Is the letter now dead?

Is the letter now dead?

The contention (unconvincing) goes, the letter was alive, hale and hearty for millennia but new digital technologies have killed letter-writing or at the least sent it into terminal decline. In riposte, for starters, ‘the letter’ has always existed in myriad forms, while this argument just fastens onto the decline of once-current genre conventions, rather than recognising the richness and diversity of actual epistolary practices that exist, some of which have never involved letters as such. For seconds, this contention mistakes ‘very quick’ for ‘instantaneous’ in proposing that digital exchanges have removed the asynchronicity (temporal separation) of letter exchanges in correspondences. And for sweet deserts, letterness is discernibly alive and thriving and at the heart of both ‘old’ and ‘new’ epistolary forms.

These ideas – and many more connected ones – in current debate about the ontological status of letter-writing are discussed using examples drawn from the letters of Olive Schreiner, and also of St Paul, Roman legionaries, World War II love letters, exchanges between mathematicians, and student emails, in: Liz Stanley (2015) ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’ Cultural Sociology 9:2, lead article. Th article can be found via the Sage Cultural Sociology website or via a library and Google Scholar search.

Last updated: 14 March 2015


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