Epistolarity in a Post-Letter World : Five Contemporary American Case Studies

Sammanfattning: The rapid development of digital communication technologies over the past three decades has given rise to faster and more immediate forms of interpersonal communication, which, in turn, have brought an experience of reduced spatiotemporal distance between correspondents. Alongside these developments, epistolarity has made a powerful return in contemporary literature; a trend that has scholars of the form calling for new approaches. Reading epistolarity as a motif, this study responds with a method that highlights how interpersonal communication across distance builds intimacy dependent on that same distance. Intervening in a field hitherto dominated by formal and historical analyses of the literary letter, the thesis also offers the concept of a post-letter world to describe a context in which the use of letters for interpersonal communication is waning. The concept brings the consequences of global digital communication into conversation with literary texts that engage with the fate of the epistolary form in a world of changing communication technologies and practices.       Across the five case studies, the method of reading epistolarity as a motif is applied to a selection of American novels published after 1990: Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine series (1991-2016), Gordon Lish’s Epigraph (1996), Mark Dunn’s Ella Minnow Pea (2001), Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004), and Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God (2017). These texts encompass considerable formal and thematic variations. Bantock seeks a return to the literary letter, Lish and Dunn test its limitations for conveying individual experience to a distant other, and Robinson and Erdrich envision epistolarity as an address to a future. Despite these differences, however, the texts all display a common interest in the complex relationship between distance and meaningful human bonds. Exploring the development and employment of epistolarity as a motif in the texts, the study offers an interpretation of the messages these fictions extend for readers in a post-letter world. Communication technologies and practices may change, but epistolarity as a motif - a reprise of a scene of encounter that depends on keeping a distance between addresser and addressee – remains a deeply compelling site of inquiry in twenty-first-century literature.

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