If you’re reading this it’s probably because you already know me. And you probably fall into one of two classes. Either you have been the recipient of countless tortured emails from me in recent weeks and months, or you have not. If you are in the latter group: the only reason I haven’t inflicted interminable self-wallowing epistles upon you is because I have too much respect for you. (If you are in the former group: the others mean nothing to me; they are the kind of people who skip over anything in parentheses. I know!). Anyway, I decided that an intervention of some kind was needed. Not an intervention to save me, you understand, an intervention to save all of my reluctant correspondents from being on the receiving end of so much navel-gazing drivel. Hence: this weblog. (Some of you may be aware that I am also currently writing an essay on virtual reality. I would be so cutting-edge if this were … 1994.)
Because, I’ve become aware, you see, that I’m really a terrible correspondent when it comes to writing to real people. I either write hardly ever or far, far too often. I enjoy regaling my correspondents with silly and frequently lengthy self-dramatizing anecdotes and long for the same in kind only to become peevish when they reply, in response, “So … lunch at 1 then?”
And as I was reflecting upon this imbalance I suddenly remembered something. When I was in Cambridge last year having tea with my beloved former Director of Studies, Juliet, she got a mischievous look at one point and asked me slyly, “And you know what my favorite piece you ever wrote for me was?” I smiled smugly thinking to myself, “Well, it’s got to be that essay I wrote on pastoral in Milton’s early poetry, hasn’t it? Dear Juliet, she still remembers it! I suppose it was quite sophisticated for an undergraduate essay …” But before I could get any further in my self-satisfied reflections, Juliet exclaimed, “Dear Dido!”
“Dear Dido?” I repeated in bewilderment. “Dear Dido!” she repeated with a huge smile on her face. “That was just the best. I still have it, you know.” And it suddenly came back to me: a letter I’d written in the persona of Aeneas to Dido, full of totally lame excuses about why he’d left her.*
Anyway when I remembered writing that letter, I had an epiphany: imaginary correspondence! Perhaps that’s my métier! Perhaps all of my real present-day correspondences have just been futile attempts to re-capture the pleasure of that undergraduate imaginary correspondence. Now, I fully appreciate that if, all this time, I’ve really just been wanting to correspond with a fantastical projection, this reflects extremely poorly on my character. An important part of my identity has always been that I’m a good listener, a good reader, a sympathetic friend to real flesh and blood people. But boasting, “I think you’ll find that I’m a superb imaginary correspondent” is like Gulliver declaring that he comes highly recommended by his “good master Bates”: i.e. undeniably wanky.
But: so be it. This is where I am right now. I’m at the bottom, that is, of the duck-rabbit hole. It’s dark down here. And rather dank. And a bit drafty. I mean, it’s no second circle of hell so I suppose it could be worse. But there’s no one to talk to. Well, to clarify: the only person down here the rabbit has to talk to is the duck. And the only person the duck has to talk to is the rabbit. It’s enough to drive a person crazy. There are books, mostly volumes of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. But they’re all in German! The rabbit speaks excellent German (I must confess, how this came to pass remains a mystery to me, since, as the lovely Marc, my long-suffering German teacher in Berlin can attest, my German extends only as far as inquiring, unenthusiastically, “Was hast du am Wochenende gemacht?” and desperately hoping that the answer is “nichts Besonderes. Tschüs!” thus swiftly ending the conversation.)
The duck only speaks English and passable French but he isn’t really interested in reading so he doesn’t care that he can’t read the Wittgenstein. The duck says he’s really more of a visual thinker. He’s really into Magritte. There’s also a huge book of M.C. Escher drawings; the duck-rabbit is really into Escher. Thinks it’s really deep. Yes, it is a bit like living with a first-year philosophy undergraduate. Let’s be frank: it’s a fucking nightmare; the rabbit is a pompous twat and the duck is utterly juvenile. But they’re all I’ve got.
There are also lots of empty jars down here. Please send orange marmalade!
The good thing is that, all of you up there in the daylight, I can hear you! So please shout down here once in a while. And I’ll cup my hands to my lips and halloo right back.
Yours very truly,
Your very own furry, webfooted
* I honestly cannot remember now why I wrote this letter. I mean, we must have been reading Ovid’s Heroides, and I must have been inspired by Dido’s letter to Aeneas, but I have a feeling that writing the letter wasn’t actually an assignment … that I just got it in my head that this letter must be written and then presented it to Juliet with no explanation. If you’re reading this, Juliet, is this right?