If there is an image one can repeatedly find in war literature and film is the reading of a letter, and if there is something especially beautiful one can remember of war literature and film is the reading of a love letter. I was wondering why one find it especially romantic, and I think again Ricoeur will give us an answer.
What characterises a war country is the difficulty of communications, one is not able to to contact the ‘outside’ world whenever one wishes to, even today, which increases the usual qualities of a love letter, mainly desire and waiting, which actually feed each other in an increasing circle of desire and waiting. The non-communication between the two worlds translates into an isolation not just for the war country but for the other one too, say, for example, Afghanistan and England. Isolation is at the end a subjective perception of being deprived of something outside your possibilities, so both the person in London and that in Kabul feel isolated regarding each other, and here comes the importance, even the magic of the letter.
The letter, in such circumstances, becomes the maximal expression of the other, of the other’s presence, acquiring a high, almost vital, importance. At the lack of the other’s body, gestures, voice, words, gaze, anything which constitutes this other, the letter means the whole of this other; it means remembrances, gestures, body, voice, gaze, and meaning. The other is displayed by the letter in the act of reading, especially when one really desires and lacks this person, so the letter as such becomes a metaphor which introduces the reader into the world of the other; thus, London is born in Kabul, whatever it does mean for the reader, every time the letter from London is read, and vice versa. Actually, one puts reality in suspense and inhabits the letter, the one who, and what, is displayed by it. But London is not just displayed in Kabul by and for the reader but it is displayed according to the properties of the one who has written it in London, the writer is completely present in a letter, especially in a love one because that is the main goal of these kind of correspondence: to embody oneself in the mind of the reader through the world displayed by the letter. A good letter, we can say, should be similar to a Barthes’ idea of the text in The Pleasure of the Text, even the body should be expressed by the words without necessity of talking about it, and it may be one of the reason why female and male letters are different, they are also sexualised letters.
That is the power of a letter fulfilling the self by embodying the desired other overcoming distance, even time. A simple letter can mark the time of a person whose source of hope, love and friendship is there: if the post arrives at 7pm, it becomes a crucial hour which one trusts knowing that the spirit is being feeder there for the next 24 hours or more. Whatever the time is between letter and letter, it works by means of hope and it brings the person forward in his or her doings because tomorrow is born from the hope of a letter.