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Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts
 9789048555116

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements
Doing (Audio-Visual) Things with Words – From Epistolary Intent to Epistolary Entanglements: An Introduction
1. Performance and Power : The Letter as an Expression of Masculinity in Game of Thrones
2. ‘My dearest little girl, I just got your letter and I hope that you will continue to write to me often’
3. Dead Letters
4. Attention to Detail: Epistolary Forms in New Melodrama
5. The Spiritual Intimacies of The Red Hand Files: How Long Will I Be Alone?
6. Video Authenticity and Epistolary Self- Expression in Letter to America (Kira Muratova, 1999)
7. Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman
8. Delivering Posthumous Messages : Katherine Mansfield and Letters in the Literary Biopic Leave All Fair (John Reid, 1985)
9. The Interactive Letter : Co-Authorship and Interactive Media in Emily Short’s First Draft of the Revolution
10. Epistolary Distance and Reciprocity in José Luis Guerín and Jonas Mekas’s Filmed Correspondences
11. Instagram and the Diary : The Case of Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections (2014)
12. Civil War Epistolary and the Hollywood War Film
13. Epistolarity and Decolonial Aesthetics in Carola Grahn’s Look Who’s Talking (2016)
14. Epistolary Relays in Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite (On the Other Side/ On the Edge of Heaven) (2007)
Index

Citation preview

Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts

Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts

Edited by Teri Higgins and Catherine Fowler

Amsterdam University Press

The publication of this book is made possible by a grant from the Division of Humanities at the University of Otago.

Cover illustration: Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6372 966 6 e-isbn 978 90 4855 511 6 doi 10.5117/9789463729666 nur 670 © The authors / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2023 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.



Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 7 Doing (Audio-Visual) Things with Words– From Epistolary Intent to Epistolary Entanglements: An Introduction Teri Higgins and Catherine Fowler

9

1. Performance and Power: The Letter as an Expression of Masculinity in Game of Thrones

39

2. ‘My dearest little girl,I just got your letter and I hope that you will continue to write to me often’

55

3. Dead Letters

71

4. Attention to Detail: Epistolary Forms in New Melodrama

89

Louise Coopey

Epistolary Listening in News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1976) Catherine Fowler

Epistolary Hauntology and the Speed of Light in Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016) Shiamin Kwa

Teri Higgins

5. The Spiritual Intimacies of The Red Hand Files: How Long Will I Be Alone?

105

6. Video Authenticity and Epistolary Self-Expressionin Letter to America (Kira Muratova, 1999)

125

7. Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman

139

8. Delivering Posthumous Messages: Katherine Mansfield and Letters in the Literary Biopic Leave All Fair (John Reid, 1985)

157

Sean Redmond

David G. Molina

Hito Steyerl

Rochelle Simmons

9. The Interactive Letter: Co-Authorship and Interactive Media in Emily Short’s First Draft of the Revolution

173

10. Epistolary Distance and Reciprocity in José Luis Guerínand Jonas Mekas’s Filmed Correspondences

191

11. Instagram and the Diary: The Case of Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections (2014)

207

12. Civil War Epistolary and the Hollywood War Film

225

13. Epistolarity and Decolonial Aesthetics in Carola Grahn’sLook Who’s Talking (2016)

241

14. Epistolary Relays in Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite (On the Other Side/On the Edge of Heaven) (2007)

259

Jenna Ng

Emre Çağlayan

Susan Best

John Trafton

Christine Sprengler

Sunka Simon

Index 275

Acknowledgements This project began by focusing largely on letters and diaries in romantic dramas. The proposals we received from our contributors forced us to re-think and re-examine our assumptions about where and how epistolary forms occurred across screen media. We would like to thank all contributors for their willingness to explore this ill-def ined f ield with us, on paper, in person, and via online meetings. Thanks also go to all at Amsterdam University Press who have been part of the smooth journey from proposal to publication. Editing a collection across time zones during the COVID-19 lockdowns that began in 2020 added extra pressures. The University of Otago library staff were, as usual, magnificently helpful with Interloans, borrowing and purchasing materials in a timely manner when (ironically given our subject) the postal system seemed to be collapsing. In addition, Subject Librarian Thelma Fisher was endlessly patient and resourceful when it came to sorting out endnote complications and our research assistant Lizzie Ross provided meticulous formatting help. Financial support for this collection was provided by several University of Otago grants including a humanities research subvention and research and study leave for Catherine. Teri would like to thank Sally Milner and Gabrielle Hine for the ongoing discussion and development of this topic from a distance through emails, postcards, and voice notes. Special thanks to Guillaume Leclancher for his unwavering support and for (almost) always being up for a Sex and the City rewatch. Catherine would like to thank Deborah Jermyn, Paola Voci, Miriam de Rosa, and Sean Redmond, who each offered advice on the project, but especially Rochelle Simmons, for her on-going dialogue on all things visual/ textual. Hito Steyerl’s ‘Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman’ was originally published in October 138 (2011) pp. 57–69. It is re-printed with permission from the journal and the author. John Trafton’s ‘Civil War Epistolary and the Hollywood War Film’ was originally published in the book The American Civil War and the Hollywood War Film (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). It is re-printed with permission from the publisher and the author.



Doing (Audio-Visual) Things with Words– From Epistolary Intent to Epistolary Entanglements: An Introduction Teri Higgins and Catherine Fowler Abstract In this introduction we outline the notion of epistolary intent through which, we argue, the textual adds to and disrupts the audio-visual in particular ways. We also explain the use of the term ‘entanglements’ to encapsulate the disruptive nature of epistolary forms on screen. As a meshed shape for communication and intra-active exchange, entanglement describes complicated situations. We isolate three examples of epistolary disruption – with narratives, genres, and the audio-visual – in order to pin-point the intervention this book makes into existing scholarship. Finally, we outline the structure of the collection through summaries of the fourteen chapters. Keywords: epistolary intent; epistolary entanglement; intimacy; romance; testimony

A Great Epistolary Age We are living in a great epistolary age, even if no one acknowledges it. Our phones, by obviating phoning, have reestablished the omnipresence of text. Think of the sheer profusion of messages […] that we now send.1 1 Taken from an interview between Lauren Collins and Sally Rooney; Lauren Collins, ‘Sally Rooney Gets in Your Head’, The New Yorker, 7 January 2019. This comment is in reference to Rooney’s novel, Normal People (2018), the second of three novels (published between Conversations

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_intro

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As novelist Sally Rooney observes, sending a message to someone who is absent from us is a familiar part of our everyday lives in the twenty-first century, hence, we have all become writers in one form or another. Text has become intricately woven into our lives and plays an intimate part in the way we build relationships, therefore writing has inevitably found its way into screen narratives in the form of text messages and emails, sent and received. This collection is conceived as a response to the ‘omnipresence of text’ on screen and it explores how the visual/textual texture of screen media is changing. First, it argues that contemporary online forms of communication such as the email, blog, text message, tweet, are actually haunted by older epistolary forms such as the letter and the diary. Second, it examines what is at stake for our understanding of the self when it communicates through epistolary forms. By accounting for the ‘omnipresence of text’ across a variety of media, this collection intervenes in debates about how the textual adds to and/ or disrupts the audio-visual. On-screen epistolary forms adopt a number of different shapes. In mainstream cinema and television series epistolary forms have become narrational and plot devices. They operate as correspondence between characters who write messages, communicate, and form relationships. In less mainstream films and media epistolary forms often contend with an injunction. They present ways to play with the space of the personal and auto-biographical and provide intersections with the essay film genre and accented cinema. Beyond cinema, in the art world and on other online media, it is the themes of intimacy, privacy, self-expression, and masquerade that we find most frequently addressed, in critical and creative ways. As our outline suggests, a broad history of epistolary forms: letters, diaries, blogs, emails, texts, and tweets on screen would certainly be a worthwhile project but that is not our intention here; instead, our focus is upon how the substitution or virtual presence that defines the epistolary act has increasingly come to powerfully express entanglements of contemporary life and media. By coining the term ‘epistolary entanglements’ to describe all sorts of uses of text on screen, we are both claiming a literary heritage for our examples and pondering what shifts occur when we turn to the audio-visual. This collection has been inspired by Teri Higgins’s research on epistolary discourse in contemporary cinema,2 which established that a focus upon with Friends (2017) and Beautiful World, Where Are You (2021)) that employ her distinctly epistolary narrative style. 2 Teri Higgins, Attention to Detail: Epistolary Discourse and Contemporary Cinema (Dunedin: University of Otago, 2013). Accessible at [accessed 15 June 2022].

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letters and diaries and their modern forms could contribute to understandings of film genre and feminist film theory. Specifically, Teri argued that in film and television texts such as Sex and the City (1998–2004); The Lake House (Alejandro Agresti, 2006); The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2009); Dear John (Lasse Hallström, 2010); Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988); Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001), and The Perfect Man (Mark Rosman, 2005) we find different forms of self-expression in public and private spaces. The core enquiry: as to how and why films and television series employ ‘old-fashioned’ communication forms to tell contemporary stories was what drove the orientation for this collection. The responses we received from contributors revealed that this question was worth asking in an expanded field that included the visual arts and online media. The chapters selected here take us across a spectrum of epistolarity, from the elementary mode of correspondence, which brings people together, through to the complications of intimacy. From the luxury of self-expression to testimony’s urgent resistance of communicative injunctions. Case studies are drawn from mainstream, art and experimental cinema, serial television, interactive and online media, artists’ moving image installations, and art performance. Alongside the widespread interest in letters and their electronic forms we would have liked more responses dealing with diaries. We have one chapter dedicated to the form (Susan Best writing on Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections (2014) art performance) and other chapters (by Rochelle Simmons and Emre Çağlayan) refer to them.3 In what follows we introduce the notion of epistolary intent through which the textual adds to and disrupts the audio-visual in particular ways. We isolate three examples of disruption – with narratives, genres, and the audio-visual – in order to pin-point the intervention this book makes into existing scholarship. Finally, we outline the structure of the collection through summaries of the fourteen chapters.

Understanding Epistolarity: A Literary Heritage The term epistolary derives from roots such as the Latin ‘epistol’, a letter, and Greek ‘epistellein’ meaning ‘send to’; in its simplest sense the term has been 3 As examples of how diaries on screen have been written about see: Catherine Portuges, ‘Retrospective Narratives in Hungarian Cinema: The 1980s Diary Trilogy of Marta Meszaros’, Velvet Light Trap, 22 March 1991, 63–73; Anjo-Mari Gouws, ‘Recording the Work of a World: Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Diary Film and the Domestication of Cinema’ (doctoral thesis, University of Toronto, 2020) and Laura Rascaroli’s chapter: ‘The Diary Film: Aleksandr Sokurov’s Spiritual Voices and the Feeling of Time’, in her book, The Personal Camera: Subjective Cinema and the Essay Film (London: Wallflower, 2009).

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applied to messages of all sorts. In her important book on form in epistolary novels Janet Altman defines epistolarity in a very straightforward way as ‘the use of the letter’s formal properties to create meaning’;4 but we have found Liz Stanley’s scholarship on letters encapsulates more accurately what’s going on in our screen examples. Stanley coins the term ‘epistolary intent’ which she argues precedes the history of the letter and ‘involves the intention to communicate, in writing or a cognate representational medium, to another person who is “not there” because removed in time/space from the writer, and doing so with the hope or expectation of a response’.5 Stanley’s connection of the epistolary to an intention, rather than to a particular genre of message, allows the adjective epistolarity to be added to any number of forms and media as long as its primary conditions are present, those being, that the writers are not present to each other at the time of writing and that reciprocity – a shared correspondence – is assumed. By applying epistolary intent to online written forms we can understand how they do more than simply communicate messages, rather, because of the primary conditions of virtual presence and reciprocity, they do things with words.6 The eager reader should recognize that we are echoing J.L. Austin and his notion of performative utterances. Just as saying the words ‘it’s a girl’ or ‘I do’ in particular mise-en-scène can perform heteronormativity, so our argument is that the intention to communicate across an absence performs a particular kind of relationship. By connecting Stanley’s notion of epistolary intent with the writing that is everywhere on screen we can understand how written messages do things with relationships, with narratives, with genres, and with the audio-visual. For J.L. Austin, rather than being merely descriptive or evaluative, performative utterances count as actions. There is a similar sense of weight and force attached to epistolary relationships, as epistolary correspondence has a particular communicative energy that other kinds of correspondence don’t have. First, epistolarity implements a relational self: once the epistolary exchange has been established – through the first letter, text, or email – so every epistle that follows represents the narration or curation of our lives, for the other. Hence the quality best attached to epistolary relationships 4 Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1982), p. 4. 5 Liz Stanley, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9 (2015), 240–55 (p. 242). 6 J.L. Austin, ‘Performative Utterances’, in The Semantics-Pragmatics Boundary in Philosophy, ed. by Malte Ezcurdia and Robert J. Stainton (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, [1956] 2013), pp. 21–31 (p. 22).

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is that of ambivalence (meaning, in two minds), in fact we could say that they are ambiverted, both introverted, referring to and thinking about the self, and extroverted, directing that reflection towards the outside or other. Second, epistolary relationships are disembodied. We might expect a certain liberation to come with the freedom from appearances, yet disembodiment brings liberation and disruption in equal measure. With their emphasis upon creating a virtual presence out of an absence and their expectation of reciprocity, epistolary forms have the capacity to bring people together in ways that other forms of writing do not. Before being recognized by screen media, novelists greatly exploited this capacity, hence the number of epistolary novels. Famous examples include the use of letters in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897),7 or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982); diary entries in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) or Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996); tape recordings in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), and emails and texts in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli, 2015) and the novels of Sally Rooney: Conversations with Friends (2017), Normal People (2018), and Beautiful World, Where Are You (2021). The examples in this collection build upon epistolary novels. Establishing such a lineage provides a way of measuring what shifts as epistles find their way from written into audio-visual forms. Altman has argued for the epistle’s ‘intermediary’ nature, since it travels between a sender and a receiver; she also observes that the epistolary novel includes countless other mediating devices in the form of characters who intercept and delay the letter’s delivery, or scramble the letter’s message.8 When included in films, television, online media, and the visual arts, these kinds of messages insert a further complicated layer of mediation; they not only mediate between the ‘I’ and the ‘You’ of the epistolary exchange, they also potentially come between the viewer and the screen. Gregory Robinson provides a graphic example of how text can come between the viewer and the screen when he analyses possibly the first use of words in film in the 40-second film How It Feels to Be Run Over (Hepworth, 1900) which ends with the writing: ‘?? !!! ! Oh! mother will be pleased’.9 Robinson dwells upon the problem this inscription poses for the new medium 7 Thanks to one of our peer reviewers who reminded us that this pivotal epistolary novel is known for its representation of nineteenth-century emerging technologies as plot devices including dictaphones, typewriters, and telegraphs. 8 Altman, p. 24. 9 Gregory Robinson, ‘Oh! Mother Will Be Pleased: Cinema Writes Back in Hepworth’s How It Feels to Be Run Over’, Literature/Film Quarterly, 39 (2011), 211–18.

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of silent film; as he puts it, ‘[the] very presence of words inside a filmic medium has frequently been considered a kind of trespass’, that breaks the fourth wall and disrupts the visual flow of a scene.10 In sum, not only are epistolary forms performative: full of disruptive energy, weight, and force, not only is the communicative act disrupted, deranged, and delayed, and not only do such messages create a relational self that relates to an other in a disembodied way; when transferred from the page to the screen they could intrude, violate, and encroach upon the audio-visual.

Epistolary Entanglements: A Proposal We have searched for the best way to encapsulate the disruptive nature of epistolary forms on screen. Frequently, Altman’s observation of the epistle’s mediating form has led to conceptions of its potentiality for displacements. For example, for Stanley ‘[l]etters disturb binary distinctions: between speaking and writing, and private and public, as well as between here and there, now and then, and presence and absence’.11 Despite the appeal of Stanley’s binaries, they don’t quite encompass the disruptive possibilities we discover in this collection. It is not so much a position between that we detect and more a complete messing up of boundaries. Relations(hips) are less divided than they are tangled, which is why we have adopted the term ‘entanglement’.12 As Rey Chow puts it: entanglement involves the ‘intimation of a tangle, of things held together or laid over one another in nearness and likeness’.13 For us the term operates in three ways. At its simplest we aim for entanglement to evoke a shape for communication that is plaited, or woven, as it goes back and forth again and again and again. Such a shape is relational because of 10 Robinson, p. 218. 11 Liz Stanley, ‘The Epistolarium: On Theorizing Letters and Correspondences’, Auto/biography, 12 (2004), 201–35 (p. 201). 12 Maria Tamboukou briefly refers to entanglement to characterize Foucault’s imbrication of power/knowledge in relation to the author in ‘Epistolary Entanglements of Love and Politics, Reading Rosa Luxemberg’s Letters’, in The Routledge International Handbook on Narrative and Life History, ed. by Ivor Goodson, with Ari Antikainen, Molly Andrews and Pat Sikes (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 381–91 (p. 383). In an earlier essay she references Karen Barad’s ‘entangled intra-relating’ (Barad, 2007, ix) fleetingly, see ‘Interfaces in Narrative Research: Letters as Technologies of the Self and as Traces of Social Forces’, Qualitative Research, 11.5 (1 October 2011), 625–41 (p. 2). 13 Rey Chow, Entanglements, or Transmedial Thinking about Capture (Durham NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2012), p. 1.

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the inter-dependence of the ‘I’ upon the ‘you’: there is no dividing them and they accrue an increasing complexity. Beyond this evocation of a shape, we employ entanglement to pin down the depth of epistolary relations, which take the form of energy, weight, and force, as described above. In this second instance, we are playing with the intensified intra-action that entanglement has been used to signify in quantum theory. To simplify what is a highly complex field of study, we are taken with the use of intra to describe ‘[r] elationships [that] not only constitute beings as they relate “‘between” one another: there are relationships all the way down, affecting the very core of entities’. This is how Timothy Morton translates Karen Barad’s notion of ‘intra-action’ before concluding: ‘Entanglement implies a connection so deep as to be a kind of identity’.14 As a meshed shape for communication and an intra-active exchange, it is clear how entanglement describes complicated situations. The third way in which we employ the term entwines the temporal and spatial, drawing from what Chow refers to as ‘our thoroughly entangled daily environment’.15 Chow spins a number of associative webs around the term. Most evidently, she observes, entanglement can refer to, the sense of a contemporary horizon in which relationships among things, among things and humans, and among different media have become increasingly an issue, in part because of the steady relativization, in modernity, of once-presumed stable categories of origination and causation such as author, owner, actor, mind, intention, and motive.16

For Chow, entanglement can describe a messing with ‘conventional classificatory categories’17 that is brought about by a world in which relationships are not linear or binary, but complicated and enmeshed. Despite the frequent assumption that technological advances provide constantly new forms of communication, these new forms – the email, the blog, the text message, the tweet – are actually haunted by old epistolary forms: the letter and the diary. The diary is essentially a commentary about the self for the self, whereas the letter introduces (and requires) a second party as a receiver; both forms have strong relationships to privacy, secrecy, 14 Timothy Morton, ‘Treating Objects Like Women: Feminist Ontology and the Question of Essence’, in International Perspectives in Feminist Ecocriticism, ed. by Greta Gaard, Simon C. Estok, and Serpil Oppermann (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 56–69 (p. 56). 15 Chow, p. 10. 16 Chow, p. 10. 17 Chow, p. 10.

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intimacy, masquerade, and confession, all notions that are both prevalent and highly contested in our current age. By pointing to the rapid loss of temporal, geographical, or personal intervals brought about by digitization, Chow appears to us to expose how communication in entanglement operates through the ideal genre of virtual presence: the epistolary. Hence perhaps our first intervention into debates about visual/textual relations and understandings of the self on screen is to observe that epistolary communication complicates both. The forces associated with epistolary intent tangle the previously static positions of sender and receiver, time, space, self and other. Words reverberate; while narratives, genres and the audio-visual acquire new visual/textual textures and new entwined depths.

How Epistolary Forms Do Things with Narratives ‘To the traitor and bastard Jon Snow […] you have betrayed the North […] come and see’.

An ‘unknown’ woman, Noah Calhoun, Tywin Lannister, Carrie Bradshaw, Bridget Jones, Simon Spier; these characters are all on-screen writers of letters, blogs, diaries, text messages, and emails respectively.18 The nature of their messages and their place in the narratives varies, yet with each example the introduction of the epistolary has a uniform effect: it constitutes a supplement to the narrative that can add to and transform the everyday reality of the story world. The force of epistolary forms is such that they provide an additional emotional texture, enunciative level, form of narration, or thematic code. The tangled way in which people are brought together is an important point to acknowledge, for it serves to elucidate what we see as the primary characteristic of epistolary forms in screen media. A few examples should suffice to explain this point. When included in mainstream media rarely do epistolary forms hasten the ending, instead they create intrigue, suspense and delay. Examples range from D.W. Griffith’s short The New York Hat (1912), in which the withholding of a letter creates misunderstandings over the intentions of a minister when he gives a hat to a young girl (played by Mary Pickford); to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau/The Raven (1943), in which 18 From the film and television examples: Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948); The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004); Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–19); Sex and the City (HB, 1998–2004); Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001), and Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti, 2018).

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an anonymous letter writer rips apart a small post-war French community, creating distrust, division, suspicion, and betrayal; to the television series Game of Thrones, in which letters carry the full force of authority, or its performance.19 In Griffith’s film the letter contains the truth about the hat – that it was bequeathed by the girl’s dying mother to be delivered via the minister. The withholding of this information deranges relationships between the minister and his parishioners and the daughter and her father, creating the intrigue that drives the narrative. Crucially, we see in this early example how it is epistolarity – the mother’s letter – that complicates communication, since the mother writes a letter rather than simply telling the father her final wishes, and she gives it to the minister rather than to her daughter. Despite being written to express her true desire then, the instructions for the delivery of the letter create a mess of misunderstandings through the insistence that communication must be cloaked in secrecy and indirect. In Le Corbeau, it is the signature of ‘the Raven’ that spawns collective suspicion and derisive distrust amongst the townsfolk. Not only do letters drive the narrative, they also become entangled with the mise-en-scène and break conventions that we will come to associate with epistolary delivery. Mysterious letters deftly disrupt scenes and infiltrate spaces floating down from a high window into the hands of a young child in the school yard, or falling unexpectedly onto the path of a funeral procession. Equally, in a pivotal scene, as the pastor addresses the congregation (‘the spirit of evil, descended on our town’), a letter descends slowly from the church gallery. The heightened sense of omniscience, the ambiguity of each letter, the use of lighting and shadowplay, all serve to heighten the themes of secrecy and anonymity, suspicion and distrust for which this film is most recognized. We can think of Le Corbeau as inspiring the disruptive presence of epistolary forms in later genres of ambiguity (the thriller, the modern noir), for example when a couple is terrorized by a series of video ‘letters’ that arrive on their doorstep in Michael Haneke’s Caché/Hidden (2005), when anonymous emails provoke a campus serial-killer in Cry Wolf (Jeff Wadlow, 2005), or when rumours about the Upper East Side are delivered as e-blasts from the omniscient and eponymous Gossip Girl (2007–12). Fans of the Game of Thrones books and television series have pet names for many of the letters that the male characters send to each other. ‘The Pink Letter’ refers to Ramsay Bolton’s letter to Jon Snow prior to the Battle of the Bastards due to the colour of the Bolton Sigil (rendered redder in 19 As discussed in this collection by Louise Coopey. See Chapter 1.

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the tv show): ‘To the traitor and bastard Jon Snow, You allowed thousands of wildlings past the Wall. You have betrayed your own kind and you have betrayed the North. Winterfell is mine, bastard, come and see’. Ramsay’s insulting provocation of Jon, which causes him to respond in kind, is crucial to several plot developments that follow. The letter is a direct threat to equilibrium, it stands in for its writer while simultaneously amplifying their (or in this case ‘his’) force. This kind of epistle occurs frequently in historical novels and cinematic adaptations have made much of the moments when letters are composed and received (see The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993), the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1993), Onegin (Martha Fiennes, 1999), Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009), The Young Victoria, and Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)). On screen the act of unsealing wax stamps or unrolling a scroll has become a visual motif for grand, lifechanging declarations. When it comes to what epistolarity does to narratives the three examples above supply a taste of the longevity of the epistle’s disruptive dramatic possibilities. The tangled rather than ordered way in which people are brought together creates complications that have narrational, thematic, and emotional consequences. In all three examples, but in Game of Thrones particularly, the receipt of the letters creates new energies – tension, high drama, suspense, a burst of action, despair – that shift the emotional texture of the scenes. Yet rather than contributing to the action, these new energies deepen our involvement with characters and pull against the velocity of the narrative drive. The letters concerned supplement the plots by revealing inner most thoughts and feelings as well as by concealing secrets and identities. Filmic narration develops on new enunciative levels, as viewers know more than the young girl and father in A New York Hat, but are as in the dark as the townsfolk in Le Corbeau. Meanwhile, the missives that drop from the skies provide supplemental thematic codes that make us alert to the hypocrisy and mendacity of many townsfolk. We can think of epistles as creating temporal drag in screen narratives; although they don’t quite achieve the delays of slow cinema.20 Instead, contemporary examples sit closer to the puzzle films and modular narratives of the 1990s and 2000s21 such as Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) or Run 20 For extended analyses of the delays of slow cinema see: Tiago de Luca and Nuno Barradas Jorge (eds), Slow Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016). 21 See Warren Buckland (ed.), Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) and Allan Cameron, Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

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Lola Run (Tom Twyker, 1998). Epistolary modes add complexity, although in contrast to the temporal twists and turns or ‘breakdown of narrative order’22 these examples feature, in epistolary modes it is our engagement rather than the plot which thickens. In this collection the effects of this thickening are discussed in chapters by Louise Coopey on Game of Thrones, Shiamin Kwa on Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016), and John Trafton on the Hollywood war film.

How Epistolary Forms Do Things with (Romance) Genres ‘My heart trembled as I walked into the post-office […] I took you out of your envelope and read you’.23

As mentioned, epistles can provide suspense in thrillers and the modern noir, but it is in the romantic genre that we find they have made the greatest intervention. Since the late-1990s, there has been a steady stream of romantic films that leverage epistolary discourse to drive their stories including: You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998), Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001), Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ken Kwapis, 2005), The Lake House, P.S. I Love You (Richard LaGravenese, 2007), The Young Victoria, Julie and Julia (Nora Ephron, 2009), Dear John, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012), Love, Simon (Becky Albertalli, 2018), and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Susan Johnson, 2018). Building on the epistle’s proclivity for creating tangled relations we find a profusion of examples of its disruptive qualities. Here we can refer back to Chow who reminds us that ‘the word “entanglement” also carries the more familiar connotation of being emotionally tied to a person or an object, from whom or from which one cannot extricate oneself’.24 When the entanglement of feeling meets the disruptive communicative possibilities of epistles we see two adjustments to the genre: first, we get more of a glimpse of a kind of innerness that epistles allegedly bring out, second, the epistle ‘annuls the body’25 with sex and physical intimacy having to make way for the depth and force of written expression. Interestingly, perhaps connected to the gendering of sexuality 22 Cameron, p. 2. 23 From The Shop around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942). 24 Chow, p. 11. 25 Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), p. 75.

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and the apparent loosening of the sex drive, male characters have been allowed to become increasingly emotional across these epistolary romances. In a literary context we find that the two adjustments to romance dramas show that mainstream media subscribes to the fiction of the letter, as outlined by Gilroy and Verhoeven: ‘[t]he most historically powerful fiction of the letter has been that which f igures it as the trope of authenticity and intimacy, which elides questions of linguistic, historical, and political mediation, and which construes the letter as feminine’.26 Adhering to this fiction, in romance dramas epistles become a truth-telling mechanism, able to create intimacy through fabricating the illusion of presence and eventually bringing couples together. By contrast, in non-mainstream media and the visual arts, as we will discuss in the section to follow, not only is the mediated nature of epistles revealed, the ways in which disembodiment can be used to dissemble and deceive is more often explored, typically with the feminist intent of critiquing ‘the persistence of a rhetoric that equates epistolary femininity and feminine epistolarity’.27 Both Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop around the Corner (1940) and its reboot (or e-boot) You’ve Got Mail operate on the now familiar premise that the intention to communicate to someone who is not present brings a greater sense of depth to a relationship than face-to-face contact would. In The Shop around the Corner Alfred (James Stewart) and Klara (Margaret Sullavan) both work in the same gift shop and bicker constantly; the meet-cute happens anonymously, with courtship instead beginning with a personal ad in the local paper. Meanwhile in You’ve Got Mail we witness the online relationship of small local bookstore owner Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and chain store owner Joe (Tom Hanks). As an online narrative, the exclusion of the physical meeting allows the protagonists even more of an opportunity to construct and present the best version of him or herself. Both films show how letter or email writing take place in private rather than public worlds, thereby associating these acts immediately with what Erving Goffman would call the backstage self,28 the one we don’t show to the world. The superficiality of everyday working lives is gradually left behind in both films. At one point Alfred actually explains to Klara, ‘people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth’. Akin to Alfred’s letter to Klara we hear Kathleen in voice-over read the following 26 Amanda Gilroy and Wilhelmus Maria Verhoeven, Epistolary Histories: Letters, Fiction, Culture (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000), p. 1. 27 Gilroy and Verhoeven, p. 1. 28 Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 2002).

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email sent to Joe: ‘The odd thing about this type of communication is you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something, but what I want to say is that all this “nothing” has meant more to me than so many “somethings”. So thanks’. We are also witnesses to the characters beginning to make impressions upon the others’ lives. Chow’s point about the rapid loss of temporal, geographical, or personal intervals brought about by digitization seems to apply here. It being before our age of ubiquitous mobile screens, the email exchange in You’ve Got Mail feigns proximity thanks to spatial and temporal affordances. Spatially, exchanges occur on screens located in Kathleen’s and Joe’s private spaces such that it’s as if they co-habit. Temporally, as Kathleen puts it, ‘nothing’ – the nothing of day-to-day routines experienced relationally – comes to feel like more than ‘something’ – the artificial work lives that they lead separately, thus establishing the feeling of authenticity that is part of the fiction of the letter. Across romance genres there can be intimacy without presence when epistolary forms infiltrate daily life either as traditional letters in The Lake House, The Young Victoria, Dear John, or online messages: A Cinderella Story (2004), The Perfect Man, Love, Simon, Sierra Burgess Is a Big Loser (2018). Absence is overridden, as the disembodiment of those communicating is naturalized through the illusion of presence that the epistolary exchange creates. Esther Milne argues that ‘the virtual email, arriving instantaneously, emphasises a non-bodily intimacy’,29 an intimacy then based upon words that somehow express the ‘real’ self that is otherwise hidden behind appearances. Equally, an intimacy based upon ‘talking’ to another about one’s emotions. Arguably, the writing and talking, or confiding that takes place as what Robinson would call a textual ‘trespassing’30 in the epistolary romance drama is a response to the fact that ‘we live in a culture that takes emotions very seriously’;31 such is Frank Furedi’s assessment of the context for a therapeutic turn in the 2000s. For Furedi, contemporary society is suffering from an emotional deficit and as a result is stuck in a permanent state of vulnerability. The management of life in these conditions, Furedi argues, requires continuous therapeutic intervention. Therapeutic culture exists in response to this emotional deficit. The relevance of Furedi’s argument 29 Esther Milne, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence (London: Routledge, 2012), p. 194. 30 Robinson, p. 218. 31 Frank Furedi, Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age (Oxon: Routledge, 2004), p. 1.

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is revealed by his assertion that as a cultural phenomenon, rather than a clinical term, therapeutic culture can be best understood as a retreat to the inner world of the self. Thoughts and feelings that once used to be ‘internal, private and solitary’32 have been outed by a new emotional determinism – such that the way we feel about ourselves is seen as significant in our making sense of the world. Epistolary romance dramas’ emphasis upon the sense of innerness that can be woven textually though epistolary correspondence takes on new significance in light of Furedi’s diagnosis. These epistolary dramas exhibit an emotional makeover of sorts, with confession as an important component of this transformation. Furthermore, Furedi’s lens also asks us to consider emotional masculinity; specifically the relationship between men, vulnerability, and letter writing, all of which are dominant characteristics of writerly protagonists such as the eponymous heroes of Dear John and Love, Simon, and Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. As we’ve suggested, male protagonists seem changed when relationships operate on an epistolary level. While epistles give agency to a female voice that often comes second to her physical presence on screen, the male body also becomes increasingly irrelevant due to the presence of new emotional male protagonists who, building on the work of Candida Yates, are ‘portrayed as having deep and complex interior lives’.33 Yates refers to Jillian Sandell’s exploration into the legacy of the films of John Woo and a ‘vision of masculinity that allows men to be simultaneously tough action heroes as well as [what is often called] “emotionally present”’.34 Thus epistolary writing becomes a new kind of ‘action’ for the male character in the romance drama. In contrast to contemporary romance films that rely on physical proximity to bring the couple together romantically (think Andie (Kate Hudson) and Ben (Matthew McConaughey) in How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (Donald Petrie, 2003), or Margaret (Sandra Bullock) and Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) in The Proposal (Anne Fetcher, 2009)), the male characters in epistolary narratives exhibit an emotional presence that adds to rather than replaces physical presence (after all, the couples always come together in the end). Indeed, the extension of presence into the epistolary realm makes way for more holistic male characters and adds emotional depth and a new kind of 32 Furedi, p. 24. 33 Candida Yates, Masculine Jealousy and Contemporary Cinema (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 13. 34 Jillian Sandell, ‘Reinventing Masculinity: The Spectacle of Male Intimacy in the Films of John Woo’, in Film Quarterly, 4.49 (Summer 1996), 23–34 (p. 24).

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entanglement to romantic genres. Additionally, epistolary romances add to contemporary manifestations of romantic sub-categories such as the ‘homme-com’,35 ‘anxious romance’, ‘bromantic comedy’, and ‘mumblecore’,36 which John Alberti defines as ‘genres of masculinity […] that teeter uneasily on the borders between [gay and straight], masculine and feminine’.37 In sum, when considering how epistolary forms ‘do things’ to romantic dramas we find, true to form, that they have a tangled effect. On the one hand, through their insistence that an inner, more authentic self can be expressed on paper or online, they return us to romantic traditions of letter writing, with their conventional gender roles. But on the other hand, through their disruption of genre conventions around falling in love or the coming-together of the couple, and the type of – more emotional – masculinity on display, epistolarity forces us to question both the role of intimacy in contemporary courtship and how it is represented on screen; these questions are developed in Section Two, on intimacy, in chapters by Teri Higgins on romantic dramas, Sean Redmond on fan letters, David Molina on Letter to America (1999) by Kira Muratova, and Hito Steyerl on scam emails.

How Epistolary Forms Do Things with the Audio-Visual [T]he first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland in 1965, […] he wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film, with a piece of long black leader.

As we have discussed so far, epistolary forms disrupt narratives and genres. The force, weight, and energy created by epistolary intent, along with the additional emotional layers that epistles add to relationships and selves push against stories and generic conventions. While a majority of the chapters in this collection engage with narratives and genres, several explore how epistolarity manifests beyond film and television. Hito Steyerl re-imagines links between scam ‘romantic’ emails and melodramas; Sean Redmond examines fan expressions online and Jenna Ng interrogates interactive media; while Susan Best and Christine Sprengler look to the 35 Tamar E.L Jeffers McDonald, ‘Homme-com: Engendering Change in Contemporary Romantic Comedy’, in Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema, ed. by Stacey Abbot and Deborah Jermyn (London: I.B. Tauris), pp. 146–159 (p. 147). 36 Sub-categories of romantic comedy outlined by John Alberti in his book Masculinity in the Contemporary Romantic Comedy: Gender as Genre (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 75–103. 37 Alberti, p. 90.

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visual arts and find artists intervening in the fiction of the letter. Across these examples the question of how epistolary forms do things with the audio-visual rests upon the foregrounding rather than elision of mediating structures. In contrast to mainstream media, in which the trespass, disruption, and disorder of epistolarity is a problem to be overcome, in non-mainstream media, which is interested in the heterogeneity of audio-visual forms, these are qualities that perplex our understanding of the role of writing in constructing the space of the personal and auto-biographical and/or add to the expression of a communicative injunction, ‘driven by distance, separation, absence and loss’,38 as Hamid Naficy puts it. As such, writing can be figured either as playing with the themes of intimacy, privacy, self-expression, and masquerade or as contestatory, impossible, painful, disruptive, and under threat. Our discussion of how the textual disrupts the audio-visual presages this collection’s intervention in the fields of feminist media studies, intermediality, accented cinema, and the essay film. Seemingly probing the fiction of the letter’s and diary’s equivalence between ‘epistolary femininity and feminine epistolarity’,39 the performative element of such forms has been deconstructed and played with by women filmmakers and visual artists as a way of rejecting or critiquing feminine visual and narrative stereotypes. In the 1970s the inclusion of epistolary forms contributed to the post-structuralist interrogation of written, spoken, and filmic language in work by filmmakers such as Lis Rhodes, Yvonne Rainer, and Chantal Akerman (the latter is discussed by Catherine Fowler in Chapter 2).40 Equally, contra the mainstream romantic dramas explored above, the assumed ‘truth’ of letters and diaries and their capacity to create authentic selves is perverted by artist Sophie Calle’s fictional masquerades. In Detective (1980) she keeps a diary to record the experience of being followed by a detective (hired by herself); in The Hotel (1983) she co-opts other people’s diaries, letters, postcards, and notes; while in Take Care of Yourself (2007) she invites 107 women ‘chosen for their profession or skills’ to respond to a break-up email. These projects are exhibited as photo essays, diptychs consisting of text and photographs, letters on gallery walls and, in the case of the latter, photographic portraits, textual analysis, and filmed performances. 38 Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 101. 39 Gilroy and Verhoeven, p. 1. 40 See Lis Rhodes, Light Reading (1978); Yvonne Rainer, Lives of Performers (1972) and Film about a Woman Who (1974); Chantal Akerman’s Je tu il elle (1974) and News from Home (1976).

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Akin to Calle’s testing of gender identity we find epistolary forms used to disrupt mother–daughter bonds in Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988), to create a vocal lamentation to the lover in many of Maguerite Duras’s films41 and to play with Instagram’s diaristic confessionality in Amalia Ullman’s Excellences & Perfections (2014) art performance (discussed by Sue Best in Chapter 11). Deriving from an interest in cinema’s ‘between-ness’ and relations with photography, painting, and literature, 42 intermedial studies have grown to embrace the transformations wrought by digitalization upon alwayshybrid moving images. The place of epistolary forms in this field echoes Marion Schmid and Kim Knowles’s intuition of intermedial ‘moving image creation’ as a ‘material gesture’ and a ‘visual texture’43 with text-in-frame, or voice-overs off-screen adding writing and reading to the already hybrid languages of screen media.44 Crucially though, we find that when epistolary forms contribute towards an intermedial exploration, it is never for its own sake, rather, epistolary intermediality is always an expression of some kind of displacement, liminality, or, to return to Naficy and his accented cinema, injunction. Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance offers a canonical example of accented epistolary cinema. Hatoum, whose parents were exiled from Palestine to Lebanon, and who was herself exiled when she travelled to London to study following which civil war broke out, reads letters that her mother sent her, with her narration of the letters in English competing with a conversation in Arabic between the two. Meanwhile the image track consists of still images of Hatoum’s mother taken by her daughter, overlayed with Arabic writing to create a texture that reads as haptic: it is porous like skin and evokes a sense of touch. Hence Hatoum’s film recalls how the audio-visual liminality of intermediality resonates with the intensified intra-action of epistolarity whose effect, as Timothy Morton put it, is to create ‘[r]relationships [that] not only constitute beings as they relate “between” 41 For an analysis of Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance as a ‘Daughter-Text’ see Naf icy, pp. 127–131; on Duras’s uses of tracking shots alongside epistolary voice-over see Catherine Portuges, ‘Love and Mourning in Duras’ Aurélia Steiner’, L’Esprit Créateur, 30.1 (Spring 1990), 40–46. 42 Raymond Bellour, Between-the-Images, trans. by Allyn Hardyck, (Zurich: JRP Ringier and Dijon: Les presses du reel, 1991/1999). 43 Marion Schmid and Kim Knowles, Cinematic Intermediality: Theory and Practice (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), p. 3. 44 As discussed in Lourdes Monterrubio Ibáñez, ‘Correspondências by Rita Azevedo Gomes: The Complex Hybrid Image of Contemporary Epistolary Cinema and Contemporary Essay Film’, Visual Studies, 36.4–5 (2021), 435–49.

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one another: they are relationships all the way down, affecting the very core of entities’. 45 Turning to the audio part of the audio-visual: to voice and voice-over, we find even more capacity for a disruption which we can eventually compare with the proliferating genre of essay films. In mainstream media it is important that the voice has a visible body. By contrast, in non-mainstream media the disembodiment of the epistolary voice-over is played with. Michel Chion defines embodiment as a sort of contract, according to which the body and the voice each testify to the other’s presence. 46 Building on Chion, Mary Ann Doane has stressed that the separation of the voice from its source through voice-off or voice-over effects entails, in the classical film, the risk of ‘exposing the material heterogeneity’47 of the medium. In Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil / Sunless (1983), Chantal Akerman’s News from Home (1976), and once again Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance, uncertainty haunts our reception, as we try to make sense of their disjunctive and multi-layered images and sounds, which operate in multi-modal ways, pitting the linguistic and textual against the visual and aural. Sans Soleil offers a primer to these experimental genres. Uncertainty is created from the very opening image whose status is unclear: the film has a female narrator whose purpose it seems is to voice what a ‘he’ told her. Meanwhile ‘he’ can only exist through what she tells us. Therefore in this instance the I and the You are totally interdependent. The images meanwhile appear to tease at our desire to connect them with the narration, sometimes appearing to illustrate the woman’s words, while at others appearing to be totally disconnected. Sans Soleil illustrates how the two traits that come about because of what epistolarity does to relationships: relationality and disembodiment, are in tension in non-mainstream films, with two consequences: the exchange between an ‘I and a You’ often consists of broken or overlapping correspondence that creates division rather than a bridge48 and bodies and words are not just disembodied, they are totally fragmented. In mainstream cinema the action-reaction trope, consisting of the voicing of the ‘I’ over the reaction of the ‘you’, provides the sense of reciprocity that materializes the epistolary relationship. By contrast, in non-mainstream films we are often denied the faces and bodies to which the voices belong; 45 Morton, p. 56. 46 Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). 47 Mary Ann Doane, ‘The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space’, Yale French Studies, 60 (1980), 33–50 (p. 35). 48 Altman, p. 15.

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what is more, the voices bring forth the words of others. In News from Home in a hurried voice, Chantal Akerman reads letters that her mother sent to her two years earlier, when she first left Belgium to explore film culture in New York. On the soundtrack we see documentary footage from New York, where Akerman has returned to make this film, her third experimental feature. Fragmentation continues in Measures of Distance, but it is created through audio-visual aesthetics that are densely layered. The film was made ‘under multiple forms of erasure patriarchal, political and exilic’. 49 Unlike Akerman’s hurried voice-over, in Hatoum’s film the three voices – of mother and daughter in conversation and of the daughter reading the letters in English – are extremely expressive. The conversation includes changes of pitch and volume, inflections, such as gasps, and laughter, giving an energetic sense of the face-to-face exchange between mother and daughter. Marker’s, Akerman’s, and Hatoum’s films sit astride the epistolary essayistic. Accordingly, expanding the genres of screenic writing, this collection adds the letter, the diary, and their modern equivalents to the essay. In so doing, we contribute different, nuanced inflections to the ‘dialectical disjunction’ that for Laura Rascaroli underpins the essay film and is how it thinks.50 First, epistolary forms focus upon the private rather than public visual/textual expression of subjective experience. Second, returning to Stanley’s ‘epistolary intent’ and our notion of ‘entanglement’, rather than the more dialectical modes of disjunction, discontinuity, and the interstitial of the essay film, epistolary forms produce a kind of energetic compression. In effect, the graphic nature of the self in such written acts creates genres of self-expression that adopt intimate, emotional, confessional tones; such tones create a particular kind of mood or energy as background to the communicative act that is quite different from the tone of essay films. To sum up this section, in non-mainstream f ilm and media letters, diaries, emails, and blogs perplex understandings of the role of writing in constructing the space of the personal and auto-biographical on screen. Feminist media has turned the fiction of letters and diaries on their head, replacing their assumed access to sincerity and depth with the artificial and playful masks of masquerade; accented cinemas have incorporated epistolary forms profusely, finding them to offer indexes to intermedialities that evoke material and psychic displacement, while when the epistolary and essayistic meet, energetic, intimate self-expression is the result. Therefore, returning to our opening question of what’s at stake for our understanding 49 Naficy, p. 118. 50 Laura Rascaroli, How the Essay Film Thinks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 8.

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of the self when it communicates through epistolary forms, our feminist, accented, and essayistic examples show that when foregrounded rather than integrated into the diegesis, the audio-visual effects of text on screen and voice-over can be used to express uncertain, complex, and heterogeneous identities and relationships. Having provided a general introduction to the ideas behind the collection we will now summarize the fourteen chapters that comprise it, organized within four sections: correspondence, intimacy, self-expression, and testimony.

Chapter Outlines Section One: Correspondence The collection begins with three chapters that establish the contours and conventions of the most elementary kind of epistolarity, that of correspondence that takes place between a sender and a receiver. In this first section the chapters help establish the primary characteristic of the epistolary on screen: that it brings people together in a tangled rather than ordered way. As discussed, the introduction of the epistolary has a uniform effect, it constitutes a supplement to the text that can add to and ‘do things’ with the everyday reality of the story world. The chapters contemplate the dramatic import of epistles as they become vehicles that create intrigue, macho posturing, cultural tensions, familial dependencies, and epistemological anxieties. Both the quill and the raven are carriers of macho power for Louise Coopey, who is concerned with how scrolls play a role in the narrative arcs of the TV series Game of Thrones. She grounds her study in a history of the construction of a masculine self-image through letters.51 Through detailed analysis Coopey contrasts Tywin Lannister’s cold, detached instructions to Walder Fray regarding the ambush and murder of Robb Stark, against Ramsay Bolton’s letter to Jon Snow prior to the Battle of the Bastards; a performance of masculinity that is overt and specif ically designed to elicit an emotional response. Hence she argues that in Game of Thrones, epistolary forms amplify masculine identity by projecting masculine power and, contrastingly, constructing aspirational self-images that challenge hegemonic masculinity.

51 Konstantin Dierks, ‘Letter Writing, Masculinity and American Men of Science, 1750–1800’, Pennsylvanian History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, 65 (1998), 167–99; Altman.

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Focusing less on narrative and more on the audio-visual, in Chapter 2 Catherine Fowler adapts Jolly and Stanley’s assertion that with epistolary intent ‘the ‘truth’ of the writing is in the relationship rather than in its subject’52 towards a re-reading of Chantal Akerman’s epistolary essay film News from Home. On the soundtrack Akerman reads letters that her mother sent her while she was away in New York City, while on the image track we see footage of the city. Believing that the ‘truth’ of the letters is in the subject, or in understanding their meaning, scholars have habitually read them as emblematic of a distance between mother and daughter. By reading them instead as ‘literal correspondence’53 or through acts of hearing, and in drawing from Lisbeth Lipari and Jean-Luc Nancy, Fowler is able to trace the creation of an ethics of listening across Akerman’s early films. Fowler’s recovery of listening in News from Home has wider implications for how we conceive of the use of both voice-over in films to deliver messages and the epistolary when inscribed in the essayistic. Finally in Section One, correspondence takes on discarnate forms as Shiamin Kwa considers digital epistolarity in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper. Taking us beyond the penned words in Game of Thrones and News from Home, Kwa considers the text message. She argues that the main character, Maureen, a spiritual medium who is awaiting a sign from her dead brother, is suffering from an epistolary hauntology: anything, from an object to a message is never only itself but also a stand-in for the person who has sent it. While the pulsing three dots of the ellipsis in a text message window become a proxy for the state of openness and waiting that preoccupy digital correspondence, for Kwa the text message-as-letter’s proclivity for bringing people together, in correspondence, provides Assayas with ‘an opportunity to consider the limits of an intersubjective experience’. Together, the chapters in Section One establish the weight and force of epistolary intent and introduce some of the different visual/ textual textures to be found in television serial drama, experimental film, and art cinema. Section Two: Intimacy Building on the epistle’s proclivity for creating tangled relations, the essays in Section Two expand upon the foundations of correspondence, 52 Margaretta Jolly and Liz Stanley, ‘Letters as/Not a Genre’, Life Writing, 2 (2005), 91–118 (p.93), emphasis mine. 53 Jolly and Stanley, p. 93.

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and focus upon entanglement as an emotional tie, as Chow put it.54 The chapters unpack the enduring relationship that epistolary forms have with romantic traditions of letter writing and their role in the creation of intimacy in courtship, through writers who expose themselves emotionally to readers. In Chapter 4 Teri Higgins considers the recurrence of diaries, letters, emails, and other epistolary forms in popular romantic dramas (You’ve Got Mail; The Lake House) and television series (Sex and the City). She f inds a lineage for these epistolary forms in the feminine literary aesthetic of the ‘detail’ and the literary/filmic genre of melodrama. According to Naomi Schor and Rebecca Hogan letters and diaries ‘valorize the detail in […] [the] everyday’;55 equally, epistolary forms return melodramatic emotional expression to the forefront. Thus, Higgins is interested in the effects that these genres of feminine detail have when included in female-centred romantic dramas. By closely analysing the recurring mise-en-scène of women writing or seated near windows of bedrooms, where epistolary rather than actual intimacy happens, and the use of symmetrical shot-counter-shots to create connections between the couple, Higgins argues that epistolary forms carry the burden of feeling as the melodramatic heroine once did. In the context of the expansion of romance genres discussed earlier in this introduction, Higgins’s chapter provides an explanation for the messing up of gender roles, since a balanced narrative voice becomes possible once it is the epistolary forms that absorb the burden of feeling. We remain in the realm of feeling for Chapter 5, though here feeling takes the form of the energized intimate exchange of messages between fans and stars. Specifically, Sean Redmond considers musician Nick Cave’s The Red Hand Files, weekly ‘email letter’ responses to questions that have been sent in by fans. Redmond argues that there is a material, embodied intimacy in both the way the letters appear and their imagined two-wayness – as if fan and Cave are privately conversing. The emails are laid out on what resembles watermarked paper, while the chosen font looks like it has been typed by Cave. This mimicry of the tradition of hand-typed letters is strategic on Cave’s part, Redmond suggests, because it disconnects them ‘from the dematerialized digital world where there is a crisis of loneliness’ to remind them of a time when people could more easily connect. To capture the ambivalence and contradictions of Cave’s romantic, sublime, scarred, and troubled enterprise Redmond sees it as emerging from a ‘double 54 Chow, p. 11. 55 Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (London: Methuen, 1987), p. xii.

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consciousness’. Here we find an electronic updating of Stanley’s epistolary intent, in which the ‘hope or expectation of a response’56 is charged with the emotional intensity of the love letter. In contrast to the liberation epistolary forms provide for the contemporary heroines of romantic dramas, and the energetic connection Cave’s Red Hand Files bestows upon his fans, for David Molina the letter is an inadequate form when it comes to performing romance on screen. More specifically, Molina is concerned with the short film, Letter to America (1999), which belongs within Kira Muratova’s extensive presentation of letters in her films. Noting a strong tradition of epistolarity in Soviet and post-Soviet cinema, Molina argues that Muratova’s films share a tendency for ‘an absence of […] reciprocity between letter-writer and letter-recipient’ This is the case in Letter to America, which concerns a poet’s efforts to compose a video letter to a former lover by speaking into a camera. Trying and failing several times he turns to poetry recitation which he finds to be a more authentic mode of self-expression than the unbounded sincerity of everyday language. As well as exploring the intermedial potentialities of spoken letters, poems, and videos when included in films, Molina’s case study adds new kinds of intimacies to epistolary exchange in the form of ‘the often-elided logic of being seen that underlies any act of letter-writing’. Section Two on Intimacy culminates with a reprint of Hito Steyerl’s fascinating 2011 essay, ‘Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman’. The chapter, which weaves together emails, forum posts, and Steyerl’s own writing around them, unpacks the power of the epistolary mode as a ‘ready-made language’ that lends itself to the production of romance and intimacy by email scammers. Throughout the essay we are reminded of Esther Milne’s point that ‘the virtual email, arriving instantaneously, emphasizes a non-bodily intimacy’,57 and are confronted by its sinister potential. Additionally, Steyerl draws connections between romance scams and the melodramatic tradition, suggesting that the former is a kind of contemporary, digital version of the classical genre that is infused with personal and political tragedy. She explores shared themes of presence and absence, hope and desire, as a way of understanding the tangled relationship between the email scammer and the recipient, or victim, of the scam, arguing there is a reciprocal hopefulness true of epistolary relationships, regardless of intent. Hence Steyerl’s chapter encourages us to reflect anew on themes discussed by Higgins 56 Stanley, ‘Death of the Letter?’, p. 242. 57 Milne, p. 154.

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(absence and presence), Molina (authenticity), and Redmond (loneliness). In combination, the chapters in this section measure how epistolary forms have mediated acts of self-exposure through their associations with courtship and confession. Section Three: Self-Expression In Section Three the chapters engage with the role of writing in constructing the space of the personal and auto-biographical on screen. They add the letter and diary and their modern equivalents to the essay as genres of literary/screenic cross-over, yet as discussed earlier in this introduction, in contrast to the genre of the essay f ilm these examples of epistolary screen media focus upon the private rather than public visual/textual expression of subjective experience. In his essay ‘What Is an Author?’ Foucault suggests that although the private letter has a signatory, it does not have an author, therefore letters should be differentiated as forms of expression from other literature.58 Foucault’s classification points to the conundrum at the heart of Rochelle Simmons’s study of the New Zealand film Leave All Fair (John Reid, 1985) in which the posthumous guardianship of New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield’s collected journals and letters is at stake. Reading the film as a literary bio-pic, Simmons notes how it can be distinguished from others in this genre by its acute focus upon Mansf ield’s personal letters rather than her literary works. As a consequence of this focus, she argues, the bio-pic’s task of uncovering the identity of Mansfield is complicated by the temporal polyvalency of letters. Simmons’s chapter raises questions around the equivalences and differences between writing/writers and letter writing that reminds us of the historical exclusion of epistolary forms, and consequently of many women writers, from the canons of literature. In contrast to Simmons’s case study, the writing process is firmly at the centre of Jenna Ng’s exploration of First Draft of the Revolution, an online, interactive, epistolary work, which requires the reader to draft and redraft every letter, often radically changing their tone and content, before the narrative can proceed. In addition, the transmission of letters is foregrounded in the narrative, from the eighteenth-century magic of instantaneous transmission to the twenty-f irst-century technology of Internet communication. According to Ng these two emphases indicate 58 Michel Foucault. ‘What Is an Author?’, in Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, ed. by James D. Faubion, trans. by Robert Hurley and others (New York: The New York Press, 1998), pp. 205–22.

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the self-reflexive nature of First Draft of the Revolution as it contemplates ‘the letter as a medium which, so to speak, truly is the message’. Whilst Simmons’s chapter examined the place of personal letters in the reception of an author, Ng’s analysis of First Draft of the Revolution considers the co-authorship between creator, character, and reader of letters. By exploring epistolary interactivity Ng proposes a theoretical framework for thinking through the connections between intimacy, interactivity, and the epistolary form in interactive work. In Chapter 10 we expand our gaze to the visual arts. The use of epistolary forms to create and explore lines of connection across creative practice is examined by Emre Çağlayan through the Correspondencia Exhibition Series (Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, 2011). Associating this project with the history of artists’ correspondence that includes exchanges between Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, Çağlayan borrows the notion of ‘epistolary distance’ from Margaretmary Daley,59 to describe how these exchanges can both influence and alter an artist’s creative practice. When applied to the exchange between José Luis Guerín and Jonas Mekas, Çağlayan encounters similar challenges to the protagonist in David Molina’s case study of Letter to America. Whereas the former found the language of the letter less adequate to the expression of romance than poetry, the latter finds that whereas traditional artists’ correspondence is premised upon reciprocity and enables self-reflection, the shift from the written word to the video letter undermines and complicates the reflexive potentiality of a transformative dialogue. Çağlayan suggests what is created then, when the artistic self communicates on screen through epistolary forms, is ‘a dispersed authorship that demonstrates different forms of self-expression and artistic imagination’, offering yet another answer to Foucault’s question, ‘What is an author?’. We stay in the art world for the closing chapter in this section, in which Susan Best draws a line from conceptual artists such as Eleanor Antin and Sophie Calle, who used confessional and diaristic modes to confound expected feminine self-presentation, to Instagram star Amelia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections project. In the project Ulman uploaded over 180 posts to Instagram over a six-month period. In the posts Ulman played a ‘fictional alter ego’ who displays herself through recognizable forms of normative femininity, revealing only later that the performances were 59 Margaretmary Daley, ‘Double Vision: Polar Meetings, Epistolary Distance and the Super Writer in the “Schiller-Goethe Correspondence”’, The Journal of Midwest Modern Language Association, 36.2 (2003), 1–22 (p. 2).

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a total fabrication. Best explores Excellences & Perfections in relation to typical concerns of the diary: self representation, self disclosure, and the confessional mode, while noting that what was once written down is now presented by images of slices of life. She argues that Ulman’s project reveals the self in a confessional age, echoing our discussion earlier in this introduction of the therapeutic culture that encourages emotional makeovers (of men especially) in the romance drama. This recognition of the confessional mode of several of Ulman’s posts is read as significant by Best and she concludes that ‘the baiting or provocation [of an audience] is part of the new world of the online diary’. Thus, in this third section the chapters delve more deeply into notions of authorship in relation to epistolary forms, while contemplating the nature of the creative, relational, and confessional energy that is created as the epistle travels from writer to reader and back again. Section Four: Testimony In general, in the f irst three sections of the collection epistolary forms have provided connections that do aff irmative things with words. In Section Four the chapters focus upon cases in which the absence that lies between sender and receiver contends with an injunction. For John Trafton the injunction is war, as he explores the concept of ‘soldier-as-witness’. He conducts a brief history of the influence of epistolary traditions in war f ilms from early f ilm to the present, noting the shift from letter correspondence as ‘an enduring genre code of the war f ilm’ pre-sound, to the domination of soldier testimony through voice-over after sound. Akin to our argument earlier in this introduction that through epistolary forms narratives are changed, he argues that epistolary accounts create a more informed narration and affect the emotional content of war f ilms. Finally, through an analysis of the documentary f ilm, Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010), Trafton’s essay considers the soldier narrative as a counter to war reporting, leveraging epistolary testimonies and creating authentic ‘microhistories’ to supplement the visual coding of war. The final two essays in the section engage with accented audio-visuality and injunctions imposed by the enforced movement of people. Engaging with Hamid Naf icy’s recognition that epistolarity features strongly in narratives of emigration, colonialism, and diaspora, they broaden and deepen his study. Christine Sprengler adds moving image installation to Naficy’s cinematic examples. She argues that in the silent video Look

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Who’s Talking (Carola Grahn, 2016), denying visual images in favour of text becomes a way of subverting colonial image histories, practices, and gazes. Grahn uses electronic communications: ‘text’, appearing word by word as if typed, emojis, gifs, and animated drawings that reflect upon her personal positioning as a Sámi artist which in turn ‘encourages readers to confront the nature of language, orality, historical erasures, and lingering silences’. Projected onto a wall in a gallery, epistolary forms become acts of resistance and remembrance that, in turn, force us to re-think the potential of epistolarity for disturbing the ‘scopic and epistephilic regimes of white settler-colonizers’. The epistle connects; yet as Sunka Simon shows through a case study of Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite/On the Other Side/On the Edge ofHheaven (2007), those connections often cover over heartache and suffering that bursts out years later. In this multi-protagonist narrative, set across Germany and Turkey, we follow the criss-crossing of two lovers, an estranged mother, a father and son, all of whom share a migratory subject position. In contrast to the majority of approaches to epistolary forms in this collection, Simon takes a uniquely imaginative route that involves analogy, metonymy, and motifs. Her starting point is to observe that, like the notion of correspondence that underpins epistolarity, in Akin’s film ‘mobility and migration are multi-sourced and multi-directional’ and narrative proceeds by way of an ‘epistolary relay system’ of ever-changing points of view, arrivals, and departures, such that we switch sides. Simon’s strategy, involving close textual analysis, is to ‘listen for correspondences between and across geopolitics, narration, and semiotics’. Simon’s closing chapter radically opens up the notion of epistolary intent. By withdrawing from actual messages to consider correspondences, relays, and transmissions at the narrative, stylistic, and thematic levels she explodes the preceding chapters out into ever-new constellations of epistolarity. All of which returns us to Sally Rooney’s observation that ‘we are living in a great epistolary age’. In response to Rooney’s observation, in this introduction we have outlined tools that can be used to understand the complications wrought by epistles upon screen media. On the one hand, we have offered the notion of epistolary intent as a way of untethering epistolarity from particular forms and media, so as to facilitate imaginative engagements such as that of Simon. On the other hand, we have conceived of the communicative energy of epistolary correspondence as creating entanglements. By tracing the effect of these entanglements through genres, narratives, feminist practice, accented cinema, and essay films we hope to have prepared the way for the fourteen chapters that follow.

