongly with the one who occupies the same position as himself in the amorous structure: “I am the one who has the same place I have” (Barthes 129).

     When we read these letters it soon becomes apparent that the place of the lover is a parenthetical space. He is the bracketed sub ject, occupying a place that signifies only insofar as it expresses the contingencies of his split position:

(Yes, I am to leave here on the 29th of June) (I find it hard to imagine the apartment vacant, the lights not coming on at night, the red tea kettle never set on a burner, the bedroom always empty of sound).

(LS 147)

The lover is in all things plural. The use of the first person subject as an interrogation of the first person object, the speaking subject in dialogue with the subject of the sentence, is another way of con structing the triangle within which the love relation unfolds. It is not so much a case of the lover saying “I am not myself” as “I am both myself and the other”; as lover and poet both, the narrator of the letters enters into a complicity with the reader, where it is the beloved who is virtually de trop, someone to be discussed, a discur sive site: “You were unkind, Unnatural. I search for a way to hate myself free of your absence” (LS 140). What is being articulated here is nothing less than the ludicrous position of the beloved as conduit for the desire between poet/lover and reader, a four-way tension that, to some extent, displaces the authority of the triangle.6

*         *          *

PostScript to the letter of May 31

. . . there is no longer any place for me anywhere not even in death.
                                                                                  (Barthes 11)

The lover sits alone in a storm, tirelessly rehearsing in a fever of language the effect of a wound: “ . . . and I’m happy and desperate at the same time, and I’m happy and I’m desperate at the same time, and I’m happy. And I’m desperate” (LS 143). The subject is inserted between the storm and the classical music on the radio, both of which, because they are languageless, further bracket him within the discourse of his annulment.

     In this figure, it is not the other that is loved by the subject, but love: “It was a beloved structure and I weep for the loss of love, not of him or her” (Barthes 31). The beloved is no more than the body constructed as a pretext to a confession of love.

     Confession, unlike silence, may be read as a bringing into discourse that which is hidden, through explicit articulation and accu mulated detail. More than a formulation of desire, it is a transformation of desire, what Michel Foucault calls the polymor phous incitement to discourse, a forcing of it, the body, into an inter play of pleasure and sin. Confession is a ritual of discourse in which the subject is compelled to tell in public or private, with the greatest precision, whatever is most difficult to tell. And since if desire is repressed, condemned to prohibition and silence, then to speak of it (about / through / against) the body, is also transgression.

     Silence, no less than confession, is one of the many proliferations of discourse that has resulted from our privileging of the clandes tine body. In the things one declines to say or is forbidden to name, silence functions as a discursive marker that continually proposes and breaches its own limits. As such it functions in a restrictive economy of language and speech, subjugating it at the level of lan guage, controlling its free circulation in speech. The enigmatic vari able, the word “it,” refers here to that which above all else has to be brought into the arena of confession, the body.

     The relationship between the two—confession and silence—is never exclusive, confession is invaded by silence, silence is con structed as a resistance to speech. Foucault, in The History of Sexuality, outlines a genealogy of the body, as it is intersected by a proliferation of discourses invented in the last three centuries to speak about the body, to have it spoken about, to have it speak. Nevertheless, in all this, something still eludes us. In being con strained to lead a discursive existence, in being obliged to be trans lated into words, the body, in the end, eludes us: “I am past all fantasy, past even touching my own body. Except only that I rehearse you with my remembering tongue” (LS 143). So the body that has disappeared is invoked again at the moment of language. Language then stages the appearance / disappearance / reappear ance of the body as image.

     In another letter, “the old poet in his cups” sits again in the rain and rehearses the body of his beloved:

all this, and
your body, now
           (LS 162)

What follows is a naming of parts, the body dismembered by the gaze, the body painstakingly recalled in the ceremony of the confes sional; hands, mouth, pubic hair. It is at last a body brought to res onance, to sound, the inarticulate acoustic body that like the rain, the storm, the classical music on the radio—does not speak:

no words, no
names for
the world is / was
             (LS 163)

*         *          *

talking the
(LS 156)

What we have been speaking of then, is language as a solution to the absent body. The most frequent rhetorical figures in these letters are those of redundancy and aphorism. In the first instance, lan guage gives way to the lassitude of what has already been said, in the second, language is the lure that dupes the narrative into spun usm eaning.

     In the letter of June 7, the lover drives home alone “late, late” singing:

A dark as dark as a dark
A moon as moon as a moon
My lust doth rage in this
of mine old body
                             (LS 149)

In this lateral movement of similitude, desire is never satisfied except as tautology: I love you because I love you / I desire you because you are desirable. The signifying system employed by the lover is a closed circuit:

What I want to know (love) is the very substance
I employ in order to speak (the lover’s discourse)
                                                       (Barthes 59)

     Because the image and acoustic of the beloved is contained within the frequent repetition of a limited linguistic system, which the lover can neither satisfactorily articulate nor abandon, the tone is one of exhaustion, what Barthes calls langour:

. . . something keeps going away; it is as if desire were nothing but this hemorrhage. Such is amorous fatigue: a hunger not to be satisfied, a gaping love. (Barthes 156)

