What is to be done?

As she told me her mobile phone’s number, various thoughts ran through my mind. Besides that of panic, there was that of confusion as well. When when receives a number, one has to ask: “What is to be done?”

Roland Barthes put it so well in his book A Lover’s Discourse:

My anxieties as to behaviour are futile, ever more so, to infinity. If the other, incidentally or negligently, gives the telephone number of a place where he or she can be reached at certain times, I immediately grow baffled: should I telephone or shouldn’t I? (It would so not good to me that I can telephone — that is the objective, reasonable meaning of the message — for it is precisely this permission I don’t know how to handle.

What is futile is what apparently has and will have no consequence. But for me, an amorous subject, everything which is new, everything which disturbs, is received not as a fact but in the aspect of a sign which must be interpreted. From the lover’s point of view, the fact becomes consequential because it is immediately transformed into a sign: it is the sign, not the fact, which is consequential (by its aura). If the other has given me this new telephone number, what was that the sign of? Was it an invitation to telephone right away, for the pleasure of the call, or only should the occasion arise, out of neccessity? My answer itself will be a sign, which the other will inevitably interpret, thereby releasing, between us, a tumultuous maneuvering of images. Everything signifies: by this proposition, I entrap myself, I bind myself in calculations, I keep myself from enjoyment.

Sometimes, by dint of deliberating about “nothing” (as the world sees it), I exhaust myself; then I try, in reaction, to return — like a drowning man who stamps on the floor of the sea — to a spontaneous decision (spontaneity: the great dream: paradise, power, delight): go on, telephone, since you want to! But such recourse is futile: amorous time does not permit the subject to align impulse and action, to make them coincide: I am not the man of mere “acting out” — my madness is tempered, it is not seen; it is right away that I fear consequences, any consequence: it is my fear — my deliberation — which is “spontaneous”.

And in an age of e-mail and mobile phones, it gets even more confusing. Mobile phones allow us to be reached anytime, anywhere. Instead of waiting for her to get home (should I know she is off school or work) before I call, the mobile phone expands this time-frame into practically the whole day.

With e-mail, one wonders whether to treat it as an instant messanger — how long till my next reply? How long shall I wait before I send my reply (being an eager beaver, my drafts can be crafted days before they are sent)? Do I wait to send my reply, as if it was traditional mail, or click “send” the moment I craft a draft I’m happy with?

Just what is to be done?

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