In this original study, Milne moves between close readings of letters, postcards and emails, and investigations of the material, technological infrastructures of these forms, to answer the question: How does presence function as an aesthetic and rhetorical strategy within networked communication practices? As her work reveals, the relation between old and new communication systems is more complex than allowed in much contemporary media theory.
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.
Table of Contents
List of Figures Acknowledgments Introduction 1: "The Conscious Presence of a Central Intellect": British Postal History 2: "The simple transcripts of natural feeling": Signifiers of Presence in Epistolary Practice 3: "The 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 Group Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index
Esther Milne is Lecturer, Department of Media and Communications, Faculty of Life and Social Sciences, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia.