Postdating the Post: Examining (Neo)Epistolary Practices in Contemporary Culture

Emma de Vries | Leiden University | Promotor: Yra van Dijk

In my interdisciplinary PhD-research Postdating the Post: Examining (Neo)Epistolary Practices in Contemporary Culture, I signal and scrutinize a remarkable phenomenon: today’s simultaneous dis- and reappearance of the letter. Over the last decades, digital communication media has ousted the letter into disuse, and the postal services into crisis. Yet at the same time, in art and literature a vigorous revival of the letter can be observed. ‘Neo-epistolarity,’ as I call these emerging practices, has hardly been theorised, and the few academics addressing this development explain the present rehabilitation of the letter form as nostalgia. Thus conceived, epistophilia equates technophobia. However, the complexity of neo-epistolary practices invalidates such an explanation. For oftentimes, these works combine the materiality of paper, pen and postal delivery, with a pronounced engagement with digital culture. This gives rise to the question whether neo-epistolarity is merely a retrocedence of an old form, or whether it can be regarded as a new form in its own right. And if so, what are its distinctive traits, what are its philosophical implications? Is it possible to discern correlations between forms of writing, forms of reading and forms of life? Can the analysis of neo-epistolary practices provide insight into contemporary culture?