The lover is compelled to believe the impossible, that one day his love because returned, will no longer be redundant:

. . . a compulsion to speak which leads me to say “I love you” in one port of call after another, until someone receives this phrase and gives it back to me; but no one can assume the impossible reply (of an in supportable fulfillment), and my wandering, my errantry continues.  (Barthes 102)

     In these letters, the errant lover remains hopelessly faithful, wandering not from love to love, but from book to book. The love letters are their own palimpsest, between the lines, a proliferation of texts, a glossary of the other book that is being written at the same time: “. . . I can’t remember . . . Dorf, just a few minutes ago, was sitting in a taverna in Salonika, lamenting that to love is a great fault” (LS 145).* Between the letters, the poet reads books, a fasci nating travel journal, mad poems, translations that strike gaps in the world. Instead of a letter he sends a book to her mother, instead of a letter he sends (via Pound) a poem to his lover:

please let me know beforehand
and I will come out to meet you . . .
              (LS 166, loose translation)

     The other trope we spoke of, that of aphorism, functions simi larly as avoidance of meaning through rhetoric:

The logic of your beauty runs away from my eyes.
(LS 150)

wind your clock
with a rope,
never bite a hollow
(LS 156)

O Lowry, how you must have rejoiced when you realized the others could only succeed, while you could fail. (LS 160)

No longer framed as tautology, as borrowed meaning, these apho risms are (over)laden with import and originality, they signify vastly in excess of their meaning, they are dedications addressed to the reader, designed as lure: “I can fall in love with a sentence spoken to me . . . ” (Barthes 192). It is in these episodes of language that the writer at last begins to court the true object of his desire—not the beloved, but the reader.

*         *          *

Quite frequently, it is by language that the other is altered; the other speaks a different word. (Barthes 26)

The lover re-experiences at this point the alienation of the other, the experience earlier alluded to, that the other speaks in another lan guage. This is occasioned quite literally in this narrative when the lover laments the transformation in her letters, English is no longer her first language:*

Yours is a complex ritual of place and culture. I come from huge silences . . . In Greek I found a maze and stories of mazes that became, I now see, metonymous with my own life. (LS 154)

     In speaking of the difference in their two signifying fields, in the metaphor of the maze, the lover invokes again the process by which desire is articulated as desiring a way out of and into entrapment. Language here, the opacity of a discourse that cannot be read, finally divides the lover from his image, precipitating in language what it would not be an exaggeration to call exile.

     In losing their common language, the lover loses more than any thing else, the commonality of the amorous langue—the substratum of all past and future transactions. Because his lover speaks now in the second person, the lover is compelled to utter without hope of reply, the particularities of his own entrapment: “By meaning we mean something that means but, in the process, means its opposite”(LS 166).

*         *          *

The fridge is empty. In Greece it’s daytime and you’re wide awake, it doesn’t seem right. (LS 151)

The solution to the amorous crisis is to flee. Yet it is the beloved who has left,* the lover who mourns her absent body in the traces of the text, mourns that is, without recourse to flight. In his construction of himself as a literary Columbus, sailing away from the place he belongs, unable to return to the old country because it has ceased to exist in his absence, the lover constructs himself as place: I am here, you are elsewhere. Place then becomes the secret trace of identity, the marker of the elusive body; he is in Winnipeg where the women wear short dresses and the men finger unseen stops, he imagines himself in the July heat of Sifnos where old women fling potfuls of golden rain into gardens, he is bound for a China without narrative, a place he can neither imagine nor recall. Conjugated variously in the past, present and future tense the lover is displaced, unhomed, relocated to that site that Derrida has called supplement.7

*         *          *

PostScript to the letter of June 17

The transport is the joy of which one cannot speak.
                                                                (Barthes 55)

The fulfilled lover has no need to write, to transmit, to reproduce.
                                                                            (Barthes 56)

What Derrida has called the “supplement” of the text, the surplus at the border, can be neither read nor erased. This excess or over flow, the residue of the text, the jouissance of the writing act, cannot be finally named or represented. As Lyotard would say, it is a pre dicament that occurs always “too soon, too late” (1988). The text that is endlessly replicable, within which meaning is never depleted, is also the text that cannot finally be read in the present tense since it is either precipitous or tardy, and since within it, within that is the hysterical region of love that it demarcates, desire is simultaneously “too much” and “not enough”:

Form, I want to talk to you about the relationship of the erotic to form. But I fall silent. I receive a letter from you and it’s so old that you are already someone else, the letter is out of joint with the reality that I imagine. A problem in form, a dislocation that is real. (LS 155)

     The dislocation that the lover imagines is the consequence of his displacement in time, since the initial scene of love is always presented in the past tense, reconstituted as memory. The grammar of the lover’s discourse is therefore imprecise: always elsewhere. Only in our forgetting to name it, in our repression of the text, in the sense that Nietzsche speaks of “no present without forgetfulness” (1989, 57), in our reading of the silences of the confessional, may we seek the effaced / dispersed / supplementary body in the places where meaning fails:

dream, and the tooth
first, archaic

                 (LS 155)

*         *          *

PostScript to the letter of June 5

I am home and I miss you and I ask. . . what, then, is love?
(LS 148)

In asking this question, the lover names himself into the code of being in love, in answering it he names himself out of all codes, all texts:

And of course I know the answer. But you are not here. So I must find an answer in the absence of the answer. I am baking two potatoes. One for you and one for me. That is not love. (LS 148)

What then is love?* The answer is always framed in the negative, as ”not-love”, as absence: “Love is an absence of middles” (LS 162).