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Bibliography Alberti, John, Masculinity in the Contemporary Romantic Comedy: Gender as Genre (New York: Routlege, 2013) Altman, Janet Gurkin, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1982) Austin, J.L., ‘Performative Utterances’, in The Semantics-Pragmatics Boundary in Philosophy, ed. by Malte Ezcurdia and Robert J. Stainton (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, [1956] 2013), pp. 21–31 Barad, Karen, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007) Bellour, Raymond, Between-the-Images, trans. by Allyn Hardyck (Zurich: JRP Ringier and Dijon: Les presses du reel, 1991/1999) Buckland, Warren (ed.), Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) Cameron, Allan, Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) Chion, Michel, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) Chow, Rey, Entanglements, or Transmedial Thinking about Capture (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2012) Collins, Lauren, ‘Sally Rooney Gets in Your Head’, The New Yorker, 7 January 2019. [accessed 15 June 2022] Corrigan, Timothy, The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) Daley, Margaretmary, ‘Double Vision: Polar Meetings, Epistolary Distance and the Super Writer in the “Schiller-Goethe Correspondence”’, The Journal of Midwest Modern Language Association, 36.2 (2003), 1–22 De Luca, Tiago and Nuno Barradas Jorge (eds), Slow Cinema (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016) Dierks, Konstantin, ‘Letter Writing, Masculinity and American Men of Science, 1750–1800’, Pennsylvanian History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, 65 (1998), 167–99 Doane, Mary Ann, ‘The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space’, Yale French Studies, 60 (1980), 33–50 Foucault, Michel, ‘What Is an Author?’, in Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology, ed. by James D. Faubion, trans. by Robert Hurley and others (New York: The New York Press, 1998), pp. 205–22

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Furedi, Frank, Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age (Oxon: Routledge, 2004) Gilroy, Amanda and Wilhelmus Maria Verhoeven, Epistolary Histories: Letters, Fiction, Culture (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000) Goffman, Erving, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 2002) Gouws, Anjo-Mari, ‘Recording the Work of a World: Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Diary Film and the Domestication of Cinema’ (doctoral thesis, University of Toronto, 2020) Higgins, Teri, Attention to Detail: Epistolary Discourse and Contemporary Cinema (Dunedin: University of Otago, 2013). Accessible at [accessed 15 June 2022] Ibáñez, Lourdes Monterrubio, ‘Correspondências by Rita Azevedo Gomes: The Complex Hybrid Image of Contemporary Epistolary Cinema and Contemporary Essay Film’, Visual Studies, 36.4–5 (2021), 435–49 Illouz, Eva, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity, 2007) Jeffers McDonald, Tamar E.L ‘Homme-com: Engendering Change in Contemporary Romantic Comedy,’ in Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema, ed. by Stacey Abbot and Deborah Jermyn (London: I.B. Tauris), pp. 146–59 Jolly, Margaretta and Liz Stanley, ‘Letters as/Not a Genre’, Life Writing, 2 (2005), 91–118 Milne, Esther, Letters, Postcards, and Email: Technologies of Presence (London: Routledge, 2010) Morton, Timothy, ‘Treating Objects Like Women: Feminist Ontology and the Question of Essence’, in International Perspectives in Feminist Ecocriticism, ed. by Greta Gaard, Simon C. Estok, and Serpil Oppermann (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 56–69 Naficy, Hamid, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001) Portuges, Catherine, ‘Love and Mourning in Duras’ Aurélia Steiner’, L’Esprit Créateur 30.1 (Spring 1990), 40–46 Portuges, Catherine, ‘Retrospective Narratives in Hungarian Cinema: The 1980s Diary Trilogy of Marta Meszaros’, Velvet Light Trap, 22 March 1991, 63–73 Rascaroli, Laura, ‘The Diary Film: Aleksandr Sokurov’s Spiritual Voices and the Feeling of Time’, in The Personal Camera: Subjective Cinema and the Essay Film (London: Wallflower, 2009), pp. 115–45 Rascaroli, Laura, How the Essay Film Thinks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017)

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Robinson, Gregory, ‘Oh! Mother Will Be Pleased: Cinema Writes Back in Hepworth’s How It Feels to Be Run Over’, Literature/Film Quarterly, 39 (2011), 211–18 Sandell, Jillian, ‘Reinventing Masculinity: The Spectacle of Male Intimacy in the Films of John Woo’, Film Quarterly, 4.49 (Summer 1996), 23–34 Schmid, Marion and Kim Knowles, Cinematic Intermediality: Theory and Practice (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020) Schor, Naomi, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (London: Methuen, 1987) Stanley, Liz, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9 (2015), 240–55 Stanley, Liz, ‘The Epistolarium: On Theorizing Letters and Correspondences’, Auto/ biography, 12 (2004), 201–35 Steyerl, Hito, ‘Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman’, October, 138 (Fall 2011), 57–69 Tamboukou, Maria, ‘Epistolary Entanglements of Love and Politics, Reading Rosa Luxemberg’s Letters’, in The Routledge International Handbook on Narrative and Life History, ed. by Ivor Goodson, with Ari Antikainen, Molly Andrews and Pat Sikes (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 381–91 Tamboukou, Maria, ‘Interfaces in Narrative Research: Letters as Technologies of the Self and as Traces of Social Forces’, Qualitative Research, 11.5 (1 October 2011), 625–41 Yates, Candida, Masculine Jealousy and Contemporary Cinema (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

About the Authors Teri Higgins is an independent scholar who received her Ph.D. from the University of Otago in 2013. Her thesis, ‘Attention to Detail: Epistolary Discourse and Contemporary Cinema’ inspired the idea for this edited collection. Catherine Fowler is Professor in Film and Media at Otago University. She is the author of a BFI Classic on Jeanne Dielman and of a book on Sally Potter. Her essays on artists’ moving images have been published in journals including Screen, Cinema Journal and Framework.

1.

Performance and Power: The Letter as an Expression of Masculinity in Game of Thrones Louise Coopey

Abstract Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–19) has been intricately bound with epistolary forms since it first appeared on television, using social media as a means of engaging with audiences and giving rise to busy global communities. However, the subtle use of letters in the pseudo-Medieval diegetic storyworld of Westeros has attracted limited academic attention. Letters are vital in bridging narrative arcs and are key elements in the construction of masculinity and the projection of power within the televisual text. This chapter interrogates the epistolary performance of Tywin Lannister’s (Charles Dance) letters and Ramsay Bolton’s (Iwan Rheon) ‘Bastard Letter’, arguing they are used as a means of reinforcing and amplifying hegemonic masculine identity via the construction and projection of a masculine self-image. Keywords: Game of Thrones; television; masculinity; letters; gender performance

‘Roslin caught a fine fat trout. Her brothers gave her a pair of wolf pelts for her wedding. Signed Walder Frey’.1 Ostensibly about the masculine pursuits of hunting and fishing, this three-line letter is one of the most memorable written communications in HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011–19). Sent to King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) in the final episode of the third season, the activities are metaphors for the murders of Robb Stark (Richard Madden) 1 ‘Mhysa’, Game of Thrones: Series 3, Episode 10. USA: HBO, 3 June 2013.

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch01

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and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) at the Red Wedding, the spectacular and profoundly shocking closing moment of the previous episode, ‘The Rains of Castamere’ (3:9). However, the news of the ambush, as communicated by this letter, also crystallizes the intersection of epistolary discourse, gender, power, and performance that gives momentum to the narrative through the construction of masculinity. The letter written by Walder Frey (David Bradley) is just one example of Game of Thrones’ use of the writer as a trope of masculine performance. There are numerous other letters that frame the show’s complex relationship between epistolarity and masculinity. In this chapter, I analyse the content and significance of some of the most important letters sent and received in Game of Thrones, including Tywin Lannister’s (Charles Dance) use of letters to conduct strategic operations against the Stark family and exert control over Westeros in the third season, and Ramsay Bolton’s (Iwan Rheon) ‘Bastard Letter’, which was sent with the purpose of goading Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) into battle in the sixth season. Of the two, Tywin is a master of the letter, but he is not the only male character who uses the written word to elicit desirable outcomes via masculine identity. To date, this is an element of the show that has evaded in-depth analysis, providing an opportunity for me to do so in this chapter. In fact, little academic attention has been paid to the use of more traditional epistolary forms for the purpose of storytelling and constructing identities in television shows, particularly long-form narrative shows, as a whole. In interrogating the epistolary performances of both Tywin Lannister and Ramsay Bolton, I argue that in Game of Thrones epistolary forms amplify masculine identity, by both projecting hegemonic masculine power and constructing aspirational self-images that challenge hegemonic masculinity.

Epistolarity in Game of Thrones In Game of Thrones, letters are complex epistolary artefacts that perform multiple functions simultaneously: they construct specific identities while forging relationships and exercising power. Although literary scholarship on letters has frequently been driven by an interest in the construction of femininity,2 letters in Game of Thrones instead form part of the narrative 2 See Liz Stanley, ‘From “Self-Made Women” to “Women’s Made-Selves”? Audit Selves, Simulation and Surveillance in the Rise of Public Woman’, in Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods, ed. by Tess Cosslett, Celia Lury and Penny Summerfield (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 40–60; Margaretta Jolly, In Love and Struggle: Letters in Contemporary Feminism (New

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discourses surrounding masculinity. There are multiple masculinities visible in the show, with epistolary communication primarily providing a lens through which hegemonic masculinity may be examined. Writing on gender and power, Raewyn Connell def ines hegemonic masculinity as the ‘culturally exalted’ form of masculinity that secures dominance over all women and other groups of men, thus recognizing the presence of diverse masculinities.3 The conceptual ambiguities that underpin Connell’s theory have been widely critiqued, 4 yet there is broad recognition of the dynamic between dominance and subordination that sustains and promotes structural inequalities. There is no single way of achieving that dominance though, despite the need for the dominant form of masculinity to continually prove itself as worthy of the power it wields. For instance, although it is not always the most visible bearers of hegemonic masculinity that are the most powerful, masculine dominance incorporates an element of performance, the careful balancing of action and emotion, as a means of continually reinforcing patriarchal legitimacy and authority. This point is clarified by R.W. Connell and James Messerschmidt’s contention that ‘[h]egemony did not mean violence, although it could be supported by force; it meant ascendency achieved through culture, institutions and persuasion’.5 Although Connell and Messerschmidt do not specify which cultures, institutions and forms of persuasion they refer to here, they connect all three to the ‘patriarchal gender system’ and the gender hierarchies that maintain the primacy of masculinity.6 Since letters can contain persuasive discourse, a performance of hegemonic masculinity can therefore manifest in written communications and be projected through the role letters play in harnessing power. We see this search for ascendency from the outset with Tywin Lannister. As guardian of the patriarchal status quo, Tywin uses letters to project hegemonic masculine power by invoking his authority as a military commander while York: Columbia University Press, 2008); Esther Milne, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence (London: Routledge, 2010). 3 R.W. Connell, Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics (Cambridge: Polity, 1987), p. 150. 4 See Cliff Cheng, ‘Marginalized Masculinities and Hegemonic Masculinities: An Introduction’, The Journal of Men’s Studies, 7.3 (1999), 295–315; Demetrakis Z. Demetriou, ‘Connell’s Concept of Hegemonic Masculinity: A Critique’, Theory and Society, 30.3 (2001), 337–61; Yuchen Yang, ‘What’s Hegemonic about Hegemonic Masculinity? Legitimation and Beyond’, Sociological Theory, 38.4 (2020), 318–33. 5 R.W. Connell and James W. Messerschmidt, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept’, Gender & Society, 19.6 (2005), 829–59 (p. 832). 6 Connell and Messerschmidt, p. 832.

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providing strategic instruction to his bannermen, the heads of the houses that have sworn fealty to him. In doing so, he produces a form of blended masculine power that is designed to preserve his family’s status and project his own authority simultaneously, embodying the form of masculinity that is ‘culturally exalted’7 in Westerosi society. Tywin’s use of the letter is a symptom of the need for such power relations in lieu of both face-to-face contact and the direct violence that may be employed in certain circumstances.8 As he asserts in ‘Mhysa’, the final episode of the third season, ‘[s]ome battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens’.9 The use of letters in Westeros is not only important as a believable communicative mode within the pseudo-Medieval setting, it is also vital in bridging narrative arcs. Letters are key elements in the construction of masculinity and the projection of power within the show itself, linking geographically distant individuals and events together to enhance narrative complexity and form an interesting critique of the importance of the masculine self-image.

The Writer as a Trope of Masculine Performance In her book, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence, Esther Milne states that all three titular epistolary forms are defined by physical separation and yet their communicative capabilities construct intimate relations and do not impede the emergence of authentic discourse.10 Milne offers some clarification on what constitutes authentic discourse, asserting that letter readers ‘construct an imaginary, incorporeal body for their correspondents (drawing on and in part reworking their interlocutor’s self-representation)’.11 The implication here is that the letter serves as an agent, placing the onus on the recipient, or ‘reader’ to interpret the identity of the writer based on the letter’s content. There is no expectation that the writer would engage with the process of forming a self-image themselves. Further, Milne continues that the imagined body that the reader encounters often appears to be more real to them, based on the belief that incorporeality conveys an insight into the soul, which ‘may be threatened by the actual body 7 Connell, Gender and Power, p. 150. 8 R.W. Connell, Masculinities, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Polity, 2005), p. 7. 9 ‘Mhysa’. 10 Milne, pp. 1–2. 11 Milne, p. 2.

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encountered in face-to-face communication’.12 The imagination of the reader therefore undermines the control initially harnessed by the writer over their self-image, creating a character from the written word that may bear no resemblance to reality. In effect, the writer is not in control of meaning or interpretation, relying on the reader to construct an emergent identity. Milne’s argument that the letter reader wields the power to independently construct a letter writer’s identity is not the case in Game of Thrones. The show challenges existing theories concerned with the function of letters. Margaretta Jolly and Liz Stanley, for example, articulate that ‘letters in correspondences involve exchanges with reciprocity built in’,13 a structure which is also notably absent in Game of Thrones. The traditional process of epistolary reciprocity adopts the form of a writer/reader – sender/receiver model, in which the reader is invited to interpret meaning before replying, as per Milne.14 The reply then reverses the process as the reader and writer switch places. Epistolary exchange does not function in the same way because the process focuses on the sender and requires a different form of response. In Game of Thrones, the letter is designed to project a masculine self-image and is better suited to a voice and echo convention in which the writer speaks via the letter and expects or anticipates a response in kind.15 The voice projects an image and the echo responds to it not in the form of an answering voice that directly addresses the letter itself, but a reaction that the audience is privy to on screen. This dynamic is visible in the example I referred to at the start of the chapter – Walder Frey’s letter to Joffrey Baratheon. Frey’s letter constructs masculinity via the metaphors of hunting and fishing but does not demand a direct reply. Instead, the audience is privy to Joffrey’s echo in the form of his exultant reaction to the news that his enemy has been murdered. The epistolary reciprocal exchange therefore functions differently on screen, inviting an action-based response rather than a written one. Although the writer functions as a trope of masculine performance in Game of Thrones, the performance is dependent on the writer’s status in the patriarchal hierarchy and does not manifest in each letter in the same way. The dynamic exhibited where the writer has hegemonic authority gives rise to the projection of his existing masculine self-image, but the letter may also provide a platform for the construction of a masculine self-image 12 Milne, p. 2. 13 Margaretta Jolly and Liz Stanley, ‘Letters as / Not a Genre’, Life Writing, 2.2 (2005), 91–118 (p. 94). 14 Milne, pp. 1–2. 15 Jolly and Stanley, pp. 91–118.

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where the writer does not yet have that power in the storyworld’s reality. The disparity between the construction and projection of the masculine self-image therefore depends on the dominance or subordinance of the writer and reflects on how other men and masculinities respond to him, as per Connell.16 The process of constructing a masculine self-image through letters is not a new phenomenon and has been relatively well documented as eventuating as a result of the recognition of the letter’s dependent and independent status.17 That is to say that the letter retains an identity as an individual unit via its recognizable parameters, but it also functions within a larger body of epistolary correspondence, all of which may individually add to or challenge the identities and meanings formed with epistolary companions.18 It is precisely these traits that position the letter as an appropriate space to construct or perform an image of masculinity. Lilly Nortjé-Meyer has explored the Letter of Jude, also known as the penultimate book of the New Testament of the Bible, as an example of an authoritative written tradition that is capable of projecting hegemonic masculinity. She notes that ‘[c]entral to his claim of honor and authority is the exercise of power and dominance; these concepts are central to the notion of hegemonic masculinity, which guarantees the dominant position of particular men, and the subordination of women and other men’.19 Letters may therefore be used to produce a masculine self-image across diverse contexts and to achieve very specific outcomes. This lends credibility to the idea that an idealized self-image is of value within all patriarchal systems that cherish performances of masculine identities and displays of power as modes of maintaining control over and within the established social order. In terms of masculine identities, Nortjé-Meyer argues that ‘performative’ masculinity is ‘as old as patriarchy itself’,20 and builds on the idealization of the masculine character that is the central tenet of hegemonic masculinity.21 Those men who have hegemonic masculine power project a self-image capable of maintaining it, whereas subordinate masculinities construct 16 Connell, Gender and Power, p. 150. 17 Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982), p. 169. 18 Altman, p. 169. 19 Lilly Nortjé-Meyer, ‘A Rhetorical Construction of Masculinities in the Letter of Jude’, Journal of Early Christian History, 7.3 (2017), 57–72 (p. 57). 20 Nortjé-Meyer, p. 57. 21 Donaldson, ‘What Is Hegemonic Masculinity?’, Theory and Society, 22.5 (1993), 643–57 (p. 647); Connell, Masculinities, pp. 77–78.

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aspirational self-images to challenge the hegemonic masculinity in the relevant context. Tywin Lannister exemplifies the former.

Tywin Lannister’s Hegemonic Masculinity by Letter Tywin Lannister occupies the dominant masculine position, as per the hegemonic masculinity that Nortjé-Meyer and Connell describe. This is signalled by his absolute authority over his family, over his army, and over the throne, all of which is made clear from his first appearance on screen in ‘You Win or You Die’ (1:7). He also occupies the position of kingmaker, first putting Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) on the Iron Throne and then ensuring that his grandson Joffrey, the son of Baratheon and Tywin’s daughter Cersei (Lena Headey), can inherit and maintain it. Tywin therefore has the capacity to wield power via a well-established masculine identity that not only conforms to Westerosi patriarchal norms and ideals but is also a leading proponent of them.22 Tywin is depicted writing letters in several episodes of the show’s third season as he governs the Seven Kingdoms from his chambers in its capital, King’s Landing. It is therefore accurate to say that his letters serve as a manifestation of that identity and as a tool for the projection of his self-image. The functional nature of the letters Tywin writes characterizes the tone of his relationships. They are not profound personal interactions but a means to an end, providing an expression of self that conveys his masculine authority in the unequal relationships that define the dynamics of power in the show. Tywin’s masculine authority is, for example, reflected in his approach to warfare. Matteo Barbagello’s analysis of that approach suggests it is determined by his aptitude for leadership, understanding of the complexities of maintaining power and the need to be different things to different people simultaneously: ‘Tywin is well aware that, even though House Lannister can rely on a vast army, brute force won’t be enough to preserve the position of his family for centuries’.23 Barbagello’s words explain Tywin’s need to perform a 22 Jill A. Kehoe, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity and Game of Thrones’, in Theories of Crime through Popular Culture, ed. by Sarah E. Daly (Dordrecht: Springer, 2020), pp. 185–202 (p. 197); Dan Ward, ‘“Kill the Boy and Let the Man Be Born”: Youth, Death and Manhood’, in Vying for the Iron Throne: Essays on Power, Gender, Death and Performance in HBO’s Game of Thrones, ed. by Lindsey Mantoan and Sara Brady (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018), pp. 109–20 (p. 112). 23 Matteo Barbagello, ‘Winning the Game of Thrones: Conquering Westeros with Sun Tzu, Niccolò Machiavelli and John Nash’, in Vying for the Iron Throne, ed. by Mantoan and Brady, pp. 40–49 (p. 44).

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masculine identity that maintains power beyond the battlefield, preserving the unequal relationships that characterize hegemonic masculinity as guaranteeing the dominance of some men over others.24 Tywin’s letters embody a hegemonic masculine identity, symbolizing the assertion of his influence where his corporeal presence is not possible and becoming an effective tool for maintaining power. Although Tywin’s letter-writing is not directly discussed as a strategic tool in his quest to secure power and control over Westeros in any of those scenes, it is hinted at. For instance, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), his servant girl during the second season, discovers a letter he has written on the table when clearing his plates away in ‘The Old Gods and the New’ (2:6).25 The letter’s presence punctuates the scene, serving as a statement of Tywin’s masculine dominance over his bannermen and his strategic intentions, without a word being spoken aloud. The camera frames the note exactly as Arya sees it initially, sitting amongst plates of half-eaten food and out of focus, blurring the writing on the parchment and rendering it illegible at first glance. The camera cuts to the letter before zooming quickly over it, allowing the audience to pick out a few phrases without being able to read it in its entirety. One recognizable name that is made perfectly visible is ‘Robb Stark’, immediately signalling to the audience that the epistolary artefact is a strategic communication to Tywin’s army, containing information that is critical to the war effort. However, the absence of complete knowledge of the letter creates suspense while playing to Tywin’s masculine authority. Even this quick glance at the letter reinforces Tywin’s importance as the head of the Lannister army. In respect of this letter, the onus is very much on Tywin as the writer to project a masculine self-image through his words, which is evident upon closer analysis of the instructions contained within the letter’s text. Fan communities have worked to decipher the letter’s contents, which reads: ‘Marching ten thousand west to Lannisport through the tooth. Estimate to reach you by week’s end. Scouts report Robb Stark moving troops south by coast. Alert Serrett [------] turn east at Silverhill’.26 Although the letter is incomplete, as per the gap noted in the final sentence, the language is controlled and mirrors Tywin’s persona, projecting his absolute authority and conveying his dominance over other men. 24 Nortjé-Meyer, p. 57. 25 ‘The Old Gods and the New’, Game of Thrones: Series 2, Episode 6. USA: HBO, 6 May 2012. 26 SarahBeara231, ‘In Case Anyone Else Was Curious as to What the Note Arya Stole Said, See Comments for Text’, Reddit (2012), [accessed 21 December 2020].

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Tywin’s dominance is performed parallel to his letter-writing in further episodes, strengthening the bond between his performance of hegemonic masculinity in person and how that translates into his epistolary communication. In ‘Valar Dohaeris’ (3:1), Tywin cuts through his son Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) musings on his own heroism during the Battle of the Blackwater: ‘Now, I have seven kingdoms to look after and three of them are in open rebellion so tell me what you want’.27 When paired with his letter-writing at the start of the scene, the implication is that Tyrion had disturbed Tywin’s administration of those kingdoms and his attempts to deal with the rebellions. In turn, this implies that Tywin is the powerful hegemonic masculine leader who uses institutional, cultural, and forceful means to maintain power, as per Connell and Messerschmidt, via his control of the Iron Throne, existing patriarchal structures, and his command of the Lannister army respectively.28 In stating ‘I have’, he takes ownership of the realm and responsibility for implementing order, with the letter reinforcing the same authority and power that his characterization presents on screen. He may not be the reigning king, but Tywin is the power that underpins the legitimacy of the Lannisters as the ruling family, and this manifests within his written communications. The ‘Valar Dohaeris’ letter has been identified by fan communities as the one ordering the murder of Robb Stark. It is significant that this is not confirmed on screen because it reflects the show’s unwillingness to provide spoilers for the audience and suggests that the televisual function of epistolary communication is not solely to inform. Instead, letters can effectively perform power. As Dan Ward articulates, the ‘Lannister conception of masculinity places far more emphasis on power than honor […] The hierarchy must be ruthlessly maintained through fear, and terrible displays of power against those who would challenge it’.29 This particular letter is therefore imbued with Tywin’s power, is bound to violent action and is designed to safeguard the hegemonic masculinity that Tywin is sworn to protect. In return, the letter reasserts Tywin’s status as the guardian of the hegemonic status quo, reinforcing his position and articulating his power. Tywin is also depicted writing letters at the start of a further scene three episodes later in ‘And Now His Watch Is Ended’ (3:4). Cersei, his only daughter, sits watching him write letters at his desk, waiting for a cue to ask him what he is doing to deal with the capture of her twin brother, Jaime 27 ‘Valar Dohaeris’, Game of Thrones: Series 3, Episode 1. USA: HBO, 31 March 2013. 28 Connell and Messerschmidt, p. 832. 29 Ward, p. 112.

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(Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), by the Stark army. Again, the letters are not directly mentioned in the conversation but are subtly alluded to as the means by which Tywin administers the kingdoms from his desk. For example, Tywin asks Cersei, ‘[i]f I would start a war for [Tyrion] what do you think I am doing for my eldest son and heir? […] Whatever I can’.30 The actions associated with writing a letter are used to punctuate the scene. The camera focuses on Tywin blowing on the ink to dry it after he asks this rhetorical question and then the stamping of the wax seal immediately after he offers his answer. The action of sealing the letter is a subtle but symbolic part of Tywin’s performance, conveying his status as the current head of House Lannister while simultaneously performing legacy through the Lannister sigil. His authority and power are not to be questioned because they are reinforced by the weight of history, of building a powerful legacy on the dominance of hegemonic masculinity. This conviction manifests in Tywin’s physical reactions on screen and transfers into the letters he is writing, which punctuate the act of writing the letter with visible emotional control and an implied call to action.

The Juxtaposition of Performance and Power in Game of Thrones’ Letters Tywin Lannister’s masculine self-image is not the only one featured in the letters written in Game of Thrones. The presentation of different performative masculine identities for individual characters highlights the complexity of the masculine self-image and how it reflects the coexistence of multiple competing forms of masculinity that jostle for prominence and power.31 Regardless of the nature of the self-image presented by each letter writer, the juxtaposition of performance and power provides a commonality that links them together. Both Tywin’s letter ordering Robb Stark’s murder and Ramsay Bolton’s Bastard Letter display overt masculine self-images via the juxtaposition of performance and power, with Ramsay favouring the former and Tywin the latter as a direct outcome of their individual statuses in the patriarchal hierarchy. Both characters are connected by their inclusion of masculine identities within their letters but this is tempered by a disconnect between their approaches, with Tywin favouring direct action and Ramsay tapping into provocation through emotion. 30 ‘And Now His Watch Is Ended’, Game of Thrones: Series 3, Episode 4. USA: HBO, 21 April 2013. 31 John Beynon, Masculinities and Culture (Oxford: Open University Press, 2002), p. 2.

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As referenced previously, I believe that the letter Tywin writes in ‘Valar Dohaeris’ is the one that provides the initial instructions to Walder Fray sanctioning the ambush and murder of Robb and Catelyn Stark in ‘The Rains of Castamere’ (3:9). The letter reflects on the use of secrecy and control to project masculine power. Ramsay Bolton’s letter to Jon Snow prior to the Battle of the Bastards, on the other hand, is a performance of masculinity that is overt and specifically designed to provoke an emotional response.32 This disparity illustrates the flexibility of the letter as a communicative device, placing the onus on the writer by providing him with a voice to construct or project his own masculine identity out to the audience and within the narrative landscape. The juxtaposition of action and emotion is interesting in both cases. With Tywin’s letter, there is no emotional attachment. Rather, his matter-offact strategic instructions, as per the letter that was briefly shown in ‘The Old Gods and the New’, represent a cold, detached assertion of masculine power over the fate of the Iron Throne, despite illustrating the hegemonic dynamics of patriarchal control over the family. Again, very little of the letter is visible on screen when it is shown in close-up, avoiding spoilers while illustrating Tywin’s masculine control. We do not know to whom Tywin is writing, but a key legible phrase contributes to his self-image: ‘successfull [sic] hunt deserves to be marked’.33 In the context of Game of Thrones’ pseudo-Medieval storyworld, the notion of a ‘hunt’ is thoroughly masculine, referring to a pursuit that requires strategy, aggression, and ultimately violence to achieve success. Although the language is straightforward, the use of ‘hunt’ also suggests that such strategic decisions are simply components of a game, a performative activity that prioritizes action over emotion to reinforce and project Tywin’s hegemonic power. The hegemonic requirement of action over emotion is also visible in the deliberate separation of emotion and rationality that Tywin maintains in his quest to secure his legacy. He displays emotional coldness when ordering Robb Stark’s murder in ‘Valar Dohaeris’, which is to be expected in his role as the commander of the Lannister army. However, Tywin also exhibits the same level of detachment in ‘And Now His Watch Is Ended’ when writing letters to organize the release of his son, Jaime. The absence of emotion in the latter situation is a form of ‘psychic self-mutilation’ that stems from an idealized masculine selfimage.34 Masculinity is entrenched in a series of critical master narratives that demand complete control of emotions and stipulate that the process of killing 32 ‘Book of the Stranger’, Game of Thrones: Series 6, Episode 4. USA: HBO, 15 May 2016. 33 ‘Book of the Stranger’. 34 bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love (New York: Atria Books, 2004), p. 6.

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off emotional attachment is inextricably bound to the strength of patriarchal systems.35 Tywin’s emotional detachment is indicative of the strength of his own hegemonic power, but that power is proactively challenged through his letters’ demand for action and the projection of his authority. Conversely, in Ramsay Bolton’s case, the self-image constructed in the Bastard Letter levels a specific challenge to Jon Snow that is designed to elicit an emotional response, which would subsequently provide him with an advantage in the inevitable battle to come. The letter itself is effectively a call to arms that specifically uses Ramsey’s imprisonment of Jon’s brother Rickon (Art Parkinson) and threats of sexual violence towards his sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) to provoke him. Like Tywin’s letter, it is calculated but it relies on the emotional attachment of its recipient and therefore does not display the emotional coldness associated with Tywin’s hegemonic masculinity. It is not that the letter itself is an outlet for Ramsay’s emotions, but rather it is a deliberate projection of masculine intent on his part that directly challenges the masculinity of his opponent. Ramsay constructs a masculine self-image by questioning that of Jon Snow, most notably his inability to protect the North as a whole and his family specifically: To the traitor and bastard, Jon Snow, You allowed thousands of Wildlings past the Wall. You have betrayed your own kind and you have betrayed the North. Winterfell is mine, bastard, come and see. Your brother Rickon is in my dungeon. His direwolf’s skin is on my floor, come and see. I want my bride back. Send her to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your Wildling lovers. Keep her from me and I will rise North to slaughter every Wildling man, woman, and babe living under your protection. You will watch as I skin them living. You will watch as my soldiers take turns raping your sister. You will watch as my dogs devour your wild little brother. Then I will spoon your eyes from their sockets and let my dogs do the rest. Come and see. Ramsay Bolton, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North.36 35 Milette Shamir and Jennifer Travis, ‘Introduction’, in Boys Don’t Cry?: Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the US, ed. by Milette Shamir and Jennifer Travis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 1–22 (p. 1); Todd Reeser and Lucas Gottzén, ‘Masculinity and Affect: New Possibilities, New Agendas’, Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, 13.3–4 (2018), 145–57 (p. 147). 36 ‘Book of the Stranger’.

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In terms of meaning and language, the letter is unambiguous. It perfectly exemplifies the juxtaposition of performance and power that places the onus on the writer to construct and project a masculine self-image, and little is left for the reader to decipher. The title given to Jon Snow is designed to diminish his masculine credibility while reinforcing Ramsay’s because he is able to sit in judgement of his rival from a superior position as Lord of Winterfell. In reminding Jon of his superiority and confirming that he is holding Jon’s brother hostage, the emphasis is placed on the familial power Ramsay holds over Jon, in addition to the structural power he derives from the patriarchal institutions that underpin Westerosi society. However, the rest of the letter provides a reminder that Ramsay’s power is not absolute, unlike Tywin’s, and therefore his masculine self-image is performed somewhat differently. The emotionality of the Bastard Letter contrasts starkly with the actionality of Tywin’s letters, revealing their respective positions in relation to hegemonic masculinity. Through his words, Tywin is able to influence, inspire action, and secure power, but Ramsay has to deliberately provoke through emotionality in order to manufacture power that he can use to his advantage. Such power-seeking behaviours establish him as a member of a subordinate masculinity as opposed to the dominant form that Tywin effortlessly wields. In this sense, the very nature of the letters reveals how power and performance intersect via epistolary discourses and emphasizes the importance of the action/emotion binary to the masculine self-images of both men. As the writer constructing a masculine self-image, Ramsay emphasizes performance through his violent language, overt threats, and the construction of brutal imagery that all contribute to the construction of a masculine self-image designed to challenge hegemonic masculinity. There is no ‘psychic self-mutilation’ as there is with Tywin.37 Instead, Ramsay embraces his own desire for violence and the satisfaction the complete annihilation of the enemy brings him. The repetition of the refrain ‘come and see’ three times, for instance, illustrates the invitation that provides him with a means of maintaining his masculine identity through such violence. He is not a hegemonic male, but the impulse to win at all costs, a facet of hegemonic masculine competitiveness and dominance, is present nevertheless.38 As such, the letter ensures that his own self-image resonates with the alternative

37 hooks, p. 6. 38 Kehoe, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity and Game of Thrones’, p. 189; Donaldson, ‘What Is Hegemonic Masculinity?’, p. 655.

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form of legitimate masculinity that he seeks to create and sustain as the Lord of Winterfell. There is also a level of insecurity and perceived inferiority that adds a further layer to Ramsay’s self-image but is notably absent from that of Tywin. Tywin does not have to work to achieve power because his status is established, whereas Ramsay’s relatively new power, inherited from the father he murdered, is unstable. Ramsay embodies the ‘problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy’.39 He consistently challenges the parameters of masculine power while Tywin, in stark contrast, provides the stability patriarchy requires to continually assert its dominance.

Conclusion The analysis of the use of written communication in Game of Thrones performed here serves to illustrate how the letter is utilized to construct or project a self-image capable of wielding power via epistolary performance. The letter bridges diverse physical spaces, drawing character arcs together within the larger diegetic storyworld to advance the narrative and elaborate on the characters for the audience. The masculine self-images presented through Tywin Lannister and Ramsay Bolton’s letters are perhaps most significant – Tywin as that of hegemonic masculinity and Ramsay as a nonhegemonic form of masculinity that is beginning to compete for dominance. Tywin’s final letters play no part in the Game of Thrones narrative landscape. In ‘First of His Name’ (4:5), he conducts another conversation with Cersei at his desk, on which a pile of letters is clearly visible to the viewer. The letters are illegible to the audience and Tywin does not write them on screen, but the implication is that he still administers the kingdom by exercising and amplifying his hegemonic masculine identity via epistolary means. In contrast, Ramsay’s Bastard Letter is ultimately the final correspondence he writes because his successful goading of Jon Snow into battle leads to his own death. The alternative form of performative masculinity Ramsay seeks to project in that letter is unable to manifest in the action that is required to reinforce its provocative emotional power. In short, we can conclude that his masculine self-image is found wanting, unable to harness the power he projects in the letter to challenge the hegemonic status quo. Conversely, Tywin, as a representative of hegemonic masculinity, does not have to prove his masculine credentials. As he already has hegemonic authority, 39 Connell, Masculinities, p. 77.

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Tywin is able to project his masculine self-image, unlike Ramsay, who has to use the letter to construct a masculine self-image that does not yet exist in the storyworld’s reality. Tywin’s letters mirror his power and authority, exhibiting control and demanding action. The juxtaposition of power and performance in the letters written by both characters, and the emotion and action tethered to them, therefore contributes to the individual self-image and the broader construction of masculinity as a category.

Bibliography Altman, Janet Gurkin, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982) ‘And Now His Watch Is Ended’, Game of Thrones: Series 3, Episode 4. USA: HBO, 21 April 2013 Barbagello, Matteo, ‘Winning the Game of Thrones: Conquering Westeros with Sun Tzu, Niccolò Machiavelli and John Nash’, in Vying for the Iron Throne: Essays on Power, Gender, Death and Performance in HBO’s Game of Thrones, ed. by Lindsey Mantoan and Sara Brady (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018), pp. 40–49 Beynon, John, Masculinities and Culture (Oxford: Open University Press, 2002) ‘Book of the Stranger’, Game of Thrones: Series 6, Episode 4. USA: HBO, 15 May 2016 Cheng, Cliff, ‘Marginalized Masculinities and Hegemonic Masculinities: An Introduction’, The Journal of Men’s Studies, 7.3 (1999), 295–315 Connell, R.W., Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics (Cambridge: Polity, 1987) Connell, R.W., Masculinities, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Polity, 2005) Connell, R.W. and James Messerschmidt, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept’, Gender & Society, 19.6 (2005), 829–59 Demetriou, Demetrakis Z., ‘Connell’s Concept of Hegemonic Masculinity: A Critique’, Theory and Society, 30.3 (2001), 337–61 Donaldson, Mike, ‘What Is Hegemonic Masculinity?’, Theory and Society, 22.5 (1993), 643–57 ‘First of His Name’, Game of Thrones: Series 4, Episode 5. USA: HBO, 4 May 2014 hooks, bell, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love (New York: Atria Books, 2004) Jolly, Margaretta, In Love and Struggle: Letters in Contemporary Feminism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) Jolly, Margaretta and Liz Stanley, ‘Letters as / Not a Genre’, Life Writing, 2.2 (2005), 91–118

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Kehoe, Jill E., ‘Hegemonic Masculinity and Game of Thrones’, in Theories of Crime through Popular Culture, ed. by Sarah E. Daly (Dordrecht: Springer, 2020), pp. 185–202 ‘Mhysa’, Game of Thrones: Series 3, Episode 10. USA: HBO, 9 June 2013 Milne, Esther, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence (London: Routledge, 2010) Nortjé-Meyer, Lilly, ‘A Rhetorical Construction of Masculinities in the Letter of Jude’, Journal of Early Christian History, 7.3 (2017), 57–72 ‘The Old Gods and the New’, Game of Thrones: Series 2, Episode 6. USA: HBO, 6 May 2012 Reeser, Todd and Lucas Gottzén, ‘Masculinity and Affect: New Possibilities, New Agendas’, Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, 13.3–4 (2018), 145–57 SarahBeara231, ‘In Case Anyone Else Was Curious as to What the Note Arya Stole Said, See Comments for Text’, Reddit (2012), [accessed 21 December 2020] Shamir, Milette and Jennifer Travis, ‘Introduction’, in Boys Don’t Cry?: Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the US, ed. by Milette Shamir and Jennifer Travis (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), pp. 1–22 Stanley, Liz, ‘From “Self-Made Women” to “Women’s Made-Selves”? Audit Selves, Simulation and Surveillance in the Rise of Public Woman’, in Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods, ed. by Tess Cosslett, Celia Lury and Penny Summerfield (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 40–60 ‘Valar Dohaeris’, Game of Thrones: Series 3, Episode 1. USA: HBO, 31 March 2013 Ward, Dan, ‘“Kill the Boy and Let the Man Be Born”: Youth, Death and Manhood’, in Vying for the Iron Throne: Essays on Power, Gender, Death and Performance in HBO’s Game of Thrones, ed. by Lindsey Mantoan and Sara Brady (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018), pp. 109–20 Yang, Yuchen, ‘What’s Hegemonic about Hegemonic Masculinity? Legitimation and Beyond’, Sociological Theory, 38.4 (2020), 318–33

About the Author Louise Coopey is a PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham, exploring the sociological construction and representation of identity in film and television. Her chapter, “Where the Streets Have No Shame: Queen Cersei Lannister’s Quest for Alternative Patriarchy”, was published in Antiheroines of Contemporary Literary Media, Television and Cinema (2020).

2.

‘My dearest little girl,I just got your letter and I hope that you will continue to write to me often’ Epistolary Listening in News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1976) Catherine Fowler

Abstract Once seen as alternative, arthouse, or experimental, Chantal Akerman’s film News from Home (1976) has been transformed into a kind of ur-text for thinking about how the epistolary crosses over with the essayistic. In this chapter I argue that these discussions of the epistolary essayistic have placed too much emphasis upon the letter’s function as an ‘emblem of distance’; instead, my discussion will emphasize the epistolary as a ‘bridge’1 in order to explore how, when transposed to the cinematic context, epistolarity can bring about listening. In the case of Chantal Akerman’s practice, epistolary listening constitutes an ethical position through which she finds her authorial voice. Keywords: Chantal Akerman; voice-over; essay film; film-letter; listening

News from Home as Film-Letter Once seen as alternative, arthouse, or experimental, Chantal Akerman’s f ilm News from Home (US/Belgium, 1976) has been transformed into a kind of ur-text for thinking about how the epistolary crosses over with the 1 Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1982), p. 15.

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch02

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essayistic. News from Home’s starring role in what Hamid Naficy calls the ‘Film-Letter’2 has seen the film unquestioningly typecast in the same way across the ever burgeoning field of essay cinema. In this chapter I argue that these discussions of the epistolary essayistic have placed too much emphasis upon the letter’s function as an ‘emblem of distance’; instead, my discussion will emphasize the epistolary as a ‘bridge’3 in order to explore how, when transposed to the cinematic context, epistolarity can bring about listening. In the case of Chantal Akerman’s practice, epistolary listening constitutes an ethical position through which she finds her authorial voice. As a core part of his elaboration of an accented cinema, Naficy’s analysis of epistolarity’s recurring place in narratives of exile, migration, and displacement is intricately explored. Accordingly, he writes: Accented epistolary films are divided into three main types: film-letters, telephonic epistles, and letter-films. Film-letters inscribe letters and acts of reading and writing of letters by diegetic characters. Likewise, telephonic epistles inscribe telephones and answering machines and the use of these devices by diegetic characters. Letter films, on the other hand, are themselves in the form of epistles addressed to someone either inside or outside the diegesis, and they do not necessarily inscribe epistolary media.4

In relation to Akerman’s film Je tu il elle (1974) Naficy discusses her acts of writing letters, while in News from Home we find acts of reading. The first third of the former is filled with Akerman attempting to write a letter to an unnamed lover. We know this both because we see it – as she re-arranges her small room so that she can find comfortable places to sit or lie and write – and because her voice-over recounts her progress: ‘first I wrote three pages, then I wrote the same thing in six pages […] on the eight or ninth day I rewrote the second letter […] after a few days, I re-read everything I’d written’. Meanwhile, News From Home has a distinctive voice-over, which consists of Akerman reading letters her mother had sent her a few years earlier when she first left Brussels for New York City. Now back in the city and teamed up with cinematographer Babette Mangolte, Akerman pairs her standard long take images of street level life with a slightly hurried reading of her mother’s words. 2 Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 101. 3 Altman, p. 15. 4 Naficy, p. 101.

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We should recognize the key characteristics of ‘epistolary mediation’5 in both the letter to the lover and the mothers’ letters. That is, that letters function as ‘a connector between two distant points’. When part of fiction, Janet Altman observes that an author has two options, either to foreground the distance or the bridge.6 Inevitably Naficy’s interest in narratives involving displaced individuals leads him to emphasize the letters as emblems of distance in Akerman’s two films. Concerning Je tu il elle he attempts to fathom Chantal’s thwarted attempts to communicate to her female lover. He argues that pressures may exist, either intrinsically or extrinsically, which make the possibility of her opening herself up in a letter challenging. Turning to News from Home, Naficy includes this film in a category of Daughter-Texts meant to invoke the complications of mother-daughter relations.7 As Margaretta Jolly points out, mothers have often used letters as instructive tools, inducting their daughters into ‘a gender identity founded on domestic relationships’.8 While Akerman’s mother, Nelly, is not explicit about her hopes for her daughter, we still sense her disappointment and distress when she writes about the traditional – heterosexual, domestic – pathways taken by Chantal’s cousins and peers from which, it appears, Chantal has escaped. Naficy goes along with the tradition that Jolly sets out when he assumes that Akerman, ‘the filmmaking daughter’9 gets to control both her and her mother’s story. Naficy’s reading of the letter as emblematic of distance infects subsequent takes upon News from Home, in all of which although the letters connect mother and daughter they are read as reminders of the differences and divisions which keep them literally and figuratively apart. For Adriana Cerne, the content of News from Home’s letters reinforces a sense of Akerman’s absence10 while Timothy Corrigan examines News from Home as a film replete with ‘essayistic travel’.11 For Corrigan the letters are the space for a ‘displaced subjectivity’ […] voided from view in the New York streets and ‘configured through the displaced maternal voice’.12 Lourdes Monter5 Altman, p. 13. 6 Altman, p. 13. 7 Naficy, p. 127. 8 Margaretta Jolly, In Love and Struggle: Letters in Contemporary Feminism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), p. 101. 9 Naficy, p. 131. 10 Adriana Cerne, ‘Writing in Tongues: Chantal Akerman’s News from Home’, Journal of European Studies, 32.125–26 (September, 2002), 235–47 (p. 237). 11 Timothy Corrigan, The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 104. 12 Corrigan, p. 107.

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rubio Ibáñez claims News from Home as ‘the first epistolary film that uses the filmmakers’ real and personal correspondence’13 and sees Akerman’s mother’s letters as a chance to explore the intimate alterity of the mother. For Nunos Barradas Jorge, looking for epistolary narratives, News from Home and Chris Marker’s Lettre de Sibérie/Letter from Siberia (1957) and Sans Soleil/ Sunless (1983) are ‘seminal works’ whose voice-overs ‘simulate a first-person “essayistic voice”’.14 Finally, for Rebecca Anne Sheehan, Marker and Akerman originate an epistolary form (adopted by Jem Cohen and James Benning) that effectively takes the self-out-of-itself.15

Epistolary Intent and the Voice-Over The tendency, observed in Naf icy, Cerne, Corrigan, Ibáñez, Jorge, and Sheehan, to see epistles as textually disruptive relies heavily upon both the visual track of filmmaking and speech, which comes and goes, bringing about the suspended state of waiting for the next letter. In contrast I will argue that when we focus upon the soundtrack the possibility arises that the temporality of the epistle becomes a space for listening, in which rather than a disruptive hiatus we get a productive pause, through which we have time to think about and think around the correspondence. In order to stop seeing epistolary discourse as disruptive there is a need to channel Jolly and Stanley’s argument that it is the ‘“literal correspondence” between writer and reader that provides the letter’s epistemological foundation […] Put simply, the “truth” of the writing is in the relationship rather than in its subject’.16 Their assertion follows Stanley’s theorization of epistolary intent which she argues precedes the history of the letter and ‘involves the intention to communicate, in writing or a cognate representational medium, to another

13 Lourdes Monterrubio Ibáñez, ‘Women’s Epistolary Cinema. Exploring Female Alterities: Epistolary Films and Epistolary Essay Films’, Feminist Media Studies, (2021) [Ahead of publication], 1–20 (p. 3). 14 Nuno Barradas Jorge, ‘Adaptation, Allegory and the Archive: Contextualising Epistolary Narratives in Contemporary Portuguese Cinema’, Area Abierta, 19 (2019), 419–38 (p. 420). 15 Rebecca Anne Sheehan, ‘Epistolary Form and the Displaced Global Subject in Recent Films by James Benning and Jem Cohen’, Area Abierta, 19 (2019), 363–81 (p. 363). See also Marion Schmid ‘Chantal Akerman Filmmaker, Video Artist, Writer’, in Chantal Akerman: Afterlives, ed. by Marion Schmid and Emma Wilson (Cambridge: Legenda, 2019), pp. 150–63, in which Schmid labels News from Home and Letters Home epistolary films. 16 Margaretta Jolly and Liz Stanley, ‘Letters as/Not a Genre’, Life Writing, 2 (2005), 91–118 (pp. 2–3) my emphasis.

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person who is “not there” because removed in time/space from the writer, and doing so with the hope or expectation of a response’.17 In order to bring about a shift from epistles as textually disruptive to epistles as bridges, we need to focus upon the relationship that is created as soon as the first letter is written. Reminding ourselves that what is between the ‘I’ and the ‘You’ is a relationship created by letters is easily achieved in mainstream cinema, where a politics of whole-ness dominates. In other words, such films believe that there is such a thing as a self with an inner life that makes sense and their narratives strive to make that self cohere through the closure of the happy ending. In such films, one-ness is signified aurally as well as visually through characters who appear and who speak. As Kaja Silverman has put it: ‘[W]estern metaphysics has fostered the illusion that speech is able to express the speaker’s inner essence, in that it is “part” of him or her. The fiction of the authenticity of cinematic sounds thus promotes belief not only in presence but in self-presence’.18 In examples stretching from canonical Hollywood filmletters such as Shop around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1941) to its electronic equivalent You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998), writing becomes reading thanks to editing techniques such as the epistolary-action-reaction trope, through which we receive one character’s words – in voice-over – while looking at the reaction of the other character. In such examples the literal distance between characters is collapsed through the imaginary presence and intimacy created by the epistle, a letter or email spoken and listened to by characters on screen. In mainstream films we have internalized the conventions of sync sound to the extent that we understand speech to belong to the bodies that we see; yet the precarity of the relations between voice and body that the voice-over brings about will always remain. Here it’s worth reflecting upon the fact that in order to assume the position ‘over’ the synching of mouths and voices must be broken. Hence voicing-over is voicing away from the visible body, or voicing with a body that has no mouth moving. In cinema, Mary Ann Doane points out, the body is ‘a fantasmatic body’19 since sound and image are recorded separately. But for the voice-off or voice-over the illusion is shattered further, since there is no immediate connection between body and voice that allows each to testify for the other. Accordingly, for Doane the separation of body and voice runs the risk of ‘exposing the material 17 Liz Stanley, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9 (2015), 240–55 (p. 242). 18 Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 43. 19 Mary Ann Doane, ‘The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space’, Yale French Studies, 60 (1980), 33–50 (p. 33).

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heterogeneity’ of film. Doane seems to point to the actual separation of elements, as opposed to the conventions that encourage us to see them as unified.20 We can read what is exposed in two ways, one weightier than the other. The first would be something akin to Markos Hadjioannou’s idea that the son/iconic imaginary convinces us ‘that a body does exist somewhere even while not immediately visible’,21 whereas the second would be more like Clara Rowland’s weighty observation that ‘through the medium of the letter’ as delivered by the voice-over ‘film is engaging with its own ontology’.22 Using sound/image relations to force a kind of identity crisis in the filmic medium was well-trodden ground in the mid-1970s context in which News from Home was produced. We should acknowledge that the unsynching of voices and bodies could appear to share a strategy with films such as Yvonne Rainer’s Film about a Woman Who … (1974) Bette Gordon’s Empty Suitcases (1980) and Sally Potter’s The Gold Diggers (1983). For Kaja Silverman these three films constitute a 1970s feminist cinema which jettisons ‘synchronization, symmetry, and simultaneity in favor of dissonance and dislocation’.23 Analysing the multiple unsynching strategies these films employ, Silverman argues that they are successful in thwarting the seamless match between bodies and voices of classical mainstream cinema, thereby liberating the female subject from her construction as body and, borrowing from Pascal Bonitzer, constituting ‘another politics (or erotics) of the voice-over’.24 Akerman’s choices for voice and voice-over in News from Home can be read alongside but not quite parallel to these other women filmmakers. Like them she doesn’t believe in the transparent relationship between language and knowledge, but unlike them she has other reasons for unsynching voice and bodies, as I will discuss next.

Analysing the Voice-Over in News from Home Rowland’s reference to the epistolary voice-over precipitating a crisis of identity in the film medium also helps to explain why epistolary films such 20 Doane, p. 35. 21 Markos Hadjioannou, ‘Documenting the Son/Iconic Discord’, Discourse, 39 (2017), 356–75 (p. 362). 22 Clara Rowland, ‘Deliveries of Absence: Epistolary Structures in Classic Cinema’, in The Writer on Film, ed. by Judith Buchanan (London: Palgrave, 2013), pp. 193-205, p. 194. 23 Silverman, p. 165. 24 Pascal Bonitzer, ‘Les Silences de la voix’, Cahiers du Cinéma, 256 (February–March, 1975), 25. Translated by and quoted in Doane, p. 41.

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as Marker’s Sunless and Akerman’s News from Home have been made to fit within the reflexive and self-conscious hybridity of the essayistic genre. However, some of the stylistic and epistemological claims for that genre sit uncomfortably with News from Home once we focus upon the voice. Corrigan’s reading of the essay film as an encounter between the ‘self and the public domain’ and Rascaroli’s starting point that the essay film says ‘I’ or ‘we’25 recalls the idea that the epistolary exchange occurs between an I and a You. However, the different selection of pronouns matters. Even when the I is problematized in essay films, as in Sans Soleil (1983), Bright Leaves (Ross McElwee, 2004), or Lettres de Panduranga/Letters from Panduranga (Nguyên, Trinh Thi, 2015), the address to a public remains in place. By contrast, in News from Home the address is much less public and appears far from direct, almost undisclosed. In Sans Soleil the essayistic nature of the epistolary relationship is figured through our immediate address by the female narrator via the infamous lines: the first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland in 1965, he said that for him it was the image of happiness, and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked, he wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film, with a piece of long black leader. If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.

The images, of three blonde-haired children, of black, then of some sort of airbase, tease at our desire to connect them to the narration, sometimes appearing to illustrate the woman’s words, while at others, appearing to be totally disconnected: a system that repeats across the film. The female narrator’s purpose seems to be to voice what the ‘he’ told her. Meanwhile ‘he’ can only exist through what she tells us. Therefore in this instance the I and the You are totally interdependent. In Sans Soleil the essayistic is established via the female narrator’s address, while the epistolary is present in the relational selves; if we compare this to News from Home. Despite the centrality of the mother’s letters to interpretations of News from Home, few have taken any time to dissect the nature of the voice-track. The assertion that Akerman reads her mother’s letters appears straightforward and unambiguous. But the status of this 25 Corrigan, p. 6; Laura Rascaroli, How the Essay Film Thinks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 5.

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act of reading in relation to the vocabulary we have developed to make sense of voices, sound, soundtracks, and voice-overs on screen is harder to pin down. At first it may seem that Akerman has created an ‘acousmatic’ voice. This is Michel Chion’s term for the voice whose source is not visibly present although Chion makes it clear that the acousmetre ‘is notionally in the story world’.26 In News from Home both the author of the words and the reader of them have no bodies in the diegesis. We are given Akerman’s mother’s words, but they are delivered by Akerman, hence they cannot constitute speech, if we agree with Naficy that speech is associated with ‘proximity and presence’.27 Similarly, Akerman’s delivery of her mother’s words undermines speech’s expression of an inner essence. If the words we hear cannot be thought of as speech, how can we read Akerman’s voice? It seems significant that Akerman does not ask her mother to read out her own letters. Naficy offers up the suggestion that Akerman ‘ventriloquizes’ her mother’s words, but ventriloquy is a kind of projection of the voice without moving one’s lips, implying deception, which does not seem to apply in this case. Therefore the unsynching of bodies and voices is accompanied by an unsynching of voices and words, with the words remaining apart from the body in which they originated, although received by and projected via the body to whom they were sent. When we first hear Akerman reading a letter, around five minutes into the film, her voice comes unannounced and is unexpected and unexplained. We cut from a shot looking down a street towards water to another looking back in the opposite direction. Unlike in many other shots, in which distinct lines from roads, buildings, or subway trams and stations guide our gaze and catch our eye, there is nothing distinctive about this street. Instead, red-brick, warehouse-like buildings line a broad road on which there is sparse traffic driving at a leisurely pace. A few seconds in from the cut to this shot – failing to punctuate it in any way – in Akerman’s hurried French (or English, depending upon the language version) we hear: My dearest little girl, I just got your letter and I hope that you will continue to write to me often. Anyway I hope that you will come back to me soon, I hope that you are still well and that you are already working. I see that you like New York and you seem to be happy, we are very pleased even though we’d like to see you again very soon. Tell us of when you are thinking of coming back. At home is the same as ever except that Sylviane has the 26 Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 71. 27 Naficy, p. 121.

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flu and is staying home and that I am not too well, my blood pressure is low and I am taking medicine and vitamins. Today is my birthday. I am a little sad. Sadder than we are at the shop. It’s very quiet and we are bored. This evening we will go out to a restaurant with friends but that’s all for my birthday. Soon it will be yours and I wish you the very best one in the world, as you can imagine. Write to me about your work and all about New York, I’m impatient to hear from you. The three of us send you [new shot looking down another non-descript street] hugs and kisses and think of you all the time. Your loving mother.

Nothing in the first five minutes of News from Home has prepared us for a voice-over; largely because the images appear to have a documentary nature and we might expect, after five minutes of diegetic sound without speech, for the film to continue thus. Hence the easily identifiable essayistic address of Sans Soleil does not exist in News from Home. Equally, when it comes to the I and You of the epistolary exchange there are multiple ways of thinking of this relationship. The ‘I’ could be the mother, who writes the letters to her daughter Chantal and tells us of the epistolary details of her life: ‘My blood pressure is low, I’m on medication for it; I’m very tired now, I look awful; I don’t have much news; Next week we’re going to spend some days by the sea; I missed you and hope to see you soon’. Or the ‘I’ could be Akerman who is present in New York City and hence the author of the images we see. While the ‘You’ could be the daughter addressed by the mother, the mother voiced by the daughter or even the viewer, who is the ultimate addressee of the film. The point here is not so much about the confusion of ‘persons’, since essay films also accommodate and even encourage such complexities, rather the point is about the nature of the film’s address, which contrasts with that of the essay film, being about the relationship and not the subject, as Stanley put it, or the intention to communicate (to someone absent) rather than the content (what is in the letters). What does this detour through theories of voice in cinema reveal that will help us understand how in News from Home epistolarity brings about listening? First, the difficulties we have pinning down the voice-over in News from Home – as speech? voice? words? – suggests that it does not offer a straightforward mode of communication. As observed, this breakage is most frequently read as representing a schism between mother and daughter, hence Corrigan’s reference to displacement and Ibáñez’ evocation of the ‘intimate alterity’ of the mother.28 Second, unlike in Sans Soleil or Lettres de 28 Corrigan, p. 104; Monterrubio Ibáñez, p. 3.

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Panduranga, the ‘I’ to ‘you’ model for letter-writing in which two partners send and receive messages, back and forth, in a relational exchange, we hear only the mother, the sender’s side of the correspondence. Akerman’s written response is never heard, instead she reads her mother’s words to us. Therefore Akerman’s strategies work against what Gilroy and Verhoeven call the fiction of the letter: ‘as the trope of authenticity and intimacy, which elides questions of linguistic, historical, and political mediation’.29 The difficulty we have finding words to express the voice-over in News from Home points to the dominance in mainstream cinema of speech as something we should ‘understand’, whether that speech is on screen and diegetically synched with mouths or off-screen and heard through voices whose bodies go unseen. Significantly then, whereas the visual aspect of moving images has been seen to operate through a number of different modes: as representational, affective, semiotic, discursive; voice-overs are predominantly taken as a kind of speech which we must understand, bypassing acts of hearing. Those scholars who have engaged with News from Home also seem beholden to taking ‘understanding’ as the logic for all speech. Again and again the absence of either her mother’s or Akerman’s body is seen as indicative of a disconnection – or emblem of distance, to return to Altman – between the two; instead we can read Akerman’s denial of her mother’s voice and absenting of her own body as providing a way to acknowledge misunderstanding. Or as a way to acknowledge the impossibility of trying to understand her mother’s experiences. In contrast to this way of reading the film I will argue that the unsynching of bodies and voices and the manifestation of misunderstanding rather than understanding, opens the way, for Akerman as for her audience, to a kind of connection, or bridge, that promotes hearing and enacts listening.

