The Commissioner, the Constable, and the death of Love Letters
by Dr. GARREY MICHAEL DENNIE
THE VINCENTIAN LOVE LETTER is dead, and it may never be resurrected. Searchlight’s publication of the whatsapp text messages exchanges between the Commissioner of Police and a police constable has commanded national attention and generated a broad range of responses. Some have focused their attention on allegations of criminal sexual misconduct.
Others were more concerned with the appropriateness of the relationship between the Commissioner and his subordinate. Still others trained their commentary on the journalistic ethics of publishing the messages themselves.
I am unperturbed by any of those responses. In fact, I am quite happy that the Searchlight published the texts. The messages do not prove that the Commissioner did not engage in criminal sexual misconduct.
But they do offer convincing proof that the Commissioner and the constable playfully engaged each other in sexually suggestive banter which probably violates police regulations on fraternization between the Commissioner and his subordinates.
The texts also offer proof of a phenomenon that is far more fundamental to the Vincentian way of life: the Death of the Love Letter. For once upon a time when Vincentian men and women began the dance of love, sex, and romance, language constituted a key element in how they signaled their interest in moving beyond the refrigeration of platonic interaction to the burning fires of sexual desire. Spoken language was of course important. And so too were the slight touch of fingers, the soft laugh, and demonstrated persistence in seeking out your romantic magnet. But if you were called upon to write and convincingly profess your love and worth to that wonderful boy, or wonderful girl, then language was a fine instrument which offered enormous assistance in coaxing your beloved to join you in the promised land of gratified desire.
Nothing in the communication between the Commissioner and the Constable betrays any commitment to a language of romance or terms of endearment, even as specific moments in the exchange become taut with sexual anticipation. Rarely do we see a full sentence. One word and two words replies abound. And these are more often quite functional – even to the point of expressing favour in specific sex acts.
But nowhere do the Commissioner and his WhatsApp paramour regale each other in the language of romance.
It is certainly possible that the poetics of sex, love, and romance do not move the needle of desire in the Commissioner and the Constable. But it is absolutely certain that the technological constraints that WhatsApp imposes on its users make it incredibly difficult for lovers to convey intimacy and tenderness in such restricted space.
For the classic love letter demanded time and space, both of which WhatsApp barely, and grudgingly accommodates.
One could reasonably ask, why does the language of these text exchanges matter? I have two quick responses. The first is that these kind of exchanges are not unique to the Commissioner and the Constable. They are an index of the reach of technology in our lives and how our lives might take paths fundamentally different from those of our grandparents even in something as intimate as our language of love.
Second, however, anthropologists and animal behavior scientists have long observed that human language has a capacity that is utterly unmatched by any species on earth.
With our language we romanticize, intellectualize, proselytize, and do more, so much more. It should therefore be of deep interest to all of us that our technological tools can improve the speed at which we communicate with one another while simultaneously reducing the depth of those communications.
The language of the Commissioner and the Constable seems particularly bereft of depth, barely scratching the surface of the ocean of emotions that grip men and women engaged in the dance of desire. We perhaps get some of that when the Constable expressed the desire to “jump” the Commissioner. But it is in her reaction to speed, or the lack thereof in his responses to some of her texts, that we see how WhatsApp places limits on what writers can say. Apparently a reply that takes longer than 30 minutes is unacceptable. But there was a time when writing a love letter could take hours – or even days – before the writer could feel confident that he or she could send out that missive to their beloved. And reading that letter took many minutes, not mere fractions of a second.
The once upon love letter is dead – perhaps never to be resurrected. But unrequited love will always exist. And glorious love will never die. So when we read the Commissioner’s texts, spare a thought for the idea that if we bankrupt our language of romance, have we killed romance? What a pity for our technology now ensures that the WhatsApp language itself can live forever!