     Every statement about love in these letters, folds back upon itself in this way. In the end, love is this fold, alternately articulated and erased, so that the only way it can speak is to utter itself every where; dispersed, squandered, we come to believe it, believe in it, only when it denies itself as motive. It is for this reason that a poem like “Sounding the Name” (CFN 212) has such impact, a narrative of intense and unrequited love, it is selfconsciously framed as neg ative: “(i)n this poem my mother is not dead.”

     The mother is not dead, the phone does not ring, the hired man does not answer it, the son does not forget to close the garden gate—in this economy of denial and repression, the intensity of love and loss insists. In the absence of fulfillment, the lover refuses plen itude by resisting satisfaction, in this way only can he make desire / the lover / the mother, return: “I do not remember the game, but I remember the words” (LS 148). What then is love? Love in these letters, carefully measured out by date and time into discreet units of waiting; the lover is the one who waits. Love then, as postpone ment, we love in order to avoid loving: “The world is ending, but the world does not end” (LS 138).

*         *          *

PostScript to the final letter

We write books to avoid writing books.
                                        (LS 166)

Since the lover cannot complete his own love story, the only appro priate way to end the poem is to make the reader complicit in the lover’s discourse. The letters end with a quotation in Greek from a translation in Chinese by Pound. In closing one book, the reader is obliged to open another if she wants to decipher the final coded aphorism. Once again, meaning slides across this text and into the next in an infinite metonymy of significance and desire, “from you, from Pound, from the Chinese” (LS 166).

From the lover, from the reader, from the writer.


  1. What follows is a reading of Lacan’s first seminar in Écrits: A Selection (1977).[back]

  2. Of course Baudrillard’s position implies an underlying nostalgia for whatever it is we have lost that represents “the real”. In his assertion that we produce a proliferation of signs as a consequence of our loss, he also asserts that something necessary and irreplaceable has been lost. The critic Arthur Kroker in The Postmodern Scene maintains that in a post-modernist society,meaning has not been misplaced, since it was never there, there was nothing to lose in the first place.[back]

  3. In “God and the Jouissance of The Woman” and “A Love Letter” in Feminine Sexuality ed, Jacqueline Rose, 1982.[back]

  4. In fact, in the sense that Derrida speaks of textuality in his own letter “Letter to a Japanese friend” (1988) all writing is a postal dispatch, something to be translated / disseminated / dispersed in writing, something in consequence, to be delivered.[back]

  5. Kristeva, in Powers of Horror, her essay on abjection, would call this the abjected subject: It is no longer I who expel, “I” is expelled. The border has become the object (1982, 4).[back]

  6. Moreover, as Smaro Kamboureli points out, this split position is not unproblematic. The Kroetschean poet-lover is trapped within his construction of himself as writing machine and the desiring force that feeds that machine:

    Despite Kroetsch’s polemical stance against humanism, the poet in the process of giving birth to himself remains a monologic subject who doesn’t accede to the idealogical signature of the long poem. Kroetsch’s focus on failure does little to disengage the poet from the very binary structures that he rightly says the long poem seeks to disperse. (Kamboureli 80)

    I am indebted to Professor Jon Kertzer for pointing out Kamboureli’s essay, “A Genre in the Present Tense,” and to Professor Dennis Cooley for his editorial advice.[back]

  7. This is the word he uses in his essay on Mallarmé in Acts of Literature ed., Derek Attridge (1992).[back]

Works Consulted

Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990.

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” Art after Postmodernism. Ed. Brian Wallis. New York: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984.

Derrida, Jacques. “Letter to a Japanese Friend.” Den-ida and Differance. Eds. David Wood and Robert Bernasconi. Northwest UP, 1988.

_____. La Cart Postale. Paris: Flammarion, 1980.

_____. “Mallarmé.” Trans. Christine Roulston. Acts of Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Dorscht, Susan Rudy Women, Reading, Kroetsch: Telling the Difference. Waterloo: Wil find Laurier UP, 1991.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, 1978.

Kamboureli, Smaro. On the Edge of Genre: The Contemporary Canadian Long Poem. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1991.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.

Kroetsch, Robert. Completed Field Notes. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990.

Kroker, Arthur. The Postmodern Scene. Montreal: New World Perspectives, 1986.

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.

_____. “God and the Jouissance of The Woman” and “A Love Letter.” Trans and Eds. Jacqueline Rose and Juliet Mitchell. Feminine Sexuality. New York: Norton, 1982.

Lyotard, Jean-François. Heidegger and “the jews.” Trans. Andreas Michel. Minneap olis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Neuman, Shirley and Wilson, Robert. Labyrinths of Voice: Conversations with Robert
Edmonton: NeWest, 1982.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.