‘The amorous subject cannot write his love story himself.’ Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments
You ask whether I’m writing about you and the short answer is ‘yes’ and the rest of this fumbling letter can be the long one. You’d like to hear everything, I’m sure, conceited as you are: how I fell in love with you, how I still long for you – and then you’ll probably want me to find poetry in this misery, and to pull some wisdom out of my ass, and I should be able to do that.
Lonely people know something about life too! …
That last sentence has been grinding around in my head for a good while now, but I don’t trust it, just as I’m sceptical of most of what I think and for fleeting moments try to believe in. Because what do I really know? Nothing. I know nothing. I can hardly be
said to be living, precisely because I don’t know, because I need to know before I can live – while life is arranged such that one only knows after the fact. As a child I read a book about reincarnation. It said that in each life, one must learn something new. I remember thinking that in this one I’d learn patience.
How much can one really learn about life through the cracks in the blinds?
I’ve started to realise that such days can make up a whole life: an entire life filled with longing and nothing else. I have to do something, and so I write letters. I can tell you about New Year’s Eve for example – that at first I was served glass after glass of wine and had a good time, but when the fireworks lit up the sky above the park and I knew that everything was exactly as before, and that my life wasn’t likely to undergo any noteworthy changes this year, either, it was as if everything inside me turned dark, and on my way home in the early hours of the first day of the first month I repeatedly punched my fist into a brick wall until several of my knuckles were bleeding. I understand I have no right to be angry. But on the other hand it would be dishonest to censor the idiot in me, or to pretend to be a stronger person than I actually am. The whole point is that I don’t want to lie anymore, or to ‘play my cards right’.
When you struggle, as I did, to impress another person, and manage only to satisfy that person’s silly neuroses, you start to wonder what she’s worth, what you yourself are worth – what the rest of it’s worth. My longing and your vanity must have been inextricably linked from the start: that I want to look at you, that you want to be looked at. A skewed starting point, to put it mildly.
You’re probably hoping that this will be a tender, heartfelt letter, something funny you can tell everyone about: the hopeless poor bastard who fell for you and so wrote you a hundred pages. That it’ll be almost like a romance novel, with you as its main character.
Perhaps you played the muse, fickle and enchanting, precisely so that I would write you such a letter. Perhaps your own poetry was pretence. Perhaps you’ve never really wanted to write, but rather to become poetry…Insulted yet?
I promise to give you the literary treatment you deserve.
What is a person worth alone, outside the contexts where values arise and attain their legitimacy?
Lonely people know nothing and are worth nothing.
My room is as empty as the rest of my life. I find it stressful to be surrounded by things. I have hardly any books anymore, and barely any furniture: a small table, a box mattress for a bed, an armchair, a stool for my feet. The walls used to be empty, too, but I’ve put
up some quotations, a couple of Rodin sketches of naked ballerinas touching themselves, a postcard S– once sent me from Berlin – a picture of Travis Bickle with a revolver – and a photo of an old Afghan hag with a Kalashnikov rifle clamped between her legs. The air in here is cold, but that’s the kind of thing that might make one stronger. If the windows aren’t left mostly open the room starts to smell of the sour towels in the dirty laundry basket, the rankness of my sweat and the stale sweetness of sperm from the wastepaper basket. I spend way too much of my time here and can breathe the stagnant air for hours before I start noticing it.
We talk all the time in the dark. I give good explanations for everything, persuading you day by day. You’re not really here, and so can never really leave me, either. At night you snuggle up to me in bed: your slim body with its small breasts against mine. I think how even your body is humble. It doesn’t make much of itself. You leaf through the pages of the books – tell me I read such strange ones. You tease me. I read Marcus Aurelius in bed. I read La Rochefoucauld. He writes: ‘Weak people cannot be sincere.’ I read the sentence aloud to you.
There are some glasses on the table and a stack of four or five dirty plates. On them are congealed yellow globs of egg and red blobs of ketchup. I used to be someone who kept things in order, made sure to keep my surroundings clean and tidy, but I no longer have the energy for stuff like that. Lately, when I think about how I used to be this way or that, I often realise that it’s been many years since I used to be that kind of person, or since I did things in this way or the other. Perhaps I was never like that. Maybe this is me. Maybe the dirty plates, the greasy stains left on the glasses by my hands and lips, are me?
I’ve always struggled to distinguish between self-loathing and self-awareness.
I don’t even like my own name. If I’d been a girl, then according to my mother I would have been called Kari – which incidentally was also the name of my first girlfriend. It was my older brother who suggested the name that I ended up with; it had been the name of a good friend he’d had to leave behind when our family moved. The name is among the most common to appear in crime and bankruptcy statistics. There are nineteen Norwegians with the same combination of first and last name as me. The most well- known of them is in prison for dealing a recourd amount of drugs.
These days, whenever I think your name, it’s like the blaring of an alarm clock in the morning after a sleepless night.
I myself have never committed any serious misdeed, but I feel a kind of kinship with the
scum of the earth, with the rapists and mass murderers – as if they could tell me something about myself, as if they were the caricature that brought out the truth about me. Those of us with an overactive conscience so easily identify with those who have no conscience at all. Perhaps we long to commit real crimes, skin and all, and to be punished for them. Maybe we long for a cell that is, after all, larger than that of our own thoughts; an existence with solid walls and a defined timeframe. And maybe we suspect that a world without crime would be an even greater hell on earth, because then nobody would be aware that all these terrible things we go around thinking about exist.
On my way home from a night on the town late one evening in winter, I was passing a takeout place when someone called out: Don’t give him pizza, he’s a rapist! Don’t! He’s a rapist! Don’t give him pizza! … and although the man wasn’t speaking about me – even though I’ve never raped anyone or even wanted to, and it therefore couldn’t be me he was talking about – I immediately identified with the pizza customer, as if my depraved thoughts were on a scale with his alleged acts.
First it was the eyes… I should say: of course. And what was it about yours, exactly? I once tried to compliment Kari on hers. She said, almost rolling them: ‘It’s not the eyes themselves, but what’s around them, that makes one pair different from another!’ And around your pair of blues, what? Big, blushing cheeks. The tip of a nose pulled up and down by your upper lip when you talk. Small, dark brows that are likewise never still. Constant movement in every muscle. A face completelyfree of secrets. My first impression was that you radiated something nervously innocuous I did not trust. I had to find something ugly, quickly. Had to protect myself. Had to reject you before you had the time to reject me. You looked at me, sort of seductively over your glass of beer, though I didn’t draw that conclusion – but I did decide that your gaze was faithless, faithless and searching, and that you were the kind of person one falls for against one’s will. Resolved, I pointed at your eyes and said: ‘Those things don’t work on me.’
A useless state: I mainly lie in bed, thinking about you, or I sit here in my armchair, or stand by the window and spy on what’s going on outside. But I might at least be able to write a few paragraphs about what it’s like to just lie or to sit or to stand here; what it’s like to do nothing but think of you. Every time I think I’m getting a handle on the story it changes into something else. It cracks, breaking up into small pieces. It doesn’t shatter, but rather cracks like safety glass… each piece remaining stuck in a kind of fractured whole. I have hundreds of beginnings and that’s really all I have, written down here and there, now and then, without any kind of plan. Just a mass of passing moments I’m unable to get out of my head. I should make it clear, before I forget, that I’m not writing just to propagate my own misery, but so that something might fall into place. Something… Some kind of practical truth. I have only one book in me at the end of the day: It’s called How I Learned to Love, and I hope to write it over and over again, with small variations, until I die.