Monday, January 21, 2008

Dear Readers -

This is the title of Jim Carmin's excellent essay in yesterday's Oregonian about the sad decline of the art of letter writing. Carmin seems nostalgic and sad that email has overtaken the hand-written letter for correspondence, especially as the speed of email and the apparently small window have changed the content from long rambling meditations in one's characteristic (if often illegible) handwriting (heavy on the pathos and ethos) to quick exchanges of data (heavy on the logos) -- little "snippets of prose"stored not in pigeon holes above our writing surface or in drawers, tied with blue satin ribbons and bundled with sprigs of lavender, but kept on "electronic desktops" if they are even kept at all.

And for manuscript librarians as Carmin is -- as my grandfather was at the Library of Congress -- even a hard copy print out of a letter lacks authenticity. Sure, handwritten letters can be (and at times were) forged; but in cyber space, it is much harder to be sure of the original author or words. Much too easy to add, subtract, and change when a letter is printed out. And perhaps the long piece of paper or pretty greeting card inspires someone to write at greater length. I admit that I carry on a letter-length email exchange with two particular friends, sending what many of our pop savvy students might characterize as "tl, dr" (too long, didn't read). But maybe this trend to brevity affects blogging culture. Some bloggers - such as my friends and colleagues Michael, Paula, and Anne-Marie -- write long, thoughtful posts. I wish I did. More often my posts seem to me to be "snippets of prose" sent out like Dickinson's "This is my letter to the world" (though never so poetically!). And I think that most blog readers prefer the long meditative substantive posts - am I right? Maybe it's because I always have so much on my mind that I usually end up with something fairly short and wishing I had gone deeper.

What Carmin laments greatly is that exchange of creative thoughts and especially poetry (to judge from the authors whose work he quotes -- Donald Hall, Barry Lopez, William Stafford, Ted Kooser. And without letters how are we to have published books of letters, such as the one I have of Rachel Carson's letters (somewhat poetic?) or of Chekhov. It's wonderful to read the thoughts of these authors, like entering into their daily lives.

Check out Carmine's article which I hope reproduces in the online version the illustration from the actual newspaper of a postcard sent by Allan Ginsberg to William Burroughs on 1965 mentioning Ginsberg's trip through Oregon (saw Crater Lake & The Beatles). What fun it is to be back in that moment.



Blogger PaulaMc said...

Sara I would NEVER characterize your blog posts as anything less than thoughtful and thought provoking, regardless of the length. I can certainly empathize with the lament about the fading away of letter writing as a means of connection and communication. I've heard others, e.g., Garrison Keillor, share similar sentiments. And how are we to get really good biographies if there are no stashes of letters to others to draw upon? Letter writing is so much more intentional and's very 'effortfulness' is part of what makes getting a card or letter so much more meaningful.

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