A Bridge to Epistolary Listening Susan Douglas suggests that ‘listening positions are inscribed in genres’30 prompting the question, what kind of listening position is inscribed in the film-letter? Douglas’s reference point is radio, for which we adopt different dispositions – from tuning in to bedtime stories, to speeding through the 29 Amanda Gilroy, and Wilhelmus Maria Verhoeven, Epistolary Histories: Letters, Fiction, Culture (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000), p. 1. 30 Susan J. Douglas, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), p. 8.

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night with the soundtrack of the car radio31 encouraging different modes of listening. What kind of listening is asked of us when a film’s voice-over derives from the reading of a letter? Returning to our mainstream examples, from The Shop around the Corner to You’ve Got Mail, in these films we see characters listening on screen through the epistolary-action-reaction-shot, in which we receive one character’s words in voice-over while looking at the reaction of the other character. However, because of the dominance of sight over sound, seeing characters listening relieves us of having to listen for ourselves. Hence in mainstream film-letters we are not really called upon to listen, although we watch others doing so; we are also not really called upon to hear, only to understand. In News from Home we find that the listening position derives from the ‘epistolary intent’ outlined by Stanley.32 In other words, the intention to communicate across a distance and the intention to listen coincide through their understanding that both open up an ‘exposure […] to the other’.33 These are the words that Lisbeth Lipari uses to describe how listening is central to ‘an ethics of attunement – an awareness of and attention to the harmonic interconnectivity of all beings and objects’.34 For Lipari, as for other scholars, philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s work on listening has cemented its connection with the creation of ethical relationships and it is through Nancy’s and Lipari’s scholarship that we find the capacity of epistolary intent to facilitate listening reinforced. Specifically, we can dissect Stanley’s notion of ‘intent’ to reveal the adoption of a disposition towards the other and the world. In Nancy’s terms, the epistolary relationship is akin to listening, in that both produce ‘a resonant subject’.35 The object and subject of listening ‘resonate’ because they operate through a communicative shape that Nancy calls ‘renvoi’, expressing the sense of a sending-away and a return that appears to cross-over with Stanley’s ‘expectation of a response’.36 Nancy gives us a different way of thinking about the voice-over in News from Home. Having argued that the voice-over is neither words, nor speech, nor voice, we can think of it as enacting resonance. When her mother’s words 31 Douglas, p. 6. 32 Stanley, p. 242. 33 Lisbeth Lipari, Listening, Thinking, Being: Toward an Ethics of Attunement (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014), p. 203. 34 Lipari, pp. 2–3. 35 Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening, trans. By Charlotte Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), p. 21. 36 Brian Kane, ‘Jean-Luc Nancy and the Listening Subject’, Contemporary Music Review, 31 (2012), 439–47 (p. 445); Stanley, p. 242.

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meet the grain of Akerman’s voice, they no longer speak, instead they take on sonorous qualities, becoming a rather rushed rhythm, a relatively soft timbre and a reticent volume. In Nancy’s terms this technique reverses the normal logic through which we make sense of voice-over by making us hear ‘sound’ (through listening) rather than hear ‘say’ (the sense of words filtered through own meanings).37 Further, listening to this sonorous presence my point is that the sonorous epistolary track adds something more like a constant hum or buzz rather than a sudden roar or burst. For Altman this is the hiatus, emblematic of distance, yet my argument is that when transferred to film often this is a pause, a bridge that connects the two correspondents in acts of listening.

Listening and the Authorial Voice I have argued that the recovery of listening in News from Home has wider implications for how we conceive of the epistolary when inscribed in the essayistic, as well as with the use of voice-over in films to deliver messages; I will close with a final point that is more specific to Akerman’s oeuvre. Whilst I have argued that listening has been created through epistolary intent, if we scan Akerman’s films prior to News from Home, we will find other examples of listening that do and don’t involve the voice and the letter. First, epistolary voice-over is involved in La Chambre and (as noted by Naficy) Je tu il elle. La Chambre is an experimental film in which we follow a pan around a room that turns 360 degrees twice. In the room Akerman lies in a bed, performing a series of activities. A text was written, but the film has never been screened with the text. The text mixes a number of different registers. The text begins with direct address to ‘you’: ‘You pulled my hair and disappeared even before I could hit you or cry out loud’. Description of what the ‘I’ did once the ‘you’ was gone then follows, adopting a novelistic register: ‘I walked down the street for a while, paused to hail a bus, I walked some more, took a bus without thinking’. Then at the end of the text the writer reveals that the monologue is part of a letter: ‘I’m writing to you to say that I cried as I ran, the blinding sun in my eyes’.38 The style of writing that we find in La Chambre is repeated in Je tu il elle in the first third of which Akerman describes similar activities on the soundtrack to a ‘you’, 37 Lipari, p. 51. 38 Joanna Hogg and Adam Roberts, Chantal Akerman Retrospective Handbook (London: A Nos Amours, 2019), p. 51.

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including writing letters and re-writing them. We see some of these activities on the image-track. At times they are described before we see them, while at others the reverse occurs. Reading News from Home in light of these earlier films, Akerman’s decision to use her mother’s letters makes sense, given her familiarity with and evident liking for the textual form which communicates to someone who is not present. In addition, if we add in moments from L’Enfant aimé ou Je joue à être une femme mariée and the second part of Je tu il elle then connections with Akerman’s developing authorial position can be made. In both films Akerman appears in frame looking intently at a character. In L’Enfant aimé we follow a (fictional) married woman around her home as she talks to camera about her relationship with her husband, her thoughts about being a mother and her reflections upon her own body (as she looks at herself, naked, in a mirror). Akerman appears in frame, to the side, watching the (fictional) mother (Claire Wauthion). Despite Chantal’s presence, the mother’s self-reflection is not delivered directly to her, as if the two are talking. Hence it does not quite qualify as dialogue. Yet Chantal is clearly in a listening position; as Adam Roberts puts it: ‘Her listening is a remarkable feat – active always, never passive and never indifferently. Her lively bodily movements as she follows or adjusts herself to better hear and better attend is part of the mystery and formal invention of this film’.39 In the second part of Je tu il elle: ‘il’ Akerman shifts position from central character to witness the routine of a lorry driver who has picked her up. She is framed as a presence to the side, sometimes barely visible in the cab of the lorry, while at others fully in frame so that we are aware that she is watching the driver. Her presence prompts the same confessional monologue of the truck driver as it did of the mother in L’Enfant aimé. Akerman’s gaze at the truck driver as he shaves is particularly intense and intent. And throughout the scene in which we are able to see her watching, her face remains open and unjudgmental. When it comes to characterizations of Akerman’s style and intentions, much has been made of her insistence that she does not want to get too close to her subjects and instead wishes to keep a respectful distance. Typically this insistence has been used to explain her distinctive cinematographic and editing style, consisting of long takes and static tableaux frames. Famously, Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), her magnum opus about three days in the life of a housewife who is also a prostitute, is filmed from a low angle using no close ups, camera angles, or camera 39 Hogg and Roberts, p. 177.

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movements. She explains these choices thus: ‘It was the only way to shoot that film – to avoid cutting the woman into a hundred pieces, to avoid cutting the action in a hundred places, to look carefully and to be respectful’. 40 Although it was only her second feature, and despite her young age, at 25, Akerman seemed for many to have arrived as a filmmaker with a distinctive vision. Yet News from Home, two years later suggests that Akerman was still working out how she should position herself in relation to the scripted characters and real people she filmed. Joining up her early films with her letter-film News from Home we find that epistolary listening, as a way of positioning oneself in relation to another at a respectful distance, offers Akerman an ideal position through which she is able both to become the resonant subject and to create the conditions for viewers to be open to listening.

Bibliography Altman, Janet Gurkin, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1982) Bergstrom, Janet, ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by Chantal Akerman’, Camera Obscura, 1, 2 (1977), 114–18. Cerne, Adriana, ‘Writing in Tongues: Chantal Akerman’s News from Home’, Journal of European Studies, 32.125–26 (September, 2002), 235–47 Chion, Michel, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) Corrigan, Timothy, The Essay Film: From Montaigne, after Marker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) Doane, Mary Ann, ‘The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space’, Yale French Studies, 60 (1980), 33–50 Douglas, Susan J., Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013) Gilroy, Amanda and Wilhelmus Maria Verhoeven, Epistolary Histories: Letters, Fiction, Culture (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000) Hadjioannou, Markos, ‘Documenting the Son/Iconic Discord’, Discourse, 39 (2017), 356–75 Hogg, Joanna and Adam Roberts, Chantal Akerman Retrospective Handbook (London: A Nos Amours, 2019) 40 Janet Bergstrom, ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles by Chantal Akerman’, Camera Obscura, 1, 2 (1977), pp. 114–18.

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Jolly, Margaretta, In Love and Struggle: Letters in Contemporary Feminism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) Jolly, Margaretta and Liz Stanley, ‘Letters as/Not a Genre’, Life Writing, 2 (2005), 91–118 Jorge, Nuno Barradas, ‘Adaptation, Allegory and the Archive: Contextualising Epistolary Narratives in Contemporary Portuguese Cinema’, Area Abierta, 19 (2019), 419–38 Kane, Brian, ‘Jean-Luc Nancy and the Listening Subject’, Contemporary Music Review, 31 (2012), 439–47 Lipari, Lisbeth, Listening, Thinking, Being: Toward an Ethics of Attunement (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014) Monterrubio Ibáñez, Lourdes, ‘Women’s Epistolary Cinema. Exploring Female Alterities: Epistolary Films and Epistolary Essay Films’, Feminist Media Studies, (2021) [Ahead of publication], 1–20 Naficy, Hamid, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001) Nancy, Jean-Luc, Listening, trans. by Charlotte Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007) Rascaroli, Laura, How the Essay Film Thinks (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) Rowland, Clara, ‘Deliveries of Absence: Epistolary Structures in Classic Cinema’, in The Writer on Film, ed. By Judith Buchanan (London: Palgrave, 2013), pp. 193-205. Schmid, Marion, ‘Chantal Akerman Filmmaker, Video Artist, Writer’, in Chantal Akerman: Afterlives, ed. by Marion Schmid and Emma Wilson (Cambridge: Legenda, 2019), pp. 150–163 Sheehan, Rebecca Anne, ‘Epistolary Form and the Displaced Global Subject in Recent Films by James Benning and Jem Cohen’, Area Abierta, 19 (2019), 363–81 Silverman, Kaja, The Acoustic Mirror: The Female Voice in Psychoanalysis and Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988) Stanley, Liz, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9 (2015), 240–55

About the Author Catherine Fowler is Professor in Film and Media at Otago University. She is the author of a BFI Classic on Jeanne Dielman and of a book on Sally Potter. Her essays on artists’ moving images have been published in journals including Screen, Cinema Journal and Framework.

3.

Dead Letters Epistolary Hauntology and the Speed of Light in Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016) Shiamin Kwa Abstract This chapter explores the ways that ‘letterness’ and its accompanying features affect communications in the digital age. Forms of communication that rely on a system of discarnate forms such as the text message, email, and video conferencing assume an embodied corporeal subject ‘out there’. Through an analysis of modes of communication in the 2016 film Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016), this chapter takes a close look at the delivery device, questioning how the delivery mechanism of the epistle rather than the medium literally embodies the object of our anxieties in an age where the delivery system and the subject are now virtually indistinguishable. Keywords: epistolary hauntology; text messages; delay; Olivier Assayas; Personal Shopper

It struck him that people are not really dead until they are felt to be dead. As long as there is some misunderstanding about them, they possess a sort of immortality. E.M. Forster, A Passage to India1

Standing alone in her small Parisian apartment, Maureen continues to watch a video. She had begun watching it on her iPhone while on the train, the wires of her earbuds snaking up from under her sweater into her ears. Now the video continues on the laptop propped open on her bed, sound emerging 1

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (New York: Norton, 2021), p. 186.

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch03

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from the laptop speaker. The transition of the film from one device to another as Maureen moves not only from one location to the other, but also viewing part of it as she is in the process of moving from one place to the next, is so quotidian a part of contemporary life that these transitions go unnoted. The sound, previously transmitted to her ears only because of the earbuds, is now audible throughout her apartment, but still heard by her alone. In both cases, sound is transmitted to the film’s viewers in exactly the same way, through the film that we are watching, wherever we are and however we are experiencing it. Maureen is wearing a dress that is not her own, a dress that she is supposed to return to the Chanel showroom for her employer, a socialite named Kyra, who also does not own the dress, and whose main occupation is to be photographed in clothes borrowed from luxury brands in a mutually sustaining form of advertising. Maureen stands before the laptop, watching a documentary about Victor Hugo’s attempts at spiritualism during his exile in Jersey, and the light strikes the mirror paillettes on the dress so that flashing shapes of light dance around the room and over the laptop’s screen. The voiceover continues to narrate the transcribed words of the ghost that addresses Hugo by rocking, or ‘turning’ a table. Maureen, covertly borrowing the already borrowed clothes, spends her time in borrowed spaces – homes, train seats, hotel rooms – and on, it appears, borrowed time – she shares the same malformation of the heart which killed her twin brother Lewis. That Maureen is entangled in so many layers of proxy, and that the viewer of the film is equally entangled, is apposite to the themes of 2016’s Personal Shopper, written and directed by Olivier Assayas, a film that employs wildly diverse film conventions of horror, psychological thriller, and moody interior drama, to explore questions about identity in a world fraught with the epistemological anxiety of living in an age defined by borrowings. The film blends a philosophical essay about the problem of other minds with a captivating, albeit enigmatic, narrative. Assayas achieves this by playfully borrowing the multiple connotations of the words ‘medium’ – as person, material, mode of presentation, even in its use as adjective – and ‘ghost’ – from spirit to its more recent use as a verb, ‘ghosting’, to mean abandoning a correspondence, usually via electronic media. The terms are tightly bound in a form of ontological uncertainty that recalls Kafka’s description of letters as: ‘a terrible dislocation of souls in the world. It is truly a communication with spectres, not only with the spectre of the addressee but also with one’s own phantom’.2 Epistolary hauntology – a 2 See epigraph in Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982).

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nod to Derrida’s neologism that names the temporal disjunction of the present – describes Maureen’s phenomenological conditions. Anything, from an object to a message, is never only itself but also a stand-in for the person who has sent it, and their temporality with respect to her present tense is impossible to identify. Maureen is a professional substitute. We witness her shuttling from one fashion showroom to another as Kyra’s shopping proxy and sometimes stand-in at photo shoots. Like her brother she is a medium, and has taken her job as a personal shopper so that she can stay in Paris – where Lewis has died – and await a sign from him. The two had made an oath that whoever died first would try to contact the other, and Maureen waits for him in Paris, assuming that his spirit is tethered to the place where he died. This intricate pattern of proxy and medium is made even more elaborate when the medium, Maureen, is drawn deeper into a web composed largely of proxies. Although she does interact briefly with people, most of these interactions are with nameless others who interact with her not as individuals, but as official proxies of the magazines, luxury brands, or even the city, that employ them. The remainder of her interactions are solitary, conducted via some kind of mechanized medium: computer, cell phone, keypad, touchscreen. She makes attempts to communicate with ghosts who haunt her brother’s former home, is pursued via text message by an insistent interlocutor, makes multiple failed appointments to meet this interlocutor in a hotel room, discovers the dead body of her boss, is the prime murder suspect, is absolved of the murder, fails to contact her brother’s ghost, and then finally seeks refuge in a remote location, where she has her most comprehensive dialogue with the (a?) ghost. These seemingly entropic parts bring together a series of coherent and persistent questions on seeing and interpreting, the proxies that we routinely accept in that process, the forms in which they appear in our current ecologies of communication that can all generally be defined as epistolary, and the terror and comfort that we access when realizing that we believe in other minds because we believe in their proxies. The philosopher Martin Buber drew a distinction between experience, in which a subject (the ‘I’) experiences others as things (the ‘it’), and the more productive encounter, in which the ‘I’ dialogues with a ‘you’.3 Personal Shopper asserts the value of the intersubjective encounter that takes various forms clustered around the general idea of communication, and more specifically, the kind of communication that best expresses an intersubjective ‘I and you’ encounter. The film’s epistolarity is characterized by a pact 3

Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Scribner, 1958).

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that Liz Stanley calls ‘primarily the agreement to establish or maintain a relationship, […] reference to the world is in the service of that relationship’.4 These relationships rely on ‘conversational pressure’, described by Sanford Goldberg as the ‘normative pressure generated by an act of addressing another […] derive[d] from the nature of cooperation itself, and from the sorts of expectations we […] are entitled to have of one another in this regard’.5 The most longed for conversation – with a dead brother – may be impossible, and Personal Shopper considers this impossible barrier through the film medium’s stutter of time and space.6 Maureen takes the Eurostar between Paris and London after punching in a code on an automated ticket kiosk to get her boarding pass. She makes herself a cup of coffee, communicating neither with baristas nor cashiers, but only with the coffee machine, by pushing buttons. She rides around the city of Paris on a scooter, and more often on subways and trains, where ticketing is also automated; and, at the end of the film, she travels to a ‘quiet zone’ in Oman, reached mostly in silence by airplane, taxi, private driver, and an uphill climb on foot. Assayas draws attention to the experience of speed, and how even the nearly instantaneous delivery system afforded by contemporary technology can be halted, refused, and delayed by the obstinacy of the human body. A central sequence in which Maureen receives and replies to text messages is equal in suspense to scenes where she is pursued by an aggressive and vomiting spectre or where she discovers a violent murder in an apartment. The pulsing ellipsis followed by a fully formed message in a bubble communicates the hesitations and revisions that precede the ‘send’ command, and tauntingly suggests the message that could arrive before one can finish composing a response. The exchange ominously begins with a mysterious series of ‘I know you’ and ‘And you know me’ messages received as Maureen prepares to board the train to London at the station in Paris. The messages come from a sender who could be any number of entities, from real person to ghost, just as the flashes of moving light in the film may be a spirit taking form, a temporary glare as light glances off a reflective surface, or a projection from a screen. Kyra has 4 Liz Stanley, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9.2 (March 2015), 240–55 (p. 282). 5 Sanford C. Goldberg, Conversational Pressure: Normativity in Speech Exchanges (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), p. 14. 6 This stutter is created by the distance between the capture of the moment and the experience of that captured moment to create a ‘sense of the present’. Mary Ann Doane, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 104.

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been very particular that no one should wear her clothes but herself, and the pleasure Maureen takes by secretly putting on these clothes comes from knowing that she should not. That she thus derives pleasure from responding to missives from an unidentified sender makes sense in the context that it is an openness to receiving communication that defines her existence. When Maureen meets Ingo, Kyra’s rejected lover, at Kyra’s apartment, he asks her why she has a job working for someone she clearly does not like. She explains that she is waiting: ‘I’m a medium. He [Lewis] … was a medium … there are invisible presences around us, always, and whether or not they’re the souls of the dead, I don’t know. When you’re a medium you are just sort of attuned to a vibe … an intuition thing, a feeling’. Maureen’s explanation recalls Tom Gunning’s caution to pay attention to ‘the term medium itself, in all its polysemy and historical divagations, its very materiality and its paradoxical aspiration to immateriality’.7 In addition to being someone who can communicate with spirits, a medium is also the nothing – or the ether – that surrounds us. 8 This ether, connoting the spirit world in the pre-digital world, has become redefined as the natural metaphor for the internet cloud that harbours messages from any number of places detached from distinguishable geographical coordinates and time stamps. The f ilm improvises varieties of ghosts, lingering on the equalizing and literally intangible spectrality of projected bodies of light that appear throughout the film and evoking the always ghostly nature of film itself.9 While the corporeal form is traditionally taken as a given for how the subject is intersubjectively created, these forms of epistolary relationships force us to ‘consider the relation with others not only as one of the contents of our experience but as an actual structure in its own right’.10 The immaterial quality of the ghost as light, and the ‘material’ quality of the body which yet asserts itself most frequently in formless ways, share this. Barbara Benedict notes: ‘things and ghosts seem opposites: the first all material form, the second all immaterial spirit. Both things and ghosts, however, lie on the margins of form and formlessness, materiality and meaning: things metaphorically

7 Tom Gunning, ‘To Scan a Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision’, Grey Room, 26 (2007), 94–127 (pp. 97–98). 8 Joe Milutis, Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006). 9 Doane. 10 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964).

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connote the soulless body, ghosts the bodiless soul, and both express the problem of finding selfhood in the nexus of spirit and form’.11 Assayas builds on the relational structure offered by the letter – in this case, the text message as letter – as an opportunity to consider the limits of an intersubjective experience, while plotting them on the parallel medium of the film that conveys this story. How much of an actual, corporeal, other is required, if at all, in order to generate the longing, desire, and fear in the intersubjective construction of an open and waiting subject? By simultaneously lingering on the corporeality of his lead actress, Kristen Stewart, whose bodily presence permeates nearly every frame of the film, against the ways that her experience of the world is shaped by discarnate forms like the sights and sounds of spirits, the text message, handwritten notes, videos made by strangers and uploaded to ‘the cloud’, and video conference calls, Assayas suggests how frequently the embodied corporeal subject that exists ‘out there’ is a conscious act of the imagination. The body that exists elsewhere does so because of an assumption that the machine responds only to inputs – messages – from embodied subjects, no matter how remotely they are located, so that automatic doors, elevators, ultrasound machines, and the like presume a body that directs their function. Conversely, these various digital objects cultivate a system of belief in their human operators, that they are ‘working’ even when they do not understand how that work is achieved, thus underscoring the potential threat that humans will soon be unable to determine when AI is malfunctioning or failing to work correctly.12 The newer forms of email and text messaging that Maureen uses adopt the same assumptions of absence as those of letter-based epistolary correspondence, where the letter replaces the other’s corporeal body that is absent. Accompanying this absence is the knowledge that one’s own body is ‘absent’ to the other. Despite the user’s awareness of her own body as it interacts with keyboard and screen – what Deborah Lupton calls ‘the embodied computer/ user’ – there exists in many cultural narratives a yearning to leave the body ‘behind’.13 References in the film to Hilma af Klint and Victor Hugo (in the opening documentary film) – entranced by spiritualism against a backdrop where Morse Code and photographic technologies emerged – suggest that the disembodiment that technology and spiritual communication reflected 11 Barbara Benedict, ‘The Spirit of Things’, in The Secret Life of Things, ed. by Mark Blackwell (Lewisberg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006), pp. 19–42 (p. 19). 12 Simone Natale and D.W. Pasulka, Believing in Bits: Digital Media and the Supernatural (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), p. 5. 13 Esther Milne, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 5.

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between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are naturally mirrored in Maureen’s twenty-first-century yearnings. The hand-held smartphone is the ultimate proxy medium, responding to the remote other, emitting sound, vibration, and projected light, so that it is more appendage than accessory. The smartphone encapsulates the anxiety of waiting and the openness of the epistolary form that accepts, in the shadow of the anticipation shaped by waiting, the process of how stories create meaning as they unfold [so that] narrative sense in this context emerges as an agglomeration of fragments, stories that are incomplete, irresolute or broken. Yet, when brought together, these narratives create a milieu of communication where the silenced, the secret and the unsaid release forces that remind us of the limits of human communication, the inability of language and representation to express the world.14

The smartphone is just one version of the many different kinds of luminous screens which Maureen interacts with throughout the film, each one in its way a reminder of how the screen ‘is both a “page” and a “window”, at once opaque and transparent […] [that possesses] deep virtual reach’ to other repositories of knowledge whether archival or human.15 The smartphone, being the most portable of such screens, frequently seen ‘plugged in’ to Maureen’s body, delivers entire films, as Maureen holds the screen in ‘landscape’ (horizontal) mode, then switches to viewing text messages that scroll vertically on the screen into infinity as the screen is held in portrait (vertical) mode. Adjusting Gitelman’s meditation on the PDF document to the similarly document-like messaging app, Maureen is contained within train walls, which contain clusters of fixed seats that are framed in cube-like formations, and those contain people, like Maureen, who hold ‘screens, the screens contain windows […] these vertical surfaces nest within each other, interfacing like a sequence of Russian dolls, waiting to funnel attention toward documents as if their very perpendicular sequence could ward off distraction’.16 In the body of the smartphone, the medium of the message is also the message itself – there is no boundary between the 14 Maria Tamboukou, ‘Interfaces in Narrative Research: Letters as Technologies of the Self and as Traces of Social Forces’, Qualitative Research, 11.5 (October 2011), 625–41 (p. 628). 15 Anne Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), p. 19, also quoted in Lisa Gitelman, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2014), p. 114. 16 Gitelman, p. 130.

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device and the delivery it is making – and the distinction between document and carrier of the document is fundamentally emptied. Paradoxically, the phone itself does not ‘contain’ the message, but simply receives and transmits. The smartphone’s effects of communicating through variably pulsing projections of light, its dependence on a corporeal operator that is nonetheless obscured, and the confusions of medium that define it, set the measure for the themes of this film, in which messages are received by receivers who must bear all of the epistolary intent, and consequent interpretation. The film embraces the multiplicity of the term ‘medium’, calling to mind what Ingawanij calls ‘the recuperation of an environmental notion of medium’.17 From text message to film, the medium highlights that the actual source of our anxieties is not in fact that the sender harbours ill intent but rather that the sender harbours no intent at all. This shared anxiety comes from an epistolary mode which inscribes a pact, an invitation to the mutual constitution of intersubjectivity, and it is for this arrival that the receiver patiently waits. The ethical choice is thus the receiver’s, who, in this case, each time chooses openness in small and constant acts of faith. Derrida concludes Specters of Marx with the argument that future scholars must learn to live by learning not how to make conversation with the ghost but how to talk with him, with her, how to let them speak or how to give them back speech, even if it is in oneself, in the other, in the other in oneself: they are always there, specters, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet.18

Though its central preoccupation is an examination of responsibility and respect for justice in the context of contemporary claims regarding the end of Marx and Marxism, Derrida’s text offers a framework for this chapter’s reading of the obligations to communications from the ether in Personal Shopper. The film is not just about the absolute need for communicating with the spirit of the dead brother, Lewis, but is also troubled by Maureen’s doubt about who or what she is actually communicating with. Specters of Marx traces a reliance on interpretations of Hamlet that undergird the writings of Marx and Freud and borrow from the disjointedness of time occasioned 17 May Adadol Ingawanij, ‘Making Line and Medium’, Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, 3.1 (2019), 13–21 (p. 18). 18 Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 176.

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by the appearance and interpretation of the ghost of the elder Hamlet. It is here that Derrida offers the term ‘hauntology’, which seeks to address the constant act of mourning that is tied to knowing the spectre: ‘both a dead man who comes back and a ghost whose expected return repeats itself again and again’.19 Knowing this spectre is ‘to know who and where, to know whose body it really is and what place it occupies – for it must stay in its place’.20 Derrida interprets the ghost through the structure of announcement and expectation: Had he not already announced himself? To announce oneself, moreover, is that not already to be there in some way? One does not know if the expectation prepares the coming of the future-to-come or if it recalls the repetition of the same, of the same thing as ghost […] This not-knowing is not a lacuna. No progress of knowledge could saturate an opening that must have nothing to do with knowing. Nor therefore with ignorance.21

The appearance of the ghost and its announcement of itself is not unlike the announcement and invitation instigated by the epistolary exchange. Derrida adds: Up to you [toi] first: I await only one response and it falls to you. Thus I apostrophize. This too is a genre one can afford oneself, the apostrophe. A genre and a tone. The word – apostrophizes – speaks of the words addressed to the singular one, a live interpellation […] but the word also speaks of the address to be detoured.22

Maureen is beset by apostrophes of this kind, messages that come to her from spectral appearances and texts from unknown senders. These messages are expressed with forms of light: the CGI-created swirls of light that represent a ghost in the haunted house and later, a ghostly semi-opaque man. She is also ‘visited’ by ghosts of the past through the videos she watches about Hugo and af Klint. Writing about spiritualism in the Victorian period, and its relation to the rise of modern media culture, Simone Natale notes that ‘the rise of 19 Derrida, Specters of Marx, p. 10. 20 Derrida, Specters of Marx, p. 9, emphasis in original. 21 Derrida, Specters of Marx, pp. 36–37. 22 Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 4.

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spiritualism coincided more than just chronologically with the rise of entertainment media that placed ghostly apparitions and supernatural phantasmagorias at the very core of popular culture’.23 The residue of midnineteenth-century spiritualist activity is on prominent display in Personal Shopper, in films-within-films made by Assayas. The scene that Maureen watches on Hugo is important because it provides a key for the messages that she receives from beyond in the form of running water from faucets, scratched marks in walls, and thumping knocks. Hugo’s 1850s years in exile in Jersey were spent with spirits who knocked their messages – one knock for yes, two for no, or multiple knocks that designate letters of the alphabet. Importantly, the scene draws comparisons between the reliance on seeing things – of taking note of and interpreting signs – from Hugo’s spiritualists to Maureen’s attempts with her brother, to the viewing audience’s attempts to determine whether Maureen is being haunted by a ghost or by something else. Throughout the film we see unexplained manifestations in the form of somewhat straightforward apparitions made of light, alongside unnoted artefacts of light created by, for example, the paillettes on a Chanel dress. The lights projected on the film screen similarly mystify and stupefy, the film tells us, in this reverberating form of storytelling. Although it is unmentioned in Assayas’s film-within-the-film, Hugo and his entourage were not only actively engaged in attempts to converse with spirits but also with the newly introduced technologies of photography. These two activities, seemingly on opposite poles that represent the mystical (summoning spirits) and technology (the photograph) are mutually constitutive, especially with respect to the capacities for both to provide entertainment to spectators. Jann Matlock notes that Hugo’s exchanges with ghosts ‘have been strangely repressed from the traditional Hugo canon’ perhaps because the exiled Hugo had ‘become himself a kind of ghost in his “exil sombre, exil abandonné” (“dark exile, abandoned exile”)’.24 The sociability of sitting around the table and the sharing of the results afterwards, and posing for, displaying, and sharing photographs, were crucial aspects of the daily lives of the Hugos and their entourage. The film conveys the ‘spectacularity’ of communication, from spectral summons to high-definition reproduction. Natale writes: ‘It was not by chance that spirit communication was performed through the use of tables, a domestic object frequently used 23 Simone Natale, Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016), p. 3. 24 Jann Matlock, Hugo Elsewhere: The Jersey Studio and the Photography of Exile, 2012, [accessed 15 June 2022].

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to receive visitors, engage in conversation, and play cards’.25 In Personal Shopper, the table is present in many moments in the film, and usually when characters are conversing directly with each other. Maureen speaks to her sister-in-law Lara at café and restaurant tables multiple times in the film, either alone with her or with the home’s prospective buyers. She talks to Lara at a kitchen table in Lara’s new home. She speaks to Lara’s new boyfriend, Erwin, at a backyard table at the house. But there are other tables, and other more polysemous ‘platforms’ that are important modes of communication in this film, so that the ‘table’ plays a greater role in the epistolary exchange. Whether because the devices are on tables in apartments or train cars, or whether devices themselves are now indistinguishable from the messages being, literally, knocked out on them, they are the most prominent stand-ins for the table, both domestic object and active ‘public’ space that Maureen accesses for information from beyond. Maureen views publicly shared photographs of Kyra’s glamorous comings and goings at an AMFAR event through the same portal (Kyra’s computer) that she uses to check her presumably private messages. She sits at a table, but the messages that come through may be accessed from anywhere: there is a cloud of information available to anyone through a variety of portals, and those portals are so sophisticated that the disjointedness of time is no longer conveyed through visible evidence alone. Thus, the clarity of a video, supposedly uploaded to YouTube from a ‘tacky’ 1960s video, is smooth and unclouded especially in comparison to Maureen’s grainy, pixelated, and unstable video calls with Gary that take place in a shared ‘present’ on her computer. A comparison between the two videos invites contemplation of the different kinds of ether at work between souls. Seeing the men and women with their hands on this pedestal table, as Hugo sits separately at a writing desk posing his questions aloud, the viewer witnesses a parallel, albeit nineteenth-century, version of the pauses and spurts with which Maureen’s text messages arrive. Sight and sound are as ever the senses relied on for communication, but they are also as ever unreliable. Around 15 minutes into the movie, we see Maureen looking at a catalogue of Hilma af Klint’s paintings; as she flips through the pages, a window pops up on her laptop with the familiar tones of the Skype ringtone. The window says ‘Gary’ and Maureen ignores it. An unseen narrator begins speaking about af Klint while the camera continues to focus on the pages of the catalogue, and continues as the camera cuts to Maureen sitting alone at a countertop in a bar-restaurant, now with earphones plugged in to her iPhone, as she 25 Natale, p. 2.

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watches a documentary about af Klint. A man and a woman discuss af Klint’s beliefs in spiritualism on the iPhone placed on the counter, next to Maureen’s plate and glass, and the man notes that ‘spiritualists were always very close to technological avant-garde’. The voiceover of the documentary continues uninterrupted as the camera cuts to the interior of Maureen’s apartment, as she scratches away with pen and ink on a sketch, and we see that the video is once again playing on the laptop screen. As the talking heads continue to discuss spiritualism, the Skype ring sounds again over the dialogue between the speakers, and this time Maureen answers. Gary’s face opens in a window over the film, until Maureen enlarges it, and the documentary is replaced completely with Gary’s interactive voice and face on her screen. He asks her ‘How’s it going with Kyra’, and she replies ‘I – I never see her. We leave each other messages’. In response to Gary’s suggestion that she join him in Muscat, Maureen replies: ‘you know. I’m waiting … I have to wait’. In this ethereal formulation, in which the messenger is an invisible presence, perhaps able to vibrate the air to make sound if not sometimes to emit light, the most important action is, paradoxically, the inactivity of waiting. Maureen’s spiritual problem, a waiting for something that she is not quite sure she believes in, is manifested in her repeatedly exposing herself to receive a sign. The extent to which she can solicit this sign is limited to her placing herself in the right place and preparing to respond when she thinks she has seen or heard something meaningful and addressed to her. This state of being is mirrored in the activity that occupies Maureen in more mundane ways; she receives messages continuously throughout the film, explicitly drawing the correspondences between spiritual message and technologically facilitated message. Both the medium as a person, and the medium as a genre, are a way to connect parties who are separated by space and time. Whether waiting for a message from a spirit or a message from an employer, lover, or even anonymous stranger, the ‘presence [of the correspondents] often depends paradoxically on a type of disembodiment’.26 This aspect, in the medium of letter-writing, and in the ‘bridge genre’ that connects the ‘old’ media of letter-writing to the ‘new’ media of email and text messages, continue the basic conventions even while facilitating experimentation with them.27 Emma Rooksby writes that ‘the emergence of CMC [computer mediated communication] as a medium for social interaction has the potential to reorient the assumed primacy and priority of face-to-face 26 Milne, p. 9. 27 Rachael Scarborough King, Writing to the World: Letters and the Origins of Modern Print Genres (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), p. 2.

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communication […] the qualities of the medium mean that it is more readily taken up for some forms of social engagement than for others, and that it will encourage some forms of engagement at the cost of others’.28 It is no surprise that Maureen is so open to believing that the mysterious text messages that appear on her phone may in fact be from Lewis. Why not? The majority of her interactions with Kyra take place in disembodied forms as well. She speaks to Kyra on the phone and exchanges messages with her that are handwritten or typed on screens. She finds notes on tables, and in her mailbox, and slid under her door. She enters Kyra’s apartment freely, verifying her authorized identity by punching in a security code to a keypad. Similarly, she attests to her own identity when she takes the train by entering the relevant combination of letters and numbers onto the touch screen of a ticket kiosk, just as she enters the desired preference for the coffee she wants to an automated machine. Maureen sees the same thing on different screens. And she sees different things – and people – on the same screens. Lobby doors open automatically, sensing the presence of a moving form. Likewise, elevators are summoned and stop at floors in response to pushed buttons, hotel room doors unlock in response to a key-card in the slot. Responsive machines constantly convey presence, both their own and the others for which they are proxy, and in immediate ways. The world that Maureen inhabits seems full of material and inanimate objects that nonetheless seem to respond to and project ‘epistolary intent’, that attitude that ‘involves the intention to communicate, in writing or a cognate representational medium to another person who is “not there” because removed in time/space from the writer, and doing so with the hope and expectation of a response’.29 The pulsing dots of the ellipsis in Maureen’s messages screen are so menacing because they could represent any of the people around her in the crowded train station, its platforms, or its train carriages. Most importantly, they both initiate a correspondence and signal an implacable desire for a reply and an announcement attached to waiting. The ellipsis becomes a stand-in for any possibility: ‘Adorno sees the three dots as a product of mass cultural consumption. They emerged […] to suggest “an infinitude of thoughts and associations, something the hack journalist does not have; he must depend on typography to simulate them”’.30 The automated movement 28 Emma Rooksby, Email and Ethics: Style and Ethical Relations in Computer-Mediated Communications (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2014), p. 5. 29 Stanley, ‘The Death of the Letter?’, p. 242. 30 Anne Toner, Ellipsis in English Literature: Signs of Omission (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 3.

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of the three dots are recognized as a proxy for some other’s movement that could occur anywhere else, but they convey the epistolary intent that demands a response. In Adorno’s evaluation, they may gesture to plenitude but in fact stand in for nothing at all. Ultimate symbol of the epistolary pact, both announcing an arrival and beckoning for a response: ‘the epistolary pact signifies sociality, with the gift aspect of letter-exchanges demonstrating the existence of social and relational bonds in epistolary form around the “I-to-and-from-You” character of the letter’.31 Maureen’s only defence is to set her phone to ‘airplane mode’, so that no matter how many or how frequently the messages are sent, she can continue to refuse to engage with the implied epistolary contract by refusing to let herself, via her portal, be open to them. Maureen’s manual delays only highlight the way that even such forms as ‘instant messaging certainly involve time/space compression […] [and] not time/space dissolution, with the separation at the root of epistolary intent still existing’.32 Personal Shopper ends with Maureen relocated to a place as different from Paris and London as possible, where access via transportation, language, or even internet and cell tower service seems impossible. The viewer cannot help but recall that no one has actually seen Gary throughout this f ilm except as an artefact, and a frequently blurred and delayed one at that, on Maureen’s computer screen. He is not there to greet her at her arrival, at least not in corporeal form. The film, after it has seemingly resolved the tensions of catching the killer (Ingo) and freeing Maureen from her waiting into a move towards resolution, instead culminates in a scene that returns her to the same questions. In Oman, she walks into a room and sees a floating glass, similar to the glass that she failed to see previously at Lara’s new home. Maureen tries again to interact with the presence: ‘Are you at peace?’ There is a single bang, and Maureen, assuming that this means yes, says ‘Thank you’. She then reconsiders, asking: ‘Are you not at peace?’ to which she receives again a single bang. The dialogue continues: You playing with me? Do you mean harm? [bang, bang]. I don’t know you. Who are you? Who are you? Lewis, is it you? Lewis, is it you? [tears roll down her cheek] Or is it just me? [bang] [sighs] [ fades to white]. 31 Liz Stanley, ‘The Epistolary Pact, Letterness, and the Schreiner Epistolarium’, A/b: Auto/ Biography Studies, 27.2 (2012), 262–93 (p. 282). 32 Stanley, ‘The Death of the Letter?’, p. 243.

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The viewer is confronted with unresolved possibilities. Maureen has accomplished another conversation with a spirit form, but it is still unclear whether the spirit is in fact Lewis. In an earlier scene in Paris, in response to a series of ‘released’ messages that flow into her phone after she deactivates ‘airplane mode’ and that culminates in a note slid under her apartment door, she returns to the same hotel where she had been previously summoned. In the room she hears a door unlocked and opened, but it is not her door. Maureen leaves the hotel unscathed. The camera glides down the empty hallway to the elevator, and the doors open to no one, with no one inside. In the lobby the elevator doors open again, revealing no one inside. Then the camera follows nothing to the automatic sliding lobby doors that part and close, in turn, for nothing. This exact same sequence of motions is repeated again, but this time with Ingo as the subject causing these mechanized responses. In Oman there is no such revelation. Maureen stands alone in a room after having watched a drinking glass hover in the air and then fall to the floor, as Benedict puts it: Especially in their mutability and fungibility, [things] possess supernatural power over individual meanings and identities; they can make and unmake selves; they even take over conscience and consciousness. Because of their replicability and fundamental indifference to human possession or loss, things embody the terrible hazards of living in a world of soulless material powers. They are absolute material: bodies without souls.33

Standing in the cave-like earthen room alone with the table, the light, and the sound, Maureen finds herself to have taken the form of Baudrillard’s ‘pure screen, a pure absorption and reabsorption surface of the influent networks’,34 a medium in every sense of the word. And she is completely alone.

Bibliography Altman, Janet Gurkin, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982) Baudrillard, Jean, The Ecstasy of Communication (Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2012) Benedict, Barbara, ‘The Spirit of Things’, in The Secret Life of Things, ed. by Mark Blackwell (Lewisberg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006), pp. 19–42 33 Benedict, p. 39. 34 Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication (Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2012), p. 30.

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Buber, Martin, I and Thou (New York: Scribner, 1958) Derrida, Jacques, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) Derrida, Jacques, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International (New York: Routledge, 1994) Doane, Mary Ann, The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002) Forster, E.M., A Passage to India (New York: Norton, 2021) Friedberg, Anne, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006) Gitelman, Lisa, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2014) Goldberg, Sanford C., Conversational Pressure: Normativity in Speech Exchanges (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020) Gunning, Tom, ‘To Scan a Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision’, Grey Room, 26 (2007), 94–127 Ingawanij, May Adadol, ‘Making Line and Medium’, Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia, 3.1 (March 2019), 13–21 King, Rachael Scarborough, Writing to the World: Letters and the Origins of Modern Print Genres (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018) Matlock, Jann, Hugo Elsewhere: The Jersey Studio and the Photography of Exile, 2012, [accessed 15 June 2022]. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, The Primacy of Perception (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964) Milne, Esther, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence (London: Routledge, 2010) Milutis, Joe, Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006) Natale, Simone, Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016) Natale, Simone and D.W. Pasulka, Believing in Bits: Digital Media and the Supernatural (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) Rooksby, Emma, Email and Ethics: Style and Ethical Relations in Computer-Mediated Communications (New York: Taylor & Francis, 2014) Stanley, Liz, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9.2 (March 2015), 240–55 Stanley, Liz, ‘The Epistolary Pact, Letterness, and the Schreiner Epistolarium’, A/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 27.2 (2012), 262–93

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Tamboukou, Maria, ‘Interfaces in Narrative Research: Letters as Technologies of the Self and as Traces of Social Forces’, Qualitative Research, 11.5 (October 2011), 625–41 Toner, Anne, Ellipsis in English Literature: Signs of Omission (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

About the Author Shiamin Kwa teaches at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania (USA). Her most recent book, Regarding Frames: Thinking with Comics in the Twenty-first Century, was published in 2020 by RIT Press.

4. Attention to Detail: Epistolary Forms in New Melodrama Teri Higgins

Abstract This chapter considers the melodramatic tradition as foundational for the resilience of epistolary discourse in popular cinema. Both prioritize the feminine detail, specifically the protagonist’s ‘desire to express all’.1 Despite frequent relegation to the realm of the domestic (not unlike melodrama), letters have provided women in particular with a private, intimate space to express themselves. The examples explored here ask us to reconsider notions of courtship, with this epistolary ‘space’ creating an opportunity for connection, despite a lack of physical proximity. Building on Tania Modleski’s statement that, in classical melodrama, ‘women carry the burden of feeling for everyone’,2 this chapter demonstrates how in many contemporary examples, the epistle carries the burden of feeling as the melodramatic heroine once did. Keywords: feminine detail; melodrama; mise-en-scène; romance films; Sex and the City

I Couldn’t Help but Wonder Sex and the City: The Movie (2008) picks up four years after the final episode of Sex and the City’s sixth televised season and focuses on the lead up to Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr Big’s (Chris Noth) wedding 1 Peter Brooks, ‘The Melodramatic Imagination’, in Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama, ed. by Marcia Landy (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), pp. 50–68 (p. 51). 2 Tania Modleski, ‘Time and Desire in the Woman’s Film’, Cinema Journal, 23 (1984), 19–30 (p. 24).

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch04

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and the events that follow. In an early and somewhat atypical scene, Carrie and Big are tightly framed in bed together, reading. Carrie reads a book entitled ‘Love Letters of Great Men’ which is a focal point of the scene. Mr Big (in what fans recognize as true Big fashion), questions Carrie’s choice of reading material and dismisses the letter as an outdated way to express/ confess love: ‘It’s not my style. Besides, those guys had to write. They were separated from their loves by wars and hundreds and hundreds of miles. I’m right here’. Fast forward to the film’s conclusion. Mr Big, having failed to show up to the pair’s high-profile wedding, can only achieve forgiveness and resolution through this same book of famous love letters, which he borrows in an attempt to reconnect with Carrie. The letters ultimately become the catalyst for Carrie’s forgiveness. Mr Big’s narrative arc sets the scene for the two key ideas that will be explored in this chapter. The first idea concerns the epistolary subtext that attributes an emotional component to Mr Big that has been famously lacking throughout the franchise’s six seasons. These borrowed love letters allow Big to tap into an intimate, more emotional side that is pivotal in Carrie’s decision to forgive him. These letters build upon the more recognizable epistolary legacy of the wider franchise – Carrie’s ‘Sex and the City column’ – most recognizable through what Deborah Jermyn coins ‘think-and-type’3 scenes. ‘Think-and-type’ describes the moments where Carrie sits at her laptop and reflects on the stories and experiences of her and her friends, writing them down as episodic epistles for the women of New York City. Second, we should note the melodramatic climax of the first half of the film – when Mr Big fails to show up at the altar. Instantly regretting his decision, Big asks his driver to U-turn on a one-way street. Dramatic string music, slow-motion camera work, and stunned passers-by all work together to add melodramatic effect. Mr Big is, in fact, not ‘right here’ as proclaimed in the earlier scene. Rather, in the melodramatic fashion described by Linda Williams in her essay ‘Melodrama Revised’, he’s ‘too late’.4 By studying the feminine detail, a literary concept I will use to characterize a style of expression that is very particular to epistolary discourse, this chapter explores the way epistolary forms work to revive aspects of the melodramatic tradition in popular film and television and argues that their inclusion has led to a new wave of the genre. 3 Deborah Jermyn, Sex and the City (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009), pp. 2–3. 4 Linda Williams, ‘Melodrama Revised’, in Refiguring American Film Genres: Theory and History, ed. by Nick Browne (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 42–88. Williams notes that ‘melodrama involves a dialectic of pathos and action – a give and take of ‘too late’ and ‘in the nick of time’, p. 69.

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It’s in the Details In her influential 1987 work Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine Naomi Schor writes that ‘we live in an age when the detail enjoys a rare prominence’.5 Referring to the gendering of details in literature and art, one of Schor’s primary ideas is that the feminine literary detail in particular emerges as women are excluded from the male-dominated literary canon. This exclusion has historically driven women to adopt letters and diaries as spaces for emotional expression, or ‘wild-zones’6 as feminist critic Elaine Showalter might put it, for their own experiences. Building on Schor’s work, Rebecca Hogan asks us to consider, ‘Is the diary feminine?’.7 For Hogan, the diary is the genre of detail par excellence and therefore assumes a feminine quality: ‘If the detail is feminine as Schor suggests, then the diary, which valorizes the detail in both the realms of ornament and everyday, can also be seen as feminine’.8 These connections between epistolary forms and the feminine detail are central to this framework. As Schor explains, the detail oscillates between two ends of a spectrum – on the one hand the detail refers to ‘the ornamental, with its traditional connotations of effeminacy and decadence, and [on the other] by the everyday, whose “prosiness” is rooted in the domestic sphere of social life presided over by women’.9 The latter interpretation will be my focus, as I expand on literary notions of the detail and translate them into contemporary screen examples. I use the phrase ‘epistolary detail’ to describe this ‘everydayness’ (the ‘minute, the partial, and the marginal’10) as it pertains to epistolary genres such as letters, diaries, emails, text messages, and blogs. As examples will show, when visually supported by mise-en-scène, the epistolary detail adds emotional depth to the portrayal of individual character development, as well as the progression of character relationships on screen. Face-to-face interactions are exchanged for epistolary relationships and become a celebration of the personal, the interior, the everyday,

5 Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (London: Methuen, 1987), p. xii. 6 Elaine Showalter, ‘Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness’, in The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory, ed. by Elaine Showalter (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), pp. 243–71. 7 Rebecca Hogan, ‘Engendered Autobiographies: The Diary as a Feminine Form’, in Autobiography and Questions of Gender, ed. by Shirley Neuman (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), pp. 95–107. 8 Hogan, p. 96. 9 Schor, p. 4. 10 Schor, p. xii.

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and the domestic onscreen. In contemporary examples epistles become an outlet for expression, ensuring deeper, more authentic relationships. The rise and rise of the epistolary detail in mainstream film and television over the past two decades has become so normalized that you may have ignored it. And yet, despite the pervasiveness of the detail as a mainstream storytelling device, epistolarity has yet to receive critical attention. Perhaps this is because, as Gregory Robinson explains, ‘[the] very presence of words inside a filmic medium has frequently been considered a kind of trespass’11 that breaks the fourth wall and disrupts the visual flow of a scene. But as epistolary forms become intricately and intimately woven into our lives and the way we build relationships, screen culture has had no choice but to adapt. The result is a new wave of film and television that puts the epistolary form at the centre. Letters, diaries, emails, text messages, and blogs thread through these narratives, almost conversation-like, creating new opportunities for couples to come together, renegotiating themes such as courtship and intimacy, absence and presence, authenticity and anonymity, and adding new layers of detail to screen narratives. Adjacent to Carrie Bradshaw emerge a steady stream of characters in mainstream releases that lean on epistolarity, from the star vehicles of the late-1990s and early-2000s,12 to the more recent new wave of period and historical drama,13 and not least the resurgence of the romantic comedy for the Netflix generation.14 Epistolary forms also serve as practical narrative devices in television, used to drive and depict developing emotional connections between characters, despite distance. One notable example is the 2020 television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People,15 in which the emails of Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) provide intimate connection and epistolary sanctuary at difficult times in their lives. While epistolary relationships have become increasingly popular on screen over the past decade, the letter as a narrative trope is not new. ‘By 11 Gregory Robinson, ‘“Oh! Mother Will Be Pleased”: Cinema Writes Back in Hepworth’s “How It Feels to Be Run Over”’, Film Quarterly, 39.3 (2011), 218–30, (p. 226). 12 Examples include Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998), Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’s Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001), Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in The Lake House (Alejandro Agresti, 2006), Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in Julie and Julia (Nora Ephron, 2009), and Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum in Dear John (Lasse Hallström, 2010). 13 Examples include BBC’s The Crown (2016–), Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019), and Shonda Rhimes’s Bridgerton (2020). 14 Examples include To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Susan Johnson, 2018), Sierra Burgess Is a Loser (Ian Samuels, 2018), The Half of It (Alice Wu, 2020), and Dash & Lily (2020). 15 Normal People, The BBC (Hettie Macdonald; Lennie Abrahamson, 2020).

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the time you read this letter, I may be dead. I have so much to tell you and perhaps very little time. Will I ever send it? I don’t know’ – Lisa’s (Joan Fontaine) confessional letter to Stefan (Louis Jourdan) serves to narrate the entire film in Letter from an Unknown Woman.16 This film is a foundational text when it comes to contextualizing the epistolary detail on screen; there is a focus on emotionality and drama, created from what Peter Brooks describes as the ‘banal stuff of reality’17 at the heart of both Hollywood melodrama and contemporary epistolary stories. I am not going to define the tropes and traditions of melodrama here, as there is extensive literature dedicated to understanding the genre,18 but I do want to call attention to the key themes from melodrama scholarship that resonate across this new wave of epistolary films. As Brooks asserts, the desire to express all is a fundamental characteristic of the melodramatic mode; ‘Nothing is spared because nothing is left unsaid; the characters stand on the stage and utter the unspeakable, and give voice to their deepest feelings’.19 For Steve Neale, all elements of melodrama – its themes, technical principles, construction, and style – are subordinate to one overriding aesthetic goal: the calling forth of ‘pure’, ‘vivid’ emotions. ‘Plots, characters and dialogue, working in unison, serve to elicit from the spectator the greatest possible intensity of feeling’.20 Similarly, Thomas Elsaesser identifies deep connections between melodrama and mise-en-scène, specifically ‘decor, colour, gesture and composition of frame, which in the best melodramas is perfectly thematized in terms of the characters’ emotional and psychological predicaments’.21 Alongside Brooks, Neale, and Elsaesser the work of Tania Modleski is perhaps most pertinent here. In direct reference to Letter from an Unknown Woman Modleski expands on the idea that melodrama and emotion are overtly linked – ‘Intuitively, of course, we ally melodrama with the feminine 16 Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948). 17 Brooks, p. 51. 18 Notable scholars who have defined screen melodrama include: Brooks, ‘The Melodramatic Imagination’; Stanley Cavell, Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama’, in Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama, ed. by Marcia Landy (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), pp. 68–92; Christine Gledhill, Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: British Film Institute, 1987); Steve Neale, ‘Melodrama and Tears’, Screen 27.6 (1986), pp. 6–23; and Ben Singer, Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and its Contexts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), pp. 44–53. 19 Brooks, p. 4. 20 Neale, p. 98. 21 Elsaesser, p. 76.

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insofar as it is a genre quintessentially concerned with emotional expression. Women in melodrama almost always suffer the pains of love and even death […] Women carry the burden of feeling for everyone’.22 I will argue that we can amend Modleski’s idea and apply it to contemporary examples such as Sex and the City: The Movie. Letters, diaries, emails, text messages, and blogs assume this burden of feeling and therefore bear the intensely emotional, often repressed, feelings that were once carried by music and mise-en-scène for the female protagonist in melodrama. In the sections that follow I will show how this works. Letter from an Unknown Woman is a notable film not only because of its place in the canon of melodramas, but also for the way it begins and ends with an important letter. The f ilm has become synonymous with epistolarity, so much so that Hito Steyerl borrows the reference for her essay ‘Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman’, 23 which explores the ‘contemporary complication’ presented by digital writing, specifically internet romance scams. In the film, Lisa has repressed her true feelings for Stefan, despite her various encounters with him over the years. Writing her story down in a letter allows her to confess the details of an infatuation that has spanned most of her lifetime and an unmarried pregnancy that has remained secret. If Lisa bears the burden of feeling in this case (‘possessed by an overwhelming desire to express [herself]’)24 then her letter becomes the vehicle for that expression of feeling. Returning to melodrama scholarship, when considering Peter Brooks’s characterization of the ‘desire to express all’ in a contemporary context, a number of iconic images of women writing come to mind – Sex and the City’s Carrie, cigarette in hand, opens her laptop to unpack this week’s romantic dilemma, or a pyjama-clad Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) drinks wine and frantically scribbles resolutions in the pages of her diary in the aptly titled Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001). We might also conjure images of Kathleen Kelly’s (Meg Ryan) anticipation as she waits for her dial-up internet to connect, preparing to read and reply to emails from her mystery pen-friend in You’ve Got Mail, Kate Forster’s (Sandra Bullock) longing as she writes notes to a tenant-come-lover she can never meet in The Lake House (aptly described in a New York Times review of the film as ‘an unapologetic throwback to a 22 Modleski, p. 24. 23 Hito Steyerl, ‘Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman’, October, 138 (Fall 2011), 57–69. Reprinted in this collection, see chapter 7. 24 Modleski, p. 20.

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classic studio genre, the melodrama of impossible love’),25 or more recently Lily’s bare-alls to Dash via a red notebook left at various poignant landmarks around New York in Dash & Lily (2020), or flashbacks to a young Lara-Jean Covey (Lana Condor) who writes elaborate love letters in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018). Despite their different ages and stages, these protagonists share a strong desire to express it all, and they do so through epistolary modes that convey the feelings they experience. Their letters, diaries, emails, columns, blogs, and notebooks carry this burden of feeling. The focus of these romantic genres has shifted from a post-feminist screen ideology centred on glamour and excess (or oscillating between the two, as the case may be in Sex and the City) as discussed by scholars such as Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young26 and Hilary Radner,27 to reveal new post-feminist traits such as authenticity, vulnerability, and strength in intimate self-expression. What emerges, then, is a wave of new melodrama.

Text and the City: Epistolary Tropes in New Melodrama A shift towards epistolary storytelling brings about its own challenges. Having considered the trespass at play when words infiltrate screens, Gregory Robinson goes on to ask, ‘What can text do once it is freed from the page?’.28 The depiction of writing on screen has always been challenging, but as Sally Rooney reminds us, it is necessary to overcome that challenge given the established ‘omnipresence of text […] [and] the sheer profusion of messages […] that we now send’.29 Filmmakers must capture the ubiquitous force of written forms (both analogue and digital) in the lives of modern characters. Contemporary film and television increasingly relies on mise-en-scène, framing, soundtrack, and voice-over to assist in freeing epistolary forms 25 A.O Scott, ‘Review: A Long-Distance Affair with a Serious Obstacle – Arts & Leisure – International Herald Tribune’, The New York Times, 15 June 2006. 26 For Ferriss and Young, the ‘chick flick’ consistently exhibits a distinct post-feminist aesthetic – ‘a return to femininity, the primacy of romantic attachment, girl power, a focus on female pleasure, and the value of consumer culture’ in Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young, Chick Flicks: Contemporary Women at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 4. 27 Hilary Radner aligns Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’s Diary with neo-feminism, and ‘a tendency in feminine culture to evoke choice and the development of individual agency as the def ining tenets of feminine identity – best realized through an engagement with consumer culture’, in Hilary Radner, Neo-Feminist Cinema: Girly Films, Chick Flicks and Consumer Culture (New York: Routledge, 2011), p. 6. 28 Robinson, p. 223. 29 Lauren Collins, ‘Sally Rooney Gets in Your Head’, The New Yorker, 13 December 2018.

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from the page, translating emotionality to screens, and drawing attention to detail. These tactics remind us of Elsaesser’s conviction that these devices are crucial to the melodramatic tradition, filling the gaps of what characters are unable to express. In contemporary film, techniques in framing and iconographic elements remove the need for long, lingering shots of writing typical of 1990s period dramas and biopics such as the BBC’s Pride & Prejudice and Onegin,30 and stand in for the face-to-face relationships absent in many of these films – connoting proximity, creating the illusion of shared experience, and allowing the coming together of a couple from a distance. The mailbox in The Lake House, for example, functions as a portal that allows letters to travel through time. It is frequently framed as central to the shot, with Kate or Alex moving towards and around it. The same technique is employed in You’ve Got Mail. Joe’s and Kathleen’s laptops almost assume the role of characters, mediating between the two protagonists. Hence we might ask, I couldn’t help but wonder … were mailboxes and inboxes the new ‘meet cute’? When the epistle bears the burden of feeling, mise-en-scène continues to be used to emphasize a character’s emotional predicaments, as in the melodramatic tradition, but it can be expanded to construct an aesthetic that, paradoxically, connotes both proximity and distance. This is where the aesthetic punctuation that mise-en-scène provides serves to collapse spatial boundaries and constructs the illusion that protagonists are occupying the same physical space, even though they almost never do. These techniques offer a shift away from f ilming the act of writing itself, and voice-over functions in lieu of drawn-out writing scenes. In many cases the epistolary foundations are firmly established at the beginning; we start with the minutiae and zoom out to the cities these women inhabit. The juxtaposition of urban spaces and written forms seems deliberate in most cases, as if asking us, explicitly, to pay attention to the details. For example, the trademark entanglement of Carrie’s writing and the city of New York is evident from the opening seconds of the Sex and the City franchise. The show’s opening sequence kicks off with the familiar first few piano bars of the opening theme song, cutting between close ups of Carrie’s face and iconic New York landmarks. The camera pulls back as Carrie moves through a bustling NYC street scene, the momentum of the sequence abruptly interrupted by a large splash from a city bus bearing an ad for her own column; text and the city juxtaposed explicitly from the outset. The episode opens with a close-up of words being typed across a computer screen 30 Pride and Prejudice, BBC1 (1995); Onegin (Martha Fiennes, 1999).

