Reviews / September 2014 (Issue 25)

To Love and to Hold, Or to Write and Let Go? Jeremy Fernando's On Fidelity

by Joel Gn


Jeremy Fernando, On Fidelity; Or, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow..., Atropos Press, 2014, 118 pgs.


It has been some years since I wrote what I believe to be my last love letter. Concerning this matter, I am neither able to recall its contents, nor know anything about the person to whom it was addressed, despite being aware that a letter was given to her and no other. As such, this lack of knowledge concerning an alleged beloved does not mean that I would fail to recognise the person during a chance encounter, but the passing of a seemingly romantic endeavour compels me to take the letter back, for the very reason that I can no longer stand by or mean what I have, or thought I have said.

But this particular memory would not have surfaced if not for reading Jeremy Fernando’s subtle work, On Fidelity; Or, Will You still Love Me Tomorrow…. Opening with the preamble of an affirmation—or a "yes" that fundamentally undoes the primacy of individuation in order to open the possibilities that language unfolds in relation to the other—Fernando’s elegant exposition on relationality deftly claims that the enunciation of the first person or the "I" already takes place in the reading of another "I," thus invoking the notion that one has encountered and is affected by another in the act of reading. Reading, in Fernando’s terms, is both holding on and letting go, a moment where what is grasped or captured is brought forth by that which has been given away and renounced.

And it is on this note that all reading becomes, as it were, an act of love, for if the expression of love—to use Fernando’s language—refers to an "utterance of relation," then reading also entails a call to respond, which in this case is not to foreclose or render an answer, but to be open to or in relation with the otherness of the text itself. Be it the warm hospitality of friendship or the tensions of a close struggle, words continue to traverse a relation by keeping a distance, which is to say that even as the author is never able to stand apart from the words in the letter, it is these very same words that are the only means for the reader to meet and get in touch with the author. Fernando’s own exploration of relationality thus resonates with the lesson given by Diotima to Socrates, where love is the spirit that conveys and interprets messages between the gods and humans, amid the absence of direct contact between them.[1]

But this again leads us to the question of fidelity raised by Fernando, for while we do not doubt that words can capture the intention of one, such an intention is also subjected to the excess the words themselves bring, which implies that the repetition of the exact same words may very well not mean the same thing, or anything at all. This difference can perhaps account for the awkward sense of discomfort experienced during a meeting of parted lovers, where the memory of an exchange lingers, but there is no longer anyone to welcome or celebrate it. On the contrary, it is often after parting ways that one (such as I) yearns to take back and revoke all that was exchanged in a romantic event. The desire to have the written word returned is perhaps an abject reflection of our own failure to remain in faith with any utterance of love.

So it is against the inclination for a returned word that Fernando invites, even urges us to hold on to and thereby risk the promise of the other by letting go, in the sense that the words in every exchange may proceed from and go ahead of us. This is not to say that there should always be an object for us to be faithful to, since to have an object is to set a condition and to pre-determine who or what can be loved. Rather, it is to the excess of what is written and in broader terms the letter itself, that we can think of and experience fidelity. And, as Fernando aptly reminds us, this move involves a waiting, "where one is waiting for a name, without necessarily knowing whom or what this name corresponds to."

The test that Fernando offers the reader—and it is also one that surfaces in every act of reading—is a test of patience, where one is called not just to wait and see, but more importantly to wait and listen. By conceiving of fidelity as an aural quality, James Batcho’s interpretation of Fernando’s text in the afterword makes a profound note of love less as an object of sight than a voice in the darkness, for to see is to capture and control, whereas to make out what one hears in the dark is to interpret or read in blind faith.

Perhaps, Fernando’s On Fidelity offers some hope to a moribund love life such as mine. Yet, this hope is also an invitation to give away in writing and be blind to all conditions pronounced over the other. After all, writing is always an act of vulnerability, not just because our words will be assumed by the voice of another, but also for the fact that this assumption marks our own death in turn. On Fidelity therefore offers no recourse to reciprocated love; there is no safe space to find ourselves, or our words returned, since all we may ever do to find love is to let go and allow those words to relate in our stead. Yet, this relinquishing paradoxically incites us to hold fast to love itself, for it is in the act of love, or writing love that one may, if at all, partake of a meeting between the lover and the beloved.

And this has to begin with another love letter, even though I know not whom it is for.

[1] Plato. The Symposium, translated by Christopher Gill. London: Penguin, 2005: 48.

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