Archive for April 2010

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[ecrea] NEW BOOK: Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of presence

Thu Apr 01 11:42:35 GMT 2010

>Announcing a new book from Routledge, Esther Milne, Letters, Postcards,
>Email: Technologies of Presence (Routledge, 2010).
>Contemporary accounts of the impact of electronic, digitally networked
>cultures often construct an apocalyptic narrative of decisive shifts and
>abrupt breaks: the new technology arrives, it seems, out of nowhere,
>sweeping away the old and ushering in the new.  In response to such
>accounts, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence argues
>that the relation between old and new communication systems is more
>complex than allowed in current media theory.  Narratives of change are
>dramatically complicated by the striking continuities between different
>communication systems.  In this original study, Esther Milne focuses on
>one of these continuities, specifically a fantasy of presence that, she
>argues, pervades the socio-technical representations of letters,
>postcards and emails.
>What are the enabling conditions for presence to function as a
>technological and rhetorical strategy across distributed communication
>platforms?  To address this question Milne explores historically the
>symbolic and material representations of presence through three media
>sites: a networked postal community of nineteenth-century letter
>writers; postcard correspondence of First World War soldiers; and a
>contemporary email discussion list.
>Although a number of writers have productively historicised the
>socio-critical formulations of presence, telepresence and co-presence,
>these phenomena have usually been confined to representations within
>electronic media. (eg Coyne, 2001; Glotz et al, 2005; Goldberg 2000;
>Hjorth, 2005, 2007;  Ito, 2005; Lombard and Ditton, 1997; Mitchell,
>1999; Murphy, 2000; Ryan, 1999; Sconce, 2000; Sheridan, 1992; Sobchack,
>1994). What remains under-examined is the extent to which older
>technologies, such as the postal service, also enable an experience of
>intimacy, immediacy, immersion and presence.
>Furthermore, when epistolary scholars have investigated the production
>of presence through literary or aesthetic formations, they have limited
>the focus to a discrete site: either the letter as a 'real',
>historical artefact (eg Decker, 1998) or the letter's representational
>deployment through fiction and art (eg Kauffman, 1992) . In contrast,
>Milne traces the affective configuration of presence through empirical
>data; material bases; and rhetorical structures, to demonstrate the
>interrelation between imagined presence and notions of intimacy, privacy
>and disembodiment.
>Although the correspondents of letters, postcards and emails are not,
>usually, present to one another as they write and read their exchanges,
>this does not necessarily inhibit affective communication. Indeed, this
>study demonstrates how physical absence may, in some instances, provide
>correspondents with intense intimacy and a spiritual, almost telepathic,
>sense of the other's presence. While corresponding by letter, postcard
>or email, readers construe an imaginary, incorporeal body for their
>correspondents that, in turn, reworks their interlocutor's
>self-presentation. In this regard the fantasy of presence reveals a key
>paradox of cultural communication, namely that material signifiers can
>be used to produce the experience of incorporeal presence.
>List of Figures
>1: "The Conscious Presence of a Central Intellect": British Postal
>2: "The simple transcripts of natural feeling": Signifiers of Presence
>in Epistolary Practice
>3: "Ghosts of all my impertinent letters": Presence in Crisis
>4: "The Self-conscious air of the reproduced": Postcard History
>5: "A photo of the ship that I am now on": Signifiers of Presence,
>Intimacy and Privacy in Postcard Correspondence
>6: A Brief History of Electronic Mail
>7: "In my sickness": Constructing Presence on the Cybermind Discussion
>About the Author:
>Esther Milne teaches in the Department of Media and Communications,
>Faculty of Life and Social Sciences, Swinburne University, Melbourne,
>Australia. She researches the history of networked postal communication
>systems and celebrity production within the socio-regulatory contexts of

Nico Carpentier (Phd)
Vrije Universiteit Brussel - Free University of Brussels
Centre for Studies on Media and Culture (CeMeSO)
Pleinlaan 2 - B-1050 Brussels - Belgium
T: ++ 32 (0)2-629.18.56
F: ++ 32 (0)2-629.36.84
Office: 5B.401a
European Communication Research and Education Association
E-mail: (Nico.Carpentier /at/

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