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(‘Once upon a time …’), immediately emphasizing the importance of writing as the source of the show’s narration. The words are delivered through a female voice, which we soon learn belongs to the show’s protagonist Carrie, whom Kim Akass and Janet McCabe describe as ‘an omnipotent observer in the city’.31 The parameters of the epistolary narrative are set in place well before Carrie formally introduces her column. The narrative is driven by the dilemmas, confessions, and rhetorical questions (the wonderings) posed in Carrie’s weekly column, and the city of New York is at once both a home, a key theme, and a recipient. In fact, whenever Carrie leaves the city for the country (‘there I was, miles from home, hours from sleep but no one to talk to, nowhere to go and nothing to do’),32 the Hamptons (‘I barely had time to shove a good muffin in my purse before I was on the way back to New York’),33 or even another city (‘Six hours later I was home (from Los Angeles), and it looked even better on the inside than I remembered it’),34 there is a strong sense of displacement that is later lamented in her writing. These examples remind us of Schor’s emphasis on inherent connections between the detail and domesticity, as well as melodrama’s predisposition for domestic themes and iconography, though without the enforced passivity of women. Elsaesser’s description of the iconic images in melodrama of ‘women waiting at home, standing by the window, caught in a world of objects into which they are expected to invest their feelings’35 takes on a new, more empowered meaning. Carrie Bradshaw can be seen waiting at the window (generally for Big or another of the series’ suitors to collect her for a date), recalling the iconic shots of an earlier Carrie, Carrie Scott, in Douglas Sirk’s melodrama, All That Heaven Allows (1955),36 trapped behind the window frame. More often though, Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment window provides a moment for viewers to witness moments of repose and reflection that almost always lead to her writing. We see this again and again across contemporary instances; windows are used to convey a kind of emotional development from longing and loneliness, to one of openness, wonder, and possibility. In The Lake House, for example, scenes of Kate at the window become synonymous with moments of longing for her long-distance penpal. 31 Kim Akass and Janet McCabe, ‘Ms Parker and the Vicious Circle: Female Narrative and Humor in Sex and the City’, in Reading Sex and the City, ed. by Kim Akass and Janet McCabe (London: I.B Tauris, 2006), pp. 177–200 (p. 178). 32 ‘Sex and the Country’, Sex and the City, HBO, 22 July 2001. 33 ‘Bay of Married Pigs’, Sex and the City, HBO, 21 June 1998. 34 ‘Sex and Another City’, Sex and the City, HBO, 17 September 2000. 35 Elsaesser, p. 84. 36 All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955).

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In one particular scene, she gazes out the window, simultaneously confessing her feelings to Alex through voice-over – ‘Every time I stop to take a break, I realize how isolated I’ve become. Believe me, you can get a bit desperate’. In The Young Victoria,37 windows represent a kind of emotional imprisonment, the camera work and framing of Victoria making implicit reference to traditional fairy-tale discourse whereby the Princess waits to be rescued by her Prince, foreshadowing the deepening connection between Victoria and Albert made possible through their letters. Most recently in Love, Simon windows represent a private longing for the confidence to publicly express Simon’s authentic identity as a gay man (his ‘huge ass secret’),38 an identity that lives privately in the emails exchanged with his anonymous penpal, Blue. Bedrooms offer more than just sexual intimacy, in fact in these new examples of the genre the physical presence of a partner is largely removed, making way for a new epistolary intimacy. Throughout the entire Sex and the City franchise, Carrie moves between her small apartment and her city; between the interiority of her thoughts and missives, and her exterior, the city of New York and the women, the recipients of her missives, who inhabit it. In contrast to the bedrooms of Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Carrie’s bedroom is more a place for writing about sex, rather than actually having it. There are interesting connections to be made here between Naomi Schor’s ‘detail’, which she noted emerged as a counter to the male-dominated fiction canon, and Virginia Woolf’s ‘room of one’s own’.39 Carrie’s room of her own is almost exclusively her space for writing – in this room Carrie is often tightly framed, legs tucked in, face in close-up, makeup-free, cigarette close by, a far cry from the expensive Manolos, brunches, and the bustling Manhattan streets for which the Sex and the City franchise is most commonly celebrated. And while some elements of the room are updated over time (decor, bedcovers, and computer technology), the framing remains largely unchanged. In fact, attempts to change, expand, or edit this domestic space become synonymous with Carrie’s most challenging moments – renovations and what they represent become a catalyst to her breaking off her engagement with Aidan (John Corbett), 40 and after Big arrives at the altar too late, Carrie and her assistant Louise (Jennifer Hudson) embark on a dramatic (and for super fans, very jarring) domestic makeover. 37 38 39 40

The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2009). Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti, 2018). Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929). ‘Change of a Dress’, Sex and the City, HBO, 20 January 2002.

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Domestic spaces remain significant in new melodrama because of the way in which they help translate the detail on screen, adding tangibility to the personal, the emotional, the interior, and the everyday. And their significance is often introduced to us from the outset. The iconic opening credit sequence of Bridget Jones’s Diary, for example, pulls focus towards Bridget sitting on the floor of her apartment, removing the plastic wrapping from a brand new diary, giving us a hint that this will be a narrative of introspection. We meet To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Lara-Jean for the first time in her bedroom, imagining vicariously through the pages of a romance novel. In both cases, the close-up (figurative and literal) of the detail sets the epistolary scene and offers an alternative kind of establishing shot, one focused on interiority and domestic spaces. In You’ve Got Mail, the tell-tale sounds of dial-up internet and tapping on a keyboard can be heard even before the Warner Bros. production logo fades out. Email serves the expressive, descriptive function of the handwritten letter in its origin story, The Shop around the Corner (1940).41 In the remake (or e-make?), bedrooms and warmly lit apartment spaces provide moments of authenticity, vulnerability, and crucially, equality, which is notably absent in the main characters’ day-to-day interactions as Joe’s (Tom Hanks) company, Fox Books, threatens to close Kathleen’s small local store. Matches on action indicate a growing closeness as Kathleen and Joe are often framed in domestic parallel with their laptops, at dimly lit writing desks, or in bed. The shifting position of laptops in and around Kathleen’s and Joe’s apartments indicates the passing of time between the sending and receiving of their emails. The film opens with Kathleen patiently waiting for her boyfriend Frank (Greg Kinnear) to leave for work and then rushing to her computer as if it is the highlight of her day. We can gauge a sense of routine as she opens her email account and mouths simultaneously with the computerized AOL inbox alert, ‘You’ve got mail’. The style and content of her email from Joe suggests an established familiarity and intimacy, which is interesting, given the decision not to reveal personal details in their emails, raising questions about anonymity and authenticity. It is also important to note the style of writing used in Kathleen’s emails. Given the newness of personal email at the time of the film’s release, the highly abbreviated ‘text speak’ common in computer-mediated communications today was yet to be developed. In the couple’s emails we get a strong sense of detail, despite the electronic nature of the exchange. In a pivotal scene after Joe fails to reveal his identity to Kathleen during their arranged 41 The Shop around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940).

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meeting, the camera lingers on the laptop at the centre of the frame as Joe moves around his apartment, contemplating the content of his next email. Like many films that fall into this category, new relationships emerge and flourish through the connections formed via epistolary forms, something Kathleen describes as the power of ‘nothingness’: ‘The odd thing about this type of communication is you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something, but what I want to say is that all this “nothing” has meant more to me than so many “somethings”. So thanks’. Here, we can think of this ‘nothing’ that epistolary discourse facilitates as a feminine detail. Exteriority and interiority become entangled as urban spaces function to create presence in physical absence. But what’s also happening is a telling shift from the assumed triviality of the feminine detail (or as Brooks noted, ‘the banal stuff of reality’42) into something productive and meaningful, the foundational elements of epistolary relationships that are a staple of this new melodrama. The city remains interesting here. New York assumes an almost Puck-like characterization as a site of comedic near misses for the main characters. Right from the opening, the city provides the backdrop to e-courtship in You’ve Got Mail. Joe and Kathleen both leave home as the city wakes up on a crisp autumn day, paths almost crossing. Kathleen: ‘What will he say today? I wonder. I turn on my computer, I wait impatiently as it boots up. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing, not even the sound on the streets of New York, just from the beat of my own heart. I have mail. From you’.

We see similar exterior/interior entanglements in The Lake House, a film that leans on symmetrical framing to help sell viewers an unconventional epistolary story via stories that occur two years apart. Symmetry occurs within the bounds of a single shot or a single frame, through matches on action, creating a sense of reciprocity that mirrors the sending and receiving of letters, and helps create the illusion of presence. Kate and Alex’s occupation of the same emotional space, despite their temporal dislocation, is essential to the convincing depiction of a growing emotional connection. Given that classic romance narratives are concerned with the coming together of the couple it is interesting that these films strive to keep the couple apart while, paradoxically, depicting a growing connection. There 42 Brooks, p. 51.

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are a number of instances in the film in which Kate is the primary focus, followed directly by a match on action through which Alex occupies the same space two years earlier. The shots are constructed identically, aside from tangible examples of time passing in the city of Chicago – different vehicles, changes in building façades. One scene in which symmetry is particularly significant is during Alex’s architectural tour of the city. He writes a letter to Kate complete with a map of significant landmarks for Kate to follow. Asking her to ‘take a walk’ with him, the pair effectively embark on a journey together. As in other examples, the screen is split, framing the pair equally. As Kate walks the streets with her map, Alex’s voice-over narrates the journey described in his letters. Against Chicago’s bold architecture, Alex and Kate’s epistolary exchange is permitted to enter more intimate territory. Alex asks: ‘How come we never talk about what we like? […] For me [what I like is] this city. On a day when the light is so clear I can touch every detail […] Take a walk with me this Saturday. Let me show you’. Kate responds with a description of favourite things, voiced over tightly shot iconic Chicago buildings (‘When I smell the flowers before I see them, when it starts to rain just as the picnic is ending’). The Lake House’s use of symmetry is also employed in the Netflix adaptation of Dash & Lily. Dash (Austin Abrams) and Lily (Midori Francis) encounter one another serendipitously through a notebook hidden in the cluttered shelves of The Strand bookstore. They begin to write letters to each other in the notebook and then leave it somewhere for the other to find. Each location or ‘favourite place’ comes with a tale of why it was chosen, and iconic NYC landmarks become shared references, indicative of their growing intimacy. These shared landmarks allow this intimacy to develop, despite a shared pact not to reveal personal details in their letters. Lily: ‘What do I want for Christmas? I want to get to know you, Notebook Boy. Take me somewhere special. Some place in the city that feels like you’. Dash: ‘The most me isn’t a place, Lily. It’s a time. Be inside Grand Central terminal before the first train arrives. I know it’s early, but I promise it is worth it. There are few moments when you can find stillness in the middle of the city. When you can enjoy the heart of New York without the crush of people. Tell me what you see’.

The Dash & Lily series returns us to the traditional letter (with a slightly unorthodox delivery method). To All the Boys and The Half of It share with Dash & Lily a similar nostalgia for the handwritten word, as epistolary discourse allows for new entanglements among high school cliques. Introverted

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female protagonists such as Lily, Lara-Jean, and Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) each use letters to express themselves and develop strong connections with objects of affection, Dash, Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), and Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire) respectively. Notes, texts, posts, letters and their envelopes float across our screens as objects, text overlays, and voice-overs, offering possibilities for connecting characters who might not have otherwise met. A final example should suffice to cement the ideas discussed in this section. Carrie Bradshaw’s epistolary adventures are teased as Sarah Jessica Parker announces the franchise’s revival (And Just Like That) via her personal Instagram page (@sarahjessicaparker) in January of 2021, where each post is its own mini-missive, signed off with ‘X, SJ’. The show’s trailer opens with sounds of birds chirping and a sunrise reflecting against the façade of a skyscraper. Once again, a montage of New York is juxtaposed with quick cutting against the slow reveal of typed text, ‘And just like that …’ voiced over by Sarah Jessica Parker herself. No further reference to Sex and the City is needed as, at the sound of keyboard clicks, we accept that a new letter from Carrie Bradshaw will be arriving soon.

Postscript (P.S.) In this chapter I have argued that epistolary forms work to revive aspects of the melodramatic tradition in popular film and television, but they also manage to subvert it. When epistolary forms emerge on screen, emotional expression is returned to the forefront, and indicates a return to the repressed female expression that was once prevalent in the classic Hollywood melodrama. And if melodrama was the last genre to give value to the feminine detail, in a culture of emotional capitalism,43 it would be fair to suggest that epistolary forms return us to melodramatic traditions. Alternatively, as Modleski argues, in melodrama, ‘women carry the burden of feeling for everyone’,44 therefore it seems a balanced narrative voice becomes possible when epistolary forms absorb this burden of feeling. The revival of the epistolary form, in conjunction with a de-emphasis on overt suffering, may be why we no longer talk about these contemporary romantic genres as melodramas. In each of the examples shared in this chapter, the epistolary detail emerges from domestic spaces, while emotions, feelings, thoughts, fears, 43 Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007). 44 Modleski, p. 24.

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dreams, and desires move and travel through epistolary modes. There is a shared juxtaposition between text (the detail) and the exterior spaces in which each of the protagonists spend their time. Strategic choices in mise-en-scène and the use of voice-over function to punctuate the interiority (both emotional and architectural) of the detail. Hence we discover the solution to overcoming the ‘trespass’ of writing on screens that Robinson describes. 45 In new melodrama, writing does not ‘trespass’, rather all other elements of these films depend on it and are in fact subordinate to the epistolary.

Bibliography Akass, Kim and Janet McCabe, ‘Ms Parker and the Vicious Circle: Female Narrative and Humor in Sex and the City’, in Reading Sex and the City, ed. by Kim Akass and Janet McCabe (London: I.B Tauris, 2006), pp. 177–200 Brooks, Peter, ‘The Melodramatic Imagination’, in Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama, ed. by Marcia Landy (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), pp. 50–68 Cavell, Stanley, Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) Collins, Lauren, ‘Sally Rooney Gets in Your Head’, The New Yorker, 13 December 2018 Elsaesser, Thomas, ‘Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama’, in Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama, ed. by Marcia Landy. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), pp. 68–92 Ferriss, Suzanne and Mallory Young, Chick Flicks: Contemporary Women at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 2008) Gledhill, Christine, Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: British Film Institute, 1987) Hogan, Rebecca, ‘Engendered Autobiographies: The Diary as a Feminine Form’, in Autobiography and Questions of Gender, ed. by Shirley Neuman (Oxon: Routledge, 2016), pp. 95–107 Illouz, Eva, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007) Jermyn, Deborah, Sex and the City (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009) Modleski, Tania, ‘Time and Desire in the Woman’s Film’, Cinema Journal, 23 (1984), 19–30 Neale, Steve, ‘Melodrama and Tears’, Screen, 27.6 (1986), 6–23 45 Robinson, p. 226.

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Radner, Hilary, Neo-Feminist Cinema: Girly Films, Chick Flicks and Consumer Culture (New York: Routledge, 2011) Robinson, Gregory, ‘“Oh! Mother Will Be Pleased”: Cinema Writes Back in Hepworth’s “How It Feels to Be Run Over”’, Film Quarterly, 39.3 (2011), 218–30 Schor, Naomi, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (London: Methuen, 1987) Scott, A.O, ‘Review: A Long-Distance Affair with a Serious Obstacle – Arts & Leisure – International Herald Tribune’, The New York Times, 15 June 2006 Showalter, Elaine, ‘Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness’, in The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature and Theory, ed. by Elaine Showalter (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), pp. 243–71 Singer, Ben, Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and its Contexts (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001) Steyerl, Hito, ‘Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman’, October, 138 (Fall 2011), 57–69 Williams, Linda, ‘Melodrama Revised’, in Refiguring American Film Genres: Theory and History, ed. by Nick Browne (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 42–88 Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929)

About the Author Teri Higgins is an independent scholar who received her Ph.D. from the University of Otago in 2013. Her thesis, ‘Attention to Detail: Epistolary Discourse and Contemporary Cinema’ inspired the idea for this edited collection.

5.

The Spiritual Intimacies of The Red Hand Files: How Long Will I Be Alone? Sean Redmond

Abstract In Nick Cave’s weekly email letter responses to fans’ questions, he seeks to establish intimate, spiritual connections. Laid out on what resembles watermarked paper and as if they have been typed, there is a material, embodied intimacy to not only the way the letters appear, like they are scented analogue exchanges in a dematerialized digital world, but in their imagined two-wayness, as if fan and Cave are privately conversing. Topics discussed range from religion to death, love and longing, and to the taste distinctions that one might make over art, literature, music, and poetry. It is these epistolary letters that I analyse in this chapter, finding love and loneliness across their sheets. Keywords: confession; Nick Cave; love; loneliness; intimacy; The Red Hand Files

Introduction Nick Cave’s The Red Hand Files are weekly email letter responses to questions that he has received from fans. The emails are laid out on what resembles cream-coloured watermarked paper, while the chosen Cambria font looks like it has been written on a typewriter by Cave’s fingers and hands. The letters generally contain a central image, either a photograph or painting, that pictorially, if abstractly, anchors the questions and responses. There is a material, embodied intimacy to not only the way the letters appear, like they are scented analogue exchanges in a dematerialized digital world, but in their imagined two-wayness, as if fan and Cave are privately writing to one another.

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch05

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The questions and responses ignite the flames of closeness. Topics range from religion, death, love, loss, and longing to the taste distinctions that one might make over art, literature, music, and poetry. Cave responds personally, poetically, drawing on his own life experiences to answer biographical, metaphysical, and existential questions. He signs the letter ‘with love’, ‘love’, or ‘much love, Nick’, and a kiss, creating the sense that his response is not only authentic, written to and for ‘you’, but one drawn from the heart. There is, of course, a long history of fan letters being written and of star and celebrity responses.1 The entertainment industries energized such exchanges, most notably through fan magazines, during the Hollywood studio system.2 In the contemporary celebrity marketplace the social media have become a series of connective zones where these star and fan exchanges increasingly occur.3 These seemingly ‘real time’ electronic responses orientate and authenticate connectivity, where it is felt that the star is directly addressing the fan who very often holds that message in their phone hand, while ensuring fans remain commercially committed to the famous person in question. The star or celebrity’s social media posts very often, then, seem to be both in the service of creating an intimate space for fans to gather in, and a form of commodity exaltation, since this communication is also the work of promotion where consumerist and individualist ideologies reign supreme. 4 While The Red Hand Files can be seen to also straddle both the communal and commercial nature of contemporary star and fan exchanges, their mode of communication is formally and experientially different to other mediated exchanges. Arriving as typed letters they indicate a time that ‘pre-dates’ the digital world, recalling social practices5 that required a different type of emotive labour and set of materials (pen, paper, envelope, stamp). The Red Hand Files are not only formally nostalgic, however: they also carry an emotional intensity akin to certain historical forms of personal letter writing, 1 Lisa A. Lewis, The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media (London: Routledge, 2002). 2 Marsha Orgeron, ‘Making “It” in Hollywood: Clara Bow, Fandom, and Consumer Culture’, Cinema Journal, 42.4 (2003), 76–97. 3 Alison Hearn and Stephanie Schoenhoff, ‘From Celebrity to Influencer: Tracing the Diffusion of Celebrity Value across the Data Stream’, in A Companion to Celebrity, ed. by P. David Marshall and Sean Redmond (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), pp. 194–212. 4 Marsha Orgeron, ‘“You Are Invited to Participate”: Interactive Fandom in the Age of the Movie Magazine’, Journal of Film and Video, 61.3 (2009), 3–23. 5 Letter Writing as a Social Practice, ed. by David Barton and Nigel Hall, Studies in Written Language and Literacy 9 (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2000).

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including the love letter.6 Further, The Red Hand Files are so unrelentingly raw that they carry a different level of shared intimacy when compared with other star and fan interactions. These email letters affectively ‘leak’; they challenge normative morality; and they offer complex, messy, and often transcendent answers to the most difficult of ‘life-based’ questions. As a cultish figure of transgression, a parastar,7 this is in one sense to be expected: Cave is a subcultural figure whose worldview delves … into the underbelly of human existence, being prepared to seek solace in heroin and the world that surrounded it, spending time in the areas of cities that combined the red-light districts, with bohemians, artists, all-night bars, transgressive behaviour, sexual encounters and transient lifestyles.8

However, these holy email letters speak to a number of more generalized and uncomfortable truths about the nature of contemporary experience, including: the increased social dislocation and isolation that people experience in the modern world;9 the need to confess, self-reveal, and in turn to be counselled and psychologically and spiritually healed;10 and the power of experiential discourse to make sense of the alienation and cultural detritus that carries across all the trade winds of modern life. Cave’s star image fits this revelatory epistolary form, creating a space where shared biography and confession work to contest dominant ideology and to open his fans to new forms of re-enchanted feeling. To date (27 December 2020), there have been 128 The Red Hand File email letters: the first one published or delivered in September 2018. They generally arrive once per week, but the day can change, and more than one letter may be sent/received each week. This time-elasticity creates both anticipation and excitement as one waits for the next letter to arrive. Cave has written that he reads all the questions that he receives and that he makes the decision 6 Charles Bazerman, ‘Letters and the Social Grounding of Differentiated Genres’, in Letter Writing as a Social Practice, ed. by Barton and Hall, pp. 15–30. 7 Jeffrey Sconce, ‘“Trashing” the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style’, Screen, 36.4 (1995), 371–93. 8 Peter Webb, ‘“Infected by the Seed of Post-Industrial Punk Bohemia”: Nick Cave and the Milieu of the 1980s Underground’, Popular Music History, 3.2 (2009), 103–22 (p. 119). 9 John T. Cacioppo and Stephanie Cacioppo, ‘The Growing Problem of Loneliness’, The Lancet, 391.10119 (2018), 426. 10 Chloë Taylor, The Culture of Confession from Augustine to Foucault: A Genealogy of the ‘Confessing Animal’ (London: Routledge, 2010).

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about which questions are answered and published. This personal curation creates the sense that Cave is the editor and author and that through his selections and responses, a deeper understanding of who he is emerges. What we are supposedly witnessing, or reading, is Cave’s real self and the revelation of his inner experiences and feelings cut free from star and public discourses. That is not to say, of course, that a level of performance isn’t enacted through the letters, as it is with all communication produced by a famous figure,11 but that Cave’s responses open up lines of flight, spools of insight, very rarely experienced or countenanced in star and fan exchanges. For this chapter, I am going to look at two inter-connected themes that emerge across the body of these letters: the Confession and Religious Transcendence; and Loneliness and Love. These themes cross-connect, they rise and fall like ocean waves in Cave’s responses. My method has been to read all the letters and to pull out those themes which seem dominant. However, this has not been a data-driven process, where I have used software or algorithms to number-crunch terms, words, adjectives. In the spirit of this edited collection, this is an aleatory response, and one, as you will see, that has been drawn from the heart.

The Confession and Religious Transcendence As I have written elsewhere, we live in the age of a confessional culture where stardom and celebrity are one of the key conduits for its revelatory transmission.12 The cultural turn to public self-disclosure, the ‘incitement to discourse’,13 is ‘individualized and a logic contrasted that pushes structural conditions and collective, interactive responsibilities out of the frame’.14 On one level, the confessional can be understood as a coping strategy which centres dissatisfaction on the individual body rather than the body of the state. This is not always the case, however. On another level, as Sara Mills suggests, confessional discourse can act as a means of resisting oppression by ‘locating oneself within a larger interest group or political group

11 Erin Meyers, ‘“Can You Handle My Truth?”: Authenticity and the Celebrity Star Image’, The Journal of Popular Culture, 42 (2009), 890–907. 12 Sean Redmond, ‘Pieces of Me: Celebrity Confessional Carnality’, Social Semiotics, 18 (2008), 149–61. 13 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. 1, trans. by Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage), p. 19. 14 Myra Macdonald, Exploring Media Discourse (London: Arnold, 2003), p. 85.

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(such as feminists, or working-class women or lesbian women)’.15 Further, the environments where the confession takes place may actually create a Habermasian public sphere,16 where minority opinions and modes of being actively engage with, and openly question, dominant mores. The Red Hand Files straddles both of these perspectives. Fans readily and regularly share their burdens with Cave, and in his responses, he shares his experiences, both to show empathy and to evidence his wise counsel. There is, on one level, something quite Catholic about these exchanges, with Cave taking on the role of the priest, In Persona Christi, and absolving fans of their ‘sins’. Reading The Red Hand Files ‘brings a sense of Easter revival, of hope amid despair, inviting us to be still, be present in the moment, guided by a suited and booted vicar’.17 However, there is also an ‘aestheticization’ of religious belief that ‘awaken[s] experiences of inspiration and mystery’.18 For example, in response to the question (Issue #126, November 2020): Hey first I wanna say really like your music i have lost my beautiful wife in cancer and my dear brother in covid 19 my question to you is how keep you going on after lost your son its hard sometimes to keep going on with life. Matti, Stockholm, Sweden

Cave responds: One desperate morning, however, I did the most simple of things and perhaps this can help you with the loss of your wife, and your brother, more than my words. I sat by myself, in a quiet space, and called upon my son by name. I closed my eyes and imagined lifting him from my heart – this tormented place in which I was told he lived – and I positioned him outside of my body, next to me, beside me. I said, ‘You are my son and now you are beside me’. These few words had a powerful, vibrational effect, and this simple act of imagination was the first step in a process that would eventually lead me back to the world. By performing this act I was temporarily released from the rational world, a merciless place that gave 15 Sarah Mills, Discourse (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 82. 16 Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. by Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989). 17 Russell Cunningham, ‘Nick Cave Is Showing Us a New, Gentler Way to Use the Internet’, The Guardian, 27 November 2018, [accessed 30 December 2020]. 18 Sarah K. Balstrup, ‘Religion, Creative Practice and Aestheticization in Nick Cave’s “The Red Hand Files”’, Religions, 1 (2020), 1.

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me no peace, and given access to an impossible realm where I could form an increasingly resolute relationship with the spiritual idea of my lost child. I began to feel Arthur’s presence. I talked to him. He talked to me. I took him with me wherever I went … It was a deeply powerful experience and testament to the restorative force of our imaginings – that child of God, that divine invention – rescuing me from my catastrophic heart and in doing so freeing himself from the convulsion of my grief … Love, Nick

In his response, Cave does two connecting things: he details how he moved beyond the grief he felt with the death of his son, as a way of showing how Matti may move beyond his own loss and longing. Cave’s confession is couched as a religious parable, Father and Son walking beside one another, the latter resurrected through divine imagination housed under a sacred canopy. But it is also a mystical one, conjured up through an ‘alternative spirituality’19 that allows Cave – and his fans – to be the enchanted architect(s) of his/their own lifestory. This form of enchantment ‘entails a state of wonder, and one of the distinctions of this state is the temporary suspension of chronological time and bodily movement. To be enchanted, then, is to participate in a momentarily immobilising encounter; it is to be transfixed, spellbound’.20 Death and grief haunt The Red Hand Files with numerous letters starting with a question about personal loss or narrating a story where they have overcome it, very often through Cave’s music and/or performances. For example, in Issue #45 (June 2019), Els, from Mechelen, Belgium, recounts seeing one of Cave’s In Conversation performances in Antwerp: … My partner died in 2014: traffic. At that moment I was actually pregnant by him, but nobody knew. It was still a little early and I was pregnant after fertility-treatment. He died and five days after his death, I lost his child. Our child. He was a huge fan of your music and I think I became a fan of your music because of him. ‘Into My Arms’ became our song. The song was playing and he asked me to dance and so it became our song … 19 Balstrup, p. 1. 20 Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 5.

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We had already bought tickets for a Bad Seeds concert together. He was dead, so because of that my best friend went with me. You played ‘Into My Arms’ and I started to cry, not because of the sadness, but because of the beauty of it. I was standing there and for the first time since he passed away, I felt my partner standing by my side. Maybe it sounds stupid, but I really felt him standing by my side. My best friend cuddled me and gave me a kiss on my forehead … I’m crying now, because I feel that same feeling. I still think it was wonderful. It was 2015, those days. My best friend died in 2016: cancer. ‘Into My Arms’ is not just the song for me and my partner anymore, it is the song for and from my best friend and all the people I love, but those two people are standing for true love for me too, so it became a song of true love, true love I actually feel when you play that song. Since they died, I like to be at any of your concerts, because of the amazing beauty I feel when you play ‘Into My Arms’. I feel Guido and Amber beside me …

One can again see how Cave’s music is both a mystical and transcendental source: through the song, Into My Arms, Els’s dead lover and best friend are resurrected, the song and the ghosts filling the void that she feels. The letter carries forward this deeply felt, affective apparition: Els weeps as she writes, reminiscentia taking hold of her pen, charging her writing with the spiritual atoms of the live performance. The letter is cathartic but also a present to/for Cave, existing within the ‘fan-gift economy’ where such letters are ‘offered for free […] yet within a web of context that specifies an appropriate method of “payment”’.21 The payment here is both the publication of the letter, as chosen by Cave, and his response to it. Els’s letter is in a sense anointed by Cave and enters the fan community that orientates around The Red Hand Files. The gift multiplies, extends outwards, touching all those who read these weekly letters. Cave’s The Red Hand Files are often responses to questions about Cave’s faith, whether he believes in God or prays, and how his spirituality informs or affects his creativity. For example, Issue #11 (December 2018) is composed of four faith-based questions: As an atheist I find other people’s belief in a god both incomprehensible and fascinating. Is there any way you can explain your faith? ALI, LONDON, UK 21 Karen Hellekson, ‘A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture’, Cinema Journal, 48 (2009), 113–18 (p. 114).

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Do you believe in God? I mean personal, not through your songs. MAGGIE, LONDON, UK Does God exist? JOÃO, RIO, BRAZIL Can it be you’ve given up the quest for God? PETER, DENVER, USA

Chris Rojek argues that celebrities, ‘have f illed the absence created by the decay in the popular belief in the divine right of kings, and the death of God’. 22 Into this religious vacuum, stars and celebrities become the spiritual conduit through which devotion and divination manifests, providing aspirational f igures for people to connect with. What is fascinating about The Red Hand Files is the way faith is presented in the questions that are asked of Cave, entwining religiosity and celebrity as they do so. Cave is written to as an idol, as a performer whose music and performances very often register as transcendental experiences. He very much embodies the f igure of a saviour: as we have seen above, fans recall how his songs brought back into the world those who had been lost to them. However, the questions asked also reveal a need or a longing for another type of divinity and saviour: God. In a sense these questions, and the apparitions that fans write about, suggest a need for the rebirth of the Absolute. In Issue #11, Cave responds to these questions: The more I become willing to open my mind to the unknown, my imagination to the impossible and my heart to the notion of the divine, the more God becomes apparent. I think we get what we are willing to believe, and that our experience of the world extends exactly to the limits of our interest and credence. I am interested in the idea of possibility and uncertainty. Possibility, by its very nature, extends beyond provable facts and uncertainty propels us forward … Does God exist? I don’t have any evidence either way, but I am not sure that is the right question. For me, the question is what it means to believe. The thing is, against all my better judgement, I find it impossible not to believe, or at the very least not to be engaged in the inquiry of such a thing, which 22 Chris Rojek, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Press, 2004), p. 13.

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in a way is the same thing. My life is dominated by the notion of God, whether it is His presence or His absence. I am a believer – in both God’s presence and His absence. I am a believer in the inquiry itself, more so than the result of that inquiry. As an extension of this belief, my songs are questions, rarely answers.

Cave takes up similar positions in other issues: In #37 (April 2019), when asked by Dee how he felt about God, he writes, ‘… how do I really feel about God? Well, the more absent He feels, and the more indifferent the cosmos appears to be, the more fervent and necessary my search for meaning becomes’. In #41 (May 2019) Rute asks, does God ‘have a voice and if so, is it a familiar one?’. Cave responds, ‘… Perhaps, God would have the combined voice of all the untold billions of collected souls, an assembly of the departed speaking as one – without rancour, domination or division; a great, manylayered calling forth that rings from the heavens in the small, determined voice of a child, maybe; sexless, pure and uncomplicated – that says “Look for me. I am here”’. In #51 (July 2019), K asks, ‘If this is a truism that, in essence, the son saved his father from the abyss. Then now what of people like us? What happens if the son dies? Do we lose the ability to be saved and evolve?’. Cave answers with, ‘The spirits of our children can become the guides that eventually lead us out of the dark. After a while, I found the spirit of my son braved the sea and found and entered the whale, and lighting the fire, convulsed the whale and released me from its unlit interior, blasting me ashore’. What we f ind in these responses is a type of double consciousness: Cave f inds the world to be meaningless, cruel, and seeks out God as a way to re-enchant it. The disenchantment he finds in the world can be understood through the long march of modernity and the processes of desacralization that it produced.23 The spiritual re-enchantment he looks for is in response to such a cataclysmic void. However, Cave does not seek answers in organized religion or in a God that is consistent, omnipresent, or omnipotent. Rather, he seeks answers through the will of the imagination, through the everyday mysteries that present themselves to him. Cave finds his spirituality in despair, in ‘signs taken for wonders’, in the awe of loss and loneliness. There is a romanticism to these answers, one where the sublime beauty of art can light a way through the dark. However, Cave’s romanticism can be understood more complexly. These letters reveal the romantic expression 23 Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992).

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of ‘intense inner feelings’ and spontaneous creation; ‘the importance of the commonplace’, of individualism and ‘non-conformity’; and the ‘“Strangeness in beauty” … validated through an intensified sensitivity to the mysterious, the mystical, even the occult – in short, the non-rational’.24 Cave’s literary references often refer to British Romantic writers, such as Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Wordsworth, and his bohemian lifestyle connects him to the margins of society. Of course, the tragic death of his son, Arthur, links him to the myth of the romantic artist: touched by tragedy he finds solace and meaning in the production of art. However, pulled together, Cave’s spiritual romanticism seems to be a lonely affair, if bathed in love, as I will now go on to explore.

Loneliness and Love There is much evidence to suggest that across early and late capitalist societies, new and extensive forms of loneliness have emerged. Statistically speaking, in countries such as the UK, Australia, Japan, and India and in North America, people are known to have fewer companions, and community networks have broken down or have been rendered virtual and ephemeral. For example, in a recent report, published with Age UK, feeling lonely is linked to risk of an earlier death, depression, dementia, and poor self-rated health.25 The BBC and University of Manchester’s national survey, The Loneliness Experiment, revealed that levels of loneliness were highest in younger respondents, with 40% feeling lonely, compared with only 27% of older respondents who completed the study.26 Similarly, The Australian Loneliness Report (2018) found that, ‘50.5% of Australians reported they felt lonely for at least a day in the previous week; 27.6% felt lonely for three or more days. Nearly 30% rarely or never felt they were part of a group of friends. Nearly a quarter (24.5%) say they can’t find companionship when they want it’.27 24 Carol T. Christ, Alfred David, Stephen Greenblatt, and B.K. Lewalski, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 2 (London: W.W. Norton, 2006), pp. 1–17. 25 See: [accessed 15 June 2022]. 26 [accessed 15 June 2022]. 27 [accessed 15 June 2022].

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We can see that what also touches the questions and answers in The Red Hand Files is a profound connection to this crisis in loneliness, something that Lyn McCredden more generally identifies in Cave’s lyrics, books, and poems, which she sees … are in dynamic and conflicting conjunction, creating a sprawling, unsystematic and confrontational dialogue with divine forces which may or may not be ‘there’. Institutional religion does not fare well in his lyrics, but nor is it ignored. What we find stamped across his songs, over and over, is the dark, lonely figure of a man caught up in desire for a divine source or balm.28

Issue #39 (May 2019) is (almost) entirely dedicated to the question of loneliness: What do you think is the best way to cope with loneliness? ELENA, REGGIO EMILIA, ITALY How do you deal with loneliness? LARS, ÖSTERBYBRUK, SWEDEN Did you feel times of seemingly endless loneliness? What did you do against it? FLORIAN, OPPONITZ, AUSTRIA I’m writing right now to ask you for advice on how to deal with loneliness? MEL, THESSALONIKI, GREECE How long will I be alone? LIII, KRAKOW, POLAND

Cave responds: As we go through our lives we take on the expanding burden of our own distress – as we are abandoned, broken apart, betrayed, isolated, lost and hurt. This is essentially part of what it is to live. This despair will 28 Lyn McCredden, ‘Fleshed Sacred: The Carnal Theologies of Nick Cave’, Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave, ed. by Karen Welberry and Tanya Dalziel (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009), p. 167.

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overwhelm us and turn inward into bitterness, resentment and hatred – worse, we will take it out upon the ones closest to us if we do not actively live our lives in the service of others and use what power we have to reduce each other’s suffering. This, in my opinion, is essentially the key to living. This is the remedy to our own suffering; our own feelings of separateness and of disconnectedness. And it is the essential antidote for loneliness. In the Philip Larkin poem ‘The Mower’, Larkin runs over a hedgehog while he is mowing the lawn. As he removes the body of the hedgehog from the blades of the mower, he muses on the nature of death and ends the poem with these words. We should be careful Of each other, we should be kind While there is still time The urgency of these words came to me on that flight back from Marrakesh. The vision of the dying cat wrenched me from my own self-absorption and bitterness and isolation and loneliness and showed me that the world, in all its terrible wounded beauty, was in need of our urgent attention. Much love, Nick

Cave’s response again shows a form of double consciousness, that seamlessly moves from the individual to the collective, from the private to the social, and from the secular to the sacred. He sees himself existing in a cold and cruel world, one that leaves its violent and despairing impressions on the individual: on him. Cave’s response reveals his own loneliness in the face of an uncaring world. Cave’s suggested solution to this anomie, is to live socially, in the service of others, to reduce each other’s suffering. The Larkin poem that is quoted frames the discussion in terms of death, returning us to the theme of loss and the precarity of life. It is as if loneliness is death for Cave, shaped in a barbarity that renders one a violent self. In this letter he also asks us to reach beyond the possessive individual to a shared and communal space where we all look after one another. In one sense, this is a decidedly socialist or humanist response: through social or societal action we together make the world a better place. In another sense, it is a particularly religious response whereby suffering is both inevitable and enabling in the world, and leads to self-transformation. As the New Testament suggests: ‘Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings,

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because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’.29 In Issue #23 (January 2019), Cave makes this connection to religious suffering explicit: Three and a half years ago I lost my wife and I was left to take care of my (then 2 year old) daughter. She’s a happy little girl but I know she’s happiest when her father is happy. I’ve been finding it hard to find happiness. It’s not my loss – I made peace with that a while back. I just haven’t found my life again … WILLIAM, BROOKLYN, USA

Nick answers: We are alone but we are also connected in a personhood of suffering. We have reached out to each other, with nothing to offer, but an acceptance of our mutual despair. We must understand that the depths of our anguish signal the heights we can, in time, attain. This is an act of extraordinary faith. It makes demands on the vast reserves of inner-strength that you may not even be aware of. But they are there. As your little daughter dances through her father’s tears, she leads the way. The way lies there before us. With love, Nick.

Of course, within the hopeful discourses of The Red Hand Files the community that is being reached for is in a sense ready-made: the lonely questions set out in these issues are being answered within a fan community setting. These letters are an attempt to create a public space, which will ease the sufferings of others, offering wise counsel that increases the amount of love and kindness in the world. Cave is both icon and prophet in The Red Hand Files. That these questions and answers appear as typed letters is an attempt to remove them from the dematerialized digital world where there is a crisis of loneliness, and to take them back to a time when there was more connection, more intimacy between people. This is again a romantic longing and is in some sense built on a paradox, since if suffering is inevitable and eternal, then the anguish-free past it longs for never existed. These are romantic 29 Romans 5:3–5 NIV.

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answers because loneliness is structural, economic, energized by the rancid politics of austerity: to suggest we can move beyond loneliness by being kind denies the inequalities built into late capitalist society. And yet The Red Hand Files refuses to only argue from a deficit position: the loneliness of Cave is matched by the love he seeks to share. The affective qualities and intensities of these letters do move fans and they provide spaces of negotiation and belonging. As Joke Hermes writes in relation to the ‘repertoire of melodrama’ that emerges from reading women’s magazines, the gossip that circulates between female friendship cells provides solace for readers experiencing similar issues: On an imaginary level it helps readers to live in a larger world than in real life – a world that is governed by emotional ties, that may be shaken by divorces and so on, but that is never seriously threatened. Sociological realities such as high divorce rates, broken families, children who leave home hardly ever to be seen again, are temporarily softened. The world of gossip is like the world of soap opera: whatever happens, they do not fall apart.30

In The Red Hand Files there is an attempt to soften the traumas of the world through the letter’s own repertoire of melodrama. In Issue #64 (October 2019) when asked by Robin about the guilt they feel for having regrets, Cave responds with, ‘Perhaps it is useful to see our lives as a series of failed or abandoned dreams, but to also recognize that these dreams are the very architecture of our humanity; to lovingly accept our shortcomings and lay them to rest in the knowledge that growth and regret go hand in hand, as do failure and potentiality’. His answer here and elsewhere is an attempt to share and solve the person’s dilemma. There is a therapeutic dimension to these instructions but the mysticism and spirituality that entangles them, complexifies their discourse. Cave’s answers buy into not therapy discourse but transcendental philosophy: an opening up beyond the (de)material world. In Issue #65 (October 2019) Barbara from Rome, Italy, asks: I feel very bad about myself, I cannot see anything positive in my body, I hate to look at myself in the mirror and it makes me suffer a lot. I feel like everyone is better than me, even though I did very important things 30 Joke Hermes, Reading Women’s Magazines: An Analysis of Everyday Media Use (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), p. 80.

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for being just 16 years old. How should I behave? What should I do for myself? Thank you for the possible answer. BARBARA, ROME, ITALY

Cave responds: … That body that you ‘can’t see anything positive in’ holds within it an unusually courageous, honest and intelligent heart. Your question is a testament to your specialness, and by asking it you have touched us all. Finally, you asked what you could do, how to behave. Please, take care of yourself. Seek out beautiful things, inspirations, connections and validating friends. Perhaps you could keep a journal and write stuff down. The written word can put to rest many imagined demons. Identify things that concern you in the world and make incremental efforts to remedy them. At all costs, try to cultivate a sense of humour. See things through that courageous heart of yours. Be merciful to yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be kind.

With certain forms of fan and star exchanges it is recognized that the productive spaces offered for identity negotiation have empowering consequences, offering those on the cultural periphery a safe space to grow in. For example, Lady GaGa’s Little Monsters write about how her open commitment to the LGBTQ communities inspires them. In The Red Hand Letters we see a similar commitment to identity equality: the message to Barbara here is to recognize that the mirror she looks through is not full or clear and that she possesses a special kind of wonderfulness. The suggestion that she keep a journal completes the intimate circle: in the same way these letters conjure up paper and pen, Cave is asking her to write things down, to return to an epistolary age. Finally, of course, he asks her to be kind, to herself, and to the world. This is one of the dominant themes of The Red Hand Files: a call to be kind, to act out of love. As Cave writes in response to the question, What is love for you? (Issue #103, July 2020): Love has something to do with the notion of being seen – the opposite of invisibility. The invisible, the unwitnessed, the unacknowledged, the isolated, the lonely – these are the unloved. Loving attention illuminates the unseen, escorting them from the frontiers of lovelessness into the observed world. To truly see someone – anyone – is an act that acknowledges

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and forgives our common and imperfect humanity. Love enacts a kind of vigilant perception – whether it is to a partner, a child, a co-worker, a neighbour, a fellow citizen, or any other person one may encounter in this life. Love says softly – I see you. I recognise you. You are human, as am I.

However, love itself can be considered to be cruel, particularly when set within capitalism which offers one the promise of forever but constantly weakens the chains of connection. Cruel optimism is ‘when you’re attached to objects or object worlds or forms of life that fundamentally get in the way of the attachment you brought to them, and of the optimism you brought to them’.31 The love that Cave prophesizes seems to be of this cruel kind, or rather he sees cruelty as the very mechanism through which all love has to flow from. His love is lonely.

Conclusion When asked why he wanted to talk to his fans and what he hoped to achieve by writing The Red Hand Files (Issue #19, January 2019), Cave responded, When I started the Files I had a small idea that people were in need of more thoughtful discourse. I felt a similar need. I felt that social media was by its nature undermining both nuance and connectivity. I thought that, for my fans at least, The Red Hand Files could go some way to remedy that.

He makes a similar point in Issue #97 (May 2020), where he writes, The questions that come in, so often naked and damaged and honest, offer me a form of salvation. I am the only one who accesses these questions, as I enter a sequestered world of mutual need. I read the questions each day, maybe fifty or so, sometimes more. It is like reading weird, brutal subterranean poetry, and like poetry they need to be read closely and with care. This exercize [sic] has become an essential part of my daily work.

One can see that in these responses a double consciousness again emerges: the letters are for fans cut adrift in an accelerated, cruel world; and they are 31 Interview with Lauren Berlant, 2019. See: [accessed 15 June 2022].

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for Cave, to find spiritual meaning and solace. For Cave, the world has been desacralized and he seeks to re-enchant it through his letters: he wants to let religion and mysticism back into the world. For fans, Cave is a star idol and prophet: his double consciousness increases the intimacies found in the letters. These letters of love, drawn from his scarred romantic heart. A heart like mine. I gravitate to these letters with great excitement: I imagine that I am opening an envelope as I click open the email. Even though I read them through a phone or computer interface, I run my fingers down the letter’s edges, touching the paper’s watermarked impressions. The letter’s double consciousness speaks to me: their messy sense of the world fits with my worldview, as do the flights of imagination they seek to name and set free. Cave’s alternative spiritualism provides me with that level of mysticism that has always caressed my tissues and awoken my bones. When reading the letters, I feel like I am part of an extraordinary, awesome community, one on the edge of mainstream culture, washed in Cave’s prophesizing about the dual nature of love and suffering, and so, so romantically so. And yet, I also feel guilty about these confessional pleasures: my head tells me that without structural changes to the world, then the coffins of loneliness will keep on multiplying. The Red Hand Files fill me up but the unmoored wonder they leave me with is also truly terrifying.

Bibliography Balstrup, Sarah K., ‘Religion, Creative Practice and Aestheticization in Nick Cave’s “The Red Hand Files”’, Religions, 11.6 (2020), 304. Barton, David and Nigel Hall, eds., Letter Writing as a Social Practice, Studies in Written Language and Literacy 9 (Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2000) Bazerman, Charles, ‘Letters and the Social Grounding of Differentiated Genres’, in Letter Writing as a Social Practice, ed. by David Barton and Nigel Hall (Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2000), pp. 15–30 Bennett, Jane, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001) Cacioppo, John T. and Stephanie Cacioppo, ‘The Growing Problem of Loneliness’, The Lancet, 391.10119 (2018), 426 Cave, Nick, ‘The Flesh Made Word’, in The Secret Life of the Love Song and The Flesh Made Word: Two Lectures by Nick Cave (London: Mute Records, 2000) Christ, Carol T., Alfred David, Stephen Greenblatt, and B.K. Lewalski, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 2 (New York: Norton, 2006), pp. 1–17

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Cunningham, Russell, ‘Nick Cave Is Showing Us a New, Gentler Way to Use the Internet’, The Guardian, 27 November 2018, [accessed 30 December 2020] Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. 1, trans. by Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990) Gellner, Ernest, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992) Habermas, Jurgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. by Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989) Hearn, Alison and Stephanie Schoenhoff, ‘From Celebrity to Influencer: Tracing the Diffusion of Celebrity Value across the Data Stream’, in A Companion to Celebrity, ed. by P. David Marshall and Sean Redmond (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2015), pp. 194–212 Hellekson, Karen, ‘A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture’, Cinema Journal, 48 (2009), 113–18 Hermes, Joke, Reading Women’s Magazines: An Analysis of Everyday Media Use (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995) Lewis, Lisa A., The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media (London: Routledge, 2002) Macdonald, Myra, Exploring Media Discourse (London: Arnold, 2003) McCredden, Lyn, ‘Fleshed Sacred: The Carnal Theologies of Nick Cave’, in Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave, ed. Karen Welberry and Tanya Dalziel (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 167–86 Meyers, Erin, ‘“Can You Handle My Truth?”: Authenticity and the Celebrity Star Image’, The Journal of Popular Culture, 42 (2009), 890–907 Mills, Sarah, Discourse (London: Routledge, 1997) Orgeron, Marsha, ‘Making “It” in Hollywood: Clara Bow, Fandom, and Consumer Culture’, Cinema Journal, 42.4 (2003), 76–97 Orgeron, Marsha, ‘“You Are Invited to Participate”: Interactive Fandom in the Age of the Movie Magazine’,  Journal of Film and Video, 61.3 (2009), 3–23 Redmond, Sean, ‘Pieces of Me: Celebrity Confessional Carnality’, Social Semiotics, 18 (2008), 149–61 Rojek, Chris, Celebrity (London: Reaktion Press, 2004) Sconce, Jeffrey, ‘“Trashing” the Academy: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style’, Screen, 36.4 (1995), 371–93 Taylor, Chloë, The Culture of Confession from Augustine to Foucault: A Genealogy of the ‘Confessing Animal’ (London: Routledge, 2010) Webb, Peter, ‘“Infected by the Seed of Post-Industrial Punk Bohemia”: Nick Cave and the Milieu of the 1980s Underground’, Popular Music History, 3.2 (2009), 103–22

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About the Author Sean Redmond is Professor of Film and Television at Deakin University. He is the author of Celebrity (Routledge, 2019), Liquid Space: Science Fiction Film and Television in the Digital Age (I.B. Taurus, 2017), and The Cinema of Takeshi Kitano: Flowering Blood (Columbia, 2013). He is the founding editor of Celebrity Studies, short-listed for best new academic journal in 2011.

6. Video Authenticity and Epistolary SelfExpression in Letter to America (Kira Muratova, 1999) David G. Molina

Abstract This chapter presents a brief overview of Kira Muratova’s cinematic approach to epistolary communication from 1967 to 1999, focusing in particular on how letters serve as the ground for a wider inquiry into issues of self-presentation, performativity, and authenticity. This contextualization prepares the ground for an analysis of the director’s foray into the video letter in her 1999 short Letter to America. Below, I argue that Letter to America’s greatest contribution to Muratova’s exploration of epistolary forms is its capacity to align a worry about the letter as self-performance with a metafictional concern with cinematic truth. Keywords: Kira Muratova; Letter to America; video authenticity; video letter; cinematic epistolarity

In the opening to his article ‘History, Power, and Incomplete Epistolarity in Post-Soviet Cinema’,1 scholar Seth Graham claims that one of the fundamental features of epistolarity as presented in the cinema of the Soviet and post-Soviet spaces is the absence of an obligatory reciprocity between letter-writer and letter-recipient. If, traditionally, the epistolary exchange between self and other is sustained by the subsequent alternation of first- and second-person positions among interlocutors, in Soviet and post-Soviet cinema, Graham argues, this precondition is problematized, 1 Seth Graham, ‘History, Power and Incomplete Epistolarity in Post-Soviet Cinema’, Área Abierta, 19.3 (2019), 383–99, [accessed 15 June 2022].

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch06

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challenged, and even rejected. Such films, he claims, not only feature letters that do not fit within orthodox descriptions of the medium – ‘open letters, forged letters, letters to dead or unreal addressees’2 etc. – but also have their ontological status modified through the interference of specifically cinematic techniques. To film a letter is to make decisions about how to present it, to alter it, and hence to shape both its contents and the projected self-image of the parties involved. While Graham’s thesis was almost certainly not designed with the cinema of Kira Muratova specifically in mind – prominent in his discussion are analyses of Kalatozov’s Letter Never Sent (1960) as well as post-Soviet works from outside the Russian Federation and Ukraine – her work supports his account. Muratova’s cinema features not only a plethora of epistolary forms presented in various formats – read out loud, dictated, shown on screen – but her work also importantly questions the primacy of the connection between the letter and the written word. In Muratova’s cinema, traditional letters are indeed copied, intercepted, destroyed, and left behind, but they are also expanded and reinvigorated by infusions from adjacent media (e.g. radio, video, and cinema itself) and other modes of discourse, such as the language of fictional literature and speechwriting. Two medial hybrids call particular attention in her work: the ‘audio letter’, in which instead of being written a letter is dictated onto a recording apparatus and delivered to its recipient, and the ‘video letter’, a homemade film produced as a response to a traditional letter from an absent loved one. What nearly every exploration of the epistolary mode has in common, in Muratova’s cinema, is a deep concern with human self-presentation, that is, with the element of performativity characteristic of even the most private of epistolary exchanges. In Muratova’s cinema, authentic self-expression is rarely found in a straightforwardly naturalistic manifestation of one’s thoughts or ideas; in her films human beings are often mistaken about the ownership of their sincerity. Societal expectations, genre conventions, and even everyday social niceties can so impinge upon our avowed intentions, goals, and aspirations that, when we write a letter to one another in Muratova’s cinema, we never truly say what we mean. In what follows, I offer a brief overview of Muratova’s cinematic approach to epistolary communication from 1967 to 1999, focusing in particular on how letters serve as the ground for a wider inquiry into issues of selfpresentation, performativity, and authenticity. This contextualization prepares the groundwork for analysis of the director’s clearest exploration 2

Graham, p. 384.

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of the epistolary theme: her foray into the video letter in her 1999 short Letter to America. As I argue below, Letter to America’s greatest contribution to Muratova’s exploration of epistolary forms is its ability to align a worry about the letter as self-performance with a metafictional concern with cinematic truth. Could it be that the authenticity of a filmic letter is undermined by discursive sincerity and documentary precision? Could it be that a video letter, if it is to convey its author’s inner world to its designated other, must resort to an artfulness of a kind that might challenge purely photographic accounts of cinematic realism? Before we turn to such questions, we begin with some context.

Muratova’s Letters: Before Letter to America (1999) In Brief Encounters (1967), Muratova’s first solo directed film, the epistolary form surfaces in a letter sent by Maksim (Vladimir Vysotsky) to his wife Valentina Ivanovna (played by Muratova herself). The message, however, is not delivered in traditional pen and paper format, but as a voice recording, not unlike the WhatsApp audio memos that have become widely popular in our twenty-first century. For her birthday, Maksim mails Valentina a new magnetophone with a prerecorded message: an audio letter. One of the effects of Maksim’s voice recording is to blur traditional boundaries between epistolarity and other forms of verbal communication, most notably between the intimacy of the letter and the officiality of Soviet radio addresses. The performativity of Maksim’s message is highly deliberate and renders his letter not an expression of inner intent communicated in private to some particular other, but something more akin to what philosopher Harry Frankfurt, relying on the work of Max Black, has called the logic of ‘humbug’: ‘misrepresentation short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody’s thoughts, feelings or attitudes’.3 Maksim’s letter begins as follows: ‘Madame, accept my felicitations and my best wishes and also […] what else should I say, people are coming […] Madame, accept my felicitations, and also this magnetophone and my assurance that between the 22nd and the 25th, I will have the great pleasure of giving you my felicitations personally’. The pomposity and officiality of the language, of course, are as sonorous in the Russian original as they appear in translation. In this initial section of the address, Maksim – likely uncomfortable with the idea of recording his own voice and hesitant to 3

Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), p. 6.

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reach out to Valentina through this particular medium (their previous meeting, it is worth remarking, ended in a quarrel that virtually brought their relationship to a close) – appeals to a familiar genre, to the formality of Soviet radio communication in an effort to mask his own trepidation. The effect is indeed humorous – Maksim seems to find something comical and self-important about imposing his own recorded voice onto another person in this way – but the emotional effect of the letter is mixed: Maksim’s playful tone fails to assuage Valentina’s reservations about their upcoming rendezvous. He does not apologize, or say he loves her, or engage in any of the motions that might traditionally signal that he is serious about continuing their relationship; instead, he hides intent through humour and gives her a range of dates within which she can expect to see him again, a detail that only underscores the emotionally evasive and uncertain character of the exchange. It is only after exhausting the off icial register – which parallels the inauthenticity of Valentina’s own attempts at speechwriting throughout the work (‘Dear comrades, dear comrades’ she famously repeats in the opening lines of the film) – that Maksim becomes himself, but even so, avoids any talk of love: ‘Can you believe it, there is personal delivery in this town! I send you my best wishes, Valya. Valya, I send you my best wishes. Valya, it is me, Maksim. Ok, ok. Enough’. The puzzling detail here is Maksim’s need to remind Valentina that it is he who is speaking. From a scriptwriter’s point of view, the detail is perhaps necessary because Valentina is not the only one hearing the message: her house-servant, Nadia, is also in the room during the magnetophone delivery, and she, we know, has had an affair with a man named Maksim whom she suspects is Valentina’s husband. Nadia’s suspicions are not confirmed until this very moment, when she hears the familiar voice and name. The textual detail might be included, thus, to guarantee the letter’s effect on its unintended audience, namely, to ensure that Nadia does not fail to understand that she is working for the wife of her former lover. From Maksim’s own point of view, however, the identity statement may be a reaction to a sense of estrangement produced by the phonographic medium itself: realizing that he is failing to communicate candidly with his wife, Maksim resorts to a tautological assertion of his own identity as a mark of authentic self-presentation: ‘Valya, it is me, Maksim’. In Muratova’s next major feature, Long Farewells (1971), the letter form plays a central role in the plot, enabling further exploration of the boundaries of authentic self-presentation in epistolary forms. Evgenia Vasilievna (Zinaida Sharko) is a somewhat domineering mother who fears that her son Sasha is going to leave the house for her ex-husband, an archaeologist

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who lives and works in a different city. In an effort to make plans with his father, Sasha has sent him letters and scheduled a phone call, both of which Evgenia Vasilievna will attempt to intercept/overhear in the hopes of discovering his plans. Evgenia, in fact, goes so far as to visit the post office and demand that a friend of hers grant her access to a package meant for her son. The friend naturally hesitates, but ultimately succumbs to Evgenia’s desperate plight, allowing the mother to gaze intrusively into private communication between father and son. Part of the odd dynamic of the Evgenia-Sasha relationship in Long Farewells is that the boy has, on some level, become a surrogate husband for Evgenia Vasilievna. Muratova emphasizes the Freudian dimension of their interactions in a few crucial details, most notably in the tension that ensues when the mother asks her son to zip up her dress; the strange reconciliation scene that concludes the film, in which the son begs for his mother’s forgiveness by kneeling before her in a mock marriage proposal; and the fact that, out of excess concern for Sasha, Evgenia actively sabotages a date with a potential suitor. As she opens the intercepted package, Evgenia encounters, f irst, a photograph of her son and husband, and second, a letter that reads: ‘Dear Sasha! My son! I still don’t understand why I have to write in the mail. I don’t think your mother reads your letters and we have nothing to hide. So you’ve decided? What does your mother say? We are finishing work in the expedition …’. Here, the message communicates a patent misreading of the mother by the father: he seems certain that Evgenia would not read Sasha’s mail even as she is doing exactly that. The letter, too, serves to reinforce Sasha’s care to hide his plans from the mother. He has rightly concluded that his mother will stop at nothing to ensure he does not leave her. Despite the clear violation of the son’s privacy, however, the film invites us to ask whether Evgenia Vasilievna would act any differently had Sasha been open with her about his intentions. Could her extreme reaction not be in part a response to the son’s secrecy, which she finds unjustified or unfair? All of this is problematized by the intercepted letter, which stands as evidence of the mother’s psychological encroachment onto her child’s inner world. Shortly after this scene, Evgenia Vasilievna attempts to write a response telegram to her ex-husband. ‘Leave us alone’ is how she begins, but instantly throws away the draft. She tries again with ‘I ask you …’ and then issues a third attempt: ‘If you don’t …’ The first and third versions are obvious threats, both of which imply misplaced blame for the child’s desertion. Although it is clear from the father’s letter that he is merely responding to an initial missive by the son, Evgenia, suppressing the thought of being left behind by Sasha, chooses to place the responsibility on the distant father. Interestingly,

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the aborted telegram scene is rapidly usurped by a musical number played on the guitar by a group of teenage boys: they sing ‘In a White Dress with a Belt’ by Mihai Vasilievich Dolgan. The piece, a celebration of young love, mysteriously prevents Evgenia from going through with her message. A likely reason is that the song sparks in the mother a resurgence of loving memories of her ex-husband. The lost love motif, in fact, is multiply reinforced by the piece’s catchy refrain: ‘Was love in vain? Did the moon float away in vain? Did I meet you in vain? No, it is impossible to forget everything’. 4 Simply put, if Sasha’s desertion replicates Evgenia’s abandonment by the father – a clear trauma – the music sparks a set of reminiscences that prevent her, in the very last moment, from unfairly collapsing husband and son. In her current predicament she realizes that her ex-husband is not at fault. Long Farewells includes one final variation on the epistolary theme: a dictated letter. After the song drowns Evgenia’s impulse to write, she – still dazed by her discovery of the son’s plot – is asked by a complete stranger to write a telegram on his behalf. The message produced is wonderfully ingenious, for it is addressed simultaneously to two very different sources: the letter writer, Evgenia herself, and the avowed recipients of the message, the man’s children. On the one hand, the man signals an extraordinary level of trust and openness with Evgenia as he allows her to listen to his private thoughts, thoughts meant for his family’s eyes only. On the other hand, however, he spends time in the message itself assuring his addressees that the letter is indeed from him, to explain the unknown handwriting, and to compliment Evgenia Vasilievna for taking the time to help him. In this sense, the letter produced is conscious of its being overheard; Evgenia’s presence changes the very content and form of the missive as it is dictated by the man. This letter, then, is a perfect foil to the intercepted letter from the father: if, in the latter, epistolarity is a vehicle for conspiracy, a mode of private communication aimed at hiding intent from the mother, here the man willingly renounces his privacy before Evgenia Vasilievna, giving her permission to participate in and alter how he presents himself before his own family. Getting to Know the Big, Wide World (1978) contains the most formidable written letter in all of Muratova’s work. As sceptical about the artificiality of speech as Brief Encounters, Muratova’s third feature presents a view of epistolarity as the refuge of intimacy among lovers. After much build-up of romantic tension, Misha and Liuba (Sergei Popov and Nina Ruslanova) 4 Mihai Vasilievich Dolgan, ‘In a White Dress with a Belt’ (‘V belom plat’e s poiaskom’), in Long Farewells (Kira Muratova, 1971).

