“I think that in the era of email we’ve become deceived as to the immediacy of correspondence.”
keep—I mean physically, as a possession—my side of the correspondence. I send it to you and you keep it. You sit with it. You think thoughts about it. To me, it is more accurate to say that you are writing to my letter. Obviously, it’s also a literary device that shines a light on or near the way that people read books—they’re not interacting with me but rather with the text. When they feel something from it, or nothing, or review it, or hurl it across the room, it’s not really about me. Or is it?
Ben Greenman: I think that in the era of email we’ve become deceived as to the immediacy of correspondence. You write me. I write you right back. You write me right back. Fairly quickly we believe that we’re having a conversation. But letters hold that process in abeyance, or at least illustrate its artificiality. For starters, I don’t
Propeller: There’s definitely a way in which the ambiguity bound up in the “Or is it?” is probably part of what we call “literature.” There’s a song (“We Used to Wait”) on the new Arcade Fire album that includes the lyrics “It seems strange / How we used to wait for letters to arrive / But what’s stranger still / Is how something so small can keep you alive”. It seems like the false immediacy of email—or maybe of electronic communications in general—is something all sorts of people are thinking about right now. When you say, of holding someone’s letter, “You sit with it. You think thoughts about it,” what kind of dynamic between people—or between characters in a story—do you feel is allowed to emerge in that period where you sit with someone’s writing? In other words, if your characters
am not writing to you. I am writing to your letter.” There’s a long history of epistolary novels in which we are invited to read correspondence as the rough equivalent of an ongoing conversation, but that distinction between responding to a person versus responding to a person’s letter was intriguing to me. What do you feel is different about the act of writing to someone’s writing, as opposed to other forms of communication?
Published on Oct 29, 2010