Xmas Ideas, letter ideas

Xmas Ideas, letter ideas

Yesterday my phone received two SMS or text messages, both rather unnerving. One was from a well-known UK food store, providing me with tips and hints of what things I might want to buy to eat at Christmas. This was experienced as bizarre and unnerving because we are still in mid September. The other was from a friend saying that instead of sending Christmas cards he was going to produce a round-letter setting out the exploits over the year of himself and his family and send it to everyone in his address book. This is a form of writing I dislike and find unnerving: so many people now do it and it heralds the end or near-end of the Christmas card as a genre. This got me thinking about my prejudice about the round-letter form and whether there is more to this new development in people keeping in touch than I had previously recognised.

The prejudice: These round-letters are usually written for a kind of lowest common denominator, a cosy son or grandmother, relatives who want to know about what Jim is knitting or Cynthia is painting and little or nothing to do with their friendship with me. It adds up as a way of not writing to me, rather than a short-form for doing so.

The new thought: Many letters of the past might have been addressed to one person, but frequently the strong expectation was that they would be read by many, and perhaps read aloud to many. The reading audience was unpredictable, and for many of them their relationship to the content of the letter was indirect or even non-existent apart from the existence of a relationship that was sometimes with the letter-writer but also sometimes with just the letter-recipient.

The passing of time: What above is called prejudice is the expectation that the conventions of present-day formal letter-writing, with its direct address to a named person and content tailored for that person, will be preserved. But this is clearly rather blinkered and ahistorical as an intellectual position. Perhaps what the round-letter form is bringing into existence is a letter without an addressee. Certainly it has ostensible addressees, but its purpose is to narrate the self and its doings rather than dialogue with an other.

Last updated:  23 September 2021


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