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are at last able to spend time with one another away from the prying eyes of Liuba’s jealous boyfriend, Nikolai (Aleksei Zharkov). As their feelings for one another begin to unravel – with all the accompanying moral strains involved – the date is interrupted when they happen upon a broken car in the road. Its owner, an unnamed stranger played by the great Liudmila Gurchenko, asks for Misha’s help to fix it. As he works on the car, Gurchenko slowly walks away from the couple and, appearing to enter a world of her own, begins to read a letter to herself. Once the car is fixed she drops the letter on the ground, claiming to no longer need it, and drives away into the night. Liuba then picks it up and, returning to Misha’s truck where the date had begun, reads it out loud to him. Muratova plays here with what Janet Gurkin Altman has called the temporal polyvalence of the epistolary form.5 The stranger’s letter, of course, is written in a particular time and place for a particular audience – most likely for the stranger herself – but its contents acquire a different meaning when injected into the budding Liuba–Misha relationship. Misha, for one, responds particularly strongly to Liuba’s voice, which he compares to a rivulet. The letter reads: Inestimable friend of mine, I want to speak to you of something completely different this time. You are the only one who will understand me. You so miraculously encapsulate every contradiction that I can be open with you partly because you are far. Love is a very simple, mysterious feeling. It has no boundaries precisely because of its boundedness. Attention releases a whole world from a single point. Love gives the mortal the illusion of immortality. Inestimable friend of mine: why, why love exactly one person over another? One person is bad, another is good, but why love precisely this one? […] Love is a trait of the soul, a condition of the soul, unrelated to one’s object, disproportionate to the object that brings it to light. Love is a mountain that surges in a plane, and when it disappears, what is left is an enormous, gaping hole. Why? Inestimable friend of mine, why?

This powerful discourse on the nature of love and its contradictions, meant for one individual’s eyes only, is here co-opted by another, Liuba (short for Liubov, meaning ‘love’ in Russian), and plays a crucial role in defining the couple’s feelings for one another. This appropriation of the epistolary missive alters its primary message: if, in the stranger’s context, the quoted 5 Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982), p. 118.

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passage might be read as the introduction to a valedictory letter, a final farewell to a dear lover, for the young couple it represents a new beginning and serves to embolden the pair to resolve the tensions that stand in the way of their happiness. Excepting Letter to America, Change of Fate (1987) – based on the short story ‘The Letter’ by William Somerset Maugham – is Muratova’s most overt exploration of the epistolary genre. As Maugham’s title already suggests, the story’s entire plot centres on the recovery of a crucial letter that, if used as evidence in a criminal case, might serve to resolve it. Set in a deliberately undefined Central Asian republic, Change of Fate narrates the story of Maria (Natalia Leblé), a woman charged with killing Aleksandr, an acquaintance, in self-defence after he supposedly attacks her in her residence in the absence of her husband, Philipp (Vladimir Karasev). As the investigation unravels, however, a letter is discovered on Aleksandr’s body that suggests that Maria had, in fact, summoned Aleksandr to her house on the day of the crime, leaving her open to charges of infidelity and to changes in the juridical assessment of the crime. Maria’s lawyer (Yuri Shlykov) is given a handwritten copy of the letter and, in order to retrieve the original from its current possessors, he and Philipp, accompanied by a local guide, must travel away from the urban centre into the heartlands of the republic. Once the document is at last found, Philipp, recognizing his wife’s handwriting, is faced with a moral dilemma: he can either destroy it, saving his wife from punishment, or give the letter to the prosecution in an effort to castigate his wife for her now undeniable infidelity. Philipp’s reading of the letter is the moment of anagnorisis in the tragic arc of this story: he must act as his wife’s judge at the precise moment in which he feels the greatest shame for being deceived. Change of Fate thus revolves around epistolary exchange: the letter not only reveals Maria’s manipulation of those around her – lawyer, husband, and court – but also forces upon a cheated husband the need to issue a life-changing verdict. To summarize, then: if in Brief Encounters, Muratova engages explicitly with the question of epistolary performativity in Maksim’s use of radio clichés to avoid authentic self-expression, in Long Farewells, letters are linked to the dyad privacy–openness: Evgenia Vasilievna both invades her son’s inner world by intercepting his letters and is allowed a privileged view into the life of a stranger as she becomes the vehicle through which his voice is conveyed to his children. In Getting to Know the Big, Wide World and Change of Fate, the essence of letter-writing is love. If Liuba and Misha appropriate and repurpose a stranger’s love letter by reading it out loud to one another, in Change of Fate, it is Philipp’s recognition that the recovered letter is authentic

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that reveals Maria’s own attempt to deceive him. Graham’s insight thus holds true for Muratova’s Soviet oeuvre: the so-called ‘standard written letter’, with a single author and recipient, is almost nowhere to be found.

Video Authenticity in Letter to America (1999) The plot of Muratova’s Letter to America (1999) is easy enough to summarize: a struggling poet, Igor, seeks to send a letter to a former lover who has emigrated to the United States, but rather than respond the traditional way, in writing, with the help of a friend he decides to compose a video letter by speaking into a camera and visually showcasing favourite sights from his hometown. An ontological collapse between the film-within-the-film and Muratova’s own short – that is, between Igor’s letter and Letter to America – is established in the opening shot. The first thing one notices after the opening credits is Igor’s face, head down, covered in cigarette smoke. As the fumes rise over his visage, he refuses to look at the camera directly: an act of double masking. If the kinoeye in some sense ‘stands for’ his former lover, then the fact that he cannot look directly at it and deliberately covers his own face in an obstructive haze suggests a desire for concealment. Noticing Igor’s hesitation, the cameraman urges his friend in voiceover: ‘Come on, speak. A man I know leaves for New York tomorrow. I must give him the cassette today’. Raising his head slightly and looking straight on, Igor responds to the man’s appeal as if answering a formal interview or questionnaire: ‘What else do I have to say … I am not married. I do not work. I’m fine. I started to smoke again. I like it well, as I always have. So many things have happened in these seven years that I cannot remember them all’. After a quick pause, he continues: ‘In short, everything is in order for now. Life is not easy, of course, but I hope things get better soon’. Here, the acting of Sergei Chetverkov signals Igor’s self-conscious failure to express himself authentically before the camera. In advance of recording, it was Igor’s hope that his video letter be something positive, light, enjoyable for his former lover to watch, yet in the very act of filming he finds he is unable to sustain this light-heartedness. He is, in fact, afraid to allow a shade of dissatisfaction or resentment to surface in his language or demeanour. Like Maksim’s appeal to the official language of radio in Brief Encounters, Igor’s turn to the questionnaire here is a defensive act of evasion. Constrained by the genre conventions of the epistolary form he himself set out to create – a friendly and not too emotionally taxing video

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missive – Igor fails to be authentic and knows it. Utterly self-conscious of the untruth of his letter he carries on: ‘Hope is the last to die. No pasarán! If not us, then who? There is no turning back, Moscow is behind us’. By embracing cliché, the fledgling poet openly recognizes the failure of his letter to properly ‘speak’: it neither presents an idealized image of the lost home suitable to the nostalgic immigrant, nor conveys the truth of his own very mixed feelings about his lost lover. Realizing that a certain degree of directorial intervention might be necessary if the film is to come to life, the friend once again encourages Igor to speak. It is worth noting that this significantly problematizes the sense of single authorship of this epistolary document: initially playing the role of both lead star and director, Igor is now relegated to the position of an actor taking directives from someone else. The friend asks him: ‘Why did you bring me here? You said that this landscape inspires you, that you love it, that you two walked the dog together here, that she took the dog away. A real tragedy! And now that you are here, you can’t say a word!’. Igor’s response is to remain silent, a choice that – Muratova seems to suggest – should be read as a sign of Igor’s increasing awareness of his own naïveté. Igor, it seems, was certain that his feelings for both his lost love and for particular places in the city would be rendered automatically on screen in the mere act of exposing them before a camera. When this fails to happen, Igor begins to realize that expressing authenticity on camera might require something more: a sense of artifice, a more properly cinematic logic of meaning-making largely unavailable to him in a homemade tape, recorded sequentially. After a short discussion, Igor and his friend choose to bring their recording session to an end. Before going their separate ways, Igor instructs the man to walk around the city and film scenes of daily life. From these instructions, one can surmise that Igor has not yet abandoned his intention to produce a work that might induce positive feelings of nostalgia in his viewer. This, Muratova means us to see, is a form of artistic and epistolary self-deception. Igor, afraid of offending his interlocutor with a less-than-positive expression of his world on camera, does not yet want to accept what his recalcitrance before the red light has shown him: the radical dishonesty of his refusal to inconvenience his interlocutor by engaging with the pain her departure has produced in him. Formulated more schematically, in the opening of Letter to America, Igor can be thought to hold views on epistolary communication and cinematic realism that are systematically called in to question by the production of the video missive itself. If, on the one hand, the epistolary mode – in its standard, written form – is understood as transparent, as a vehicle of

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sincere self-expression in which the words on the page portray the inner world of their author with little distortion, the move from word to image renders explicit the materiality of the addressee, and in so doing, exposes the epistolary author’s concern with their image in the eyes of the other. The physical presence of the camera exposes Igor’s identification of the letter with unadulterated self-communication for what it is: an illusion. Although in appearance a lonely act, letter-writing always presupposes an addressee that looks back from the material surface of the paper at its writer. Self-expression in epistolary communication is thus not unconditional, but only possible in the heat of the other’s gaze, a kind of reflexivity that the camera’s watchful eye renders unmistakable. Igor is perhaps even more naïve in his view of cinematic realism. In Letter to America, Igor can be thought to move from believing in an extreme version of Bazin’s photographic realism6 – one in which the filmic apparatus is capable of capturing not only the truth of the physical world as it appears off screen, but also the subjective attitudes to that world held by first- and second-person subjects – to believing that, in order to render his own subjective experience of the world on camera, he must do more than simply press record. Showcasing images of himself or the city around him – without music or voiceover or montage or any other cinematic technique – might not be enough, he concludes, to produce the feelings of nostalgia he hopes his lost love will experience in watching the film. The middle section of Letter to America is relevant to the epistolary theme only insofar as it sets the stage for the film’s concluding scene. Here, Igor attempts to collect rent payment from a tenant named Lena who engages in all kinds of theatrical antics (including propositioning sexual favours) to prevent Igor from leaving with money. The source text for the interaction, here, is the archetype of the self-sacrificial prostitute in the work of Dostoevsky: Lena mimics Crime and Punishment’s Sonya and uses her character as a manipulative script meant to ensure that Igor leaves the apartment empty-handed. The interaction comes to an end with Lena’s complete victory over Igor – he feels defeated and destroyed – and as he returns to the video letter, he is now troubled by added emotional pain. As the filming of the letter resumes – this time in a park – Igor once again takes others’ words as his own. This time, he cites a few lines from the Christmas carol ‘Away in a Manger’, which describes the biblical birthplace of Christ: ‘The cattle are lowing, / The Baby awakes. / But the little Lord 6 André Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Cinematic Image’, in What Is Cinema?, vol. 1, trans. by Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 9–16.

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Jesus / No crying He makes’ (‘Revut byki. Telënok mychit. Razbudili Khristamladentsa. No on molchit’).7 This text, famously, is the opening epigraph of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five,8 a text still widely popular in former Soviet territories today. The allusion serves to inject important thematic strands from Vonnegut’s text into the universe of Letter to America. Most important among them, perhaps, is the narrative problem at the heart of the novel, namely, Vonnegut’s view that standard narrative techniques – multi-layered plots carefully designed with colourful crayons – fail when faced with the task of authentically describing the bombing of Dresden. The truth of Vonnegut’s own Second World War experience, in fact, only surfaces when a fictional character, Billy Pilgrim, becomes ‘unstuck in time’9 – that is, capable of travelling instantly between present, future, and past – in virtue of his abduction by aliens from Tralfamadore. It is the Tralfamadorian notion of time, in which the trajectory of human life is seen holistically, from a dimension that stands outside of it, that enables the instability of the war experience and its enduring effects to be written down. The problem of authenticity in the war story, thus, is for Vonnegut, paradoxically, resolved by science fiction. In Letter to America, as we have seen, the poet turned film-maker Igor is faced with a similar problem of narrative truth, but here, it surfaces in the video-epistolary genre. In his first attempt at filming a video letter, Igor tries to tell the story of a man left behind by his migrant lover and fails due to a refusal to challenge his interlocutor. In this second attempt, the friend encourages a different solution, more akin to Vonnegut’s own: to perform before the camera. Somewhat comically, he offers three suggestions: an acrobatic number, a magic trick, or a poetry recitation. At the word ‘poetry’, Igor instantly lights up: ‘Recite some poetry’. ‘Which one?’ ‘One of yours! Don’t you have a poem called “Message to the Traveller” or “Message to the Pilgrim”?’. The writers’ deliberate use of the word ‘pilgrim’ – the last name of Vonnegut’s protagonist – marks this moment as a Vonnegutian resolution to the narrative tension presented thus far. Incapable of communicating meaningfully before the camera by simply speaking his mind, the turn to poetry – a seemingly less natural, more constrained, and hence, at least in principle, more fictive form of communication – provides the necessary artfulness and emotional truth the video letter has thus far lacked. That Igor is to recite one of his own poems, too, represents a break from the poet’s 7 Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (New York: Dial Press Trade Paperback, 1969). 8 Vonnegut. 9 Vonnegut, Chapter 2.

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approach to language in the letter up to this point. Instead of usurping the beaten language of others, through the crafted artistry of poetry he is to speak for himself for the first time in the film. The poem’s first move is to establish a dichotomy between experience ‘here’ and experience ‘there’. ‘Where were you, where were you?’ Igor asks the pilgrim, when ‘we sat here elbowing one another’, ‘drinking in silence’ and ‘spreading our songs like the plague?’. Here, the physical space that stands between the migrant and those that remain masks the suffering of the latter. The pilgrim, the poet claims, cannot hear their plight from the distance. With ‘Don’t tell us how busy you were, how you were beset by terrible nostalgia, for otherwise, we may feel some compassion for you’, the poet renders explicit the logic of love and hate at the heart of the verse: the speaker blames the pilgrim for his woes and yet cannot fail to forgive her as soon as she begins to speak. Igor is a weak speaker, afraid that if the pilgrim is not silenced rapidly enough, he will not be able to sustain a level of unqualified resentment. The qualification, in fact, comes almost immediately: ‘We joke, of course’. What follows is the poetic speaker’s account of the letters from America, sent home by the travelling pilgrim: filled with ‘parties, conversations, landscapes’ and ‘verses in Latin script’. The pilgrim has been ‘everywhere’, and yet, there is one ‘thing she has not seen’: the searing pain of those who remain, ‘the hand on an aging knee and the newspaper yellowing in the sun’. Antithesis, here, is again the leading poetic device. On the one hand are the beautiful experiences the pilgrim has written about in letters – experiences that produce a sense of pain and envy in those who remain – and on the other is what the ‘sights’ paradoxically hide from the wanderer’s view, namely, the stifling boredom of one’s hometown. The poet, in fact, curses the pilgrim’s vision only a few lines later (‘cursed be your groves, your lakes, and your slopes and everything your squinting eyes have seen or will see’), but paradoxically, does not wish to alter the status quo: ‘It is best to leave things as they are. Ours is a sweet boredom’. The poem comes to an end with a gesture of violence that represents a complete abandonment of the civility that so smothered Igor’s initial foray into video epistolarity: ‘If you return, we will choke you with the sash of your travel bag’. As if this were not enough, at this point, Igor’s friend approaches the camera and spits on it, flooding the kinoeye with his own bitterness. This is the end of the film-within-the-film and the satisfaction of Igor’s search for authenticity in the video-epistolary form. The letter is only capable of encapsulating the painful experience of those left behind by migrants – their pain, boredom, resentment, envy – once it abandons ordinary speech

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and embraces that most crafted of all modes of communication: poetry. Poetry is about as far as possible from ordinary speech, and yet, it is only its artifice that renders Igor’s letter true. Like Vonnegut’s Tralfamadore, Letter to America severs any automatic ties between realism and authenticity; on the contrary, it highlights Muratova’s own view of cinematic truth, one in which poetic techniques deemed eccentric, surrealistic, or even absurd are, perhaps paradoxically, metamorphosed into a form of hyper-realism better suited to render human experience on screen. In transposing or translating the letter from text to cinema, Letter to America brings into relief not only the performative self-consciousness at the heart of the epistolary form itself – making present, in the reification of the addressee in the body of the camera, the often-elided logic of being seen that underlies any act of letter-writing – but explores an alternate cinematic realism, one in which it is not photography, but the artifices of cinematic poetry (e.g. montage, repetitive dialogue, visual ornamentalism – all perennial features of Muratova’s art) that constitute a path to truth.

Bibliography Altman, Janet Gurkin, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982) Bazin, André, ‘The Ontology of the Cinematic Image’, in What Is Cinema?, vol. 1, trans. by Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 9–16 Frankfurt, Harry, On Bullshit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005) Graham, Seth. ‘History, Power and Incomplete Epistolarity in Post-Soviet Cinema’, Área Abierta, 19.3 (2019), 383–99, [accessed 15 June 2022] Vonnegut, Kurt, Slaughterhouse-Five (New York: Dial Press Trade Paperback, 1969)

About the Author David G. Molina holds a joint PhD in Social Thought and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on Russian and Soviet cinema, productive parallels between philosophy and the arts, and the theory and practice of literary translation. Molina’s translation of Andrei Bely’s Petersburg (1913) to his native Brazilian Portuguese is forthcoming through São Paulo’s Editora 34.

7. Epistolary Affect and Romance Scams: Letter from an Unknown Woman HITO STEYERL

Abstract This chapter explores the power of the epistolary mode as a ‘ready-made language’ that lends itself to the production of romance and intimacy by email scammers. It draws connections between romance scams and melodramatic tradition suggesting that the former is a kind of contemporary, digital version of the classical genre that is infused with personal and political tragedy. The chapter closes with an exploration into the complex production of romance scams; how individuals and organized work units perform the role of a romantic, epistolary partner. Keywords: romance; scams; email; melodrama; language; Letter from an Unknown Woman

Her name was Esperanza. A thirty-five-year-old Puerto Rican woman running a construction business and nurturing a great passion for humanitarian ventures. Sadly, her husband had died two years ago. She sent pictures of herself and her little daughter via the online dating platform Match.com in Feb. 2007.1 At first, Fred responded casually to her letters. But then, he suddenly found himself falling in love with her. A few months later, he told his family that he was going to leave his wife and their children to live with Esperanza. When his mother asked him if he had ever met her, his answer was no. He’d meet her, in time. By now they were calling each other and chatting. She had cancelled their first meeting at the 1

This is a fictional example. Any similarity to actual persons or events is unintended.

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch07

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last minute. He had waited at the airport, flowers in hand, trembling more with fear than anticipation. Looking back, he couldn’t understand how he could not have known. She wouldn’t turn on her webcam while chatting. One technical problem followed another; communication was ruptured by unannounced sudden meetings. But on the other hand she never asked for money either. Until the day she died. An official called him from the U.S. embassy in Denmark, where she had travelled on business. She had accidentally been killed in a random shootout between rival gangs. It was the worst day in Fred’s life. He transferred money to repatriate her body. He was numb with shock. Nothing mattered. None of the multiple problems that arose in the process mattered. He decided that he wouldn’t go see her. He couldn’t face the idea that their first date would be after her death. The end of the story was sudden. His friend did research online. No American citizen had been killed in Denmark lately. There had been no shooting. Esperanza had never existed. She was the creature of a group of scammers. http://www.romancescam.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=19587&​start​ =​15-p95537 by dxxx on Fri Jun 05, 2009 12:02 pm CXX I hope you realize there is no doubt that this is a scammer. As soon as he sent you a Photoshopped stock photo, it was confirmed beyond a doubt. I will treat it as if you are dealing with a female, but many of these elements may be handled by a male. Although certain elements are always the same with scammers (after all, the ultimate goal is the same – to get your money), there is a variety in other elements. Most scammers we see go for volume and speed – they get their fake profiles out there, approach as many people as possible, and move to the money stage with all of them quickly. This approach is going to lose more people quickly, but since they are (or at least want to be) targeting lots of people at once, they are still making money, even if it is only a couple hundred dollars per victim. Other scammers opt for a more organized, long-term approach. These are the more skilled scammers, and in my opinion the most dangerous. They will spend lots of time on a particular victim. […] These ‘better’ scammers are much more aware of IP-address issues, and are more likely to admit to their location or hide behind a proxy to ensure that they do not lose their victim to that simple mistake. If you watch closely, they do make mistakes – but they are generally much harder to spot. […] Sending

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a picture without wiping out the EXIF data that shows it is from 2002 was a much more subtle mistake, and the majority of victims would not catch it. […] http://www.romancescam.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=19587&sid=​ 17266b953 7f5462100007720a196b4c0 – p95509 by dxxx on Fri Jun 05, 2009 4:57 am […] # xmlns:tiff = ‘http://ns.adobe.com/tiff/1.0/’ # xmlns:exif = ‘http://ns.adobe.com/exif/1.0/’ # xap:CreateDate = ‘2002-05-07T11:00:16+05:30’ # xap:ModifyDate = ‘2002-05-07T11:00:16+05:30’ # xap:MetadataDate = ‘2002-05-07T11:00:16+05:30’ See something odd there?

Epistolary Affect On a recent trip to Bangalore, I found myself saying something I didn’t fully understand. During a public discussion, Lata Mani, the respected feminist scholar, had asked me about the sensorial, the affective impact of the digital. I answered that the strongest affective address happened on a very unexpected and even old-fashioned level: in the epistolary mode. As a brush with words divorced from actual bodies. Digital writing – by email or chat – presents a contemporary complication of historical practices of writing. Jacques Derrida has patiently described the conundrum of script: its connection to absence2 and delay.3 In this case, the delay is minimized, but the absence stays put. The combination of (almost) real-time communication and physical absence creates something one could call ‘absense’, so to speak. The sensual aspect of an absence, which presences itself in (almost) real time. A live and lively absence, to which the lack of a physical body is not an unfortunate coincidence, but necessary. Its proxy is compressed as message body, translated into rhythm, flow, sounds, and the temporality of both interruption and availability. None of 2 3

Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 47. Derrida, p. 67.

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this is ‘virtual’ or ‘simulated’. The absence is real, just as is the communication based on it. http://www.romancescam.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=8784&​ start=150 Re: scammers with pictures of Mxxxx QT By axxxxxxs on Wed Jan 26, 2011 8:05 am This is a private IP address and cannot be traced.Hostname: 10.227.179.xxx dont see any problem in meeting, i do believe in meeting and seeing is believing, i can change my flight to you if you wish to meet, i dont see any problem changing my flight to you, tell me how you think we can meet, meeting and seeing is believing to me and id otn care of age and location, what is the name of your closest airport, i can call the airline now to ask for flight changing possibility This is a private IP address and cannot be traced. Im cool baby, how are you doing today? Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device Do you still want to meet up with me baby? I dont have msn do you want to meet me baby? Whats the name of your airport baby? Give me like 1hour baby Baby, do you live alone? Tell me about your travelling experiences baby Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device […] Im at the airline getting the ticket done Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device Honey, im done with the ticklet and i’ll email you in like 1hour with the scan copy of the ticket baby Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device sending it nwo now baby Honey

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Digital Melodrama In 1588, a scam with the romantic title ‘Spanish Prisoner’ was launched for the f irst time. The scammer approached the victim to tell him he was in touch with a Spanish aristocrat who needed a lot of money to buy his freedom from jail. Whoever helped him would get rich recompense, including marrying his daughter. After a f irst instalment was paid, new diff iculties kept emerging until the victim ended up broke and impoverished. In the digital era, this plot has been updated to resonate with contemporary wars and upheaval. Countless 419 scams – the number refers to the applicable penal-code number in Nigerian law – rewrite daily catastrophe as entrepreneurial plotline. Shock capitalism and its consequences – wars over raw materials or privatization – are recast as interactive romance or adventure novels. You too may have received a letter from an unknown woman – as Max Ophüls’s 1948 classical melodrama title had it. In Ophüls’s film, a Viennese girl posthumously confesses her unrequited love in a letter. It recounts every detail of her relentless passion for a concert pianist who barely noticed her existence. In the contemporary digital version, letters from unknown women emerge from all over the globe, afflicted by tragedies personal and political. A cacophony of post-postcolonial tragedies, diluted with generous servings of telenovela. Widows and orphans get swept up by financialized hypercapitalism, natural disaster, and assorted crimes against humanity – and it’s you who are destined to sort out their fates. 4 4 Scientif ic research of online scams has until now been almost exclusively focused on the case of Nigeria (in truth, it seems somewhat disproportionately represented in current research, given the very diverse geographical origin of romance scams). The most extensive and insightful study is Andrew Apter, ‘IBB=419: Nigerian Democracy and the Politics of Illusion’, in Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa, ed. by John Comaroff and Jean Comaroff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 267–307 (p. 270). A case study of several 419 scams is performed in Harvey Glickman, ‘The Nigerian “419” Advance Fee Scams: Prank or Peril?’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 39.3 (2005), 460–89. See also Daniel Jordan Smith, ‘Ritual Killing, 419, and Fast Wealth: Inequality and the Popular Imagination in Southeastern Nigeria’, American Ethnologist, 28.4 (November 2001), 803–26; and Daniel Künzler, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Global Capitalism and Fraud in Nigeria’, paper presented at the Interim Conference of Research Committee 2 of the International Sociological Association, World Social Forum, Nairobi, 22 January 2007, [accessed 3 June 2011].

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Table 7.1 – Source: http://.caslon.com.au/419scamnote.htm

Basis air crash car accident tsunami/ earthquake coup over-invoiced undisclosed Sender lawyer widow child bank officer

% 35 13 3 22 16 11 % 35 31 10 24

Source: http://www.caslon.com. au/419scamnote.htm

Romance scams offer windfalls of love and opportunity, casually asking for bank account numbers and passport copies. Flight schedules are mixed with instructions for transfer of funds and serially sampled professions of love. Modules of sensation are copy-pasted, recycled, ripped. But despite their obvious mass production, these are ‘the only form(s) of tragedy available to us’, as Thomas Elsaesser said about the melodrama.5 They drop into mailboxes unsolicited, and suddenly expose themselves to the open.

Tragedy as Ready-Made The genre of melodrama departs from impossibility, delay, submission. It addresses the domestic, feminized sphere. The so-called weepie was a genre that was underrecognized and safely kept apart from cinema-as-art for decades. It was suspected to perpetuate oppression as well as female compliance. Yet the melodrama also voiced perspectives that were repressed and forbidden, views that couldn’t be expressed anywhere else and remained deprecated, shameful, and dismissed. Over-the-top exaggeration and exoticization opened possibilities to imagine something different from the drab repetitiveness of reproductive labour. Melodramas concoct implausible tales of cultural encounter, racial harmony, and happiness narrowly lost 5 Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Tears, Timing, Trauma: Film Melodrama as Cultural Memory’, in Il Melodramma, ed. by E. Dagrada (Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 2007), pp. 47–68.

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in miscommunication. They insist that the political is personal – and thus trace social histories from the point of view of sentiment.6 But their new personalized digital versions are produced differently. They are no longer just one-size-fits-all Taylorist studio-based productions, but customized products. These messages are not only posted but perhaps even post-ist. Post-isms are a symptom of a time that considers itself to be posterior and secondary, a leftover of history itself. They assume a general overcoming of everything without anything new to replace worn-out worldviews. But there is a dialectical twist to this post-dialectical condition. Post-isms conserve the issue they are distancing and claim to have overcome it. Indeed, it is impossible to def ine any of these terms – postMarxism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, etc. – without recourse to the terms they claim to have left behind. Distance is achieved despite intimate closeness, or maybe even precisely because of it. The copresence of proximity and distance is inherent to the structure of the prefix ‘post’ itself. ‘Post’ connotes a past, whose meaning is derived from spatial separation. In their earliest versions, the roots of the prefix refer to ‘behind, after, afterward’, but also ‘toward, to, near, close by’; ‘late’ but also ‘away from’.7 Both closeness 6 A seminal text on melodrama still is Thomas Elsaesser’s 1973 article, ‘Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama’, in Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film, ed. by Christine Gledhill (London: British Film Institute, 1987), pp. 43–69. 7 According to the Online Etymological Dictionary: ‘pref ix meaning “after”, from L. post “behind, after, afterward”, from *pos-ti (cf. Arcadian pos, Doric poti “toward, to, near, close by”; O.C.S. po “behind, after”, pozdu “late”; Lith. pas “at, by”), from PIE *po- (cf. Gk. apo “from”,

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and separation, absence and presence, form part of the structural aporia of this term. Romance scams are intimately related to this timescape of simultaneous presence and absence, incongruously bridged by hope and desire. They also perfectly resonate with an undecided temporality, which synchronizes both closeness and separation, past and present, and refuses to let go of worldviews it no longer believes in.

Conceptual Love This turn to the digital melodrama and epistolary affect comes somewhat unexpectedly. The world of digital feelings had been imagined more robustly before. None of the rather crude initial ideas about cybersex and the merging of the physical and digital worlds has held much sustainable appeal, though. Datagloves, digital dildos, and other equipment deemed suitable for amorous purposes turned out to be cumbersome embarrassments for an age in which data, feelings, and touch travel lightly. The popularity of the epistolary address is also based on its blatant availability. Text is a makeshift medium, cheap and cost-effective. No complicated engineering is necessary, nor bulky equipment; just basic literary skills and a terminal for hire at an Internet café. Perhaps the ready-made language of romance scams also expresses a deeper shift in contemporary practices of writing. In parallel to a visual economy of the blurred and raw, an economy of text has developed, which is in many ways as compressed and abstracted as the rags of imagery that crowd the digital realms. Prompted by the legacy of advertising, a Victorian economy of affect merges with the verbal austerity of the tweet message. It is simultaneously blunt and chaste, downsized and delicate, bold and coy. Compressed and evacuated text allows feelings to fill in the blanks. Hollow words bait, retreat, play. Reduction and withdrawal spark intensity. http://www.romancescam.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=19587&start =45#p109129 Re: GXXX TXXXX by xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx on Fri Sep 18, 2009 8:20 pm Gxxxx now has another email address, [email protected], I am trying to get a picture off her but its like trying to get blood out of a stone. L. ab “away from”)’, www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=post&searchmode=none [accessed 2 November 2011].

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She knows I am trying to build up a new relationship and has said she will now leave me alone at last and just wants to be friends and just some one to write to which I am okay with that. Cxx cxxxxxxxxxxx Frequent Poster Posts: 160 Joined: Sat Apr 11, 2009 5:33 pm Location: Lxxxxxxxxx Top Re: Gxxxx Txxxxx by wxxxx on Sat Sep 19, 2009 8:38 am Ok, I don’t get it. You KNOW it’s a Nigerian scammer using stolen photos of a glamour model, yet you still talk to him, and are willing to be ‘friends’? This is exactly what your scammer wants, as soon ‘she’ will have some emergency and need money. All you’ve done is left the door open for the scammer to try again from a different angle. You are aware that almost all (and by that I mean well over 99% of them) scammers are really males and not the females they pretend to be? Re: Gxxxx Txxxxx by gxxx on Mon Sep 21, 2009 5:52 pm the thing is … this ‘she’ you keep refering to is just a black guy that is still working you. There is NO she …, just a HE … There is no Gxxxx … gxxxx VIP Poster Posts: 972 Joined: Tue Nov 25, 2008 11:13 pm Location: Canada, eh Re: Gxxxx Txxxx by gxxxx on Sat Dec 04, 2010 10:18 pm the [email protected] address on this thread turns up a FB profile by the name of Nxx Axxxxx Axxxxxx (Axxx Dxxx).

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Current City: Accra, Ghana High School: West Africa Secondary School ’08 lots of friends and notes by this dude About Nxx I came, I saw, I conquered. Not by Might by the Holy Ghost. Genuinely a loving guy … I’ m intelligent, creative,caring,loyal and love to have fun … i have done some travelling and definitely have that in my plan for the future … camping all the usual things life has to offer. GSOH & quick witted.Attractive & well groomed, able to handle all social situations with style & a smile. Sex Male Interested In Men and Women Relationship Status Single

The Spanish Prisoner My name is Fred. I fell in love with Esperanza. She was the love of my life. Nobody understands how I fell for a scam. But I don’t care whether Esperanza was real. My love for her was. From my perspective there hasn’t been any scam whatsoever. Because even if Esperanza didn’t exist as a person, her letters did exist on my screen. Their content may have been a lie; the IP may have been masked, the sender a projection. But the writing itself remains real. No matter who wrote the text: she or he or they. I loved the letters, not the person. Writing these letters is serious work. Adapting and pasting text modules, planning, keeping books, hitting keys, performing, filing, Photoshopping. Scammers work to entertain their targets’ fantasies and provide affective service, custom-tailored to individual desires. Behind the scams are often organized work units.8 Most writers are male, often assisted by female workers to make phone calls or other live appearances.9 While the global and postcolonial aspects of these connections have been emphasized in some instances, their overall implications are left unexplored. How do we understand this literary form of deceit in the 8 Daniel Künzler claims that Nigerian 419 scammers are rather loosely organized and that usually teams do not exceed five people, though they are often organized transnationally and ‘projectoriented’. See Künzler, p. 16. 9 According to the experiences of scambaiters at www.romancescam.com.

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context of a global political economy based on digital divides and uneven development?10 There is an underlying moral to at least some of these efforts: the idea to regain the riches plundered by colonial exploitation.11 Leftovers from anti-imperialist ideology incongruously mix with the beauty standards of extreme-makeover TV shows. http://www.romancescam.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1555 What out for scammer [email protected] by Rxxxx on Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:45 pm Calling her self Ceci Thompson […] I checked a scam site and found he/she had used a different adress with the same pictures. This time claiming she was Russian. Visa and ticket scams and so on. I confrontet her with this and this is the reply: ‘You;re the most stupid man I’ve ever met … All white people will suffer in the hands of Africans , ONE by ONE … You all took blacks as slave, NO problem. You shall pay back with all you’ve stolen from us, ONE after the other. I know a way to catch you, bastard. Have you ever realized that you white people smells like shit? Ask God why? and the answer shall be giving to you by an African you people called Monkey … Oh monkey will rule this world, someday … Basket in the dirty pit. White frog. You better look for a female frog like you and start giving birth to smelling frogs, stinky. Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2007 20:58:49’. Most obviously, 419 scams develop in connection with larger macroeconomic issues – in the case of Nigeria, a debt crisis in conjunction with the decline in oil prices in the early 1980s and subsequent unemployment and 10 Bjorn Nansen, ‘I Go Chop Your Dollar: The Nigerian 419 Scam and Chronoscopic Time’, Piracy: antiTHESIS, 18 (2008), 43. 11 Glickman cites the case of Fred Ajudua, who claimed to be a ‘black Robin Hood’ and ‘alleged that the frauds were compensation from white men for slavery and colonialism, see Glickman, p. 478. Among other sources of popular culture, Daniel Künzler also mentions the plot of a wellknown Nigerian fiction film: ‘This synopsis mentions one notion quite common in the popular discourse about 419 scams in Nigeria: the greed of the victims. This notion is also central to the huge hit The Master by Andy Amenechi (2005) starring famous Nigerian actor Nkem Owoh (also known as Osuofia). Denis (Nkem Owoh) was a migrant to Europe, but has been deported and had to struggle ever since. One day, he meets wealthy Chief Ifeanyi (Kanayo O. Kanayo), who introduces him into the 419 business […] As he speaks to journalists, he convinces them that 419s are justified, as foreigners are greedy and have to compensate for slavery and colonialism’. See Künzler, p. 13.

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instability.12 Andrew Apter argues that online scams present a reversemirroring of financial protocols of business by replicating the quite fictitious ways of creating (or simulating) value in finance. The lack of a material referent for fictitious value also affects language or representational systems as such: signifiers start to float,13 and their connections to referents are unmoored, if not abandoned altogether. The Ponzi schemes of globalized financial capitalism as well as its delusions are being translated into the personalized language of romance. Apter labels the 419 con games as performance art,14 based on a general rise of visual deception and emptied value forms15 in politics as well as in an economy based on privatization and speculation. This may also present a reason why so many people fall for the scams: because their inherent principle of delusion constitutes a substantial part of our contemporary political and economic reality. But the gender aspect of this specific type of performance art is arguably even more mind-boggling than its mirroring of financial protocols. What can one say about (mostly) straight black males impersonating white or mixed straight women, white gay or straight men? Then proceeding to change their colour (from white or mixed to black, for example) if caught in the act? All this while sending along ripped pictures of other people, in most cases porn starlets or models.16 How does this resonate with the emancipatory promises of self-assigned gender, which abounded in earlier times of Internet theory? Are masquerade or subversion still categories that make sense in this context? Or shall we rather speak about new, hyperprivatized branches of cultural industries that perform one-on-one staged dramas or maybe rather personalized mockumentaries based on the narrative form of Ponzi schemes? The production of romance scams conjures up the image of digital workbenches peopled with rows of literary labourers organized within a flexible division of labour, performing work – or working in performance, just as their counterparts in the ‘real’ financial sector. Their products are serial identities-on-demand, which morph to accommodate every possible client fantasy. Passion-as-labour, which reverse-mirrors the idea of labour-aspassion that is supposed to motivate the ideal workers of the post-Fordist age. In the meantime, romance scams have spread worldwide, targeting 12 Nansen, p. 43; the connection to an oil-based economy is also explored in detail in Apter, p. 270. 13 Apter, p. 299. 14 Apter, p. 272. 15 Apter, p. 279. 16 Probably: I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks: let’s make lots of money.

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poor or elderly women, in many cases maids, and robbing them of their life savings.17 Scammers don’t mind wrecking the feelings of vulnerable people. They target the refuse of metropolitan dating markets: single moms, outdated flesh, global maids dreaming of princes. The weak prey on the ugly, using words. As Elvis Presley (and the Bee Gees) sang: You may think that I do not mean the words I say. But words are all I have to steal your heart away.

Creative Language How to do things with words? This puzzled question by J.L. Austin became the title of one of the foundational texts of so-called speech-act theory.18 Austin argues that words are not purely descriptive representations, but agents able to bring about actions. One of his examples – fittingly in this context – is the marriage ceremony in which vows create the union. But this is a rather weak example in view of the much more grandiose speech acts routinely found in religious texts. Creation as such is performed by speech acts. The phrase ‘Let there be light’ marks the inception of the world for monotheists. Divine utterance is a form of creative terror, terrifying and tantalizing at once. According to Walter Benjamin, a weaker form of this power has immigrated into the language of humans.19 The creative force of naming is but a residue of the divine power of utterance. As Michel Foucault noted a bit more drily, the force of order and command keep resonating in human language too.20 The importance and naked force of words cannot be underestimated. Words make worlds. They can destroy them as well. In the digital realm the power of language is translated into code that activates mechanical performance. The magic of language derived from the speech act of creation gets enlisted into doing things with hardware. Code 17 Hazel Parry, ‘Romeo Conmen Target Lonely Hearts’, China Daily, Hong Kong edition, 22 September 2010, [accessed 3 June 2011]. More information at: . This website presents Asia-based scams. There is ample evidence of women in China and Malaysia getting scammed, as well as scams that promise contact with Asian women that are usually centred on charging so-called translation fees. 18 J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, ed. by J.O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). 19 Walter Benjamin, ‘On Language as Such and the Languages of Man’, in Selected Writings, vol. 1, ed. by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1996), pp. 62–74 (p. 68). 20 See, for example, Michel Foucault, ‘Truth and Power, Power/Knowledge’, in Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. by Colin Gordon, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), pp. 109–33.

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animates matter and propels it into action. Mechanical language enables us to create new words, new worlds, new languages. In the case of romance scammers the relative newness of their language paradoxically consists of its completely recycled nature. Of course this language is not novel at all, but well rehearsed by advertisement slogans and soap-opera dialogues. It is the lingua franca of cultural industries of modernity that cater to a domestic labour audience. But hardly has it ever been as fragmented and wrecked as in the scammers’ language. 21 The unabashedly collaged nature of these languages, their obvious partial generation by translation machines, reveals them to belong to a group of globalized languages, which I have previously referred to as Spamsoc.22 Spamsoc – my earlier example was the English-based language on the back of pirated Chinese DVD covers – is a broken language, because it reflects the pressures and gendered fault lines of globalization. Post-postcolonial hierarchies of language and a gendered division of freelance labour, as well as ongoing global conflicts over copyright and digital leverage, form part of the framework in which Spamsoc and its countless derivatives emerge as incoherent mixtures of Wikipedia entries and computer-translated semi-nonsense. The languages of romance scammers are in most cases locally nuanced, and adopt an overly formal, often stilted language.23 Their many malapropisms are a laughingstock for so-called spam baiters around the world. But contempt is a much too defensive and resentful reaction. These makeshift lingos express the tectonic tensions of extremely complex geopolitical situations translated into melodrama. Benjamin’s reflections on language and translation throw this issue into sharp focus. In the gaps of meaning, the original force of words still shines forth, perhaps no more so than when they have almost rid themselves of content and start to resemble pure stammer and stuttering, void of signification.24 21 Nansen, p. 38. 22 Spamsoc is what you get when the word ‘Spanish’ is garbled by an automated scanning device. In the specific example, Spamsoc was given as a subtitle language on a pirated DVD. Hito Steyerl, ‘Notes about Spamsoc’, Pages, 7 (2009), 59–67. 23 The characteristics of scam-mail language are investigated in Jan Blommmaert and Tope Omoniyi, ‘Email Fraud: Language, Technology and the Indexicals of Globalisation’, Social Semiotics, 16.4 (2007), 573–605. 24 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’, in Selected Writings, vol. 1, pp. 253–63. ‘To regain pure language fully formed from the linguistic flux is the tremendous and only capacity of translation. In this pure language – which no longer means or expresses anything but is, as expressionless and creative word, that which is meant in all languages – all information, all sense

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The splendour of creation still echoes in the almost robotic repetition of romantic keywords, within the scrambled, ripped, and collaged debris of meaningless affective vocabulary. It seems as if the mimetic force of language is not only unbreakable, but paradoxically increases with fragmentation and compression. Thus the new digital post-English languages are not at all deficient; on the contrary, they are from a world to come, a world that we are not yet able to fully understand. The languages of romance scammers are messages from a future in which empty value forms are suspended in permanent free fall as language and value let go of reality within the affective plots of disaster capitalism.

Heart Away After the funeral, I started to go through All that was needed to settle his estate. Which anyone who has been there knows is a very big pain in the butt; I started seeing bills and WU Receipts, everything was pointing to his future wife. Over the next couple of months of going over his assets, computer f iles, And bills. He was broke. Losing his house, and behind in his car payments. Credit cards were at limit. He was in a f inancial mess. I thought where was the woman who was supposed to be here. I started reading letters and going through his computer and everything became known over the next couple of months that she had no intention of Marrying him. She not only put off coming to him twice but also left him at airport twice. Overall, from what I could gather, and prove, he had given her well over thirty Thousand dollars in a little over two years. […] She was going to meet me in Hotel Lounge. Therefore, I went down early, had a few drinks, and waited. Then I saw her walk in. I was very impressed and if I did not know better would have fallen in love also, she was very elegant, and looked better then her pics. She had perfect English a lot better then the phone conversations we had. Which later made me think? It was not her on phone. Nevertheless, as we had drinks and talked, I started to tell her about my friend who fell in love with Russian woman and was going to get married, she was very focused on my story, and smiled a lot, Grab my hand, listen to my every word. and all intention finally encounter a stratum in which they are destined to be extinguished’, p. 261.

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I finished my story as I told all of you. (But just a basic version) Told her that he had all the arrangements to bring her to America, took care of her in Russia, and she left him, Told her about his death. […] She was very sadden, said she knew now why I was so shy about her, and her love. However, told me to look (I am here right here with you.) I will never forget those words She said as long as I live. I looked at her, Reached in to my Suit Pocket and handed her a Envelope. She smiled and her eyes sparkled, I think she thought it was giving her money As she opened it, I will never forget the look in her face. There were two Pictures in that Envelope, One of my friend and her in Moscow, and one of his gravestone, along with a request for Visa paper with there names on it.25 Despite the vast differences between scammed and scammers, one feeling unites both. This feeling is hope. While in the case of scammers this hope may be material, in the case of the scammed it may be both emotional and material. This hope is maybe also indicative of a more general situation. Perhaps the hope invested in epistolary affect is aimed at interrupting the drab temporality of an age of posts, in which life ‘always already’26 seems over. Or to explode the repetitive reality of reproductive labour for maids, single moms, and other target audiences of digital melodrama. Perhaps even more generally, the more unstable and insecure things get, the more hope abounds. If love is not free, hope seems to be. But hope is also the fuel capitalism thrives on, one of its few eternally renewable resources. The American Dream and its countless franchised versions are giant vortices that gain their momentum on hope, and little but hope. Hope is a Trojan horse for deceit and exploitation. It is also the driving element in any quest for change. This hope may secretly long for a moment of radical and irrevocable change: not so much a revolution as perhaps an unexpected revelation, a sudden twist in the plot. It is the hope that everything could yet be different and change lies at the tips of our fingers. My name is Esperanza and I am not dead. Contact me at esperanza112@ hotmail.com alive 25 Extract from ‘Doc’s Story’, anonymous report, in The Scam Survivors Handbook (2010), n.p., [accessed 2 June 2011]. 26 To quote one of the most overused slogans of the post-period.

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esperanza to dsmcdaid, show details 10:22 AM (0 minutes ago) Mr. McDaid, My name is Esperanza and I am not dead. I am following up on the disquieting letter you sent to my mother-inlaw, Nagako Steyerl in Rhode Island, United States on 4-18-2011.You claim that my late husband, Hiroshi J. Steyerl was killed in an accident, which is correct. However, contrary to your erroneous suggestions, I as his wife did miraculously survive the plane crash in Burma. Fortunately, my son did, too. We are now recovering from our terrible injuries in a hospital in Rangoon and hopefully, the dressings will come off next week. As a heart-broken and destitute widow, I am very surprized to hear that you are planning to bestow my late husbands funds on anybody else than myself as his next of kin. Therefore I urge you to immediately transfer these funds to my bank account. sincerely Esperanza

Bibliography Apter, Andrew, ‘IBB=419: Nigerian Democracy and the Politics of Illusion’, in Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa, ed. by John Comaroff and Jean Comaroff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 267–307 Austin, J.L., How to Do Things with Words, ed. by J.O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962) Benjamin, Walter, ‘The Task of the Translator’, in Selected Writings, vol. 1, ed. by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1996), pp. 253–63 Benjamin, Walter, ‘On Language as Such and the Languages of Man’, in Selected Writings, vol. 1, ed. by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1996), pp. 62–74 Blommmaert, Jan and Tope Omoniyi, ‘Email Fraud: Language, Technology and the Indexicals of Globalisation’, Social Semiotics, 16.4 (2007), 573–605 Derrida, Jacques, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997)

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Elsaesser, Thomas, ‘Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama’, in Home Is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film, ed. by Christine Gledhill (London: British Film Institute, 1987), pp. 43–69 Elsaesser, Thomas, ‘Tears, Timing, Trauma: Film Melodrama as Cultural Memory’, in Il Melodramma, ed. by E. Dagrada (Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 2007), pp. 47–68 Foucault, Michel, ‘Truth and Power, Power/Knowledge’, in Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. by Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), pp. 109–33 Glickman, Harvey, ‘The Nigerian “419” Advance Fee Scams: Prank or Peril?’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 39.3 (2005), 460–89 Künzler, Daniel, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Global Capitalism and Fraud in Nigeria’, paper presented at the Interim Conference of Research Committee 2 of the International Sociological Association, World Social Forum, Nairobi, 22 January 2007, [accessed 3 June 2011] Nansen, Bjorn, ‘I Go Chop Your Dollar: The Nigerian 419 Scam and Chronoscopic Time’, Piracy: antiTHESIS, 18 (2008), 43 Parry, Hazel, ‘Romeo Conmen Target Lonely Hearts’, China Daily, Hong Kong edition, 22 September 2010 Smith, Daniel Jordan, ‘Ritual Killing, 419, and Fast Wealth: Inequality and the Popular Imagination in Southeastern Nigeria’, American Ethnologist, 28.4 (November 2001), 803–26 Steyerl, Hito, ‘Notes about Spamsoc’, Pages, 7 (2009), 59–67

About the Author Hito Steyerl is an artist, cultural critic, filmmaker, writer and professor. As an artist she operates on the boundary between film and visual art, working in genres ranging from documentary cinema to multimedia installations. Her numerous works have been exhibited at prominent global art institutions, such as the Venice Biennale, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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Delivering Posthumous Messages: Katherine Mansfield and Letters in the Literary Biopic Leave All Fair (John Reid, 1985) Rochelle Simmons Abstract John Reid’s Leave All Fair (1985) addresses the controversial posthumous editing of the letters of Katherine Mansfield. It is a new kind of literary biopic that relies upon epistolary themes and structures, to present a dialogic depiction of Mansfield’s characteristic of letter writing. Letters are often shown in flashback, creating an alternative discourse from Mansfield’s perspective. Meaning ultimately hinges upon whose Mansfield is invoked in the letters and journal entries. If we view the film as modelling the writer–reader relationship, Mansfield’s ambiguous last letter has three different readers, who perform the film’s dialogism. Although the editors misrepresent the absent Mansfield, a feminist reading of her epistolarium allows her voice to be re-presented, qualifying this as a feminist or post-feminist biopic. Keywords: literary biopic; literary film; epistolarium; dialogism; temporal polyvalence; feminism

New Zealand director John Reid’s Leave All Fair (1985) is a film that uses letters and journal entries to deliver its messages concerning the ethics of posthumous editing, when letters and journals preserve the legacy of a writer. The writer in question is New Zealander Katherine Mansfield (Jane Birkin), famous for her modernist short stories. Mansfield’s husband and editor, John Middleton Murry (John Gielgud), is asked to approve a collected edition of her letters and journals three decades after her death from tuberculosis in

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch08

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Fontainebleau, 1923. This request leads to a flashback narrative that begins with Murry delivering a speech at the launch of the edition. The plot is complicated and thus worth outlining from the start. We see Murry seated at his desk, identifying what the film calls Mansfield’s ‘last letter’ – in which she gives Murry contradictory advice about editing her work – with her enduring presence. After an argument between fictitious French editor, André de Sarry (Féodor Atkine), and Mansfield’s fictitious feminist double, New Zealander Marie Taylor (also Jane Birkin), we see Murry re-reading the last letter, while being driven to De Sarry’s estate. This footage is intercut with flashbacks to Mansfield writing it. Subsequent episodes show Murry meeting De Sarry; watching Taylor’s play rehearsal; meeting Taylor in a café, and Taylor arguing with De Sarry about his and Murry’s sexist attitudes towards Mansfield. Taylor and Murry discuss Mansfield while visiting an island and De Sarry’s family chateau. After Taylor reads Mansfield’s letters, journals, and short stories, she becomes critical of Murry’s self-serving narrative about his ex-wife and confronts him over his romantic view of her and his dismissal of those traits that contradict this image. Taylor steals the last letter from Murry, reads it, and orders De Sarry to include it in his book. We then see De Sarry returning the letter to Murry, telling him he will not publish it. The film concludes with Murry delivering his speech at the book launch, from which Taylor flees in tears. Leave All Fair is a biopic in that it narrates the life of a subject, and the film can be seen as a search to uncover the identity of Mansfield, a pursuit that underlies most biopics.1 More accurately, it is a literary biopic, and like other literary biopics about women writers – Tony Isaac’s Iris (1984), Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table (1990), and Christine Jeffs’s Sylvia (2003) (depicting Iris Wilkinson, also known as Robin Hyde, Janet Frame, and Sylvia Plath, respectively) – Reid’s film is interested in the effects Mansfield’s relationships had upon her writing. Yet, in these other literary biopics letter writing and reading is only portrayed occasionally, when strictly necessary. In none of these films are letters central to their form and content, as they are in Leave All Fair. I shall proceed by examining why Mansfield’s letters are fundamental to the film’s themes, before exploring how they are distributed throughout the film and incorporated in its form. My overall argument is that the reliance on Mansfield’s letters makes this biopic’s quest of uncovering her identity an interpretative task, at the mercy of the temporal polyvalence

1 Dennis Bingham, Whose Lives Are They Anyway? The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010).

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of letters.2 It also exhibits the self-reflexive processes of the literary film and of epistolary writing itself. If scenes representing writers engaged in the act of composition are one of the hallmarks of the literary biopic, Iris, An Angel at My Table, and Sylvia are all biopics about women writers who are shown practising their craft. Yet, although they all wrote novels and volumes of poetry, they are usually shown composing poems. Furthermore, although they all corresponded by letter, none of them are portrayed writing or reading letters, unless these letters are instrumental in the plot. In each of these films, letters mark a pivotal point in the narrative, and in two they constitute part of its climax. First, we see Wilkinson (Helen Morse) shakily hand writing a letter to her psychologist, Gilbert Tothill (Philip Holder), from her flat in London, when she is starving and suicidal, awaiting a letter that she believes will never come containing payment for a novel. Wilkinson then overdoses and the letter arrives shortly after her death. Second, when Frame (Kerry Fox) is in London, she receives a letter from home telling her ‘Dad has died’, which causes her to return to New Zealand. Third, we do not see Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) actually writing letters, but after Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig) has left her, with two young children to care for, she knocks on her neighbour’s door asking for stamps, because she has to post some letters to America. He asks if they can wait until the next day, but she replies she ‘won’t be here’. We subsequently see Plath committing suicide. Unlike these biopics where women are shown composing poems, but rarely letters, Mansfield is never shown writing short stories. Instead, in a departure from the literary biopic, Mansfield is mostly shown composing letters – especially the last letter – and journal entries, on four occasions, as befits a film focusing on her letters and journals. We hear only a few lines from one story (‘Bliss’3), as Taylor reads a book of her short stories in her efforts to understand Mansfield. Taylor bears an uncanny resemblance to Mansfield, to the extent that Murry mistakes her for his dead wife, and she plays a formative role in providing a feminist interpretation of Mansfield. Differences between the treatment of letters in Leave All Fair and these other biopics can be attributed partly to the sheer volume of Mansfield’s correspondence. According to Claire Tomalin, Mansfield’s letters ‘went out in convoys’: she wrote ninety-eight letters to Murry during three months

2 Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982), p. 129. 3 Katherine Mansfield, ‘Bliss’, The English Review (1918), 108–19.

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in 1918 alone, which total over 50,000 words. 4 Unlike the other films, this one includes letters in which Mansfield discusses her writing, for although Plath wrote many comparable letters to her family, they are not included in Sylvia. Instead, Leave All Fair foregrounds Mansfield’s letters and journals owing to its focus on the controversy concerning Murry’s interpretation of the ambiguous last letter Mansfield wrote him in August 1922, to be read posthumously, in which she leaves him all her work, but exhorts him ‘to publish as little as possible’, to ‘leave all fair’, hence the film’s title.5 The narrative structure of the film involves flashbacks, repetitions, and circularity, with the closing scene returning to the opening, which shows Murry at the book launch. This structure accommodates a dialogic depiction of Mansfield, that is characteristic of both letter writing, in which, as Janet Altman puts it, ‘we often hear several voices, different points of view, which transform the monologue into a dialogue’,6 as well as of epistolary correspondence, in which reciprocity means that ‘the original you becomes the I of a new utterance’.7 The last letter is integral to questions about posthumous editing. But before discussing its place in the narrative, I should describe how Leave All Fair depicts letters in general, and how they fit in with, and extend, the literary biopic. Letters play a starring role in this film on a number of different levels. First, letter writing, editing, and publishing are central activities, since the film’s action revolves around epistolary concerns: it presents (in order) sequences of letter reading, writing, delivering, posting, sneaking, receiving, destroying, ignoring, stealing, and returning, which collectively comprise the trajectory of its plot. Second, the letter’s materiality is evoked in the mise-en-scène and the last letter comes to represent the absent Mansfield. Instead, it is often the men – Murry and De Sarry – who we see engaged in writerly tasks, with implied gendered disparities in material circumstances and authorship being suggested, despite Murry’s reliance on Mansfield’s literary production. In relatively brief scenes we see Mansfield writing letters and journal entries on a train, in a cheap hotel room, a café, and seated on a park bench, Most depictions of Mansfield engaged in correspondence are of her writing the last letter, which I describe in other contexts. But we do observe 4 Claire Tomalin, Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life (London: Viking, 1987), pp. 6, 164. 5 Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott, The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, 5 vols, vol. 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 234–35 (7 August 1922). 6 Altman, p. 138. 7 Altman, p. 117.

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Mansfield composing her ‘editorial dog fight’ letter8 to Murry in a hotel room, in which she complains bitterly about having had parts of a story excised by an editor, which resonates with Murry’s posthumous editing of her work. Initially we see a close-up of her arm and hand as she writes quickly and angrily on a sheet of white paper with a dip pen. We hear the nib scratching across the page. Her anger is also conveyed by the jerky way she draws on and then stubs out her cigarette, which is left smoking in an ashtray on the small hotel writing desk. Although the lace curtains are lit by watery sunlight, the room is dark and shadowy, and Mansfield herself wears a thin, pale blue, floral print dress and is bathed in a bluish light, which makes her appear ghostly. Mansfield is consistently associated with ghostly imagery, suggesting Murry is haunted by his memories of her. By contrast with Mansfield’s shabby surroundings, Murry’s writing space connotes literary and social respectability and De Sarry’s office is richly decorated. The second scene in the film, set in 1956, depicts Murry composing an unidentified letter in ink while seated at a well-appointed writing desk in a large, half-timbered residence with a thatched roof. The desk supports heavy brass implements, and it is framed against leather-bound books and a marble fireplace, making Murry appear settled and prosperous. De Sarry’s office is similarly furnished with leather-bound volumes, ceramics, and art works denoting his aristocratic breeding, wealth, and masculine taste, including a large oil painting of a rampant stallion, implying the patriarchal attitudes Taylor rebels against later in the film. For Belén Vidal9 and Julianne Pidduck, the writing desk and letter form part of evocations of the literary past as ‘spaces of the self’, signifying ‘cherished discourses of interiority and desire’.10 Pidduck notes: ‘letter writing and composition are afforded duration and affective weight in many costume dramas, and letters themselves stand in for the intimate thoughts and feelings of their writers’; their ‘affective significance can be read through its framing of the hand or the face in close-up …, which captures an intensive moment of deep feeling’.11 Significantly, the ‘space of the self’ evoked at Murry’s writing desk is dedicated to Mansfield’s memory, since voice-over 8 Cherry A. Hankin, ed., Letters between Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry (London: Virago Press, 1988), pp. 19–20 (19 May 1913). 9 Belén Vidal, ‘Playing in a Minor Key: The Literary Past through the Feminist Imagination’, in Books in Motion: Adaptation, Intertextuality, Authorship, ed. by Mireia Aragay (Amsterdam: Brill, 2005), pp. 263-285 (pp. 271-275). 10 Julianne Pidduck, Contemporary Costume Film: Space, Place and the Past (London: BFI Publishing, 2004), pp. 53–54. 11 Pidduck, pp. 54–55.

