More on correspondence

More on correspondence

Having started thinking about correspondence when writing last week’s blog about it, it now seems impossible to stop! Different things about correspondence keep popping into consciousness like a kind of telephone that rings many times a day and jolts the attention – correspondence this! one-off letters that! what about this! what about that!

The main thought that returns to mind is that with correspondence there is always something more. That is, yes of course all correspondences are finite, there is always the first and there is the last in a set of exchanges even though these might number hundreds or even thousands. But: with the first, there is the rest to follow; in the middle, there are those that came before and those that came after; and at the end, there are all those that went before.

A one-off letter is precisely that, one-off and singular. However, what about the example mentioned in the last week’s blog, of a number of very formalised exchanges like receipts from bank managers? While not correspondences in the relationship and relational sense, they do have this ‘always something more’ characteristic. So ‘always something more’ is not the sole and not necessarily the most important aspect of correspondences, but it is interesting and important because it sets up the possibility of not only re-reading (for all letters can be re-read), but re-reading in the specific sense that one letter can be related to those that came before and those that came after; or in the case of a first letter in a correspondence, all those that followed; and in the case of a last letter, all those that proceeded.

The other thought that returns and returns concerns the correspondence that is an important part of my daily activities, formed by the email exchanges that sometimes happen several times a day and at the other end sometimes only every week or so between myself and Emilia. Both of our email preferences have been set up in a formal and letter-like way, with personal address and a formal sign off as automated features, because as well as emailing to each other there is considerable traffic to other people concerning both Olive Schreiner and Whites Writing Whiteness business.

What lies between in our particular exchanges, the substantive content, is many and varied over time. It can be strictly business, it can be entirely interpersonal, it can be routine, it can be interpretational and analytical. Going back over the emails of the last two or three months before writing this, there does not seem to be a pattern except that imposed by, firstly, the weekly blog, and secondly, finishing particular tasks (eg, designing a postcard for publicity purposes) within an allotted period of time. But around, beneath and on top of this there are these other things, the interpersonal, interpretational, analytical, and also a lot of joking and swapping information about inconsequential and pleasurable things like recipes and snow globes and films.

Thinking back comparatively to the olden days and correspondences in the form of letters put in the post that I have been involved with, I am struck by some differences. These are not the usual ones, about time and the collapsing of interval between writing and receipt and response. The first is that these letter correspondences occurred when either I or my correspondent was ‘away’ and after returning they ceased, so that the long-term developmental aspects of these email exchanges – that they have developed and shifted and changed over time – were not present, because presumably there was not the longevity of these now four or five year long email exchanges. The second is related and is that ‘away’ is now a very different creature and the email exchanges between me and Emilia occurred in an exactly similar way when we occupied offices in the same place as they do now when we are often on different continents. The distance involved seems – that is, it generally feels – very similar, although of course when thought about consciously there is no popping down to the local cafe to chatter. However, the constancy, rather than the rapidity, of the exchanges do indeed seem to affect perceptions of ‘here’ and ‘there’.

A brief comment to finish. I have taken examples at either ends of the spectrum, long-term correspondences and one-off formal letters. I am of course aware that most letter-writing occurs between these two ends, for this is mainly what work on Whites Writing Whiteness is concerned with, and next week’s blog will contemplate correspondence in the large in-between of letter-writing.

Last updated: 10 August 2017


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