Visual letters, visual lives

Visual letters, visual lives

The title of this week’s blog refers to an excellent book, Visual Lives: Carrington‘s Letters, Drawings and Paintings, by Maria Tamboukou (2010). It is thought-provoking on a number of levels. It was published by the Auto/Biography Study Group, part of the British Sociological Association’s research groups, which represents an innovative development in academic publishing, like so much else that this study group does. It has also been beautifully published, on really good paper, necessitated by the many drawings and other illustrations it features. Carrington was an artist through and through, and her letters are replete with visual illustrations. These have been reproduced to an excellent standard and looking at these drawings and reading the letters of which they are an integral part is a very rich experience. Also these letters exemplify the idea generally held about personal letters, letters between friends and lovers and family. They are concerned with daily life certainly, but they also express emotions and the details of occurrences and feelings. In this they are unlike the vast majority of the South African letters that WWW  is concerned with! There are variations of course, but in general these WWW letters are highly performative, they are about getting something done, and so they are often short and even more often they stick to the point. They are letters to orchestrate and accomplish something, rather than being replete with meaning in their own right and connected to activities and the ‘business of life’. Carrington’s letters are a different order of thing, they were to be read and re-read, looked at and read again by the original recipients, and now the reader of this book does the same thing. And of course what this latter set of points raises is the rich variation of letter-writing, that it includes such a variety of different ways of using the form, including how the purposes of the letter-writer regarding their relation to other aspects of the lives of the reader and writer marks the form.

Last updated: 21 January 2022


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