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narration states: ‘As usual I shall retreat here to the secure comfort of my books, my work, and the memory of my beloved Katherine’, even though Mansfield was Murry’s first wife, and he was married to his fourth wife by 1956. This declaration initiates a pattern of shifting between present and past, in which Murry’s thoughts and actions cue relevant recollections. In the third past scene we see an ardent, bohemian Mansfield say: ‘You won’t have to pay any rent you know. My allowance will take care of all that. Shall you take me as your mistress?’, a proposal Murry hesitates over. This flashback is replayed as Murry and Taylor sit by the fire in De Sarry’s ancestral chateau. In the fourth scene, set in the present, when addressing Mansfield in his thoughts Murry claims ‘you live on in me still’, we start to be sceptical of this sanctimonious version of Mansfield. Her avant-garde edginess when she proposes Murry move in with her is at variance with the image Murry constructed for her through his selective editing of her work, and with the established reputation and prosperity Murry gained from this editing, rather than his own far-less-successful writing. Leave All Fair conveys the dominant view of Murry, showing him ‘ignoring her request that he destroy most of her papers, instead publishing them progressively and busily, enriching himself in the process. He stands accused of constructing the sanitized image of Mansfield, the saintly child, all the while feeding on her corpse’.12 Reid’s film contrasts the men’s expansive writing desks with the improvised or modest set-ups the women use for their cultural production. Costume designer Taylor has a small wooden table in the theatre on De Sarry’s estate, her only implement a vase full of brushes, which makes apparent the gendered disparity in spaces of self. Although Mansfield made little money from her own writing, both male editors stand to profit from it, since De Sarry tells Taylor that if his edition of Mansfield’s letters and journals is successful, they could restore his chateau. According to Vidal’s criteria, Leave All Fair can also be classified as a literary film. She distinguishes between ‘authentic’ adaptations of literary themes, such as the Merchant Ivory heritage films, and those unconventional, heterogenous, intertextual films that employ literary process as well as content, in a reflective (or self-reflexive) capacity, that she calls the literary film. Citing Robert Stam’s observation that adaptation ‘participates in a double intertextuality, one literary and the other cinematic’, which ‘subsumes the discontinuities between literary and filmic traditions through narrative and the play of visual allusion’, Vidal is particularly interested in those films that present ‘different levels of play between the central intertext 12 Mark Williams, ‘Murry’s Mansf ield’, New Zealand Review of Books, 83 (2008), [accessed 24 June 2021].

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and the modes of subjectivity inscribed into the film’s mise-en-scène of the past’,13 such as Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993). If Mansfield’s letters and journals are the central literary intertext in Reid’s film, modes of subjectivity attributed to Murry and inscribed into the mise-enscène emerge most clearly in Leave All Fair’s use of parallel montage, bearing out Pidduck’s observation that ‘[l]etters are commonly linked with flashbacks, a cinematic device that signals loss and regret’.14 Besides contravening her wishes concerning her literary legacy, Murry returned to England to salvage his magazine and left Mansfield, who was fatally ill, alone in Europe. Not only are the flashbacks motivated by Murry’s bad conscience, thus serving as reminders of the ethics of posthumous editing, but also, they often echo present-day scenes, creating an alternative discourse from Mansfield’s perspective, in which much of the dialogue attributed to Mansfield is in her own words. For example, Taylor accuses Murry of being jealous of the affection Mansfield had for her younger brother, Tommy. Murry admits that after her brother died in service, Mansfield seemed to ‘take herself away from me’. We then see a pale, coughing Mansfield seated on a park bench at Fontainebleau writing the following in her journal: ‘What – of all other things – seems so hard is how we swore not to let each other go again – & then how soon – we were gone’. Although this sentence is verbatim, it actually derives from a letter she wrote to Murry from a hotel in Cornwell,15 however it does make us query Murry’s claim that Mansfield distanced herself from him. Letters can have material and physical significance. Regarding the epistolarium, the total archived correspondence of a letter writer, Liz Stanley indicates the extent to which, although textual, ‘letter writing is located in actual things’: these include messages conveyed by others, written at desks or tables, using stationery and equipment, delivered by services, ‘read in a specific time and place’, to the self and others, whole or in part.16 Paraphrasing Charles Bazerman, Margaretta Jolly suggests the power of the letter’s materiality is based on the letter being the ‘form in which writing’s historical substitution for speech is most evident’, for letters ‘possess a physical authority rooted in closeness to the writer’s body’.17 When Murry places the last letter on his writing stand and claims, ‘It is here that Katherine 13 Belén Vidal, ‘Classic Adaptations, Modern Reinventions: Reading the Image in the Contemporary Literary Film’, Screen, 43.1 (2002), 5-18 (pp. 6-8). 14 Pidduck, p. 57. 15 Hankin, p. 154 (20 May 1918). 16 Liz Stanley, ‘The Epistolarium: On Theorizing Letters and Correspondences’, Auto/Biography, 12 (2004), 201–35 (p. 212). 17 Margaretta Jolly, Love and Struggle (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), p. 207.

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still lives’, he reinforces how Mansfield’s presence is explicitly identified with this letter, even after her death. We encounter the last letter four more times in the narrative. Its contents are divulged gradually: 1. After placing the last letter on his writing stand, Murry pockets it, in preparation for his trip to France. Murry then rereads the letter as he is being driven to meet De Sarry. This footage is intercut with flashbacks of a gaunt Mansfield dressed in a long, thin, white linen dress, composing it while travelling on a train through a dark alpine forest. An extreme close-up of the page as she writes ‘Dearest Bogey’ stresses the importance of her letter. 2. Murry expresses his misgivings about how De Sarry’s edition mixes letters and journals, and makes public the ‘fragments and pieces’ Katherine ‘may not want to show the world’. De Sarry responds by remarking on Murry’s involvement in this process. Murry then kisses the last letter, climbs into bed, but wakes suddenly, upon hearing Mansfield’s voice state: ‘Dearest Bogey, All my manuscripts, papers and letters I leave to you. Go through them one day, my love. Publish as little …’ 3. Taylor steals the last letter from Murry’s bed and takes it to De Sarry’s study, where she reads it aloud, so that the audience encounters it in its entirety for the first time. She then leaves it on De Sarry’s desk. After accusing De Sarry of valuing book sales above recognition of Mansfield, the woman, she hands him the letter, recites its contents from memory, and then yells: ‘Publish it!’. 4. We subsequently see De Sarry return the last letter to Murry, with the words: ‘You should be more careful with this. I don’t think it belongs in our book. We have been publishing for a long time. It would be so easily misunderstood’. Teasing out the letter’s details adds to the film’s suspense. Also, engaging with it in four separate scenes enables us to better understand whose Mansfield is invoked in the letters. By slowly revealing the contents of this letter through writing, reading, and flashbacks, Reid’s film appears to borrow from the epistolary novel the letter’s temporal polyvalence. Altman claims that letter writing is an inherently literary activity, since it exists in a mise-en-abyme relationship to writing and reading.18 She further states: ‘The meaning of any epistolary statement is determined by many moments: the actual time that an act described is 18 Altman, p. 212.

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performed, the moment when it is written down, the respective times the letter is mailed, received, read, and reread’.19 Another analogy between epistolary and cinematic form can be seen in the bridging of the gap between writer and addressee. Altman states: ‘For the letter writer, to write to someone is to speak to him, but in order for this illusion to be maintained in a lengthy letter, the other person’s voice must somehow be heard’.20 This often happens through ‘quotation and paraphrase of his remarks’, so that he is ‘re-presented through his own words’.21 As noted, Taylor’s perspective is drawn from Mansfield’s letters and journals. Leave All Fair contains extensive quotation from Mansfield’s letters and journals, to the extent that the writings of Katherine Mansfield are listed in the film’s scriptwriting credits. With regard to Murry’s posthumous editing of Mansfield’s work, Jenny McDonnell explores some of the complexities of the last letter, noting that although Mansfield requested he ‘destroy most of her correspondence and all of her papers’, she allows Murry to do what he likes with the manuscripts.22 It reads: ‘All my manuscripts I leave entirely to you to do what you like with. Go through them one day, dear love, and destroy all you do not use. […] You know my love of tidiness. Have a clean sweep, Bogey, and leave all fair – will you?’23 For McDonnell, her will – which she wrote on 14 August 1922 – was ‘even more conflicted’; it both leaves ‘all manuscripts notebooks papers letters’ to Murry, and it states, ‘I should like him to publish as little as possible and tear up and burn as much as possible’.24 Harry Ricketts points out that the film ‘cheats’ by inserting two sentences from the will into the last letter, which ironically is similar to the ‘fudging and fiddling with the evidence’, of which Murry is accused.25 Jolly indicates what is at stake when publishing private correspondence: ‘Epistolary publication, like letter writing, is ethically hazardous, because it involves relationships of difference, power, and desire’.26 As C.K. Stead notes, Murry ‘never printed it all, […] because to do so would have revealed her wish that her “camping ground” should not be exposed’.27 19 Altman, p. 139. 20 Altman, p. 137. 21 Altman, p. 138. 22 Jenny McDonnell, Katherine Mansfield and the Modernist Marketplace (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 171. 23 McDonnell, p. 171. 24 McDonnell, p. 171. 25 Harry Ricketts, ‘John Middleton Murry: Keeper of the Flame’, in Katherine Mansfield’s Men, ed. by Charles Ferrall and Jane Stafford (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2004), p. 120. 26 Jolly, p. 206. 27 C.K. Stead, ed., The Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield: A Selection (London: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 11.

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If Murry’s posthumous editing of Mansfield’s letters has been widely condemned, the actions of fictitious editor De Sarry are even more insensitive. Through his editing he juxtaposes letters and journal entries to reveal the ‘essential conflict’ between ‘the private thoughts of the woman and the public thoughts of the writer’, knowing it will prove sensational. This recalls a similar contrast between Sylvia Plath’s Journals28 and her Letters Home,29 in which her letters were written for family consumption, whereas her journals present an unvarnished version of events. Yet, in Mansfield’s case ‘the Journal and the Scrapbook were not two carefully kept volumes’ but compiled by Murry from various sources: ‘diaries, notebooks, story outlines, drafts for letters, jottings, and fragments of all kinds’, according to Gillian Boddy.30 Altman’s discussion can be seen as providing an epistolary frame for reading Mansfield.31 If we view Leave All Fair as modelling the writer–reader relationship, Mansfield’s last letter has three readers, each of whom interpret her differently. Murry creates the image of Mansfield as a saintly child and De Sarry’s response to Mansfield contradicts Murry’s romantic view in an unsympathetic, patriarchal manner. In contrast to these two male perspectives, after perusing Mansfield’s letters and journals Taylor provides a new interpretation of her, remarking to De Sarry: MT: All of her papers have the same theme. DS: What do you mean? MT: Solitude and her dependence on him. A man’s romantic vision of his wife. She wasn’t like that. DS: She certainly was not! Three abortions and gonorrhoea for so long that she became sterile. That’s hardly my vision of romantic! MT: Christ! Another man! That’s not what I meant! I was trying to talk about the woman. Not the stuff you sell books with!

Thus, Taylor’s reading of Mansfield directly counters the readings of Murry and De Sarry. Murry and De Sarry misrepresent the absent Mansfield, however Taylor’s attentive reading and citation allows Mansf ield’s voice to be heard, or 28 Sylvia Plath, The Journals of Sylvia Plath, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982). 29 Sylvia Plath, Letters Home, ed. by Aurelia Schober Plath (London: Faber and Faber, 1975). 30 Gillian Boddy, ‘Leaving “All Fair”? Working Towards a New Edition of Katherine Mansfield’s Notebooks’, in Worlds of Katherine Mansfield, ed. by Harry Ricketts (Palmerston North: Nagere Press, 1991), pp. 9–22 (p. 13). 31 Altman, p. 4.

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re-presented. For Altman, ‘within a letter written by a single correspondent we often have several voices, different points of view, which transform the monologue into a dialogue’.32 Not only does Taylor arrive at her interpretation of Mansfield, the woman, after reading her papers, but also in arguing with the men she enacts for the viewer a dialogic depiction of the writer. Flashbacks provide a further way for us to hear Mansfield’s voice, when Birkin speaks as Mansfield, in what Pidduck calls the ‘double articulation’ of voice-over narration.33 Given the relative brevity of scenes of Mansfield’s writing life and the manner in which Murry and De Sarry perform their roles, the decision to cast Birkin to play both Katherine and Taylor makes the latter a clear double for the former. More importantly, Taylor’s role provides brief empowerment for Katherine, if we consider Dennis Bingham’s argument that ‘[f]emale biopics can be made empowering only by a conscious and deliberate application of a feminist point of view’.34 Bingham praises Jane Campion’s biopic An Angel at my Table, which is based on Frame’s autobiography, for its feminist intervention that revises the genre. For Bingham, Campion ‘works against the conventions of patriarchal form and rewrites women’s stories’, by allowing for a ‘free and unforced expression of a woman’s point of view’.35 Thus, ‘[w]ithout a male gaze, intervening male character, or point of view, Frame’s subjectivity is allowed to rise out of the material’.36 Leave All Fair has aspects of the female and the feminist biopic. In keeping with Bingham’s concept of the female biopic, Reid’s portrayal of Mansfield is marked by suffering and victimization, but not failure, since Mansfield is New Zealand’s most acclaimed writer, a pre-eminence challenged only by Frame. While Murry is certainly an intervening male character, his actions are subject to Taylor’s feminist analysis, which qualifies this as a feminist biopic. Taylor’s privileged feminist relationship to Mansf ield’s perspective becomes apparent when she expresses anger over destructive editorial cuts to Mansfield’s work. In a scene set in the past, we see Mansfield reading aloud her letter to Murry dated 10 April 1920: ‘I’ve just got your note about ‘Je ne parle pas’. No, I certainly won’t agree to those excisions if there were 500,000,000 copies in existence. […] Shall I pick the eyes out of a story for £40!! […] The outline would be all blurred – It must have those sharp lines’.37 32 33 34 35 36 37

Altman, p. 138. Pidduck, p. 57. Bingham, p. 10. Bingham, p. 331. Bingham, p. 25. Hankin, p. 303 (?10 April 1920) (sic).

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Ironically, this letter is spliced together with a sentence from another letter to Murry dated 19 May 2013: ‘I’d rather it wasn’t there at all than sitting in the Blue Review with a broken nose and one ear as though it had jumped into an editorial dog fight’.38 Although in reality Murry did not make these editorial decisions, similar martial metaphors are used in Leave All Fair’s battle of the sexes to characterize Murry’s editing and De Sarry’s publishing of Mansfield’s work. After De Sarry rebukes Taylor for removing Murry’s personal letters from his office, she shouts: ‘What has this man done? How the hell can a pacifist be chief censor at the war office? GET OUT!’ As we see Mansfield composing her editorial dog fight letter, upon uttering the word ‘all’ – which she underscores for emphasis, and which is shown in an extreme close-up of the letters on the page, heightening its affective signif icance – an edit shifts the narrative to the present. Taylor takes Mansfield’s cue and completes her sentence for De Sarry from memory, thus performing and enacting her adoption of Mansfield’s point of view. When Taylor reads the last letter, she becomes angry over how the men have misrepresented Mansfield and profited from her misfortune. She provides a revisionist commentary on the woman writer and her struggle against patriarchal oppression, to cite two second-wave feminist characteristics Bronwyn Polaschek identifies,39 when she delivers trenchant second-wave criticisms of male attitudes towards the overlooked realities of Mansfield’s life and work. Although partly attributable to De Sarry’s implied infidelity, Taylor’s anger appears to be motivated by a general perception of masculinity, which is enhanced by her indignation over how Murry treated Mansfield. However, the film’s success depends upon whether we are persuaded by Taylor’s critique. Ricketts describes her confronting Murry as ‘a chilling and a stirring moment’, ‘unless you happen to spot that the film has cheated’. 40 Helen Martin is similarly equivocal, stating that for her ‘outbursts to be read as passion rather than histrionics one needs to be convinced of the truth of the film’s basic premise’. 41 This sort of second-wave feminist revisionism also lends itself to post-feminist updating. For Vidal, the biopic includes ‘postfeminist revisions of women’s histories’, which examine a woman artist’s struggle for self-expression framed by contemporary reflections on gender and 38 Hankin, pp. 19–20 (19 May 1913). 39 Bronwyn Polaschek, The Postfeminist Biopic: Narrating the Lives of Plath, Kahlo, Woolf, and Austen (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 5. 40 Ricketts, p. 120. 41 Helen Martin, ‘Leave All Fair’, in New Zealand Film 1912–1996, ed. by Helen Martin and Sam Edwards (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 116.

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authorship. 42 Additionally, in Vidal’s terms, Reid’s f ilm can be seen as part of a post-feminist discussion of Mansfield ‘in which pluralistic and competing conceptions of the historical woman collide’. 43 McDonnell states that because Murry did not either publish or destroy material that contravened his image of Mansf ield as a ‘saintly innocent’, he enabled subsequent revisions of her, as well as films and plays based upon her life, of which Leave All Fair is one. 44 We have seen how Leave All Fair qualifies as a literary biopic, in that it narrates the life of a subject and the effects Mansfield’s relationships had upon her writing and how Leave All Fair is unusual, because instead of portraying a woman writer composing the kind of literary text for which she is best known the film shows her composing letters and journal entries. The emphasis upon letters is necessary because Reid’s film directly addresses the controversy concerning Murry’s posthumous editing of her letters and journals that is pivotal to perceptions of her life and work. Leave All Fair could therefore be said to provide a new kind of biopic that relies upon epistolary themes and structures. Its narrative presents a dialogic depiction of Mansfield that is characteristic of letter writing (with several voices, or points of view), as well as of the reciprocal nature of epistolary correspondence. Like most biopics, Reid’s film can be seen as a search to uncover the identity of Mansfield. If its meaning ultimately hinges upon whose Mansfield is invoked in the letters and journal entries, then Mansfield’s presence is explicitly identified with the last letter, which comes to represent the absent Mansfield. If we view Leave All Fair as modelling the writer–reader relationship, Mansfield’s last letter has three very different readers, who put the film’s dialogism into effect. Although Murry and De Sarry misrepresent the absent Mansfield, Taylor’s reading of her epistolarium allows her voice to be re-presented. Indeed, Taylor’s rewriting of Mansfield’s struggle against patriarchal oppression qualifies this as a feminist or post-feminist biopic. Temporal polyvalence in how the last letter is divulged multiplies the divergent readings of any posthumous messages Mansfield hoped to deliver. Hence, this reliance on Mansfield’s letters makes the literary biopic’s quest of uncovering her identity a self-reflexive, interpretative task, one which is also evident in the literary film and in epistolary writing itself. 42 Belén Vidal, ‘Feminist Historiographies and the Woman Artist’s Biopic: The Case of Artemisia’, Screen, 48.1 (2007), 69–90 (pp. 70, 77). 43 Vidal, cited in Polaschek, p. 80. 44 McDonnell, p. 172.

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I would like to thank the editor, Catherine Fowler, for her extremely generous help and encouragement.

Bibliography Altman, Janet Gurkin, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982) Bingham, Dennis, Whose Lives Are They Anyway? The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010) Boddy, Gillian, ‘Leaving “All Fair”? Working Towards a New Edition of Katherine Mansfield’s Notebooks’, in Worlds of Katherine Mansfield, ed. by Harry Ricketts (Palmerston North: Nagere Press, 1991), pp. 9–22 Hankin, Cherry A., ed., Letters between Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry (London: Virago Press, 1988) Jolly, Margaretta, Love and Struggle (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) Mansfield, Katherine, ‘Bliss’, The English Review (1918), 108–19 Martin, Helen, ‘Leave All Fair’, in New Zealand Film 1912–1996, ed. by Helen Martin and Sam Edwards (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1997) McDonnell, Jenny, Katherine Mansfield and the Modernist Marketplace (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) O’Sullivan, Vincent and Margaret Scott, eds, The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, 5 vols, vol. 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) Pidduck, Julianne, Contemporary Costume Film: Space, Place and the Past (London: BFI Publishing, 2004) Plath, Sylvia, The Journals of Sylvia Plath (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982) Plath, Sylvia, Letters Home, ed. by Aurelia Schober Plath (London: Faber and Faber, 1975) Polaschek, Bronwyn, The Postfeminist Biopic: Narrating the Lives of Plath, Kahlo, Woolf, and Austen (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) Ricketts, Harry, ‘John Middleton Murry: Keeper of the Flame’, in Katherine Mansfield’s Men, ed. by Charles Ferrall and Jane Stafford (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2004) Stanley, Liz, ‘The Epistolarium: On Theorizing Letters and Correspondences’, Auto/ Biography, 12 (2004), 201–35 Stead, C.K., ed., The Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield: A Selection (London: Penguin Books, 1977) Tomalin, Claire, Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life (London: Viking, 1987)

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Vidal, Belén, ‘Playing in a Minor Key: The Literary Past through the Feminist Imagination’, in Books in Motion: Adaptation, Intertextuality, Authorship, ed. by Mireia Aragay (Amsterdam: Brill, 2005), pp. 263-285 (pp. 271-275). Vidal, Belén, ‘Classic Adaptations, Modern Reinventions: Reading the Image in the Contemporary Literary Film’, Screen, 43.1 (2002), 5–18 Vidal, Belén, ‘Feminist Historiographies and the Woman Artist’s Biopic: The Case of Artemisia’, Screen, 48.1 (2007), 69–90 Williams, Mark, ‘Murry’s Mansfield’, in New Zealand Review of Books, 83 (2008),

[accessed 24 June 2021]

About the Author Dr Rochelle Simmons is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Otago. She has also taught New Zealand Cinema at Otago and has researched connections between Literature, Film, and the Visual Arts, specializing in the work of John Berger.

9. The Interactive Letter: Co-Authorship and Interactive Media in Emily Short’s First Draft of the Revolution Jenna Ng

Abstract This chapter discusses the writing and transmitting of letters in Emily Short’s 2012 interactive epistolary work, First Draft of the Revolution. It argues how interactivity commentates on the letter’s processes of becoming, specifically through the reader as co-author in a triangulation of reading, writing, and interactivity. This triangulation upends epistolary confidentiality and the tension between private and public in terms of the writing process. The chapter also examines the letter’s crossing of space and time in how its transmission contributes to its meaning as a communication medium. Through this two-pronged exploration of ‘epistolary interactivity’, the chapter interrogates the nature of media itself, and how interactivity shapes letters as media in terms of being, becoming, change, and potential for change. Keywords: interactive; First Draft of the Revolution; letter-writing; transmission; confidentiality; change

Introduction Juliette has been banished for the summer to a village above Grenoble: a few Alpine houses, a deep lake, blue sky, and no society. Now she writes daily to her husband. First Draft of the Revolution1 1 Emily Short, First Draft of the Revolution (2012), inkle studios, [accessed 7 April 2021].

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch09

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This chapter discusses the writing and transmitting of letters in Emily Short’s award-winning 2012 interactive work, First Draft of the Revolution, self-described as ‘an interactive epistolary story’.2 Hosted and played on a dedicated website, (https://www.inklestudios.com/firstdraft/), First Draft is a story told almost entirely through letters written by and sent amongst a crew of characters set in eighteenth-century revolutionary France. It begins with a correspondence by the protagonist, Juliette, to her husband, Henri, who has banished her from Paris to ‘a village above Grenoble’ in the Dauphiné countryside. The work also features letters by Henri; Henri’s sister, Alise, who does not like Juliette and approves of her being sent away; and Mother Catherine-Agnes, Juliette’s Mother Superior at an unnamed convent where Juliette grew up before getting married. Together, their correspondences reveal Juliette’s discovery of a plot by the friar in the country village to manipulate Henri’s recently found illegitimate son (also at the same village!) in an effort to overthrow the Lavori, an order of magic-using noblemen to which Henri belongs. First Draft is by no means unique as an interactive epistolary story. There are many examples of interactive letters used to advance gameplay and narrative particularly in recent years. For example, Sara Is Missing is a game where the player interacts with the interface of Sara’s ‘found’ mobile phone, including reading her emails and text messages as epistolary texts to work out the story.3 Similarly, in Gone Home the player moves around an empty family home to discover the family’s story from notes, letters, and journal entries left in the house. 4 The acclaimed game Dear Esther is another example.5 The player explores a deserted island whose geographical features trigger unseen narrations of letter excerpts addressed to Esther, the narrator’s presumably dead wife. In December 2019, a ‘Correspondence [Game] Jam’ on ‘epistolary games’ was organized on itch.io, a popular game hosting website, calling for ‘any game where the main mechanic is players writing letters back and forth’.6 The epistolary form as a strategy to advance 2 Emily Short, ‘First Draft of the Revolution: Author Statement, Liza Daly’, [accessed 7 April 2021]. 3 Monsoon Lab, Sara Is Missing (2015), Android; iOS; Classic Mac OS. 4 The Fullbright Company, Gone Home (2013), PlayStation 4; Nintendo Switch; Xbox One. See also Daniel Reynolds, ‘Letters and the Unseen Woman: Epistolary Architecture in Three Recent Video Games’, Film Quarterly, 68.1 (2014), 48–60, for analysis of the structures of letters in Gone Home and other epistolary games. 5 The Chinese Room, Robert Briscoe, Dear Esther (2012), Microsoft Windows. 6 Annie, ‘Correspondence Jam’ (2019), itch.io [accessed 7 April 2021].

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narrative and develop character is as vibrantly employed in interactive work as in other media forms. First Draft’s striking feature is its placing of interactivity at the core of letter writing and transmission as two seldom discussed yet crucial processes of bringing the letter into meaningful existence as a medium of communication. The process of writing does not usually feature prominently in epistolary texts.7 In novels, letters are generally presented as complete products for the reader to connect with the character, other parts of the story, and/or other letters.8 Any processes of their writing have to be read between the lines. In f ilms, letter-writing typically receives truncated treatment, such as edited shots of pages being scrunched up and tossed into wastepaper baskets to signify a frustrated writing process, or shots of typed sentences being deleted and re-typed to show characters’ inner feelings or second thoughts. In this respect, First Draft is unique as an epistolary work which markedly presents to the reader interactive draft letters. The reader has to revise each draft letter to a point where it is deemed complete and sent so that the story may proceed onto the next letter. The interactivity of First Draft thus turns the epistolary story inside out, staging front and centre not just the letters but also the processes of the letters in their operations of drafting, editing, and revision. The fraught chaos of authorship as scored with self-doubt, arcs of character change, varying levels of detail of account, and conflicts between the private and the public become fully visible. Just as importantly, the external reader, usually the passive co-recipient of epistolary correspondences, doubles up as co-author by participating in drafting each letter. The epistolary work thus also showcases letter writing as an amalgamated product co-produced with the reader/co-writer, carrying ghosts of their voices in their selections of sentiment, tone, and content. Similarly, the transmission of a letter does not usually receive much critical attention in films, books, or theatre, even as the letter turns up in myriad forms and contexts, such as being delivered by hand (Cyrano de 7 This is also a direct inspiration for First Draft, as Emily Short writes in her author statement: ‘For a long time I’ve wanted to create an interactive piece about the process of writing. That’s partly a reaction to the completely unrealistic way movies portray writing: the writer either “has writer’s block” and stares angstfully at a typewriter, or else she is touched by the muse and types all night, and the result is a manuscript of instant brilliance’. See Short, First Draft: Author Statement, n.p. 8 In this respect, Altman also notes how it is ‘the use of the letter’s formal properties to create meaning’ that is of interest: see Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982), p. 3.

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Bergerac);9 or arriving in the post through various routes (normally (Dear John, Lasse Hallström, 2010; 84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff, 1982; Mary and Max, Adam Elliott, 2009); with guile (Dear Frankie, Shona Auerbach, 2005); posthumously (P.S. I Love You, Richard LaGravenese, 2008); in the throes of war (Letters from Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood, 2006); through a timetravelling letterbox (Il Mare, Lee Hyun-seung, 2000; and its US remake, The Lake House, Alejandro Agresti, 2006)). Or the letter may arrive via a piece of clothing (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ken Kwapis, 2005); via a tourist trap (Letters to Juliet, Gary Winick, 2010); or via email (You’ve Got Mail, Nora Ephron, 1998; Love, Simon, Greg Berlanti, 2018; The Perfect Man, Mark Rosman, 2005), to give just a few examples. However, with attention usually focused on the letter’s content, its transmission is almost always glossed over, such as with a breezy shot of a stamped envelope popped into a mailbox or a close-up of a mouse arrow hitting ‘send’. The more important point is that the letter arrives (and/or is read, exchanged, deceives etc). In contrast, First Draft leverages its central plot point of magic whereby the letter is a ‘charmed’ object which ‘appears’ instantaneously as an ‘enchanted double’ on the receiver’s end. As an epistolary work, it thus draws an unusual spotlight onto the letter not in terms of its contents, but its work as a medium of communication across space and distance. This commentary gains further irony and resonance in light of First Draft’s actual form today as a digital website accessed in the age of high-speed Internet access. In these ways, the interactive epistolary form in First Draft becomes a self-reflexive device shedding light on the letter as a medium which, so to speak, truly is the message.10 Through a close reading of the work, this chapter will discuss these two threads of letter writing and transmission in First Draft. The main analysis will be on how interactivity becomes and is used as commentary on the letter’s process of becoming, specifically through the reader as co-author in a triangulation of reading, writing, and interactivity. A shorter analysis will examine the letter’s crossing of space and time, and how that transmission contributes integrally to its meaning as a communication medium. In this two-pronged exploration of ‘epistolary interactivity’, the chapter further interrogates the nature of media itself, and how interactivity shapes letters as media in terms of being, becoming, change, and potential for change. 9 See Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, trans. by Carol Clark (New York: Penguin, 1897; 2006). 10 As taken from Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase, ‘the medium is the message’, from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 1964; 2013).

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Writing and Reading the Interactive Letter: Co-authorship, Confidentiality, Change Writing does not fully capture words, words do not fully capture meaning. Zhou yi11

To revise each letter in First Draft, the reader f irst identif ies sentences that can be changed. Editable sentences appear in regular font; sentences that cannot or can no longer be changed are greyed out. To make the revision, the reader clicks on an editable sentence and is presented with one of two options: to ‘erase’ the sentence, whereupon the text simply disappears; or to ‘rewrite this’, whereby the text changes according to the reader’s chosen sentiment. Every option is accompanied by wording within quotation marks which reveals an inner thought, fear, doubt, or intention from the character writer to contextualize the suggestion. Hence, an option to ‘erase’ might be attended by words of cautionary fear: ‘Omit any comment on this topic at all. One never knows what might give offense’; or of self-censorship, such as ‘Mother at the convent always said not to ask a question if you do not want the answer’. ‘Rewrite this’ may come with thoughts of intention (such as ‘The boy might be Henri’s son. Might as well sound him out’); or fears (‘Put it more tactfully’); or content (‘Tell Henri about the handsome friar’; ‘There is more to this story; might as well tell all’); or tone (‘Conclude with something a little conciliatory’). Occasionally, the ‘rewrite’ option presents not only a revision but also a pointing hand which, when clicked, would present other suggestions of revision. Sometimes, those suggestions eventually lead to an ‘erase’ option, where, if chosen, all previous revisions disappear. The reader may only choose the option of ‘rewrite’ or ‘erase’. All resulting text which appears (or disappears) in the letter out of the reader’s choice remains authored by the game designer. In setting the interactive reader their central task of choosing how and when to revise each letter, First Draft thus foregrounds the process of writing the letter, whereby the role of the reader also blends into being the letter’s co-author. Of course, the role of the ‘reader’ in terms of their response and participation in a text is writ large throughout literary theory, be that as

11 Zhou yi jin zhu jin yi, ed. by Nan Huaijin and Xu Qinting (Taibei: Taiwan shangwu yinshuguan gufen youxian gongsi, 2007), p. 408. Translation mine.

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the ‘implied reader’,12 the ‘writer-as-reader’,13 or the theoretically possible reader,14 among others. In that respect, scholars also note how the epistolary work highlights the role of the internal reader (qua addressee within the fiction) as a co-producer of the letter by their reading and interpretation of it. As Altman writes, the epistolary story … is unique in making the reader (narratee) almost as important an agent in the narrative as the writer (narrator) […] the letter is by definition never the product of such an ‘immaculate conception’, [i.e. of writing without regard for the reader] but is rather the result of a union of writer and reader.15

To that extent, the role of the external reader as a co-reader of the letters is likewise underscored where they mirror the internal reader in reading ‘over the shoulder’ of the character ‘whose own readings – and misreadings – must enter into our experience of the work’.16 This role of the ‘reader’ radically changes in First Draft, where its interactivity extends the role of the external reader beyond reader and interpreter. Here the reader becomes a literal co-writer of the letters in their direct selection of revision choices to affect the letters’ content, wording, and tone. Their freedom of choice does not apply in every case: a small proportion of revisions in First Draft are mandatory in that the reader must make that particular revision or else the story cannot proceed. One example is a paragraph of gossip in Alise’s letter to Henri which was otherwise about keeping Juliette out of Paris, and whose suggested erasure is accompanied by expression of her intention: ‘Best not to distract Henri from my advice’. The erasure – with no other option – is mandatory: Alise’s letter cannot be sent until the reader ‘chooses’ to delete the paragraph of gossip. Much as the reader might like an option to rewrite that paragraph to reveal more gossip, the imperative for its erasure thwarts that desire and asserts the 12 See Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961); and Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974). 13 See Roland Barthes, ‘On Reading’, in Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language, trans. by Richard Howard (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989): pp. 32–43; and Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. R. Miller (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990). 14 See Gerald Prince, ‘The Diary Novel: Notes for the Definition of a Sub-genre’, Neophilologus, 59 (1975), 477–81. See also Altman, pp. 87–116. 15 Altman, p. 88. 16 Altman, p. 112.

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creator’s expression of Alise’s letter as a correspondence that focuses on her words to Henri about Juliette. The majority of revision choices in First Draft nevertheless does allow the reader choice (or illusion of choice)17 in finalizing how the letters sound, appear, and otherwise turn out between the story’s characters. For example, Juliette’s first letter to Henri contains a draft paragraph whose revision is also mandatory: ‘The society here is very bad. I do not know how I can have offended you to be exiled in this wretched place’. Juliette’s letter cannot be sent until those sentences are re-written, for key information is revealed in its revision such as the introduction of the character of the friar. Yet, while the reader must choose to ‘rewrite’ the letter so as to introduce the friar, the work presents options to the reader on how they wish the introduction to appear. For instance, the more demure option of ‘I should just mention the man is a friar’ modulates the letter’s content onto a more decorous tone: ‘I believe he is some sort of friar, though we have not been introduced properly’. Choosing the starker option – ‘No, let him [Henri] be jealous’ – changes the letter’s content into mention of how ‘the kitchen girls talk of nothing but his looks’ and a lengthy description of the friar’s ‘striking face’. As the letters progress and their stakes amplify with increasing strain between Juliette and Henri, the choices of revision for the reader correspondingly grow starker. In a particularly cross letter from Juliette first broaching the subject of Henri’s potentially illegitimate son, the reader has the option of revising Juliette’s sign-off to ‘[y]our wife, Juliette’, which until that point had been ‘[y]our obedient wife, Juliette’. As their tensions ratchet up, Juliette’s sign-off no longer becomes editable, instead automatically becoming just ‘Juliette’. Hence, where the external reader’s role is usually limited to reading and interpreting the letters, here they adopt a relatively active role in how the letter turns out – how warm; how cold; how truthful? The production of the epistolary text takes a radical turn here as First Draft’s interactivity directly engages the reader in the writing (or, at least, the selections of offered options for revision) of its letters substantively beyond the reading of them. First Draft further involves the reader with its letter writing via revisions which need not be made (i.e. for the letter to be sent and the story to proceed), but could be, should the reader be so curious. Typically, these changes do not reveal key information but, rather, additional information 17 See Andy Cameron, ‘Dissimulations: Illusions of Interactivity’, Millennium Film Journal, 28 (Spring 1995), [accessed 7 April 2021].

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which adds colour and detail to the story world.18 For example, while Alise’s letter to Henri, as mentioned above, mandates the erasure of the paragraph of gossip, several other non-mandatory revisions in her letter draft reveal further details of Juliette’s character (at least in Alise’s eyes). On Alise’s draft sentence, ‘[b]ut [Juliette’s] piety is more than a person can bear’, a ‘rewrite’ revision is offered with the thought: ‘Perhaps a few examples would illustrate the point’. On curiosity of what those examples might be, clicking the revision rewards the reader with the following: ‘Juliette is always taking me aside in quiet moments and asking if I think that my attire is as modest as it should be; whether I have submitted myself to the authority of the church; whether I am obedient to my husband, if you please!’ A further revision to the last clause adds the following to the paragraph: ‘I do not think François would understand what had happened if I did become obedient suddenly, poor man. He requires conflict to keep the sap up. Without it he wilts’. While Alise’s letter could have been ‘sent’ without these revisions, by choosing to ‘write’ more of the letter, the reader reaps dividends of the narrative in acquiring information about Alise’s husband as well as a flash of Alise’s acid tongue. While these multiple opportunities for revision highlight the vicarious forming of the letter as a text by the reader/co-writer, it is also important to understand the extent of the impact of these revisions. Notwithstanding the range of revisions which the reader may choose to form the letters, Short makes it clear that the reader does not fundamentally create or change the epistolary story: ‘By helping to revise their letters, the reader exposes who the characters are. She doesn’t define or change them. Juliette, Henri, and the others are meant to have consistent personalities, and there’s nothing the reader can do to alter this fact’.19 The relationship between Juliette and Henri – tracing Juliette’s growing assertiveness against Henri and proving her worth to him, and Henri’s corresponding agitation and jealousy about his wife’s ambiguous relationship with the friar – would always run their course per the story as created by Short. The reader’s co-authorship of the letters thus does not relate to changing the story. Whichever way they choose to revise each character’s letters is irrelevant to the story’s course and outcome. 18 Emily Short categorizes such options as ‘expansion’ which provides depth and explanation, including ‘the choice to dramatize an issue, a character relationship, or an emotion that would otherwise remain opaque to the reader’. ‘Expansion’ options can be compared to ‘advancement’ options which ‘tell the next thing that happens’: see Short, First Draft: Author Statement’, n.p. 19 Short, ‘First Draft: Author Statement’, n.p., emphasis added.

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What the reader’s role of authorship does largely determine is the tone and content of the letters, thus colouring the letters and the character relations they prescribe. In this sense, the writing process of the letters in First Draft is not so much about authoring the letters as it is about articulating a critical privacy, namely, the writer’s internal tensions and conflicts which are always a part of writing. Letters in epistolary texts are almost always vehicles of confidentiality through which, as Higgins puts it, the reader or audience gets ‘to know the details about their lives through their writing’.20 Hence, letters often highlight the secrecy of their confidence by deliberately counterpointing characters’ ‘lives through their writing’ against their lives outside their writing. Such counterpoints can be seen in, for example, the private thoughts and frustrations of Bridget Jones in her diaries as she careers through her life. Or, more poignantly, the letters of nine-year-old Frankie to his father in Dear Frankie as his ‘voice’, humorous and intelligent, against the child’s otherwise world of silence due to his deafness. It is also due to this quality of confidentiality in letters that enables them to effectively play out the opposition between ‘confiance/non-confiance’, or, as Altman puts it, ‘the letter’s dual potential for transparency (portrait of soul, confession, vehicle of narrative) and opacity (mask, weapon, event within narrative)’.21 Letters thus succeed as choice vehicles with which to convey deception, misconception, misunderstanding, and masquerade, all as prime subversions of their inherent confidentiality.22 The interactive writing of letters in First Draft upends this conventional conveyance of epistolary confidentiality. Rather, in First Draft confidentiality lies in the writing of its letters by way of their drafts – with the revelations they present – and the private thoughts, fears, and doubts which accompany their options of revisions. Conversely, the letters themselves, post-revision, are utterly non-confidential products, polished and smoothed over as if – indeed – for public display. The tensions of the letters in First Draft are not those of the letters’ contents against other letters or external events in the story world, per convention. Instead, they lie in the internal strife within the letter’s world itself – specifically, the effort of deliberating over and deciding word choices, and the revelations of private sentiment in the letter drafts against the public front of their f inal revised form. On the former, the 20 Teri Higgins, ‘Attention to Detail: Epistolary Discourse and Contemporary Cinema’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Otago, 2013), p. 3, emphasis in original. 21 Altman, p. 186. 22 While not discussed here due to space constraints, First Draft also contains epistolary deception, where, at one point, Juliette masquerades as Henri and writes a letter in his voice.

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interactivity of First Draft delivers the writing process in full visibility by emphasizing its mechanism of draft revisions to not only, as mentioned, place the task squarely on the reader, but also self-reflexively underscore its laboriousness and challenge. As many writers (and academics!) attest, writing is difficult, long-drawn, finicky, emotionally exhausting, and lonely work.23 At its heart, letter writing is as much a labour of reaching outwards to the addressee as it is inwards unto the writer themselves. In this same sense, Kafka writes of letter writing as ‘an intercourse with ghosts’ – partly as an exercise of address to an absent counterparty (i.e. with ‘the ghost of the addressee’), but also because letter writing is a process ‘with one’s own ghost, which secretly evolves inside the letter one is writing’.24 Of the letter, then, as a medium reaching across multiple parties (fictional addressee; f ictional letter writer; the work’s author; 25 external reader), First Draft, unusually for an epistolary work, literalizes this tenet of its production process in bringing the reader/co-writer’s voice into the mix of voices merged between character, creator, and reader. More significantly, it exposes the letter not as a product but as a process of words, through which what is just as secret as its contents are the internal conflicts, choices, and struggles of the reader/writer. The confidentiality of the letters in First Draft is thus as much about their contents as it is about the journeys of arriving at them. Each letter’s draft sentences further indicate in conf idence not only the writer’s inner sentiments, but also the distance between the private and the public as the revisions take place, particularly in correspondence with rising emotional stakes in the story. For instance, as Juliette’s suspicions of Henri’s illegitimate son grow, her draft sentences reflect her distress about her marriage: ‘I suppose I should not be surprised [about 23 The recent revelation of Douglas Adams, as one of our most accomplished writers, noting to himself on how torturous writing is only serves to accentuate this truth: Mark Brown, ‘Douglas Adams’ Note to Self Reveals Author Found Writing Torture,’ The Guardian online, 22 March 2021, [accessed 7 April 2021]. Emily Short also comments on writing vis-à-vis her creative intentions for First Draft: ‘[T]he real nature of writing – as a process of revising, weighing word choices, evolving a text gradually over a long period around changing expectations of what it should even be saying – is really very hard to narrate. It involves small, particular choices and a great deal of nuance’. See Short, ‘First Draft: Author Statement’, n.p. 24 Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena, trans. with intro by Philip Boehm (New York: Schocken Books, 1990), p. ix, emphasis added. 25 Note also the effaced voice of the epistolary creator ‘who disclaims authorship [only to reclaim] it elsewhere – in the very joint work that structures the epistolary mosaic as art’, Altman, p. 183.

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legitimizing the boy]. There is no risk of my giving you an heir while we live so many miles separated’. The re-writing of those sentences, with thoughts of self-restraint via ‘calm, calm’ accompanying the option, turns them into the more moderate version which is then sent: ‘It is sensible. Your family would welcome a son of known ability. His manners are rough, but I dare say he could be trained’. Conversely, one particularly agitated letter from Henri on his jealousy of Juliette’s relationship with the friar offers relatively few revisions for re-writing, so that the f inalized letter resembles a hastily wrought letter in almost draft-like form, without even a sign-off. Hence, the labour of the reader as co-author in First Draft not only shifts attention to the process – and diff iculties – of writing the letters, but also exposes the tellingly relative distances between the draft and the re-written sentences which the reader’s revisions, or lack of, correspondingly bridge and reflect. The interactivity of revision in First Draft thus belies the facile clicking across the work just to change words in its letters. Specifically, it exposes the letter as a medium in the way John Durham Peters argues for media: communication ‘as disclosure of being rather than clarity of signal’, understood ‘not only as sending messages […] but also as providing conditions for existence’.26 Coupled with the opening quotation of this section – an ancient Chinese saying which refers to the gap between writing and both thought and intention – writing, and written letters, as a medium thus express something else, namely, a fundamental state of being in change between action and intention, being and thought. It is the space of contingency which all active agents (including writers) necessarily inhabit in life. The epistolary interactivity of First Draft translates this axiom directly, demonstrating the letter as being much larger than its contents. More than message or mask, the letter, laid bare in its mechanisms of drafts, choice of revisions, and revelations of inner thought, is instead about the potential of change – of words that could have and/or should have been against the words that finally are. Across the large range of permutations of revisions to be or which could be made by the reader, the interactive letters of First Draft are not communication media by way of conveying fixed or stable messages, but by being fluctuations of change and potential of change as a state of existence that reflects the (co-)writer’s own cognitive and emotional flux.

26 John Durham Peters, The Marvellous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 14.

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Sending the Magic Letter: Distance, Speed, Paradox Any genre is fine but keep in mind the effort of writing and sending a letter, the yearning that might be trapped in the words. Annie27

Besides the drafting and revision of its letters, the interactivity of First Draft contains another element. Once the reader has made the requisite number of changes, the work offers an option to ‘send the letter’ which, when clicked, produces the letter in its post-revised form, final and uneditable. On one level, this seemingly innocuous process ‘sends’ the letter to the reader who, after all, in being a co-writer of letters by all the characters also doubles up as each’s co-addressee. On another level, the reader’s clicking of the icon, if factually a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) request to and response from the server to load and render the webpage’s text and images onto the browser, within the fiction of the story also ‘magically’ ‘sends’ the letter to its addressee character. As mentioned in the Introduction, the sending of letters in First Draft is conveniently facilitated by its plot point of magic. Its letters are ostensibly penned on charmed papers which enable them to ‘appear’ instantaneously to the addressee as an ‘enchanted double’. As the preamble explains: ‘[Juliette] plans her letters on ordinary pages, but when they are ready, she copies them on paper whose enchanted double is hundreds of miles off. The words form themselves on the matching sheaf in her husband’s study. No time is wasted on couriers’. Through the letters, the reader learns more about these magic papers and their properties. Firstly, they are also called ‘linking paper’ and are in seemingly finite supply. In a letter to her Mother Superior at the convent, Juliette writes of how Henri chides her about ‘the waste of linking paper, and asks me what I will do if there is a matter of urgency and all the pages are used up. I have told him, then, to send me a fresh supply, but he only tells me to be more careful’. Secondly, sending letters, if not written on enchanted papers, may also be delivered by performing magic (albeit no further details are furnished). Thirdly, there is an element of encryption and decryption in these ‘magic’ letters: in Henri’s first letter, he writes of how ‘[w]hen one first learns to see the correspondences in the world, it is like seeing a sheet of letters one cannot read’. When Juliette sends to Henri a copy of a letter written by the friar as a clue to his revolutionary plot, the author’s narration describes how Henri has to correspondingly decrypt the 27 Annie, n.p.

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letter with magic: ‘The shape of the words [in the letter] is like poetry; the lines doubled like a psalm. Henri tries one psalm after another against the original text. It takes patience and the most delicate magic to separate the layer that is King David’s from the layer written by the friar’. In this twist, the reader’s revisions of the friar’s letter are thus not to rewrite the draft, but to ‘decrypt’ its ‘magically’ coded words into intelligible content. Finally, there is also an issue of speed in the sending of the letters. Some letters arrive more quickly than others. For instance, Short’s narration describes how ‘Juliette receives, on the same day but by a much slower conveyance, the answer to her letter to the Mother Superior of her old convent’. The parallels between the f ictional and factual transmission of the letters (via, respectively, ‘magic’ for the story’s characters and the Internet for the reader) are too obvious to miss. The linked papers echo the hyperlinking of webpages, as do the ostensible varying quickness of First Draft’s letters’ conveyance resonate with different Internet connection speeds. Similarly, the encryption of the letters, particularly by superimposing texts against each other, mirror the request and response protocols of HTTP between web browser and server (whose message structure requires both protocols to satisfactorily answer each other). Their decryption, particularly of Henri’s process with the friar’s coded letter, likewise easily stands for the browser’s rendering of Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) into readable text and images. The letters’ careful designs of late eighteenth-century Romanticism, with each correspondence formally addressed, dated, and signed off on elaborately embellished pages, further emphasize the juxtaposition against and anachronism of their fictional ‘magic’ – read electronic – transmission. ‘Sending the letter’ in First Draft, if only via the rather blunt yet immediately understandable juxtaposition between an elaborate plot point of ‘magic’ correspondence and a clickable web icon, thus draws attention to the other oft-overlooked aspect of the letter – its transmission, or how the letter travels from writer to addressee. This spotlight also commentates on the discombobulating natures of letters’ space and time. As with all communicatory devices, the letter’s raison d’être is the actual distance between two parties which takes time to connect, no matter how short. The constant plugging of ‘magic’ in the immediate transmission of letters in First Draft across (and against) their corresponding near-instantaneous conveyance of the Internet brings home the inherent discontinuities of space and time in sending letters. In particular, with respect to First Draft’s story world of late eighteenth-century France, letters which should have taken days, if not weeks, by foot, horseback, or stagecoach to cross from

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Dauphiné to Paris somehow arrive instantaneously across all its miles by the magic in its f iction, as with messages across the Internet 200 years later in the late twentieth century across even greater distances globally. First Draft thus self-reflexively works its dual levels of fiction and fact to converge magic and the Internet as an underscoring of the plasticity of time and distance in the letter in radically different eras of communication technologies. Yet even in all the ‘magic’ of instantaneity of its transmission, time and distance endures in the letter. There is still distance between the two parties across which the letter needs time to travel. The reader still needs to take time to refresh the webpage for the next letter draft. Across ‘magic’ and webpages, First Draft ensures this fundamental nature of the letter rings clarion: that spatio-temporal separation, indeed, constitutes the letter. 28 Somewhat like Zeno’s dichotomy paradox which posits the impossibility of motion (by virtue of how travel over any f inite distance cannot ever be completed or even begun because the traveller must run an endless sequence of fractions of the total distance), the complete bridging of that separation is similarly impossible in theory and logic. 29 First Draft’s purported collapse of space and time through ‘magic’ or otherwise thus brings these issues of the letter’s transmission to the fore. The paradox is that communications, as do letters, must necessarily separate even as they connect. Moreover, this is a separation that endures – perhaps is even intensif ied – in or despite the instantaneity of digital technologies. The letter is bound to chase the ghost separated from its body. As the directive, per the opening quotation in this section, from the ‘Correspondence Game Jam’ indicates, there is always yearning in its words.

Conclusion This chapter has argued how the interactive epistolary work of First Draft adopts an unusual yet effective approach in its interactivity of draft revisions to expose unique properties of the letter, namely, its writing and 28 Hence, letters are choice receptacles for facilitating deception, misunderstandings, and masquerade due to not only their inherent confidentiality (per the last section), but also their inherent discontinuities across bodies, space, and time which become prime ground for error and misconception. 29 Aristotle, ‘Physics’, trans. by W.D. Ross, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. by J. Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).

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transmission. Firstly, letter writing becomes a co-authorship between the creator, character, and reader, and as a result shifts the confidentiality – as one of its most important qualities – of the letter from its contents to its process of writing. In so doing, First Draft thus underscores not only the difficulty of writing, but the criticality of writing as a process in relation to creating a letter in terms of change, flux, becoming, and being. Secondly, the sending of letters in First Draft leverages a clever juxtaposition of eighteenth-century ‘magic’ of instantaneous transmission against twentieth/twenty-first-century technology of Internet communication. It calls attention to the axioms of spatio-temporal separation which constitute the ontology of the letter, and, indeed, of communication technologies in general. In turn, the physics of reaching across space and time which direct all communications generates a paradox of separation and connection that translates directly into absence and spectrality. Enduring as one of the last communication forms to still straddle the analogue (as handwritten on paper)30 and the digital (in the form of emails, text messages, etc.), the letter thus becomes possibly the most poignant exemplar of this paradox of distance and linkage, formality and intimacy. As Morwenna Ferrier writes, ‘to write on paper felt correct, and true. From the paper, to the stains and the handwriting, it is impossible to send an impersonal letter’.31 The interactive letter in First Draft underscores its digitality with its message on the essence of communication: at its heart, it is about fending off ghosts, even as it speaks as one.

Bibliography Altman, Janet Gurkin, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982) Annie, ‘Correspondence Jam’ (2019), itch.io [accessed 7 April 2021] Aristotle, ‘Physics’, trans. by W.D. Ross, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. by J. Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984)

30 On the return of the popularity of the letter, particularly in Covid times, see Morwenna Ferrier, ‘“A Letter Tells Someone They Still Matter’: The Sudden, Surprising Return of the Pen Pal’, The Guardian online, 23 March 2021, [accessed 7 April 2021]. 31 Ferrier, np.

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Barthes, Roland, ‘On Reading’, in Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language, trans. by Richard Howard (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 32–43 Barthes, Roland, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. by R. Miller (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990) Booth, Wayne, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961) Brown, Mark, ‘Douglas Adams’ Note to Self Reveals Author Found Writing Torture’, The Guardian online, 22 March 2021, [accessed 15 June 2022] Cameron, Andy, ‘Dissimulations: Illusions of Interactivity’, Millennium Film Journal, 28 (Spring 1995), [accessed 15 June 2022] Ferrier, Morwenna, ‘“A Letter Tells Someone They Still Matter”: The Sudden, Surprising Return of the Pen Pal’, The Guardian online, 23 March 2021, [accessed 15 June 2022] Hanff, Helene, 84 Charing Cross Road (London: Sphere, 1982) Higgins, Teri, ‘Attention to Detail: Epistolary Discourse and Contemporary Cinema’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2013) Iser, Wolfgang, The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974) Kafka, Franz, Letters to Milena, trans. with intro by Philip Boehm (New York: Schocken Books, 1990) McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 1964) Peters, John Durham, The Marvellous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2015) Prince, Gerald, ‘The Diary Novel: Notes for the Definition of a Sub-genre’, Neophilologus, 59 (1975), 477–81 Reynolds, Daniel, ‘Letters and the Unseen Woman: Epistolary Architecture in Three Recent Video Games’, Film Quarterly, 68.1 (2014), 48–60 Rostand, Edmond, Cyrano de Bergerac, trans. by Carol Clark (New York: Penguin, 1897; 2006) Short, Emily, ‘First Draft of the Revolution: Author Statement, Liza Daly’, n.d., [accessed 7 April 2021] Zhou yi jin zhu jin yi (周易今註今譯), ed. by Nan Huaijin (南懷瑾) and Xu Qinting (徐芹庭) (Taibei: Taiwan shangwu yinshuguan gufen youxian gongsi, 2007)

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Ludography First Draft of the Revolution (2012), Emily Short, inkle studios, [accessed 15 June 2022]. Sara Is Missing (2015), Monsoon Lab, Android; iOS; Classic Mac OS Dear Esther (2012), The Chinese Room, Robert Briscoe, Microsoft Windows Gone Home (2013), The Fullbright Company, PlayStation 4; Nintendo Switch; Xbox One

About the Author Jenna Ng is Senior Lecturer in Film and Interactive Media at the University of York, UK. She is the editor of Understanding Machinima: Essays on Filmmaking in Virtual Worlds (Bloomsbury, 2013), and the author of The Post-Screen Through Virtual Reality, Holograms and Light Projections: Where Screen Boundaries Lie (Amsterdam University Press, 2021).

10. Epistolary Distance and Reciprocity in José Luis Guerínand Jonas Mekas’s Filmed Correspondences Emre Çağlayan

Abstract Artists’ correspondences are typically imagined as an exchange in written letters, but for filmmakers the increasing usage of digital technology has enabled the possibility of exchanging video letters. One interesting example of filmed letters is the The Complete Letters: Filmed Correspondences project, which was commissioned by Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and exhibited in 2011–2012. Whereas traditional artists’ correspondence is premised upon reciprocity and enables self-reflection, the shift from the written word to the video letter undermines and complicates the reflexive potentiality of a transformative dialogue. In these filmed correspondences, there is little mutual sensibility of cinema. Instead we see contrasting methods, approaches, and ways of thinking about image-making, which is especially evident in the Guerín–Mekas pairing. Keywords: Jonas Mekas; José Luis Guerín; artists’ correspondence; video letter; self-reflection

Artists’ correspondences are typically imagined as an exchange in written letters, but for filmmakers the increasing use of digital technology has enabled the possibility of exchanging video letters. One interesting example of the emerging format of filmed letters is the Todas las cartas: Correspondencias fílmicas/The Complete Letters: Filmed Correspondences project, which was commissioned and curated by Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) and exhibited in 2011–2012. The exhibition featured filmed exchanges between five pairs of filmmakers who were invited to investigate

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch10

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the epistolary format and reflect on the creative motivations that informed their artistic practice. The aim was to unite pairs of filmmakers who are geographically distant and yet able to correspond with respect to their vision of cinema: José Luis Guerín (Spain) and Jonas Mekas (Lithuania/USA), Isaki Lacuesta (Spain) and Naomi Kawase (Japan), Albert Serra (Spain) and Lisandro Alonso (Argentina), Jaime Rosales (Spain) and Wang Bing (China), and Fernando Eimbcke (Mexico) and So Yong Kim (South Korea/USA). The subtitle of the project places emphasis on the double meaning of the noun ‘correspondence’, as communication (through filmed letters) and as compatibility (a mutual sensibility of cinema). But the two senses of ‘correspondence’ are incongruous with each other in The Complete Letters. Whereas traditional artists’ correspondence is premised upon reciprocity and enables self-reflection, the shift from the written word to the video letter undermines and complicates the reflexive potentiality of a transformative dialogue. In these filmed correspondences, there is little mutual sensibility of cinema, instead we see contrasting methods, approaches, and ways of thinking about image-making. Contrasting methods are especially evident in the Guerín–Mekas pairing. Guerín’s sober, detached and itinerant reflections on filmmaking are in opposition to Mekas’s intimate tapings of his immediate surroundings in Brooklyn, which borders on the confessional and shies away from critical reflection. The blockages caused by the epistolary form are, however, resolved in the triangulated nature of the whole exhibition, with viewers completing the dialectic and interrogating different models of artistic practice. Since The Complete Letters involves filmed letters, the project differs from the everyday and pervasive act of letter writing and fits instead within the larger tradition of correspondence between artists. Although Linda Goddard reports that the tradition goes as far back as the Renaissance period, the publication of artists’ books, letters, diaries, and other writings were increasing in frequency throughout the nineteenth century.1 Historians and researchers reacted enthusiastically to this development and began to consider these texts as primary sources that were instrumental in recontextualizing the biographies of the artists, helping better understanding of their artworks, and illuminating their artistic processes. The content and style of these texts varied immensely, from Rainer Maria Rilke’s widely read Letters to a Young Poet (1929), which bears highly influential and reflexive thoughts on how a poet should engage with the world, to the daily ruminations of Walt Whitman, who admittedly never ‘wrote a purely literary letter’ and instead 1 Linda Goddard, ‘Artists’ Writings, 1850–Present: Introduction’, Word & Image, 28.4 (2012), 331–34, [accessed 15 June 2022].

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obsessively recopied his personal correspondences.2 Letters exchanged between artistic collaborators have also been viewed as significant for various other reasons. For example, the letters between the dramatist Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider, who directed Beckett’s plays in the US, demonstrate not only the working relationship between two artists but also the critical reception of the plays and the ways in which the texts were interpreted and later staged.3 Perhaps the most famous and extensive artist correspondence is the decade-long epistolary exchange between Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, which was published in 1828 and featured a little over a thousand letters. In her analysis of this correspondence, Margaretmary Daley writes of ‘epistolary distance’ as a literary feature, where authors take turns in responding to each other and their literary work. Upon switching perspectives from writer to reader, authors see their own writing and process of intellectual thinking as if in a mirror, ‘yet a special kind of mirror capable of influencing and altering that which it reflects, capable of bringing an unclear reflection into focus, capable of turning opposition into self-knowledge’. 4 Epistolary distance is a crucial concept for The Complete Letters because the project presupposes that the filmmakers will initiate a reciprocal and reflexive dialogue, though few filmmakers engaged in this process with the exception of Guerín, whose voice-over comments upon Mekas’s video letters. Artists’ letters are typically assumed to be private forms of writing. For Linda Goddard, ‘the supposedly personal nature of texts such as letters and diaries is taken to confirm the authenticity of an artist’s innermost thoughts and feelings, as if the reader were granted unmediated access to his/her true intentions’.5 Daley acknowledges that the letters exchanged between Goethe and Schiller were written in private, but ‘belong to a hybrid genre of literary writing’, for the letters comprised both objective analysis and subjective self-judgement.6 Indeed, the Goethe–Schiller correspondence could be thought of as literary criticism conducted in the private sphere 2 Walt Whitman, The Correspondence, vol. 1: 1842–1867, ed. by Edwin Halivand Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961), p. 2. 3 No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider, ed. by Maurice Harmon (London: Harvard University Press, 1998). 4 Margaretmary Daley, ‘Double Vision: Polar Meetings, Epistolary Distance, and the Super Writer in the “Schiller–Goethe Correspondence”’, The Journal of Midwest Modern Language Association, 36.2 (2003), 1–22 (p. 2). 5 Goddard, p. 332. 6 Daley, p. 15.

