Immortality, my favorite book by Milan Kundera, opens with a woman waving to her swimming instructor from across the pool. The narrator observes this in awe, as he recognizes something else, a quality to that wave of the hand, that doesn't seem to belong to this far from charming woman, but perhaps to someone he feels he knows already, even though they had never met. I read this when I was in the army. It was the first time the thought crossed my mind that maybe the qualities that I think I own and which make me ME, are in fact their own independent entities. Perhaps more so than I am. And maybe I am possessed by them rather than they being owned or used by me. In other words, this charming wave of the hand decided to go out and play in the world today, and its channel happened to be a particular woman. Tomorrow, she might try to replicate that moment, but this gorgeous presence will have moved on by then, finding other vessels through which to celebrate its autonomous beauty.
(When I said goodbye to my father before leaving Israel a week ago, he left me with two things: "My oatmeal is cold" and "Stop being a philosopher". It made me laugh... imagining a tiny philosopher sitting inside a microwave, gazing patiently through the glass door.)
I'll try to describe the book -- Well, maybe I'll backtrack to our first correspondences. No, actually, let me go further back to film school in Paris. Seems like a million years ago. It was the year I discovered the wonders of editing and the Soviet Montage Cinema.
Have you heard of the Kuleshov effect? A Russian filmmaker made an experiment using an image of a man that he alternated with various shots of different objects. The audience was convinced that the man’s facial expression changed dramatically following every image he was supposedly looking at. Only it didn't at all. Kuleshov used the same image every time, yet the man seemed deeply and differently moved by each thing he "saw".
So where does the value, the quality of the image lie? The frame has its defined features and limitations. However, its hidden essence or potential can only be revealed, or rather created, through its interaction with other frames, and within the context of the entire sequence or film or life it is part of.
I wonder, maybe that's why we need to go on this ride called life. Some discoveries you just can't make without getting a little… involved.
That’s how I’ve been thinking about our correspondence. I was thrilled when you first replied to my letter. As time and additional letters went by, there was something about my replies that took me by surprise – a foreign yet familiar quality that I wasn’t able to define or point to. As if - as in the experiment - the juxtaposition of our “frames” at that time in our lives created a third element, an effect only our particular match could inspire, and it changed the nature of what each of us brought to the table.
The next step was, inevitably, going over my email account’s outgoing folder from the past decade or so to study this more thoroughly. I wanted to examine how one side of the conversation – fed by the encounter with a hidden other side - can carry an encoding of a story that is bigger than itself.