WuToWu #90: Word and Paper

Hi Jessica,

Thanks for your description of what it’s like to experience a breakdown in the political norms at the moment of our political maturation. I think I share many of the same concerns and thoughts.

Sorry I’m late again. Can you tell I’m a second-semester junior? I’m happy that I’ve had a relatively easy summer job application process, but there’s a lot of other things also happening this semester, one of which is my thesis applications.

First up is the creative thesis application, and if that is not accepted, a critical thesis application. Needless to say, lately the applications have been on my mind, but they’ve also been useful at excavating some other ideas.

At the forefront of my mind is the different ways people relate to letters. First, people relate to letters as authors and readers. Letters generally have a specific person as their audience, but it is also possible to write open letters and form letters to a general audience. Each audience places different demands on the author. In addition, the reader’s experience of the letter is different depending on whether they are the sole recipient, or even the intended recipient.

Next, people can relate to letters as physical objects. They are things we stuff into shoe boxes, force post office workers to interact with, frame, tear up, burn, and carry around on our persons. They can be totems, relics, icons in their ability to absorb and protect memory.

People also relate to letters as historical artifacts. This is quite different from the intimate relationship of author and reader; it is a more removed experience of positioning oneself as a more objective evaluator of the substance of the writing and the physical paper (or cardboard, or flip-flop, even).

This is also an interesting time to think about the temporal context of written letters. As letter writing has become less common, it’s acquired the air of romance and nostalgia which accompanies customs or technologies of an older time, such as swing dancing and pocket watches. Therefore, its physicality and materiality has a different significance in an age when most casual communication consists of virtual messages. Letter writing has persisted in specific areas, mostly as a way to show appreciation for presents and job interviews. But I think it would be revealing to question why written letters have persisted in certain areas and been rejected in favor of other forms of communication.

The quirks of the combination of word and paper that we call letters might have precise and reasonable explanations, but I am far more interested in seeing how specific characters would use these characteristics of letters to reveal themselves to each other and to the reader, build narratives, and navigate their world. Hence, the creative thesis application.

Ficaccio.

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