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which, upon publication, became public documents that invited other readers to take part in the ‘complex exchange in which the relationships of reader and writer, subject and object, self and other constantly cross and exchange’.7 The correspondence, in other words, is a classic example of how the assumed privacy – and uninhibited frankness – of letter writing can be reappropriated by a future, unintended audience, whose privileged access has the potential to review and reconsider the author and their artistic process beyond their fictional works. The Complete Letters is premised on a different, unique mode of address precisely because, unlike written letters, it is simultaneously the artefact on display at an exhibition and the conduit that prompts audiences to make connections – to compare, contrast, and evaluate – across the distinct practices of each filmmaker. In the realm of film the use of private documents, notes, and letters has been a regular feature of film historiography,8 yet the cinematic practice of filmmaker correspondence can be considered an emergent format. Fernando Canet reports on pioneering examples of video correspondences between Shuji Terayama and Shuntarō Tanikawa (1982–83), Robert Kramer and Stephen Dwoskin (1991), and Naomi Kawase and Yutaka Tsuchiya (1996).9 To these we can add Correspondencia (Dominga Sotomayor and Carla Simón, 2020) and Las cartas que no fueron también son (The Letters that Were Not Also Are, 2021), a collective audiovisual project that premiered in the Punto de Vista film festival, which involved eight directors filming a letter addressed to another deceased director who they did not know personally. Returning to our focus, The Complete Letters were inspired by an innovative exhibition in the CCCB in 2006 that sought to explore the ways in which the works of Victor Erice and Abbas Kiarostami shared a similar aesthetic sensibility. Co-curator Alain Bergala describes this harmony as ‘the order of an intransigent morality of artistic creation [which is] expressed in their films by an ethics of form, ensuring that their films have an unmistakable aesthetic kinship’.10 The central feature of the exhibition is the ten video 7 Daley, p. 16. 8 See for example, Elia Kazan, The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan, ed. by Albert J. Devlin and Marlene J. Devlin (New York: Knopf, 2014) and David O. Selznick, Memo from David O. Selznick, ed. by Rudy Behrman (New York: Modern Library, 2000). 9 Fernando Canet, ‘Essay Films about Film: The “Filmed Correspondence” between José Luis Guerin and Jonas Mekas’, in World Cinema and the Essay Film: Transnational Perspectives on a Global Practice, ed. by Brenda Hollweg and Igor Krstic (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), pp. 36–52 (p. 39). 10 Alain Bergala and Jordi Balló, eds, Erice Kiarostami Correspondences (Barcelona: Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, 2006), p. 13.

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exchanges between Erice and Kiarostami that were shot intentionally with mini-DV digital cameras so as to reproduce the urgency and intimacy of letter writing. The exhibition also consisted of additional installations, workshops aimed at children and young adults, and other short films, including those by the curators Bergala and Jordi Balló.11 The exhibition catalogue promotes the installations as ‘a dialogue in the form of an exhibition’ and showcases various strands and themes prevalent across the work of both directors: a cinema that pays contemplative attention to landscape, the passing of time, the traumas and difficulties of childhood, and the reflexive practice of creating art.12 As Bergala explains, both filmmakers ‘shared the taste for a cinema which takes the time to contemplate the things of the world, to look at human beings confronted by this enigma, a cinema of minute observation, of patience and attention to small things’.13 Whereas the aesthetic kinship between the cinemas of Erice and Kiarostami is easily apparent, such a compatibility is not immediately recognizable in the pairings of the 2011 iteration, which is formed out of a heterogeneous mix of filmmakers with divergent thematic interests and audiovisual styles. However, the idea of an epistolary exchange between filmmakers involving a reciprocal mode of address is all the more thought provoking, because the continuous correspondence, through distinct styles, throws into sharp relief the common concerns in filmmaking practice. In The Complete Letters, filmmakers use different cinematic devices to address common questions about how to respond to and portray one’s own environment, the contrasting motivations behind artistic creation, and the development of an authorial voice. By pairing filmmakers, both exhibitions assume a pre-existing resemblance – correspondence as compatibility – in their practice, but degrees of reciprocity vary. Once the paired works are placed alongside each other in the exhibition, nuanced differentiations within each pairing are apparent. For Balló, the combination of the ‘creative rapport’ between filmmakers with the reception from visitors to the exhibition, creates a unique ‘three-way cinematic experience which simultaneously contains the direct addressee and the viewer’.14 In other words, the filmed correspondences are dialogic and relational in nature: first, since the filmmakers are given the freedom to 11 Linda C. Ehrlich, ‘Letters to the World: Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondences Curated by Alain Bergala and Jordi Balló’, Senses of Cinema, 41 (2006) [Accessed 26 February 2021]. 12 Bergala and Balló, p. 3. 13 Bergala and Balló, p. 14. 14 Bergala and Balló, p. 74.

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propose ideas, reflect on their practices, and respond to each other through a continuous conversation; they are at once the writers and readers of their texts. Second, in the context of the exhibition the correspondences invite audiences as a third group of readers, who need to critically and actively sift through the works in order to draw conclusions. The Complete Letters has received conflicting scholarly treatment. Placing the project within the emergent framework of essayistic film practice, Fernando Canet draws attention to how it brings together filmmakers who take their viewers on ‘a journey exploring the diversity of the world using a shared conception of cinema as unique vehicle for transport’.15 Abigail Loxham situates the films within the first-person documentary form and f inds ethical encounters with reality, intimacy, and mortality that are both enhanced and complicated in the gallery setting.16 In contrast to Canet and Loxham, Steven Marsh places emphasis on correspondence as communication, ‘marked not by reciprocation but by bifurcation, by the undermining of any claim to origins, […] by the destabilization of destinations and, in turn, that of the relation between addresser and addressee, signifier and signified’.17 This chapter’s assessment of the project resonates with Marsh’s suggestion that the ‘filmic letters are asymmetrical; that they point up differences, ruptures; that they are jagged and discordant engagements’.18 Despite the curators’ brief on using the epistolary to reflect on their artistic practice, the filmmakers take the creative freedom afforded by the video format to its limits, resulting in differences, misunderstandings, and confusions. Such ‘discordant engagements’ are most evident in two pairings that do not even embrace reciprocal exchange as an underlying feature of the project and comprise stand-alone films that loosely demonstrate contrasting stylistic approaches. In his video correspondence, Albert Serra brings together the cast and crew of his previous film Honor de Cavalleria (2006) on the plains of La Mancha, where Don Quixote was set through extended duration, in a typically Serraesque fashion. There the crew await instructions from the director, who at times wanders in and out of the frame. In response, Lisandro Alonso places his actor Misael Saavedra, from La Libertad (2001) 15 Canet, p. 40. 16 Abigail Loxham, ‘An Encounter with Ethics and Documentary Images in the Exhibition “Totes les cartes”/“Todas las cartas”/“All the Letters”’, Studies in Documentary Film, 7.3 (2013), 295–306. 17 Steven Marsh, ‘Turns and Returns, Envois/Renvois: The Postal Effect in Recent Spanish Filmmaking’, Discourse, 35.1 (2013), 24–45 (p. 27). 18 Marsh, p. 28.

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and Fantasma (2006), in the landscapes of La Pampa to act out a part from a lesser known myth about a man who lost his dog. Saavedra’s performance is depicted through flamboyant, mysterious camera movements reminiscent of Alonso’s early works. Whereas the Serra–Alonso correspondence reflects on creating fiction, the Jamie Rosales–Wang Bing correspondence explores how they approach their interests with radically different means. Rosales places a camera in Madrid’s Barajas airport and instructs the sound recorder to freely roam around the space. The camera revolves around itself and zooms in and out of details. But Bing captures through a handheld camera the daily activities of a family striving purely for survival in the remote mountains of Yunnan province. Both films are interested in portraying and documenting a situation, but Rosales’s disjunctive sound–image relations within a middle-class milieu is in stark contrast to Bing’s ethnographic naturalism. The other correspondences consist of shorter films that are dispatched over a longer period of time, capturing more closely the spirit of epistolary exchange and often beginning with one filmmaker suggesting a theme and the other responding to it. Such a structure is most clearly present in the Eimbcke–Kim correspondence. Eimbcke’s letters are suggestive of nature, memories of childhood, family, and home, and Kim responds by filming her immediate environment in corresponding themes. This dialogue is further developed in complex ways in the Lacuesta–Kawase correspondence, which takes its cue from the qualities of traditional epistolary exchange. Both Lacuesta and Kawase acknowledge the geographical distance that separates them, as well as the fact that they do not know each other well, and send each other filmed letters that show fragments of their immediate surroundings that involve family members and colleagues. Later, the two reminisce about a time when they met in person and filmed together for the project. Studying the resulting images, they recognize stylistic differences between the two of them. The correspondence between Jonas Mekas and José Luis Guerín is more explicitly an exchange in the way the curators intended, because the artists address and develop similar themes in response to each other. The differences in visual style between Mekas and Guerín are apparent in striking detail in their video correspondences, which take place across nine letters spanning from November 2009 to April 2011. Guerín consistently shoots elegant compositions balanced with close-ups in low contrast black and white. He adopts a dynamic editing structure that often moves back and forth in time and includes a reflective and inquisitive voice-over as well as a collection of atmospheric, ambient sounds. Mekas’s noticeably handheld shots are longer in duration, with direct sound, shaky images, and washed out colours, and rarely includes footage shot prior to the project. Whereas Guerín overlays his images

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with motifs, both visual (reflective surfaces, framing through windows, flickers of movement) and sonic (rustling leaves, crashing waves), Mekas’s sequences register and report in a manner as direct as possible his lived experience in New York; we see communal activities of eating and dancing, travelling across the city, visual markers of seasons and weather, and views from his window. A tension is created – due to the diametrical opposition of visual styles – and then resolved, by brief moments of similarity such as recurring motifs of frames-within-frames and shots through windows of travelling vehicles. In the first letter Guerín mentions that he is preparing his new film Guest (2010), shot over many years while attending film festivals worldwide. Guest is shot in a diary form reminiscent of Mekas’s early films, however this resemblance is immediately called into question by a verbal exchange between the two directors. Guerín remembers Mekas’s cinematic formulation (‘I react to life’, which he thinks he heard on his recent visit to New York) to which Mekas replies ‘it [artistic motivation] is and it is not … who knows’ – a characteristic rejection of rationalization that reaches its apogee at the end of his subsequent letter. In this brief sequence Mekas speaks directly to his camera. He dismisses critical reflection as ‘a game’ consisting of ‘playing with words’, opting instead to retain an aura of mystery about his impulsive need to ‘film moments of life around [himself]’. But in his next letter Guerín insists on the process of rationalization by asserting an artist’s need to set restrictions. He speaks of having the freedom both to choose and to make aesthetic decisions. Hence, whereas Mekas negotiates his practice through instinctive decisions and randomized encounters, Guerín adopts a cerebral language and systematically unpacks the terms of his filmmaking as having authorial control. While Guerín finds his communication with Mekas therapeutic, it is unclear what Mekas makes of Guerín’s letters. The conversation between Guerín and Mekas is reminiscent of Daley’s epistolary distance – the special mirror in the Goethe–Schiller correspondence that enables the switching of perspectives between writer and reader – in that we, as yet another reader, are given direct, privileged access to the artists’ thinking processes and the aspirations that drive their creative practice. A particularly potent moment occurs in Guerín’s third video letter when he comments on the contrasting presence of two different windows in Mekas’s preceding letter: ‘one looking out onto an exterior in springtime’ (views from Mekas’s real window that register images of blossoming trees) and ‘another, inside, looking over images of winter’ (shots of Mekas’s editing room during which he shows out-takes from late 1970s footage). Guerín responds by showing views from his own window and shots of his own editing setup; once again the differences are striking in terms of the

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materiality of their working practice. Mekas deals with fading 16mm footage and complains of the difficulty he has cranking his projector wheel while continuing to record in video. Because of his physical struggle, the images appear ghostly, they are out of focus and either flow in reverse or flicker in dissonant rhythms. In contrast, Guerín’s editing table consists of a computer with two monitors, along with digital images shot in Lisbon two years prior. Whereas Mekas comments on time spent with friends (Ken Jacobs, Peter Kubelka, and so on) while looking at fading images, Guerín incorporates the Lisbon footage directly into his letter to recall the memory of Nika Bohinc, the Slovenian film critic who was killed (along with her partner Alexis Tioseco) a year after the images were shot. Both video letters evolve into a meditation on memory and fleeting moments of life shared with friends and colleagues. Guerín draws inspiration from Bohinc’s gaze. He lets her speak in extended close-ups and talks of his Lisbon memory eloquently, but the process of editing and his interaction with the footage is absent from view. By contrast, Mekas’s strenuous, bodily effort in working with the fading footage is equally matched by the constant mental preoccupation with identifying the places and people in it. And yet both filmmakers bookend these memory segments with images of trees outside their windows, bringing into view the complex relationship between cinema, reality, and memory. As should be evident from the discussion so far, the Mekas-Guerín correspondence involves both filmmakers portraying their surroundings from an intensely personal perspective. As such, the video letters resemble the diary film, of which Mekas was of course an important pioneer. His story has been recounted several times: having spent most of the 1940s escaping Nazis and interned in displaced persons camps, Mekas arrived in New York City in 1949 with his brother Adolfas. He bought his first 16mm Bolex camera the following year and began filming Lithuanian immigrants on Williamsburg streets and, later, artists. By 1969, when Walden: Diaries, Notes, and Sketches was first screened to the public, Mekas was already an awarded filmmaker (Guns of the Trees, 1961 and The Brig, 1964), an impassioned film writer (editing Film Culture and running the epistolary-titled ‘Movie Journal’ column at the Village Voice) and had spearheaded foundational institutions such as the Filmmakers Cooperative, activities for which he was frequently dubbed the ‘Godfather of the American Avant-garde’. Mekas himself wrote of his organizational role as ‘a mid-wife’ – a nurturing figure cultivating and supporting an emerging pool of cinematic talent.19 19 Jonas Mekas, Movie Journal: The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959–1971 (New York: Macmillan, 1972), p. ix.

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Mekas’s diary films are characterized by an incredible sense of spontaneity, which is also evident in his video correspondence with Guerín. The diary films celebrate the ordinary, fleeting memories shared by a close-knit community, and chronicle the energetic, cheerful flowering of the American underground. Joyful moments are counterbalanced with a sense of exile, loss, and memories of displacement, particularly evident in the first reels (and quite literally in the title) of Lost, Lost, Lost (1976). With this combination of emotions, the films come across as powerful and poignant in tone, demonstrating the coexistence of togetherness and sadness, of community and displacement. For P. Adams Sitney, the films ‘share a negative relation to lapidary, fully constructed and finished achievements; they are quotidian lyrics, spontaneous, perhaps tentative records of a sensibility in the midst of, or fresh from, experience’.20 Indeed, the designation of the diary film as primarily fragmented in its vision is due to Mekas’s distinctive use of the handheld camera as an extension of his body and its conception as ‘a privileged vehicle for conveying – and expanding – subjectivity’.21 In the hands of Mekas the camera is a means of both seeing the world anew and spontaneously capturing the precious moments of existence shared by close friends, families, and loved ones. What appears to be a casual – perhaps even amateurish – visual style proves to be an impulsive and reactionary combination of shooting techniques (modulations in focus, iris manipulation, single-frame camerawork that produces a staccato effect), along with multiple superimpositions and a shaky handheld style that permits swift, blurred, and abstract movement. The shots are edited into longer sequences sometimes years, even decades later, and are organized around typed-up, mostly factually descriptive intertitles. The final stage of his diary films is reached when Mekas adds voice-over commentary, other ambient sounds that were asynchronously recorded, and music (which, he admits, was often recorded from a radio at the time of editing). The aesthetics of Mekas’s diary films is worth attending to in detail because they are predicated not just on capturing fleeting private memories of daily life and its restless forward momentum, but also on re-presenting such easily forgotten details with a renewed sense of vitality and ambivalence. Hence, the films display devotion, attentiveness, and openness to transient forms of experience because they are edited at a future moment 20 P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 424. 21 Adam Charles Hart, ‘Extensions of our Body Moving, Dancing: The American Avant-Garde’s Theories of Handheld Subjectivity’, Discourse, 41.1 (2019), 37–67 (p. 38).

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in history and they are subsequently screened to the public as if they were documented memoirs. Mekas’s editing process, a glimpse of which we see in one of his letters to Guerín, combines different subjective temporalities. It inscribes a reflective component into his footage, which evokes pastness and was shot without the intention of ever being viewed by the public. David E. James reformulates the tension between filming without the intention for public screening and editing the fragments together by distinguishing between the film diary and the diary film: where the former ‘privileges the author, the process and moment of creation, and the inorganic assembly of the disarticulate’, the latter ‘privileges the completed artifact as a whole, the moment of projection, the spectating public’.22 In tracing this metamorphosis, James situates Mekas within an art-historical genealogy that ranges from Henry David Thoreau’s dedication to journal writing and the literary significance of autobiography, to the Impressionists’ active pursuit of the glance, namely the essence of modern life captured by spontaneous vision. According to James, the diary films of Mekas promise a ‘utopian cinema’, whose intervention is precisely anchored in the transformation of the private and the amateur into the public and the industrial, the melding of ‘an antibourgeois cultural practice’ in the context of ‘a bourgeois society’.23 Mekas’s early diary films have received considerable scholarly attention, but the works completed from the 1980s onwards are yet to be critically assessed, as they demonstrate both a thematic evolution and a declining use of 16mm and 8mm film. Beginning with Notes for Jerome (1978), based on Mekas’s visit to Jerome Hill’s home before the latter passed away in 1974, and the subsequent Paradise Not Yet Lost, or Oona’s Third Year (1980), a letter to Mekas’s daughter Oona, one can see an epistolary trend in which the films are addressed to close friends and loved ones. Hence, Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol: Friendships and Intersections (1982), Zefiro Torna or Scenes from the Life of George Maciunas (Fluxus) (1992), Scenes from Allen’s Last Three Days on Earth as a Spirit (1997, to Allen Ginsberg), Happy Birthday to John (1997, to John Lennon) and more recently, I Don’t Know Which Tree It Comes from That Fragrance (2017, described as a ‘valentine to Yoko Ono’) are all elegiac tributes to artists with whom Mekas mingled. Whereas the early diary films recorded Mekas’s pensive longing as a displaced person for a true home, against the unfolding of a new community, these cinematic 22 David E. James, ‘Film Diary/Diary Film: Practice and Product in Walden’, in To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground, ed. by David E. James (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 145–79 (p. 147). 23 James, p. 147.

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letters signal a switch in his mode of autobiography, refocusing attention upon time spent with others, albeit captured in a handheld visual style characteristic of the earlier diaries. Indeed, Adam Charles Hart reminds us that Mekas’s film practice developed within an artistic context that ‘privileged spontaneity and improvisation at the moment of creation’ and that included modern dance, free jazz, method acting, and direct cinema as well as abstract expressionist painting and beat poetry.24 Mekas himself wrote: ‘My filming techniques are determined by my reactions to what I am filming. I am not filming reactions: these are my reactions’, a statement that forms the basis of Guerín’s first video letter to Mekas.25 José Luis Guerín has also been complicating the boundaries of fact and fiction. Since the mid-1980s he has made films that explore the nexus of history, memory, and subjectivity, all filtered through a reflexive approach to cinematic creation, the ambiguity of the image, and the malleability of the cinematic apparatus. According to Belén Vidal, the itinerant Catalan filmmaker ‘described his own conception of cinema as a tension between control and chance, or, as he puts it by bringing together two seemingly antithetical terms “film as dispositif for revelation”’.26 Indeed, Guerín’s films Innisfree (1990) and Train of Shadows (1997) are as much concerned with the medium of cinema as they are documentaries about cinema’s imprint on place and history. Vidal argues that Guerín’s engagement with cinema itself ‘presupposes a self-reflexive mode of “writing” about cinema using the moving image’ and that his ‘multimedia practice constantly refers back to the elusiveness of the original cinematic experience’.27 Meanwhile, for Abigail Loxham, Guerín constructs ‘a dialogue between past and present, old and new, and between what it is that constitutes the image and what is left out, as gaps and elisions’.28 Rob Stone places Guerín in the transnational context of European arthouse cinema, with Chris Marker as the presiding antecedent of the former’s formal experimentalism, while acknowledging the influence of a Cubist deconstruction of perspective, memory, and subjectivity. ‘His tools and tricks include’, writes Stone, ‘the presentation of cinéma vérité as a record of reality and its rug-pulling reveal as artifice, the similar 24 Hart, p. 43. 25 Quoted in Hart, p. 43 [emphasis mine]. 26 Belén Vidal, ‘The Cinephilic Citation in the Essay Films by José Luis Guerin and Isaki Lacuesta’, Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 15.3 (2014), 373–93 (p. 379), [accessed 15 June 2022]. 27 Vidal, p. 374. 28 Abigail Loxham, Cinema at the Edges: New Encounters with Julio Medem, Bigas Luna and José Luis Guerín (New York: Berghahn, 2014), p. 144.

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revelation of subjectivity as formalism, and the consequent admission that the suspended timelessness of a long take is actually artfully calibrated’.29 The blurring of truth and f iction and the palimpsestic treatment of memory are regular features of Guerín’s earlier films that masquerade as documentaries, though such a view is equally applicable to his most well-known film, In the City of Sylvia (2007). In the film, which was shot without a screenplay, a young artist’s search for a woman he may or may not have encountered during his visit to Strasbourg several years prior, is not told in any conventional sense. In fact, the plot summary I have just recounted does not even become clear until at least halfway through the film. Instead, we see extended sequences that seem to be sketching out the specificities of place, drawing out linkages between different people and different memories – just as the protagonist is looking for a muse to sketch in his notebook – to make sense out of this place layered with overlapping meanings. The film’s companion piece Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (2007) is essentially a photo diary film that attempts to explain an autobiographical experience: Guerín’s visit to Strasbourg during the summer and winter of 2004 in search of an ideal muse he had met there in 1982. Composed entirely out of photographs, the film recounts Guerín’s memory and later unravels its uncertainty. The barely noticeable differences between some photographs create the illusion of movement, which at times resemble the staccato jump cuts of Mekas’s diary films. However, Guerín is less interested in the moment than Mekas, rather he seeks the coexistence of past and present, overwhelming our perception with photographs of texts, of other photographs, of drawings of faces, of sketches, and of graffiti written over walls and over signs mounted over walls. In sharp contrast to Mekas’s diary films, Guerín’s films present memory and truth as palimpsests whose unattainable complexities are in constant flux. Viewed in the context of their makers’ film careers, the video correspondences thus demonstrate different models of authorship and reconfigure the relationship between the artist and the cinematic image. Canet draws attention to how both filmmakers film their own shadows as recognizable silhouettes and imprints of their authorial discourse.30 I would argue that beyond the shared shadow trope there is a disconnect in terms of how each 29 Rob Stone, ‘En la ciudad de Sylvia/In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, 2007) and the Durée of a Dérive’, in Spanish Cinema, 1973–2010: Auteurism, Politics, Landscape and Memory, ed. by Maria M. Delgado and Robin Fiddian (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), pp. 169–82 (p. 170). 30 Canet, p. 45.

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filmmaker approaches expressive methods. The two directors are also divided in their differing beliefs in the functions of their artistic personas and the levels of self-inscription found in the images they have created. Throughout the video letters, Guerín remains a detached observer with a disembodied voice, who obviously constructed the letters in an order that would make narrative sense. He works through a rationalizing discourse and is engaged in epistolary distance as he frequently muses on the restrictions he set himself during the project. Mekas, by contrast, is an onscreen vocal participant in constant motion, whose corporeal presence is invariably felt through his haphazard camerawork. He frequently incorporates footage of himself shot by others, or turns the camera around and directly addresses it. The difference between the two filmmakers’ styles is anchored in their approaches to the depiction of life’s mysteries. In order to both express meaning and insert his point of view Guerín uses a highly articulate voice-over, he also complicates attempts to interpret his practice by showing mutating and abstract images (a revolving glass door, reflections of buildings on water, windows distorted by raindrops). By contrast, Mekas films himself using unimposing and unpolished images and a reportage unreflective of the conditions of viewing, a dreamer’s – or, perhaps, a realist’s? – perspective. Guerín reminds us via his voice-over of where his footage comes from and at what time, whereas Mekas’s images are divorced from their context and the fragments are at times elongated to the point of vapidity. Guerín displays himself as an impermanent shadow (most vividly as a black spot on his friend’s pupil) eager to indulge in a dialogue, while Mekas turns the camera on to his own face, with no urgency to explain the why and the how. There is an ironic conclusion to be drawn from these oppositional relationships: in positioning his autobiographical self in front of the camera, Mekas makes an argument for the disappearance and the irrelevance of the author, as his statements evacuate the notion of authorial intention from artistic creation, while Guerín’s bodily absence is in counterpoint to the authorial formal gestures inscribed in the audiovisual materiality of the letters. At the same time, the romantic conviction of artistic creation, which was already premised in the larger project of The Complete Letters, is present in both video letters: Mekas is obsessed with filming and documenting moments, just as Guerín is determined to give shape to what reality reveals to him. With the f ilmmaker at their centre, The Complete Letters are highly complex works that are difficult to assign to a particular genre or style. Their investment in actuality brings to mind documentary, yet the letters are highly idiosyncratic even for the performative mode. Their status as provisional, tentative, and personal constructions evoke the essay film,

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particularly the self-portrait. The whole notion of an essay, just as in the letter (both written and filmed), implies a mode of address that contains a message for an addressee, and by extension privileges the writer’s (and filmmaker’s) perspective – their abstract musings on practice and on the quotidian, showcasing an inherently individuated line of reasoning, through a characteristically self-inscribed tone and style of enunciation. But such a ‘message’ is at times lost in amongst the video correspondences – some proposals are taken up, others not responded to, a few ignored altogether. Therefore, in the filmed correspondences between José Luis Guerín and Jonas Mekas the epistolary structure bears witness to a dispersed authorship that demonstrates different forms of self-expression and artistic imagination.

Bibliography Bergala, Alain, and Jordi Balló, eds, Erice Kiarostami Correspondences (Barcelona: Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, 2006) Canet, Fernando, ‘Essay Films about Film: The “Filmed Correspondence” between José Luis Guerin and Jonas Mekas’, in World Cinema and the Essay Film: Transnational Perspectives on a Global Practice, ed. by Brenda Hollweg and Igor Krstic (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), pp. 36–52 Daley, Margaretmary, ‘Double Vision: Polar Meetings, Epistolary Distance, and the Super Writer in the “Schiller–Goethe Correspondence”’, The Journal of Midwest Modern Language Association, 36.2 (2003), 1–22 Ehrlich, Linda C., ‘Letters to the World: Erice-Kiarostami: Correspondences Curated by Alain Bergala and Jordi Balló’, Senses of Cinema, 41 (2006), [accessed 15 June 2022] Goddard, Linda, ‘Artists’ Writings, 1850–Present: Introduction’, Word & Image, 28.4 (2012), 331–34, [accessed 15 June 2022] Harmon, Maurice, ed., No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider (London: Harvard University Press, 1998) Hart, Adam Charles, ‘Extensions of our Body Moving, Dancing: The American Avant-Garde’s Theories of Handheld Subjectivity’, Discourse, 41.1 (2019), 37–67 James, David E., ‘Film Diary/Diary Film: Practice and Product in Walden’, in To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground, ed. by David E. James, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 145–79 Kazan, Elia, The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan, ed. by Albert J. Devlin and Marlene J. Devlin (New York: Knopf, 2014)

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Loxham, Abigail, Cinema at the Edges: New Encounters with Julio Medem, Bigas Luna and José Luis Guerín (New York: Berghahn, 2014) Loxham, Abigail, ‘An Encounter with Ethics and Documentary Images in the Exhibition “Totes les cartes”/“Todas las cartas”/“All the Letters”’, Studies in Documentary Film, 7.3 (2013), 295–306 Marsh, Steven, ‘Turns and Returns, Envois/Renvois: The Postal Effect in Recent Spanish Filmmaking’, Discourse, 35.1 (2013), 24–45 Mekas, Jonas, Movie Journal: The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959–1971 (New York: Macmillan, 1972) Selznick, David O., Memo from David O. Selznick, ed. by Rudy Behrman (New York: Modern Library, 2000) Sitney, P. Adams, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) Stone, Rob, ‘En la ciudad de Sylvia/In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, 2007) and the Durée of a Dérive’, in Spanish Cinema, 1973–2010: Auterism, Politics, Landscape and Memory, ed. by Maria M. Delgado and Robin Fiddian (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), pp. 169–82 Vidal, Belén, ‘The Cinephilic Citation in the Essay Films by José Luis Guerin and Isaki Lacuesta’, Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 15.3 (2014), 373–93, [accessed 15 June 2022] Whitman, Walt, The Correspondence, vol. 1: 1842–1867, ed. by Edwin Halivand Miller (New York: New York University Press, 1961)

About the Author Emre Çağlayan is the author of Poetics of Slow Cinema: Nostalgia, Absurdism, Boredom and currently teaches at NYU London and University of Brighton. His research explores the intersections between film theory and global art cinema, with a focus on the ways in which moving images shape our lived experience.

11. Instagram and the Diary: The Case of Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections (2014) Susan Best

Abstract Amalia Ulman’s Instagram performance Excellences & Perfections (2014) was hailed as the first Instagram masterpiece. Unusually for an artwork, it begins in a clandestine fashion on 20 April 2014. The performance was discreetly but enigmatically introduced into Ulman’s existing Instagram feed. When Ulman was interviewed in 2015 following the revelation of her fictional production, it was in the context of a well-established literary genre – the diary. To use the epistolary form of the diary to discuss Ulman’s work instantly gets to the heart of the project – the unreliable narrator and suspect self-presentation. Ulman has said that she wanted to underscore the idea of the unreliable self-reporting of social media. This chapter analyses Excellences & Perfections in this light. Keywords: Instagram art; digital art; life narratives; masquerade; diary

According to literary scholar Kylie Cardell the contemporary diary can take a variety of forms: ‘a performative space, a print genre, a digital platform, a behavior regime, a smartphone app’.1 Traditionally, as Cardell reports, the diary is viewed as a fundamentally private and intimate mode of selfdocumentation and self-examination.2 Think here of old fashioned daily or nightly ‘Dear Diary’ regimes which provided a space to divulge (and 1 Kylie Cardell, Dear World: Contemporary Uses of the Diary (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), p. 3. 2 Cardell, p. 5.

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commit to paper) one’s innermost dreams, desires, thoughts, and feelings. When such diaristic activity is presented on a digital platform, the confidant invoked by ‘Dear Diary’ is replaced by the fickle and unreliable ‘Dear Public’ or ‘Dear World’ as the title of Cardell’s book puts it. On the typical online blog, the entries (daily or otherwise) that would normally constitute the substance of a personal diary are presented to readers in real time and are often subject to interaction from others; approbation or criticism can be expressed through the comments function. Alongside these kinds of text-based online life writings, increasingly images are being used as a means to chronicle the occurrences and concerns of daily life; photographs are as much ‘a trace of a moment’, as Phillipe Lejeune puts it, as a written diary note.3 Indeed Cardell cites James E. Young’s contention that diaries are like photographs insofar as they are ‘remnants of their objects’ that have the authority of reality. 4 This chapter considers what kinds of diaristic self-reporting and self-reflection are facilitated by the image-sharing digital platform Instagram. Instagram was invented in 2010 and according to media theorist Lev Manovich its original target audience was the non-professional photographer using just the standard smart phone.5 Perversely perhaps, my case study is not based on the posts of real people on Instagram, rather I examine the posts of an artist, Amalia Ulman. She used her real name and image but constructed an invented persona to create a clandestine art performance on Instagram called Excellences & Perfections. The performance was discreetly but enigmatically introduced into Ulman’s existing Instagram feed by a white screen announcing ‘Part 1’, with the title of the work ‘Excellences & Perfections’ less conspicuously displayed as a caption below that image. Perhaps barely noticed by anybody (it had only twenty-eight likes), that post established the framework for the ensuing project. When Ulman posted her regular updates, mostly a couple per day, it was not widely known that she was playing a character (or characters), rather than documenting her life. Taking place over five months in 2014, the work is composed of over 180 posts on Instagram. The starting date was 19 April 2014 and the finishing date 19 September 2014. At the conclusion of the project Ulman had over 88,000 followers on Instagram.6 3 Phillipe Lejeune cited in Cardell, p. 13. 4 James E. Young cited in Cardell, p. 14. 5 Lev Manovich, Instagram and Contemporary Image, 2017, [accessed June 2019]. 6 According to Monica Steinberg, many of Ulman’s followers were fake. She was the beneficiary of artist Constant Dullaart’s acquisition of fake accounts directed to artists. Monica Steinberg,

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Her ‘fictional alter ego’, as the New York Times put it, supposedly fooled these many followers.7 Examining the fictional performance of Excellences & Perfections, rather than real posts by standard users, provides a unique window into the workings of Instagram imagery insofar as the artist has distilled and then amplified certain prevalent forms of normative femininity. Ulman adheres to the relentless focus on physical appearance, body maintenance, and constant consumption expected of young, middle-class, urbanite women in the first world. Elsewhere, I have discussed Excellences & Perfections as continuing feminist visual art strategies that utilize the masquerade: that is, an amplification or exaggeration of femininity that allows distance from its norms and requirements.8 Here I want to explore Excellences & Perfections in relation to typical concerns of the diary, namely self-representation and self-disclosure. More particularly, my concern is with the particular ways in which Ulman utilizes the confessional form to create controversy. First, let me outline the parameters and appearance of the project before considering the ways in which Ulman handles these aspects of the life writing and life depiction.

Excellences & Perfections The feed of Excellences & Perfections comprises a mixture of fairly typical Instagram images. There are a large numbers of selfies of Ulman and images of her taken by others, as well as photographs of food and drink, fashion, other women’s bodies, occasional images of boyfriends, flowers, and a variety of shopping experiences (actual purchases, potential purchases, and the registration of longing for unattainable objects of desire). Interspersed with the photographs are text-based posts: the inter-titles or memes so often shared on social media platforms that dispense banal life advice, such as: ‘do not compare yourself to others’, ‘make time for yourself’, ‘don’t worry about those who talk behind your back they are behind you for a reason’. Given these kinds of images, the analysis of her work predictably has emphasized narcissism, consumerism, and self-commodif ication. For ‘(Im)Personal Matters: Intimate Strangers and Affective Market Economies’, Oxford Art Journal, 42.1 (2019), 45–67 (p. 54). 7 T Magazine, ‘Mostly True’, The New York Times Style Magazine, 13 February 2015, [accessed 10 January 2021]. 8 Susan Best, It’s Not Personal: Post 60s Body Art and Performance (London: Bloomsbury, 2021).

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example, one media article posed the question: ‘Selfies in the name of art: progressive or narcissistic?’.9 According to social media commentator Alicia Eler frequent use of the selfie displays the kind of self-obsession more typical of a teenager. She writes: ‘The selfie is both an adolescent and celebrity social phenomen[on]’. She argues that these two groups in particular ‘have an intense focus on self-appearance, and how they are perceived by others’.10 The intense focus on appearance and the regard of others has traditionally, of course, been gendered as feminine. Describing her aims for Excellences & Perfections, Ulman said, ‘I wanted to prove that femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman’.11 The idea that gender, or more correctly femininity, is a social or cultural construction rather than biologically given is now a very familiar one. It has been promoted by innumerable cultural theorists from British psychoanalyst Joan Riviere in the 1920s to French feminist Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s and in the more recent work of American philosopher Judith Butler.12 Presumably, it is familiarity with this idea that enabled Ulman’s women followers to understand her intention to unveil the fabricated nature of femininity itself. Ulman reports: ‘They were like, “We get it – and it’s very funny”’. She continues: ‘The joke was admitting how much work goes into being a woman and how being a woman is not a natural thing. It’s something you learn’.13 To underscore this artificiality, in Excellences & Perfections femininity was presented via three distinct personas that Ulman identifies as: ‘cute girl’, ‘sugar baby’, and ‘life goddess’.14 According to Ulman these types of femininity were highly prevalent online in the early 2010s, or as she more 9 Genevieve Dwyer, ‘Selfies in the Name of Art: Progressive or Narcissistic?’, 25 January 2016, [accessed 10 January 2021]. 10 Alicia Eler, The Selfie Generation: How our Self-Images Are Changing our Notions of Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2017), p. 1. 11 Rachel Mantock, ‘“Being a Girl Is Not a Natural Thing”: Why This Instagram Hoaxer Faked her Cool-Girl Self ies,’ Gadgette, 10 February 2016, [accessed 10 January 2021]. 12 I’m thinking here of the famous adage by Simone de Beauvoir: ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman’. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. H.M. Parshley (New York: Vintage, 1973), p. 301. See also Joan Riviere, ‘Womanliness as Masquerade’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 10 (1929): 303–13 and Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990). 13 Mantock. 14 Amalia Ulman cited in Cadence Kinsey, ‘The Instagram Artist Who Fooled Thousands’, BBC Culture, 7 March, 2016, [accessed 10 January 2021].

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tentatively puts it: ‘they seemed to be the most popular trends online (for women)’.15 The roles or styles of femininity are played one after another, thereby dividing the work into roughly three acts. Ulman calls the acts ‘episodes, phases in her story’ – ‘her story’, of course, refers to the fictional account of herself that she fashions for the project.16 The way in which the work is now archived and displayed by the digital arts organization Rhizome enables the three phases of the story to be very clearly identified. On the project’s splash page, the three different Amalia Ulman profiles appear one after another in a list. Each one has a different profile image and a different short biography. The first profile has an image of Ulman dressed in pink with an Alice band neatly holding in place her bleached blond hair; rosy cheeked and wide eyed, she looks very young and innocent. The text of the profile includes pink flower emojis on either side of the second and third line. It reads: Amalia’s Instagram Los Angeles I learn mostly from books and movies Eating, blogging, shopping & sleeping

The second profile displays a sexy shot of Ulman wearing a low-cut top, her blonde hair is partly concealed by a dark cap with ‘BAE’ inscribed across it. She leans forward to expose her cleavage while looking directly into the camera. The bio includes prayer emojis on either side of her Los Angeles location and diamond ring emojis on either side of the last line. Amalia’s Instagram CITY OF ANGELS Proffessional [sic] lucid dreamer. Hope dealer. ‘Boss of Me’ Aquarius. Model. Artist. Addicted to Sugar

Emojis disappear in the third profile. Here her profile photograph is fashioned to appear more natural; her long, dark hair is no longer dyed blonde, there are no signs of make-up. She wears a modest long-sleeved printed top;

15 Ulman cited in Kinsey. 16 T Magazine.

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her expression is demure. The text of her profile is highly sentimental with the kind of inspirational cliches typical of wellness culture: Amalia’s Instagram The past is my lesson. The present is my gift, The future is my motivation. #blessed #grateful

Not only did the Instagram profiles completely change across the three phases, as art historian Kimberley Henze points out Ulman’s use of language in the posts changes dramatically to match the assumed persona.17 While it is not uncommon for people to change their profile image and description, rapid shifts in language use are not at all customary. Her many followers seemingly missed these dramatic changes in expression. The title of the work, Excellences & Perfections, calls up the typical lament about the overly positive gloss given to our lives on social media – we present ourselves in the best possible light where everything about our lives is excellent and perfect. While this complaint is often framed as an artefact of the participatory culture of Web 2.0, where lives are carefully curated or edited to look worthy of envy, in fact that kind of unreliable life writing long predates the internet. Indeed, an interview with Ulman in 2015 (after the revelation of her fictional production) explicitly framed her work in relation to the longstanding literary genre that concerns me here – the diary. The article, which examined the work of Ulman alongside the work of two writers, referred to the personal diary as ‘the slipperiest of all literary forms’.18 In other words, the diary, like social media, can involve an unreliable narrator and suspect self-presentation. Ulman has certainly identif ied the exposure of the unreliable selfreporting of social media as one of her key aims.19 She acknowledges the surprise as well as the eruption of anger when the fictional nature of the project was revealed: With Excellences and Perfections, people got so mad at me for using fiction. That was the main critique: ‘It wasn’t the truth? How dare you! You lied 17 Kimberley Henze, ‘Interfacing Femininities: Performance, Critique and the Events of Photography in Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections’ (Master’s thesis, University of Northern Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2017), pp. 25–26, [accessed 15 June 2022]. 18 T Magazine. 19 Rachel Small, ‘Amalia Ulman’, Interview Magazine, 14 October 2015, [accessed 10 January 2021].

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to people!’ Well, that’s because you should learn that everyone is lying online. I’m not the first one! There are so many girls that go to hotels to take a better selfie, or another expensive place. If they’re trying to be a social climber or whatever, that’s what they do. It’s normal. It’s becoming more and more normal to be conscious of those things. It’s funny how people still take it with this value of truth.20

Clearly, her assertion that ‘everyone is lying online’ is an exaggeration. Not everyone is creating a completely fictional online presence in the manner of Amalia Ulman, many people use life writing to chronicle troubling or novel aspects of their existence, as indeed she acknowledges elsewhere in her commentary on her predilection for online diaries. She reports her longstanding interest in the genre: A voyeuristic pleasure of mine is to seek out diaries published online. There are websites that women use to record their experience of fasting – the way, for instance, they become very lucid in the first three days and then fall apart, unable even to hold a pen. There are blogs in which sex workers describe their experiences of particular men in diaries that are at once essential for their colleagues’ safety and surprisingly literary. There are forums for people transitioning genders in which they document the way testosterone changes their perceptions, or how, as they take hormones to transition into women, they become more emotional. One of my favorites is realself.com, where women can chronicle the process of undergoing cosmetic surgery in agonizing detail, step by step.21

Ulman’s keen interest in diaries has certainly informed Excellences & Perfections, allowing her to convincingly embody other types of women quite distant from her art world existence and experience. Art critic Gilda Williams draws attention to the incredible success of Ulman’s mimicry of ‘self-absorbed, sexy, aspirational, objectified, weirdly blank’ femininity. Ulman’s performance was, she declared, ‘pitch-perfect’.22 Indeed, looking at individual images of Excellences & Perfections there is barely any sign that the artist is impersonating styles of femininity. For example, there is none of the exaggeration of feminine styles evident in the work of American photographer Cindy Sherman. Sherman’s disguises often deliberately 20 Small. 21 Ulman in T Magazine. 22 Gilda Williams, ‘Amalia Ulman’, Artforum, 55.5 (January 2017), 227.

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display signs of artificiality that flag to the viewer the masquerade in play. In comparison, Ulman appears to fully inhabit the persona she has adopted. And indeed she is mindful to minimize the distinction between herself and these other women she is imitating lest her performance be understood as parody or mockery. She wrote: People denounce my performance and say it’s like, you’re laughing at basic bitches. But, you know, I’m also a little bit of a basic bitch – I’m laughing at myself a little bit. I’m also all these things – the cat lady, the crazy female artist, the feminist, and I’m the conservative woman who goes to work every day. And I’m tapping into all these things. I don’t stand on the outside and just judge.23

Initially she reports that she was influenced by young Korean women, who she observed to be ‘obsessed with beauty’. Their tastes are characterized by her as a curious collection of things: ‘they liked flowers, straightened hair, pale skin’.24 While the project starts with that distinct aesthetic of pink prettiness, it does not last into the rest of the project. Excellences & Perfections has three distinct visual schemas associated with the three characters: the pink washed out cuteness is followed by the more edgy, sexy images of the sugar baby persona which is accompanied by brown and beige accents suggestive of consumables like coffee and chocolate. The third phase, of the life goddess persona, has images produced with sharper focus and the emphasis is on domestic life and domesticity; there are images of home interiors and home-cooked healthy meals. Overall, Ulman says, Excellences & Perfections tells the ‘story of a 25-yearold girl who was, in many ways, an absolute stereotype’.25 That story has a typical romantic narrative arc: roughly two months into the project she breaks up with her boyfriend of three years, then as a sugar baby she ‘went crazy’, as she puts it, takes drugs, finds some kind of sugar daddy, and has a breast augmentation.26 Finally, she returns to a more sober normative feminine order in the third act of the story and the narrative ends with her new boyfriend and the healthy lifestyle of the third persona – the life goddess. 23 Nate Freeman, ‘“I’m Laughing at Myself a Little Bit”: Amalia Ulman on her Show in London, and Ending her Instagram Performance’, ARTnews, 4 October 2016, [accessed 10 January 2021]. 24 Freeman. 25 Freeman. 26 Freeman.

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Confession and Self-Disclosure in the Era of Digital Intimacy In her discussion of the contemporary diary, Kylie Cardell notes the outward turning impulse that now animates it: the idea, as Peter Brooks puts it, that there is ‘therapeutic value in getting it all out in public’.27 The diary becomes part of what she calls our ‘confessional age’ where ‘Western society is increasingly characterized by a narcissistic impulse to personal revelation’.28 To reveal the self in this confessional age, one has to have something worthy to confess. Excellences & Perfections perfectly emulates this impulse, manufacturing drama and controversy like a good soap opera. In this way, Ulman continues the confessional art mode associated with the work of a number of women artists, Tracey Emin and Sophie Calle being chief among them. Emin was, in fact, appointed Professor of Confessional Art at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. It is intriguing to consider what this means. Is the expression of our innermost thoughts and feelings now a subject in the art curriculum? And does this mean that confessional art is a specialization, just like sculpture and photography? The expression of inner feelings, one might think, is a core aspect of art that needs no tutoring. Isn’t the artist’s capacity to give form to elusive, or indeed typical, feelings what we have come to value and enjoy about visual art? We embrace the quiet and meditative joy of Agnes Martin’s abstract paintings; we suffer with the angst of Francis Bacon’s tortured figures; or empathize with the shame, and celebrate the shamelessness, presented by Tracey Emin’s drawings, videos, installations, and writings. The exposure of the self as a subject matter in art is certainly not limited to Tracey Emin’s art. The French artist Sophie Calle is another woman artist who has seemingly wrought her art from confession and exposure. I say ‘seemingly’, because the rhetoric of rawness, immediacy, and openness is not consistently applied to the work of Calle. We are never quite sure if she really experienced the things her art shows us. This is reflected in her method: there is often a distance between Calle and her subject matter. For example, one of her recent works, Take Care of Yourself (2007), was a response to a break-up email that we are told was sent to Calle by her lover. Instead of telling us how she felt she got 107 women to help her interpret the letter: to make sense of it, to work it through. The final form of the work is an installation made up of videos and other written and visual responses by the women. 27 Peter Brooks cited in Cardell, p. 18. 28 Cardell, p. 17.

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The women’s professions range from the predictable – a literary analyst, a psychoanalyst, an opera singer, a romance writer, a lawyer – to the more exotic: a crossword puzzle writer, a rifle shooter, a ballet dancer, and a cockatoo. The cockatoo, whose name is Brenda, eats a printed form of the email while repeating some snippets of it in a raucous screech. The email is rendered hilarious in this irreverent treatment. Most of the other women respond in their various professional capacities in a supportive way; broad solidarity with Calle’s predicament is shown, as indeed one would expect such an email to elicit from a group of women. The man who was the catalyst for the work, who we only know as G., must be reeling from the public exposure, that is, if he really did dump Calle in this callous electronic fashion. The lingering doubt about the truth of Calle’s disclosures stands in marked contrast to the logic of ‘before and after’ that structures Excellences & Perfections. At the time of Ulman’s performance, her personal revelations were presented as if they were really occurring. Only some time afterwards was the performance revealed as a total fabrication. The most controversial ‘personal’ revelations occur in the second phase of the work, the sugar baby phase. These revelations, like Calle’s email, draw the followers more closely into the soap opera of the fabricated life whether through empathy or disdain. Courting these reactions is key to the presentation of an online life worth following. The first controversial personal revelation naturally enough for the sugar baby phase is her pursuit, and then capture, of a sugar daddy. This part of the narrative is initially flagged by a post where she refers to herself not as a gold digger, but as a platinum one, she writes: ‘She like “fuck gold” She a platinum digga’.29 This text appears below what is presumably an instruction piece for getting the required sugar daddy. It reads: ‘Stay pretty. Be educated. Dress well. Get money’.30 Money, it is implied, will flow from careful management of one’s appearance (stay pretty, dress well) and one’s status or appeal (be educated). There is a very pronounced cynicism and calculated coldness in this phase of the work that is not present in the other two phases. The fictional sugar baby Amalia discloses this mercenary approach to romance with seemingly no shame or conscience. A week later she appears to acquire some ‘sugar’ from a sugar daddy in the form of several thousand dollars’ worth of designer accessories. Shown in the classic flat display used in many Instagram images, a pair of studded Valentino shoes appears on pale carpet next to a Chanel handbag. The 29 Amalia Ulman, Excellences & Perfections (Munich, London, New York: Prestel, 2018), p. 233. 30 Ulman, p. 233.

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post appears with the hashtags #shopping, #spree #sugar, and #thankyou #thankyou #thankyou. The meaning is clear: these are expensive gifts for which she is giving thanks. When her profile says she is ‘addicted to sugar’ and this phrase is flanked by diamond ring emojis, presumably this means she is addicted to the money and gifts she receives from her older and richer boyfriend. Another meme from 8 July reinforces this interpretation; it warns: ‘If you don’t pay my bills’. The going rate for her services is presented that same day: one night, she says, costs 1,000 dollars. The obvious implication here is that she is operating in a highly mercenary fashion: like a prostitute she is trading sexual favours for money. The image shows a large amount of American dollars fanned out to display the denominations. In Ulman’s account of this phase of the work she emphasizes how the fictional Amalia Ulman’s life is coming off the rails. ‘Amalia Ulman’ had a break-up and – of course, as all girls do when they split from their nice college boyfriends – went crazy. I staged her relationship with a sugar daddy, her descent into drugs, the tearful breakdown and then the apology to followers.

She does not mention here the substance of her second confession, her fictional breast augmentation which was flagged by a visit to a doctor in the first phase of the project but only ‘performed’ in the second. The fictional procedure (supposedly) occurs in July 2014. The augmentation is presented visually by a pair of classic before and after shots. For the before shot, on 10 July she appears in a hospital gown in a public bathroom of some kind (indicated by the paper towel dispenser on the wall). Presumably, the room is meant to be interpreted by her followers as a hospital bathroom. The photograph of her is a bathroom mirror selfie, she is shown looking downwards at her phone, her expression is demure perhaps even apprehensive. In contrast, the tone of the accompanying text is breathy and excited, as she signals the upcoming procedure: ‘nervous and excited!! Getting 450cc high profile anatomical silicon gel … Massive butterflies n anxiety. Im sure I’ll b fine. And THANK YOU for the warm wishes!! I appreciate ALL the support!!’ The reference to warm wishes and support is curious as there is little evidence in the comments of either. When she finally spells out the nature of her procedure in this post one follower comments: ‘Wait. Are you getting your tits done??!!’ Another follower simply says ‘Dull’, while yet another writes: ‘That is ridiculous’.31 In other words, her followers’ reactions to her 31 Ulman, p. 235.

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augmentation are mixed and certainly not as positive as her enthusiastic caption would suggest. That ‘before’ selfie is followed the very next day by the ‘after’ image, which focuses on the upper part of her torso wrapped in white bandages in the manner of a Hammer Horror Egyptian mummy, the outstretched arm suggests the image is another selfie taken at an angle to capture this awkward side view of her new breasts. The accompanying text explains the post-operation situation: ‘Im safe n happy!! Soz for nsfw material and #frankenboob lol lookin forward to take bandages off; I really wanna help all girls out there considerin ba, really worth the pain lol keepin a diary in my fb’.32 From then onwards, in her selfies and other images, Ulman appears to have larger breasts. She justifies her augmentation in a post a week later. On 18 July, she writes: reasons I wanna look good for myself for myself to plant the seeds of envy in other bitch’s hearts for myself33

The third confession is about her drug taking and its consequences, which extends to the breakdown signalled by two crying sequences on 8 August and then a silence until 14 August, when she apologizes for her behaviour (which behaviours she is apologizing for is unclear). The drug saga starts around 16 July, when drug taking is obliquely indicated by what looks like two lines of cocaine assembled into the interlocking Cs of the Chanel logo. The caption reads: ‘lol cute #sugar #yummy gettin outta house tonite FINALLY lololo’. A follower adroitly comments: ‘she in love with coco (Chanel)’.34 As the sugar hashtag indicates, the word sugar is not only slang for money it can also mean a variety of hard drugs: cocaine, heroine, LSD, and crack. Her prof ile line indicating her ‘addiction to sugar’ can equally be read through this prism of drug addiction. Certainly, we can be reasonably assured that the addiction to sugar is not meant to indicate the presence of a sweet tooth. Some time later, the implied drug addiction triggers a crisis (indicated by the two videos crying in August) and then there is the

32 Ulman, p. 235. 33 Ulman, p. 235. 34 Ulman, p. 235.

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apology mentioned earlier, which is the hinge or precipitate of the third ‘healthy’ phase. She writes: Dear everyone, I’m really sorry for my behavior recently. I was acting weird and committed many mistakes because I wasn’t at a good place in my life tbh. I’m recovering now and feel better, all thanks to the help of my closest friends and family. I’m very grateful to my family from [sic] rescuing me from such dark void. I was lost. Also, feeling blessed for all my internet friends who sent wonderful recovery messages on fb. I’m really sorry if I have offended you. Everything came out from a soul full of pain, anger and darkness. Thank you so much for being patient with me, Blessings, Amalia35

These three disclosures stand out from the other life events she charts, like break ups, diets, dates, purchases, and various jobs, insofar as they are activities that would not receive anything like universal approval. To confess them, then, has the quality of disclosure that her more banal postings do not; they expose her to disapproval as well as encouraging the kind of internet trolling evident in responses to her breast augmentation. This appeal to an audience, or more accurately, the baiting or provocation of them, is part of the new world of the online diary. In comparison, most off-line art does not take into account the differentiation of the audience. Typically, artists and critics invoke ‘the viewer’ as if there is such a singular entity. Attention to the audience is clearly a key part of Excellences & Perfections as the careful archiving of their comments up to the reveal indicates. Followers, in fact, are turned into unwitting participants when the work is archived. Along with the women who ‘got the project’ (as Ulman put it), there were fans, jokers, critics, trolls, haters, and the occasional follower trying to catch her out. Ulman frequently appears to be bravely dealing with trolls and negativity. A caption from a selfie post on 8 July 2014 says ‘dun care bout all ur negativity’.36 She clearly had the troll audience in mind in terms of narrative content, as she puts it ‘the sadder the girl, the happier

35 Ulman, p. 237. 36 Ulman, p. 235.

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the troll’.37 The project then is not just about femininity it is about the way it is received on social media – the project is a perfect snapshot of some of the swarm-like behaviours Web 2.0 has unleashed. Ulman’s confessions thus seem to be more about inciting the troll audience than a disclosure that is revelatory of the self. Curiously, two of them (drug taking and plastic surgery) are the kinds of activities that might be considered newsworthy, if observed in the lives of celebrities. Such acts, of course, attract our attention and interest precisely because the information has a gossipy appeal or a scandalous dimension. Tabloid headlines delight in drawing attention to the extensive plastic surgery of stars and the exposure of their drug taking. Taken separately, the revelations attract different kinds of disapproval and disapprobation. For example, some feminists might disapprove of the breast augmentation as pandering to the male gaze. Certainly, that criticism or accusation is anticipated in her defence (reproduced above) that the augmentation is for herself and other women (the ‘bitches’) who could, she surmises, potentially (at least) envy her newly enlarged breasts. A breast augmentation, however, is not immoral or illegal; it might appear to some to be an unnecessary or frivolous procedure that reinforces the idea that women are to be judged first and foremost according to their appearance rather than their achievements. The classic mind/body split is well known to be a gendered dichotomy. Taking narcotics such as cocaine, on the other hand, is usually illegal in Western countries. This juridical framework places Ulman’s revelation in a different category to the breast augmentation, technically it is the confession of a crime. While many may view recreational drug use as innocuous pastime, others fear the long-term consequences of addiction and the necessary involvement with the criminal contexts in which they are distributed. Finally, her relationship with a sugar daddy is not illegal, nor necessarily immoral but it speaks to a deliberate cheapening of love, intimacy, and romance. In place of a love relationship, she supposedly substitutes a mercantile one, trading her youthful good looks and sexual favours for expensive gifts. While very different sorts of controversial activities, then, these single acts (imbibing two lines of cocaine, a non-essential medical procedure, sex between consenting adults for gifts) are nonetheless not mortal sins that need expiation or a display of remorse. The breast augmentation and drug 37 Kinsey.

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taking involve only the self with no obvious or demonstrable ill effects or consequences for others. It is only her apology that starts to gesture towards a destructive pattern of behaviour that is not directly reported. In an earlier post from this second phase, she recounts some self-destructive behaviours: ive realised that ive been reducing my worth by being self destructive. no more smoking, bad eatin or bad thoughts. I can still follow my desires without@givin into every whim. #no #excuses #workout #strongisthenewskinny38

Ending the post with the hashtags about working out and skinniness minimizes the importance of the reported ‘bad thoughts’ that initially at least seemed as important as the smoking and bad eating. The superficial aspects of sugar baby Amalia’s life are highlighted here. The image chimes with this superficial reading, it is a selfie taken in a large mirror showing her in what looks like a hotel room, her expression is blank, perhaps even mesmerized as she gazes into her mobile phone like a modern-day narcissus. She is wearing a crop top and underpants and holds a pillow to her side, she looks slim in the image, despite her claim to have eaten too much dessert the day before with dire consequences for her weight and her capacity to fit into a dress for her cousin’s wedding. The post ends with empty words, with a motivational rather than a reflective tenor. In the apology perhaps more than in any other post, she makes an effort to give an account of herself, the psychological dimension of her acts, and their aftermath. It is not exactly her secret inner life that is revealed here either, but some of her thoughts and feelings are presented in a raw fashion. Her soul by her own account is ‘full of pain, anger and darkness’. The cause of this state of her soul we are not told. Ulman demonstrates the kind of psychological, rather than spiritual introspection, that sociologist Nikolas Rose suggests is typical of the modern period. He writes of the dominance of the psychological sciences in our everyday lives. What he calls the specialists of psy – ‘psychologists, psychiatrist, psychotherapists, psychiatric social workers, management consultants, market researchers, opinion-pollers, counsellors’ – shape our self conception and behaviour through every phase of our lives.39

38 Ulman, pp. 233–34. 39 Nikolas Rose, ‘Assembling the Modern Self’, Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Middle Ages to the Present, ed. by Roy Porter (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 224–46 (p. 224).

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He writes: ‘When we speak to our friends and acquaintances about the ills that trouble us or the hopes that animate us, our conversations will be studded with psychological terms – stress, anxiety, motivation, personality, self-esteem and so on’. 40 The self that is presented in Excellences & Perfections closely corresponds with this modern psychological self and its discontents insofar as Ulman’s posts consistently deal with self-esteem, stress, and motivation. These psychological concerns are now presented through the fragments or small slices of life provided by images, rather than an extended written commentary. The work is, however, oddly non-psychological: her facial expressions are mostly impassive, giving little clue to the mental states and feelings referred to in the accompanying short texts. Her visual presentation is in fact overwhelmingly and consistently inexpressive as if she is impervious or unmoved by the events of her life. In terms of outward appearance, only her hair and clothing change dramatically. She thereby crafts a vision of her life as dominated by appearances and surfaces with little suggestion of an inner life or depth. Perhaps this concentration on the surface of things and people is a product of refiguring the diary form as fundamentally imagistic. Images, according to Titus Lucretius Carus, are ‘peeled off from the surfaces’ of objects. ‘Such likenesses or thin shapes’, he says, are like ‘films or bark’.41 Giuliana Bruno begins her book on the surface with this tantalizing quote that seems to so presciently anticipate our current infrathin screen-based culture. As a screen-based life writing Excellences & Perfections confronts us, then, with the seduction of surfaces and the profound pull of controversy. That appeal and the dialogic nature of the work may minimize the examination of the self but the compensation is the fostering of opinions and engagement. In this opening out of the diary form, disagreement and debate become features of self-presentation and we see very clearly some of the forms of contemporary online communication. The contemporary diary, to use Cardell’s terms, is now inextricably intertwined with digital media and the forms of self-display that are typical of these platforms. For good or ill, this is the online world we navigate, we do well to understand how it shapes both sociality and subjectivity.

40 Rose, p. 225. 41 Titus Lucretius Carus cited in Giuliana Bruno, Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality and Media (Chicago: Chicago University Pres, 2014), p. 2.

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Bibliography Best, Susan, It’s Not Personal: Post 60s Body Art and Performance (London: Bloomsbury, 2021) Bruno, Giuliana, Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality and Media (Chicago: Chicago University Pres, 2014) Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990) Cardell, Kylie, Dear World: Contemporary Uses of the Diary (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) De Beauvoir, Simone, The Second Sex, trans. H.M. Parshley (New York: Vintage, 1973) Dwyer, Genevieve, ‘Selfies in the Name of Art: Progressive or Narcissistic?’, 25 January 2016, [accessed 10 January 2021] Eler, Alicia, The Selfie Generation: How our Self-Images Are Changing our Notions of Privacy, Sex, Consent, and Culture (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2017) Freeman, Nate, ‘“I’m Laughing at Myself a Little Bit”: Amalia Ulman on her Show in London, and Ending her Instagram Performance’, ARTnews, 4 October 2016,

[accessed 10 January 2021] Henze, Kimberley, ‘Interfacing Femininities: Performance, Critique and the Events of Photography in Amalia Ulman’s Excellences & Perfections’ (Master’s thesis, University of Northern Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2017), [accessed 15 June 2022] Kinsey, Cadence, ‘The Instagram Artist Who Fooled Thousands’, BBC Culture, 7 March 2016, [accessed 10 January 2021] Manovich, Lev, Instagram and Contemporary Image, 2017, [accessed June 2019] Mantock, Rachel, ‘“Being a Girl Is Not a Natural Thing”: Why This Instagram Hoaxer Faked her Cool-Girl Selfies’, Gadgette, 10 February 2016, [accessed 10 January 2021] Riviere, Joan, ‘Womanliness as Masquerade’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 10 (1929), 303–13 Rose, Nikolas, ‘Assembling the Modern Self’, in Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Middle Ages to the Present, ed. by Roy Porter (London: Routledge, 1996), 224–46 Small, Rachel, ‘Amalia Ulman’, Interview Magazine, 14 October 2015, [accessed 10 January 2021]

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Steinberg, Monica, ‘(Im)Personal Matters: Intimate Strangers and Affective Market Economies’, Oxford Art Journal, 42.1 (2019), 45–67 T Magazine, ‘Mostly True’, The New York Times Style Magazine, 13 February 2015, [accessed 10 January 2021] Ulman, Amalia, Excellences & Perfections (Munich, London, New York: Prestel, 2018) Williams, Gilda, ‘Amalia Ulman’, Artforum, 55.5 (January 2017), 227

About the Author Susan Best is Professor of art history and theory at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. She is a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the author of Visualizing Feeling: Affect and the Feminine Avant-garde (2011), Reparative Aesthetics: Witnessing in Contemporary Art Photography (2016), and It’s not personal: Post 60s body art and performance (2021).

12. Civil War Epistolary and the Hollywood War Film John Trafton

Abstract This chapter explores the concept of ‘soldier-as-witness’. Following a brief history of the influence of epistolary traditions in war films from early film to the present, noting the shift from letter correspondence as ‘an enduring genre code of the war film’ pre-sound, to the domination of soldier testimony through voice-over after sound, it argues that epistolary accounts create a more informed narration and affect the emotional content of war films. Finally, through an analysis of the documentary film, Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, 2010), the chapter considers the soldier narrative as a counter to war reporting, leveraging epistolary testimonies and creating authentic ‘microhistories’ to supplement the visual coding of war. Keywords: war films; D.W Griffith; documentary; witness; soldier narrative

In 1895, the same year as Edison’s and the Lumière brothers’ early f ilm exhibitions, Stephen Crane, a 22-year-old bohemian New Yorker – a man who had never witnessed combat in his life – published The Red Badge of Courage. The novel was heralded as a graphic and compelling account of the United States Civil War, told through the eyes of a young Union private and based largely on accounts from veterans, historians, and a popular postwar anthology, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, a collection of essays and personal diary entries from both Union and Confederate veterans. 1 Crane’s novel, the story of Union private Henry Fleming’s 1 Roy Morris Jr., ‘On Whose Responsibility? The Historical and Literary Underpinnings of The Red Badge of Courage’, in Memory and Myth: The Civil War in Fiction and Film from Uncle

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch12

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soldiering life, narrates the Civil War in first person and is informed by the emotive capacity and authoritativeness of f irst-person accounts of soldiers who fought the war. First-person testimonials, preserved in the letters and diaries of Civil War soldiers, evoked in Crane’s novel, serve as competing histories to the ones written by historians and journalists. These competing histories can be read as counter-histories – alternative accounts that challenge the work of war journalists and even pictorial accounts – on the basis that a firsthand account serves as a more authoritative narrative of events. More than a century later, in an early scene in Saving Private Ryan, General Marshall, while ordering the mission to find the missing James Ryan, reads aloud ‘The Bixby Letter’, words of condolences written by Abraham Lincoln to bereaved mother Lydia Bixby: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjunct General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom. Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, A. Lincoln

The appearance of the Bixby letter in Spielberg’s film provides the story with twofold pathos. In one sense, the letter provides the film with an invigorated sense of spiritual nationalism in contrast to the opening D-Day landing sequence in all its profane brutality.2 Lincoln’s words of comfort and invocation of shared sacrifice clash with images of soldiers searching the battlefield for their severed limbs or a Jewish-American soldier (Private Mellish, played by Adam Goldberg) enduring a slow, agonizing death at the hands of a German soldier’s knife. In another sense, Lincoln’s words Tom’s Cabin to Cold Mountain, ed. by David B. Sachsman, S. Kittrell Rushing, and Roy Morris Jr. (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2007) pp. 137–52 (p. 137). 2 Robert Burgoyne and John Trafton, ‘Haunting in the Historical Biopic: Lincoln’, Rethinking History, 19.3 (2015), 525–35

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provide a direct acknowledgement of the role that Civil War epistolary has in informing both the narration and emotional content of war films. With this in mind, I would first like to explore how early cinema contains traces of this influence before turning to its appearance in other war films and concluding with how this influence is exhibited in Restrepo. The soldier-as-witness and alternate historian also has a distinct presence in both twentieth- and twenty-first-century war films. Richard Beck writes, ‘Unless you or someone you know is a member of the American armed forces, chances are high that your Iraq War experience has been an experience of media reception’.3 What Beck suggests is that testimonials of soldiers, from firsthand experience, ranks high on the hierarchy of authoritative accounts of war, similar to David James and Rick Berg’s argument that ‘almost all Hollywood films have proposed the experience of GIs […] as the most authoritative guide to the war’s meaning’.4 Soldier narration in these films is posited as a counter-narration to the war reportage, a tradition exemplified by the epistolary traditions of the Civil War. As with Civil War photography, the diaries and letters of soldiers can be read as providing encapsulated microhistories as well as exhibiting various pathos formulas. Soldier testimonials, however, provided cinema with a different set of narrative strategies, ones designed to complement the visual coding of war.

Griffith’s Civil War What is interesting about the influence of epistolary traditions in war films is how quickly the writings of the Civil War informed the stories and narrative strategies used in early cinema. The Civil War, as Robert Eberwein notes, easily overtook the Spanish-American War as a subject of early war cinema due, in part, to the memory of the war still in the minds of a few surviving veterans and a Civil War mythology that was still young.5 Though Eberwein cites both Drummer of the Eight (1913) and Grand-Dad (1913) as early examples of the Civil War film, the films of D.W. Griffith, in particular his controversial The Birth of a Nation (1915), provide a good starting point for scholarship on American Civil War films. 3 Richard Beck, ‘Inanimate Fact and Iraq War Filmmaking’, Film Quarterly, 1.8 (Fall 2008), 8–9. 4 David James and Rick Berg, ‘College Course File: Representing the Vietnam War’, Journal of Film and Video, 41 (1989), 60–74 (p. 61). 5 Robert Eberwein, The Hollywood War Film (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p 14.

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The memory of the Civil War had a profound impact on the life of D.W. Griffith. His father, Jacob (‘Jake’), served in the Confederate army and fought in many notable battles in the Western campaign and served for a period under the famed cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest. What is so fascinating about Jake’s military career is that he was a Kentuckian. As Richard Schickel notes, Kentucky, though a slave state, was not secessionist, and the plantation system was never able to gain a foothold; Kentuckians who defected to the Confederate army were seen by many of their fellow statesmen as embarking on a quixotic fool’s errand.6 The stories of the Civil War had a profound influence on Griffith’s life. He would listen to his father’s stories, as well as those from old-timers, ‘fighting the Civil War over again – with ever increasing victories’, as he recalled.7 He was an avid reader of Civil War history, alongside Tolstoy and Dickens, would visit battlefields, once attended a lecture by the widow of George Pickett,8 and adorned his bedroom with a Confederate war map.9 In addition to the oral histories he encountered, Griffith would draw on Horace Porter’s Campaigning with Grant (1897) to provide authenticity to the battle scenes in his Civil War films.10 One of his first Civil War films was In Old Kentucky (1909), a film that, like The Birth of a Nation, contains a story of brothers who fought on opposite sides.11 His 1911 film His Trust (serialized into two films, the second titled His Trust Fulfilled) also touches upon a family’s reduction of circumstances as a result of the war, a theme also present in The Birth of a Nation and In Old Kentucky. All three films project a ‘tragic vision of war’s effect on innocent victims, and perhaps even in the expansiveness that contemplation of the Civil War typically engendered in him’.12 In these films we have an equal concern for those off the battlefield and for those on it, a product of pathos formulas contained in Civil War soldier writing. In one of the opening scenes of His Trust, a Confederate officer leaves his family to fight for the Southern cause. The focal points of this scene are his embraces and fond farewells to his loved ones – his wife, his daughter, and his house slaves. The battle sequence that follows depicts an exchange of fire between soldiers 6 Richard Schickel, D.W. Griffith (London: Pavilion Books, 1984), p. 21. 7 Schickel, p. 27. 8 Schickel, p. 41. 9 Schickel, p. 43. 10 Brian Steel Wills, Gone with the Glory: The Civil War in Cinema (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007), p. 12. 11 Schickel, p. 137. 12 Schickel, p. 155.

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entrenched behind a stone wall, a standard fortified position during the war. The camera is placed behind the Confederate soldiers, their backs to the camera, with a clear view of the Union soldiers (and the American flag in the distance). The film’s main soldier character is easily identifiable, as the hat he wore in the previous sequence stands out. The film then cross-cuts between the battle and the soldier’s home, where the head slave (played by Griffith’s friend Wilfred Lucas in blackface) comforts the family by stepping into a step-fatherly role. The soldier then leads a fatal charge. After the news of the soldier’s death reaches his family, the film shifts to a story of the heavy burden borne by Southern women in the absence of their husbands and in the wake of a land scorched by war. It is in this film that we get an early, pre-Birth of A Nation view of the technique of tying the domestic with the horrors of battle, itself a type of pathos formula. What prompted Griffith to adapt Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansman (1905) was that it was clear that the Civil War was a favourable subject matter for other filmmakers, notably from Griffith’s rival Thomas Ince, who had produced the five-reel Battle of Gettysburg in 1913.13 The Birth of a Nation expanded the possibilities of intercutting in analytical editing through scenes that cross-cut between the battlefront and the home front. Before battle, Colonel Ben Cameron (Henry B. Walthall) receives a letter from his sister Flora (Mae Marsh) in a scene that provides pathos to the ensuing combat sequences by juxtaposing the memories of the home with the chaos of battle. Ben goes to battle knowing that his family is quite proud that he has ‘really grown a moustache – oh my!’, and that Flora has grown into ‘such a big girl now’ he would not even know her. Letter correspondence in Griffith’s film constitutes an enduring war film genre code: the absence of loved ones and memories of home and prewar relations are evoked to enhance a sense of sacrifice in battlefield death. Seventy-eight years later, Ronald Maxwell’s epic Gettysburg (1993) would feature as a subplot the real-life story of friendship between General Winfield Scott Hancock (USA) and General Lewis Armistead (CSA), a detail providing a vast story with pathos and presenting Armistead’s death at the hands of Hancock’s troops as an honourable sacrifice. As Robert Eberwein notes, the war film is concerned with ‘the activities of the participants off the battlefield’ and the ‘effects of war on human relationships’.14 The effect of war on human relationships, inscribed in soldier diaries and letters, is aesthetically rendered in war cinema to provide emotional depth to the celebration or critique of war. 13 Schickel, p. 207. 14 Eberwein, p. 45.

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The War Film Narrator The advent of sound in cinema would bring epistolary forms to the war film in the form of voice-overs. Though a staple of 1940s film noir, this device was largely absent from the World War II combat films of the 1940s, usually appearing only as the voice of a war correspondent (notably Ernie Pyle) that was restricted to Office of War Information (OWI) talking points. Although the technique began to gain traction during the 1950s, with Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) as a notable example, it was in Vietnam War f ilms that the potential of this technique was realized. Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977), a war memoir that would provide the basis for the voiceover narration in Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), exemplified the combining of art with the act of witnessing. In contrast to the ‘truths’ presented by journalists and historians of the era, the soldier as the war’s narrator would provide an emotional truth not far removed from the emotive capacity of Stephen Crane’s novel. Even though non diegetic narration in war cinema differs from the narration of war in novels, diaries, and letters – on the grounds that cinema audio narration alongside visual storytelling expands the range and possibilities of commentary – there is a commonality: the promise of verisimilitude and a contestation of the viewer’s previous imagination of war. Looking beyond the novel-to-war-film paradigm, works such as John Huston’s documentary Let There Be Light (1946), banned until 1981, use the soldier-as-witness perspective to add an extra layer of text to a history the public experienced through newspapers and newsreels. The construction of history and the shaping of cultural memory consist of layered histories that contribute to and complement the broader story. Soldier testimony as voice-over narration would continue in war cinema after the 1970s and 1980s cycle of Vietnam War films. Terrence Malick’s World War II film The Thin Red Line (1998), based on James Jones’s eponymous 1962 novel, features a competing set of inner voices – dark insights that simultaneously engage and disorientate the viewer.15 What makes Malick’s interpretation of the novel so interesting is how he connects the film to elements contained in Civil War epistolary and war photography in ways that Jones does not. According to Jon Hesk, vast, wide shots of landscapes are punctured by close shots of soldiers engaging in ‘the act of looking’, the shell-shocked face of war photography is transferred to the role of an audible witness, combing the

15 Michel Chion, The Thin Red Line (London: BFI, 2004), p. 55.

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narrative strength of both.16 The voice-overs in the film also make references to Homer, which is interesting as these allegories are in neither the novel nor the 1964 film, a testimony to their narrative power.17 The film does, however, use multiple voice-overs in a way that challenges the traditional American war mythology present in previous war film cycles. Malick makes it ‘difficult for us to delineate and distinguish between the different members of C company’, their voice-overs disembodied and freed from a sense of unity.18 The result is both a reliance on and a repudiation of previous war film conventions – genre memory performed in a uniquely Malickian way. Voice-over narration is also a feature of contemporary war films depicting modern combat scenarios. Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (2001), for example, ends with a voice-over of a dead serviceman’s letter to his loved ones: ‘So in closing, my love, tonight, tuck my children in to bed … tell them I love them … and give them a kiss from daddy’, is played over the list of US Army Rangers and Delta Force operatives who died in the Battle of Mogadishu (1993), elevating their deaths to national sacrifice by evoking memories of the homeland. Sam Mendes’s film Jarhead (2005) features a voice-over recounting a marine’s experience in the Persian Gulf War, a narration that recalls Willard’s from Apocalypse Now or Private Joker’s from Full Metal Jacket. War films depicting twenty-first-century combat scenarios have also retained these narrative strategies by recording soldier testimony through the digital technology that shaped our perception of that war: Mike Deerfield’s cell phone video from In the Valley of Elah (Paul Haggis, 1987). In documentary cinema, the influence of Civil War soldier testimonials is evidenced through the use of long-standing documentary conventions. In the Afghanistan War documentary film Restrepo, it is the use of talking heads and the absence of an omniscient narrator that exemplifies the enduring influence of Civil War epistolary traditions. While the unrehearsed immediacy of soldiers’ testimonies in Restrepo is distinct from the Civil War diaries and novels of war veterans, they nevertheless serve the same function. The testimonials in Restrepo leave behind a first-person history of the war that adds another layer of history to the distanced, third-person history currently being written by journalists and academics. The soldier-witness as a narrative device is both a documentary convention, the talking head, and a continuation of the soldier-as-alternative-historian approach in earlier war films. 16 Jon Hesk, ‘Homeric Spectacles of War in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line’, paper presented at the War as a Spectacle Colloquium, Open University, Milton Keynes, 15 June 2012, p 1. 17 Hesk, p. 3. 18 Hesk, p. 2.

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I Lost Restrepo: The Soldier Diary and Contemporary War Cinema Restrepo begins with a prologue sequence that echoes the naïveté of the Civil War soldiers who marched off to fight, a naïveté that contributed to their willingness to fight.19 The film opens on a train in Italy where young soldiers in civilian attire, heads shaved, are seated around a table in one of the coaches, engaged in manly banter and enjoying their last moments on Western soil before shipping out to Afghanistan. One soldier, Juan ‘Doc’ Restrepo, turns to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and says, ‘We’re going to war’. The diversity of this combat unit is a war film convention played out in the real world, and it will provide the film a different set of narrators competing to provide emotional truth to a story familiar through cable news coverage. The scenes of pathos familiar to the viewer through fictional war films are also orchestrated in Restrepo in similar ways, exhibiting the representational principles of the Civil War epistolary traditions. Early in Restrepo, Specialist Misha ‘Pemple’ Pemble-Belkin recounts the death of his comrade Juan ‘Doc’ Restrepo: ‘The first friend I lost was Vimota [sic] […] and then, a month after that, I lost Restrepo’. What is interesting in Pemble’s testimony about Doc’s death, described 12 minutes into the film, is that he states that ‘I’ and not ‘we’ lost Restrepo. The viewer is drawn inward from a story of a unit to the story of individuals with their own histories to impart. What is also revealing is the lighting and composition of the talking head segments. Each soldier is filmed against a black backdrop and lit with one key light from one side only. The witnesses are not provided with makeup or costumes. They appear as they choose to appear. The film’s narrators appear to us cloaked in shadow, as if they are battlefield ghosts imparting a secret history not revealed through the news media. Talking head testimonials in Restrepo, such as Pemble’s, provide the larger war story with pathos, a clear narrative thread for the spectator to navigate through the chaos of war. Through a comparison between the testimonials in Restrepo and the soldier testimonials in Civil War epistolary modes, we can see how formulas of pathos operate effectively across both narrative formats. Captain Dan Kearney, the first of the film’s talking heads, for example, states that he did not read up on the Korengal Valley before deployment, as he wanted a fresh perspective. Before leaving he was advised that posts in the Korengal take fire every day. On the one hand, Kearney’s testimony performs the same function as the traditional Hollywood first act: the character sets 19 John Huddleston, Killing Ground: Photographs of the Civil War and the Changing American Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 4.

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the scene, establishes the story’s conflict, and proposes a solution (‘just go out and kill them’). On the other hand, the spectator is drawn into the war as both an individual and as part of a collective experience. Kearney removes the spectator from their relationship with the limited, third-person narration of news media coverage. Just as pathos is provided by the images of war – in Civil War photographs, narrative feature war films, and other documentaries like In the Year of the Pig (Emile de Antonio, 1969), for example – soldier testimonials – the act of witnessing – provide war stories with pathos from a different angle. Grunt documentaries, like Restrepo, Armadillo (Janus Metz Petersen, 2010), and Deborah Scranton’s Iraq War documentary The War Tapes (2006), for example, rely on their promise of authenticity and audience expectation of monstrous events.20 The narration of the talking heads (witnesses) in these documentaries provides these stories with the pathos required to provide a clear narrative thread for audiences to navigate through the chaos of war. As in other fictional war films, some of which I will discuss later, we can see a sense of community formed by a diverse group of individuals, we can see the pain from the losses witnessed by the soldiers, and we can see the soldiers longing for their lives at home, which are all manifest in Restrepo as a result of the pathos provided by the testimonials. Through a comparison between the testimonials present in Restrepo and the soldier testimonials found in Civil War epistolary modes, we can see how formulas of pathos operate just as effectively from first-person narration in war cinema as they do through the images of these films. Private Sam Watkins, Third Tennessee Infantry at the Battle of Shiloh, writes on 6 April 1862, ‘Advancing a little further on, we saw General Albert Sidney Johnston surrounded by his staff […] We saw some little commotion among those who surrounded him, but we did not know at the time that he was dead. The fact was kept from the troops’.21 The death of Doc Restrepo was never captured on film. The death of General Albert Sidney Johnston was never photographed, although it was later sketched for Confederate newspapers. Their battlefield deaths are encapsulated mainly by the testimonies of those who were there. For Paul Virilio, war is a way of seeing, but war is also a way of hearing. Restrepo’s LaMonta Caldwell testifies that the shooting of Doc was ‘called in’, and 20 Cilli Pogodda, ‘Case Study: Genre Modality in Iraq War Documentaries – The War Tapes’ (2006), paper presented at the War as a Mediated Experience Workshop, Freie Universtität, Berlin, Germany, 18–19 October 2012. 21 From Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War (1990) which is referred to extensively throughout the book in which this chapter was first published: The American Civil War and the Hollywood War Film (2016).

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Miguel Cortez, Pemble, and Caldwell all recall seeing his injuries afterwards. Doc was alive when he was taken to a helicopter but bled to death in-flight. Despite never witnessing this scene, assuming that footage of it actually exists, the audience can easily reconstruct it in their minds from a memory bank filled with war film images. This moment in the film highlights a manifest difference between the speeds at which the news of death travelled in the Civil War and in contemporary combat theatres – the communication technology used in the field informs them of a soldier’s death very quickly. Contemporary war films, including documentaries, use their soldier-witnesses to present the horrors of war as a shared experience, one that cannot be escaped by placement at opposite ends of a battlefield. What becomes clear when reading Civil War soldier diaries, and indeed the diaries and novels of soldiers from other wars, is that inscribing the war experience was not a passive activity. When one’s only mode for bearing witness is writing by hand, encamped off the battlefield, more time and thought is devoted to the prose. Consider, for instance, a letter from Samuel J. English, written to his mother after the First Battle of Bull Run, July 1861. Here he attempts to recreate, in his own words, the chaos of battle as Union troops fled the field: The [Rhode Island] regiments […] were drawn into a line to cover the retreat, but an officer galloped wildly into the column crying the enemy is upon us [sic], and off they started like a flock of sheep, every man for himself, and the devil take the hindermost; while the rebels’ shot and shell fell like rain among our exhausted troops. As we gained the cover of woods the stampede became even more frightful, for the baggage wagons and ambulances became entangled with the artillery, and rendered every scene more dreadful than battle.22

In Restrepo, Pemble speaks about relaying his combat experience to his family: To my family, I never really told them much until about half way into the deployment. I didn’t tell them when […] Restrepo got killed. When Restrepo got killed, it was a few days before my Mom’s birthday also. So I had to suck it up. When I called my Mom on her birthday, [I had to] act like everything is OK, and say ‘Hey, Mom, happy birthday’. 22 Brooks D. Simpson, Stephen W. Sears, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean, eds, The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It (New York: Library of America, 2011), pp. 493–94.

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There are two key differences between the two testimonies that can actually help us better understand their commonalities. First, Pemble’s prose (or speech, rather) is quite informal, as speaking extemporaneously to the camera is more of a casual activity than writing a letter or diary entry. Second, Samuel English’s mother would have had no other reference point for imagining a combat situation other than what her son had written. Pemble’s mother may or may not have been alive at the time of the Vietnam War, when news coverage was more graphic than that of the Persian Gulf War or the Iraq War, but it may be safe to assume that she had seen Hollywood war films, providing a memory bank of images ready to be reedited to her son’s war stories. Again, Restrepo returns to the idea that the connection between the genre memory of the narrative war film and the war documentary is inescapable, as war films have informed our imagining of combat. In Restrepo, Aaron Hijar describes the constant fear of a Taliban ambush: The fear is always there, especially at night when you can’t see what is coming at you. When we started there, we only had maybe fourteen guys up there. I mean, it doesn’t take much. A few automatic weapons can keep a squad pinned down […] [and] they can easily come up from a side and flank you and […] basically clear house.

When we contrast this with a Civil War soldier’s account of an ambush, we can draw connections between the prose and pathos formulas provided. John L. Collins of the Eighth Pennsylvania Calvary writes during the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863: I now gave up hope of a mount, and seeing the Confederate lines coming near me, tried to save myself on foot. Once, when throwing myself down to escape the fury of the fire, I saw a member of my own regiment, whose horse had been shot, hiding in a pine top that had been cut down by a shell. He had thrown his arms that he might run faster and begged me to do the same. This I refused to do, and I got in safely, while he was never seen again.23

The Battle of Chancellorsville and Grant’s Wilderness Campaign, in roughly the same location a year later, were battles where confusion contributed to mass slaughter. The Army of Northern Virginia used the cover afforded by 23 Robert Underwood Johnson, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol. 4, ed. by Ned Bradford (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956), p. 184.

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the dense forest of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, to mislead and ultimately ambush the Army of the Potomac in both instances. John L. Collins’s account of his unit attempting to flee Stonewall Jackson’s Corp attempts to recreate the sense of confusion and terror felt that day, while at the same time providing the reader with the means to navigate through the chaos. Aron Hijar’s testimony conveys the same fear of an unseen enemy using the underbrush and rugged terrain of the Korengal Valley to screen their movements. By contrast, Hijar’s testimony considers how events may unfold, whereas Collins remembers how events actually did unfold. Both testimonies, however, provide microhistories of the conflict that are laden with a pathos formula designed to provide the spectator with the tools to traverse the fog of war. The descriptions, accompanied by images in the case of Restrepo, allow the intensity of combat to be simultaneously overwhelming and contained. Elisabeth Bronfen states that this simultaneous overtaking by and containment of the spectacle of battle is in itself an aesthetic formulation.24 Consider, for example, the testimony of G. Norton Galloway (Army of the Potomac) at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 1864): The rain continued to fall and clouds of smoke hung over the scene. Like leeches we stuck to the work, determined by our fire to keep the enemy from rising up. Captain John D. Fish, of Upton’s staff, who had until this moment performed valuable service […] fell, pierced by a bullet. The brave officer seemed to court death as he rode back and forth between caissons and cannoneers with stands of canister under his ‘gum’ coat. ‘Give it to them, boys! I’ll bring you the canister’, said he; as he turned to cheer the gunners, he fell from his horse, mortally wounded.25

Galloway sets his scene in the midst of a literal fog of war; the rain and smoke of rifle and cannon fire establishes the battle as a space where fear and chaos would overwhelm the reader who is now mentally engulfed in the fierce hand-to-hand combat taking place at a stone wall known thereafter as ‘the bloody angle’. Galloway then brings Captain Fish to the scene, providing an almost palpable sense of moral rearmament. The description of Fish riding among his troops before his demise helps contain the chaos in the reader’s imagination through the use of an identifiable emotion – courage in the face of death. This literary formula for reimagining combat would be 24 Elisabeth Bronfen, Spectres of War: Hollywood’s Engagement with Military Conflict (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012), p. 20. 25 Johnson, vol. 4, 56.

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retained for audiovisual renditions of battle in the war film, war turned into a cinematic spectacle where the viewer simultaneously feels overwhelmed and in control of the spectacle. In Restrepo, a film designed to provide a new set of histories on the war in Afghanistan, this formula is retained. The difference is that, rather than use a single narration, the war story is disseminated to multiple real-life soldier characters in order to convey a sense of shared suffering and sacrifice, a strong element of pathos present in the film. To further illustrate how pathos scenes of ‘homeland’ and ‘shared suffering’ are repurposed in contemporary war films, we can look at Sullivan Ballou’s letter written to his wife a week before his death at the Battle of Bull Run, which serves as a stellar example of how one’s life off the battlefield heightens the memory of sacrifice on the battlefield, a common formula of pathos present in war cinema: But, oh Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth, and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you – in the garish day, and the darkest night – amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours – always, always; and, if the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.26

In contrast to this letter is a scene in Restrepo in which Specialist Sterling is on duty as a machine gunner, watching over the valley from Base Restrepo. He is communicating with another (unidentified) soldier through a walkietalkie. To break the monotony of the moment, the other soldier enquires after Sterling’s family: Sterling: Good, they’re pretty good […] It was a good time. We hung out at the ranch. Other soldier: Your family has a ranch? Sterling: Of course […] A ranch just with land, you know, gates […] some wild-life that you shoot at […] like this [place]. Other soldier: Yeah, but we’re not hunting animals, just people. Sterling: Hearts and minds. Other soldier: Yeah, we’ll take their hearts and we’ll take their minds.

26 Simpson, Sears, and Sheehan-Dean, p. 453.

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As mentioned earlier, the war film is concerned with ‘the activities of the participants off the battlefield’ and the ‘effects of war on human relationships’.27 Sullivan Ballou’s letter demonstrates that this war film criterion was present in the writings of Civil War soldiers, contextualizing his impending sacrifice in deeply spiritual terms and linking his potential demise to his role as a husband and father. Additionally, Sterling’s conversation makes it clear that a soldier’s family life informs his view of the battle zone. This point further illustrates how Hetherington and Junger have crafted a documentary in the mould of the narrative war feature, as they are deeply concerned with the activities of the soldiers off the battlefield and the effects of their deployment on their relationships with those off the battlefield. Moments such as Sterling’s scene, described above, and the talking head segments allow for these emotions to manifest despite being different in tone compared to Civil War diaries and letters. Pemble, for example, in one of his talking head segments, describes his upbringing in Eugene, Oregon, by a family with strong counterculture connections. He was not allowed to play with toy guns or violent video games as a child, and he finds it difficult to reconcile his chosen path of military service with his family history. These aspects of Restrepo’s testimonies are in service of the familiar war film trope that war’s effects are never limited to the battlefield. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978), and In the Valley of Elah make this point blatantly clear, just as the soldiers of the Civil War were all too painfully aware of this fact and used their writings to make it known.

Bibliography Beck, Richard, ‘Inanimate Fact and Iraq War Filmmaking’, Film Quarterly, 1.8 (Fall 2008), 8–9 Bronfen, Elisabeth, Spectres of War: Hollywood’s Engagement with Military Conflict (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012) Burgoyne, Robert and John Trafton, ‘Haunting in the Historical Biopic: Lincoln’, Rethinking History, 19.3 (2015), 525–35 Chion, Michel, The Thin Red Line (London: BFI, 2004) Eberwein, Robert, The Hollywood War Film (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) Hesk, Jon, ‘Homeric Spectacles of War in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line,’ paper presented at the War as a Spectacle Colloquium, Open University, Milton Keynes, 15 June 2012 27 Eberwein, p. 45.

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Huddleston, John, Killing Ground: Photographs of the Civil War and the Changing American Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) James, David and Rick Berg, ‘College Course File: Representing the Vietnam War’, Journal of Film and Video, 41 (1989), 60–74 Johnson, Robert Underwood, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, vol.4, ed. by Ned Bradford (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1956) Morris, Roy, Jr., ‘On Whose Responsibility? The Historical and Literary Underpinnings of The Red Badge of Courage’, in Memory and Myth: The Civil War in Fiction and Film from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Cold Mountain, ed. by David B. Sachsman, S. Kittrell Rushing, and Roy Morris Jr. (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2007), pp. 137–52 Pogodda, Cilli, ‘Case Study: Genre Modality in Iraq War Documentaries – The War Tapes’ (2006), paper presented at the War as a Mediated Experience Workshop, Freie Universtität, Berlin, Germany, 18–19 October 2012 Schickel, Richard, D.W. Griffith (London: Pavilion Books, 1984) Simpson, Brooks D., Stephen W. Sears, and Aaron Sheehan-Dean, eds, The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It (New York: Library of America, 2011) Wills, Brian Steel, Gone with the Glory: The Civil War in Cinema (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007)

About the Author John Trafton received his PhD from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and currently teachings film studies at Seattle University. He specializes in teaching history on film, contemporary film culture, horror cinema, and Los Angeles on film. He has published several works on film history, including The American Civil War and the Hollywood War Film (Palgrave, 2015), and Movie-Made Los Angeles: The City of Angels and the Rise of American Film (Wayne State University Press, forthcoming 2022).

13. Epistolarity and Decolonial Aesthetics in Carola Grahn’sLook Who’s Talking (2016) Christine Sprengler

Abstract This chapter explores how Sámi artist Carola Grahn’s silent video, Look Who’s Talking (2016), creatively intervenes in newer digital epistolary formats to recalibrate them for a decolonizing project. Specif ically, I attend to how Grahn mobilizes ‘epistolarity’, to borrow Hamid Naficy’s term, in ways that subvert colonial image histories, practices, and gazes. I also analyse the implications of how this epistolarity is, as Naficy argues, ‘produced under erasure’, in this case, the systemic erasure of Indigenous languages across the globe as mandated by state-sanctioned ‘educational’ institutions. To conclude, I consider the significance of Look Who’s Talking’s exhibitionary context (Among All These Tundras, 2018–2019) and, in particular, its dialogic relation to works by other Indigenous artists of the circumpolar north. Keywords: decolonial aesthetics; electronic epistolarity; video installation; Sámi culture; Hamid Naficy

Métis artist David Garneau’s painting, Aboriginal Curatorial Collective Meeting (2011), is composed of nine frames, each containing a series of speech bubbles resembling the kind one might encounter in a comic book or graphic novel. However, the words – and those presumably speaking them – are missing. For Garneau, this image ‘tries to picture irreconcilable spaces of Indigeneity without giving away any content’ and, in the process, attempts

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch13

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to ‘signal that something interesting is going on beyond the colonial gaze’.1 In other words, for Garneau, his painting is a resistance to the scopophilia that underpins a colonial drive, one also motivated by ‘an urge to penetrate, to traverse, to know, to translate, to own and exploit’. It is an act of ‘refusing translation and full explanation’, of preserving sites and spaces in which Indigenous peoples speak ‘with one’s own and in one’s own way’ beyond the scopic and representational regimes of white settler-colonizers.2 In Sámi artist Carola Grahn’s silent video Look Who’s Talking (2016, 3min 40sec, looped), the scopic and epistephilic regimes of white settler-colonizers are also thwarted. Apart from a few emojis, simple line drawings, black and white portraits of Game of Thrones (2011–2019) characters, and an animated celestial map, the work does not contain any images. Neither Indigenous bodies – including Grahn’s – nor Sámi cultural practices or spiritual sites are subject to representation. There are no picturesque sites of Sápmi to aestheticize Grahn’s words about her travels or give visual form to the reductive tropes historically associated with Sámi life. Instead, Look Who’s Talking is composed of text, black or white typescript of various fonts forming words and sentences against a white or black background. The content of the text is often personal, speaking primarily to Grahn’s experiences as a Sámi artist and her attempts to parse the significance of her Sámi heritage in settler-colonial contexts like Sweden and Canada. Look Who’s Talking is epistolary, reading as a series of electronic communications, formally alluding to text messages or some other communication app.3 The speed with which the text appears, its informality, and the limited number of words that occupy the screen at one time reinforce the mode of address as one inflected by the practices of electronic correspondence. These words are, in turns, observational, reminiscent, and intimate as well as raw and impassioned in ways that establish – and sometimes complicate – a connection with the reader/viewer. At points, the text flashes in all caps for emphasis, revealing, for example, Grahn’s frustrations with white artists who ask ‘stupid questions’ about her Indigenous identity. Text materializes 1 David Garneau, ‘Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation, and Healing’, in Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action in and beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, ed. by Dylan Robinson and Martin Keavy (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016), pp. 21–41 (p. 39). 2 Garneau, p. 23. 3 Research on epistolarity now accounts for the myriad electronic versions of letters at our disposal. For instance, Hamid Naficy labels this ‘electronic epistolary media’. Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 104.

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rapidly, shifting between stories, memories, and pronouncements. For instance, Grahn recounts the following over ten screens in a sequence that lasts just eight seconds: My whole life I have never thought… about the color of my skin… (which is so f**cking typical for white people)… and I’m like… WTF… AM… I…. ? WHITE ?

In this way, Grahn f ills the speech bubbles that Garneau leaves blank. However, despite doing so she does not compromise the power of irreconcilable spaces of Indigeneity to subvert colonial gazes. Instead, she mobilizes epistolarity and, more specifically, the structure of a letter film reimagined for digital communication to enact a set of engagements with language, narrative, and translation, all to a similar decolonizing effect. 4 In what follows, I consider the ways in which Grahn marshals and adapts ‘epistolarity’, to borrow Hamid Naficy’s term, to consider her specific experiences of displacement.5 For Naficy, cinematic engagements with letter writing in ‘accented’ (i.e. exilic) films generate possibilities for critical insight into broader questions of identity, authorship, and power relations. They do so in terms of their content, which is typically ‘political, critical, and counterhegemonic’, but also formally in ways that defamiliarize the ‘naturalized styles of mainstream cinemas and the chain of habitual responses and expectations that such cinemas have nurtured in audiences’.6 As such, aesthetic defamiliarizations of this kind are akin (in certain contexts) to decolonial aesthetics, ones that upend expectations of epistolarity itself, including the relationship between senders and receivers or artist and audience. Indeed letters, broadly conceived by Naficy to include a range 4 For a broader discussion of decolonial aesthetics see Sarah E.K. Smith and Carla Staunton, ‘Unsettling Canadian Heritage: Decolonial Aesthetics in Canadian Video and Performance Art’, Journal of Canadian Studies, 52.1 (Winter 2018), 306–41. 5 Naficy, p. 103. 6 Naficy, pp. 150–51.

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of traditional, digital, immediate, and delayed types of correspondences, are ‘performative expression[s] of dailiness by exiled and disenfranchised peoples’ with the capacity to function as ‘a countermeasure to the official pedagogical representation of them, which tends to abstract them by stereotyping, exoticizing, and otherizing’.7 Aligning with Naficy’s impetus, Look Who’s Talking’s epistolarity is central to its subversions of colonial image histories, practices, and gazes. Here, I attend to how these subversions are enacted through aesthetically creative interventions into temporality, spatiality/geography, and subjectivity. I also analyse the implications of how this epistolarity is, as Naficy argues with respect to other f ilms, ‘produced under erasure’ (in this case, the systemic erasure of Indigenous languages across the globe as mandated by state-sanctioned educational institutions) and thus ‘spring[s] from an injunction or a prohibition against writing and connecting’.8 Connection too is key here, for Sámi nomad schools and residential schools across Turtle Island (North America) aimed to sever familial bonds by taking children from their parents, by preventing subsequent generations from learning and preserving a community’s traditions. Grahn’s work is not only produced under the weight of a long history of such erasures, but it also foregrounds writing and connection in multiple conceptual and aesthetic ways, as the following analysis will show. To conclude, I consider the significance of Look Who’s Talking’s exhibitionary context (Among All These Tundras, 2018–2019) and, in particular, its dialogic relation to works by other Indigenous artists of the circumpolar north. Born in 1982, Grahn is a south Sámi video and installation artist raised in Jokkmokk, Sápmi. She completed her MFA in 2013 at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, Sweden. As such, she belongs to a generation of Sámi artists grappling with the legacy of their parents’ experiences of Sámi nomad schools, characterized by a somewhat paradoxical set of assimilation and segregation practices. As part of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century histories of colonized Indigenous peoples, these schools forcibly removed young children from their families and transferred them to institutions that forbid them from speaking their language or expressing their cultural traditions. Instead, their ‘education’ attempted to instil the practices and values of the colonizing state – to ‘Christianize’ them. Marked by death, illness, racism, neglect, and abuse of all kinds, the experiences of these children contributed to both personal and intergenerational traumas. 7 8

Naficy, p. 117. Naficy, p. 115.

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Grahn reflects on her father’s ‘grief and wounds’ from this experience in a short video introducing her 2020 solo exhibition at Röda Sten Konsthall, I Have Scrutinized Every Stone and Log on the Southwest Side of the Mountain, a phrase borrowed from Look Who’s Talking.9 Grahn explains how her father’s memories of cultural assimilation and eventual return to his community, to be once again segregated from Swedish society, now form part of her own self-identity, one stretched between two worlds. This ‘split subjectivity’, to anticipate (and adapt) Naficy’s phrase to describe the experience of exiles, lies at the heart of much of her artistic practice.10 Grahn’s explorations of her father’s traumas and their imprint on her own childhood are set against a broader cultural backdrop of ‘revitalization’, a now decades-long initiative designed to restore and honour Sámi culture. But this context in which Grahn attempts to situate herself as a Sámi artist is marked by a paradox: the simultaneous public celebration of Sámi traditions and Sweden’s refusal to ratify the 1989 Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention or abide by the minimum (non-binding) recommendations of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Grahn is not alone in exploring the experiences of a split subjectivity wrought by both the historical legacy and perpetuation of structures of colonialism as lived by a younger generation of Sámi artists. Lisolette Wajstedt’s experimental documentary Sámi Daughter Yoik (2007) also grapples with the impact of her parent’s forced assimilation and, in particular, her mother’s refusal to teach her to speak Sámi. It charts her attempts to ‘feel’ more Sámi, an identity and heritage denied to her. In the film, we follow Wajstedt as she struggles with language classes, participates in Sámi cultural events, travels through Sápmi in search of familial bonds and spiritual sites, and requests that her aunt sew her a kolt, the traditional Sámi dress. But this is a journey that does not necessarily yield knowledge or closure. It is marked by various losses: of conf idence, certainty, and sense of self. There are several instructive points of convergence and divergence between Look Who’s Talking and Sámi Daughter Yoik, ones that can be unpacked with respect to a concern with absence and presence, erasure, and reclamation. Grahn’s video, as noted above, is almost entirely text-based and, thus, Grahn’s own body is never represented. In Sámi Daughter Yoik, however, Wajstedt’s body is centred in self-conscious ways. Her body becomes 9 Produced by the Röda Sten Konsthall, the video can be seen here: [accessed 15 June 2022]. 10 Naficy, p. 103.

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a site that registers the negotiation of identities, a canvas that bears the marks of the acquisition of cultural heritage, histories, and memory. For Kate Moffat, this renders Sámi Daughter Yoik a candidate for analysis through the lens of somatechnics, or what Goldie Osuri describes as a concern ‘with the manner in which bodies are constituted through technologies of knowledge production (e.g. writing/mapping, reading and representation)’.11 Somatechnics, for Moffat, is particularly instructive for revealing ‘how Indigenous and non-white bodies are defined by and represented through various technological means’ and especially when accounting for ‘Nordic countries’ colonial history, where the coloniser manages, controls, and redefines Indigenous bodies through different technes’.12 Here, Wajstedt reclaims this control, wresting it away from the visual discourses that continue to circulate in Sweden and beyond. She regains the process of representing the Sámi body while problematizing representation itself through experimental animation, editing, and other aesthetic strategies that undermine any perceived realisms on offer. This is a decolonizing act in the same way that Grahn’s wholesale subversion of the colonial (or any) gaze is, or her eradication of the image that generates an ‘irreconcilable space of indigeneity’.13 In many ways Sámi Daughter Yoik departs from what Mackenzie and Westerståhl Stenport describe as the realist and cultural revivalist traditions of Sámi documentaries and instead appeals to experimental feminist strategies that problematize identity, specifically ethnic and national identities that are performative and shifting rather than ahistorical and f ixed.14 Moreover, like Grahn, Wajstedt makes use of a letter film structure, one of Naficy’s three categories of epistolary cinema in which the ‘mode of address is usually direct, with the filmmaker the speaking subject primarily by means of voice-over narrative’.15 In Sámi Daughter Yoik, Wajstedt verbally recounts her growing awareness that her Sámi self must be actively forged and continually reconstructed. Indeed, both Grahn and Wajstedt generate a sense of epistolarity as a way to complicate the roles of author and receiver 11 Goldie Osuri in Kate Moffat, ‘Bodies in Transition: Somatechnics and the Experimental Art of Liselotte Wajstedt’s Sámi Nieida Jojk (Sámi Daughter Yoik, 2007)’, Somatechnics, 8.1 (2018), 48–63 (p. 50). 12 Moffat, p. 50. 13 Garneau, p. 39. 14 Scott MacKenzie and Anna Westerståhl Stenport, ‘Contemporary Experimental Feminist Sámi Documentary: The First Person Politics of Liselotte Wajstedt and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’, Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, 6.2 (2016), 169–82 (p. 170). 15 Naficy, p. 141.

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or artist and audience and do so through a series of aesthetic strategies that appeal to practices of mapping, animation, and the vicissitudes of language. At this point, it is instructive to expand the scope further to consider additional linkages – and points of divergence – between experimental film and video practices by Indigenous women artists who mobilize epistolarity. For instance, Wajstedt and Grahn share what Karine Betrand argues is the educational and healing impetus of letters in films by Daphné MaggieJourdain and Mariana Niquay-Ottawa. In their short films, like Eshka Innuin (2016) and Kir otcintcotco (2008), letters are used to reestablish ties between family and community members.16 These films also amalgamate features of written epistles with practices central to oral traditions in ways that enable letters to be transformed into living archives that reconfigure the past and preserve ‘lyrical flights, intimate testimonies and painful confessions’.17 For Betrand, this is a decolonial act, for the letter is employed as an object and structuring device that functions as a promoter of cultural memory, facilitating re-connections marked by ‘witnessing, sharing, remembering, connecting, telling stories, reclaiming and, of course, indigenizing’, some of the twenty-five key elements of Indigenous decolonial projects according to Linda Tuhiwai Smith.18 For Grahn the letter (or text) can be mobilized to decolonial ends too, though in ways that further complicate questions of voice, translation, orality and the respective positions of writer and reader through her use of silence and exclusively English text, the significance of which will be considered shortly. Naficy’s account of epistolarity as well as adaptations offered by Betrand help us gain insight into Grahn’s creative mobilizations of both her ‘epistolary intent’, to borrow Liz Stanley’s phrase, and the epistolarity inscribed in the structure of her video.19 In turn, Look Who’s Talking also helps us expand on the critical possibilities of accented epistolarity itself. For instance, Naficy describes the ‘coexistence of the scopophilic and epistephilic structurations’ that make accented epistolary cinema ‘simultaneously personal 16 Karine Bertrand, ‘Epistolary Enunciation in Quebec and Indigenous Cinemas: The Letter as Identity Vector and Memory Tool’, Área Abierta, 19.3 (2019), 307–26 (p. 321). 17 Bertrand, p. 325. Translation mine. In this way these short films reflect Naficy’s observation that accented filmmakers often ‘have their origin in societies that maintain side by side with print and electronic literacy a residual oral culture’ (p. 120). This is certainly the case for the Sámi peoples whose strong oral traditions were supplemented during the last few centuries with the orthography of various nation-states. 18 Bertrand, p. 322. See also Smith and Staunton. 19 Liz Stanley, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9.2 (2015), 240–55 (p. 242).

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and social’. For Naficy, ‘the object of the scopic drive is not solely another person; more often it is one’s homeland or culture’ whereas epistephelia is realized through ‘a burning desire to know and to tell about the causes, experience, and consequences of disrupted personal and national histories’.20 While Look Who’s Talking certainly aims to share Grahn’s experiences, she denies viewers any satisfaction of a scopic drive directed at images of her homeland. In many ways, such images are already over-determined, highly politicized, and ones that have been activated in myriad ways by both the Swedish state and by Sámi artists and filmmakers working, like Wajstedt, toward ‘representational sovereignty’.21 But for Grahn, representational sovereignty also means denying the epistephelia of the curious settler gaze and mind. Her text often alludes to Sámi histories and personal experiences of Indigeneity, but in ways that conceal the specifics that only a Sámi or Indigenous viewership is likely to recognize. For Naficy, epistolarity in accented or exilic cinema translates into a concern for ‘distance, separation, absence, and loss’.22 However, as Mariana Johnson, writing on the Cuban experience rightly notes, displacement need not always require geographical distance from one’s homeland, but can also be experienced within it.23 Indeed, such is the case for Indigenous populations across the globe who have been internally displaced, forcibly removed from their ancestral lands by colonizing forces, and sequestered into reservations or small pockets of land with minimal rights to self-determination. For contemporary Sámi filmmakers and artists like Wajstedt or Grahn, this type of displacement is at the heart of their epistolary practices. The ‘distance, separation, absence and loss’ they engage through their film and video is, in turns, cultural, temporal, and psychical. It is at times geographical too, as when both authors describe their search for a sieidi, a sacred rock with spiritual significance. 20 Naficy, p. 105. 21 Moffat uses Pamela Wilson’s term ‘representational sovereignty’, an expansion of Jolene Rickard’s concept of ‘visual sovereignty’. See Pamela Wilson, ‘Indigenous Documentary Media’, in Contemporary Documentary, ed. by Daniel Marcus and Selmin Kara (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 87–105 and Jolene Rickard, ‘Sovereignty: A Line in the Sand’, Aperture, 139 (1995), 51–59. While ‘representational’ can account for more than ‘visual’ here, there is something about the centrality of the image that is worth preserving in many Indigenous practices that fit the purview of this project. Visual sovereignty, for instance, is part of the stated curatorial mandate of Among All These Tundras. 22 Naficy, p. 103. 23 Mariana Johnson, ‘Staying Home: Cuban Exile Film from Within’, in Cinematic Homecomings: Exile and Return in Transnational Cinema’, ed. by Rebecca Prime (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), pp. 129–46 (p. 130).

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Grahn and Wajstedt’s sense of displacement is also informed by shifting nodal points, or privileged markers of subjectivity, suggesting a split between more than just two parts of an exilic identity – between a self defined by belonging to both a homeland and a new land. Grahn, for instance, writes in ways that foreground shifts between her identities as Sámi, Indigenous, Swedish, artist, woman, and member of a particular generation. She is writing for an audience in ways that activate and communicate the lived realities of inhabiting these positions. Her words chart journeys of physical and spiritual self-discovery, pathways that intersect with a broad range of cultures, media, and practices. These words also betray an acute selfreflexivity, as Naficy suggests of epistolary films more generally, and ‘rais[e] fascinating questions about the identity of author, addresser, addressee, reader, reciter, and translator of the letters, and about their narratological functions and power relations’.24 At one point in Look Who’s Talking, Grahn writes: ‘My God!’ which is quickly appended with an ‘s’ to read: ‘My Gods!’ The rote familiarity of ‘My God’ is instantly undercut in a way that interpellates viewers in one of two ways. On the one hand, it addresses readers as settler-colonizers, de-secularizing a colloquial expression in ways that remind such audiences of how Christian traditions were historically naturalized to such an extent that their religious origins were obscured. On the other hand, it offers a knowing wink to Indigenous audiences, reversing the historical trajectory of Christianizing practices by replacing and thus repudiating Christian monotheism with Sámi – and other First Nations’ – polytheism. With this supplement, Grahn signals her subjectivity as a Sámi inheritor of Swedish state practices but also her power as an artist/author to critically intervene in the legacies of colonialism. She also puts into stark relief her viewer’s identity as either a benefactor of such legacies or fellow subject of state-sanctioned and church-run ‘educational’ initiatives. There is a further revelation here, one that returns us to the possibilities of electronic epistolary media itself. That is, the capacity to manufacture such wordplay to enlist her own and the reader’s subjectivity in the generation of meaning is a consequence of the technological capabilities of new forms of digital communication. As such, she showcases what is now possible through the myriad formal opportunities opened up by electronic text. In this vein, she also sporadically inserts simplified images, some of which read as gifs or emojis (e.g. :S) or even intimate the generation and circulation of memes, all now markers of electronic epistolarity. Most of 24 Naficy, p. 103.

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the simplified images are line drawings. Some are minimally animated: a spinning bottle when she speaks of her uncle’s alcoholism; a rotating, pointing hand when she recounts her failed search of the sieidi; black lines on a white background depicting mountains and wave forms when she reflects on her felt connections to other Indigenous artists at a residency in Banff, Alberta. Grahn also includes a black and white cut-out photograph of Ygritte (Rose Leslie) from Game of Thrones as she likens the Free Folk (the feared and shunned northerners beyond the official crown-recognized ‘North’) with the Sámi. She does so to recall Ygritte’s refrain to Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), showcased next as another black and white cut-out image: ‘You know nothing’. This phrase is mobilized to speak in particular terms to her father and uncles’ mind games with each other, but extends beyond to account for Indigenous knowledges and to frame her disclosure that her father ‘knows a lot’. It also forms part of a play with the reader’s subjectivity, asking them to consider the extent to which their knowledge of Sámi peoples is grounded in mediated constructions, ones generated outside Sámi communities. Grahn’s sophisticated ways of shifting her modes of address to interpellate, challenge, unsettle or ally with the position of the reader of her text often has much to do with her colloquial use of language, choice of English text, aesthetic visualization of words and letters, the speed with which viewers are required to read her text, and the cyclical narrative structure of her video. These strategies generate moments of connection between artist and audience but also confront the nature of the relationship between a text’s creator and its receivers. In doing so, they provide opportunities to touch on questions of temporality, spatiality, and subjectivity in relation to epistolarity, issues that I will consider in turn. Katherine Rae Allison observes that letters, as opposed to some other forms of prose, have been defined by a distinctive informality, a feature Grahn too achieves with her text.25 One section is worth quoting at length in this respect, for it gives a clear sense of the nature of Grahn’s address and the familiarity with which she writes to her receiver: Honestly, how shall I put this. I’m in a rather delicate situation. I was at an artist residency in Canada a while ago with a bunch of other indigenous artists and it struck me suddenly!! It felt like it came from nowhere but it certainly came from somewhere. They were like White people don’t get 25 Katherine Rae Allison, ‘Pope’s Epistolary Art’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, 1995), p. 15.

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it. And I agree. White people just don’t get it. It’s like those guys jerking off and crying at the same time. :S It’s just too hard to wrap your head around, so I’m like YEAH! We spent weeks sharing indignities and the specific issues of being indigenous and working as visual artists in a global context. (I won’t go deeper into that, but you know it’s complicated.) I felt so connected! There, thousands of mountains and an ocean away from home. Who felt what I felt and who had enough of the stupid questions. And I’m sure we all thought FUCK THEM. I know for sure I did.

These words, which materialize on screen one by one or phrase by phrase, give a good sense of the informality and text-message-style of Grahn’s address, reinforcing the electronic epistolary intent of her communications. They also aptly describe Grahn’s generation of an irreconcilable space of Indigeneity, to return to Garneau. Grahn recounts the nature of her revelations, but not the specifics of her conversations with other Indigenous artists. She ‘won’t go deeper into that’ but she does share her feelings. Her affective responses to these experiences at the residency are recounted for a reader interpellated as understanding the exhaustion of being asked ‘stupid questions’ by ‘them’, namely ‘white people [who] just don’t get it’. In this way her communication is crafted to address an Indigenous (or, more broadly, racialized) readership. However, as part of an exhibition, she knows that white settlers will also consume these words, generating a different kind of split subjectivity, as readers navigate between the ‘I’ of the sender and the ‘I’ of the receiver. Significantly, to reiterate an earlier point, these words are not ‘spoken’ by Grahn. Her installation is silent and thus these words are activated by the internal reading voice of the viewer. This asks white viewers to inhabit Grahn’s position, reading ‘I’ in sentences that recount some of the lived implications of historical crimes, like genocide, perpetrated by white colonizers and the continuing benefits reaped by white settlers at the expense of Indigenous peoples. Grahn’s silence, which is a point of departure from most letter films, can be understood as aligning with other creative strategies. The use of exclusively English text might qualify it as an extreme example of Naficy’s ‘calligraphic text’, a feature of accented cinema that involves the excessive use of subtitles as a way to navigate questions of language and translation central to exilic experiences.26 In this regard, Look Who’s Talking is virtually nothing but subtitles. The use of English text coupled with Grahn’s silence, however, generates another layer of significance. As a work destined for a 26 Naficy, p. 122.

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(primarily English-speaking) artworld context in the settler state of Canada, this is one of only a few ways that Grahn can communicate with her fellow Indigenous artists and viewers, the privileged audience for her work. As such, it points to a further indignity of colonialism, that cross-cultural Indigenous experiences might, in many instances, only be shared through common colonial languages. Writing in English is also one of the few ways she can generate opportunities for settler-colonial audiences on Treaty 13 Territory (Toronto), for example, to speak her words and thus to linguistically internalize the experience of disconnect between the positionality of a settler as inheritor of colonial privileges and subject of colonial practices. As Julia Skelly astutely summarizes this point in her review of Among All These Tundras, Grahn mobilizes text and language ‘to examine her own relationship with her white skin and also implicate the white settler-colonial viewer in their subject position of privilege’.27 Grahn’s silence also recalls Anishnaabe artist Rebecca Belmore’s Apparition (2013). In this short video of a performance, Belmore appears kneeling with duct tape covering her mouth. After a time she removes the tape, but contrary to expectation, she still does not speak. It is a work about the injunctions against speaking Indigenous languages perpetrated by the residential school system. Belmore’s continued silence, even after she regains the capacity to speak, engages with both the loss of such languages and also her refusal to speak in the language of the colonizer. Grahn’s title, Look Who’s Talking, hints at a similar upending of expectations in this regard, for Grahn does not vocalize the words she authors. The flow of Grahn’s text also does much to determine how audiences ought to read it, guiding its reception in terms of affects generated, raising questions about its ontology, and initiating a series of productive plays with temporality. By relying on the conventions of texting that include abbreviations, emojis and gifs for emphasis, or all caps for yelling, she controls the emotional shifts in her narrative. The stark contrast between black typescript and white screen is particularly effective and affective in this regard, especially when, for example, ‘FUCK THEM’ flashes in all caps or ‘WTF AM I… WHITE?’ appears to signal exasperation after confronting her own subjectivity. Her particular use of black and white also does much to signal her epistolary intent. Tanya Shilina-Conte’s essay on the ontology of the black screen and white page is instructive here, especially insofar as how she accounts for the transfiguration of one into the other. In most cases, Grahn’s ‘page’ starts blank, to be filled with text in different ways. 27 Julia Skelly, ‘Among All These Tundras’, Inuit Art Quarterly, 32.1 (Spring 2019), n.p.

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Words often appear one by one as if to suggest the instantaneity of typing a message. For Shilina-Conte such ‘blank space lays bare the analogue techne of both literature and cinema’, generating insight into the ‘epistolary formula’ that each medium adheres to.28 However, she finds that ‘[w]hite screens are relatively uncommon in cinema […] but when they do appear the intention might be to summon the material condition of the print medium’.29 Indeed this is somewhat the case in Look Who’s Talking, though with a caveat, for it is the white screen of a phone or tablet that has supplanted the white page of the letter and, along with it, instantiated a new sense of temporality – namely, immediacy – with respect to communication. This sense of immediacy, liveness, and presentness is underscored by Grahn’s rapid-fire appearance of text that generates a heightened sense of the passage of time, borrowing from the temporality of certain communicative technologies the impression that we are witnessing an epistle in the process of both its creation and reception. Words appear and disappear at a pace that, at times, is somewhat difficult to follow. But Look Who’s Talking is looped and provides opportunities for return, thus recalibrating the linear structurality of epistolary practice to admit circularity – a kind of decolonizing of epistolarity itself. Indeed it encourages repeat viewings through this strategy and thus enables audiences to catch all of Grahn’s words. And these repeat viewings lead to further realizations, including that there is something of a tripartite structure underpinning the video, with each section separated by an animation of three rotating celestial drums against a night sky. We also start to realize that each section is defined by a distinctive set of thoughts and stories, with points of connection between them that intimate potential segues from one to the next. For instance, one segment concerns Grahn’s familial and cultural ties to Sámi spirituality. The following segment opens with details of a dream/vision and concludes with Grahn’s daily experiences of being an artist. The next segment then reflects on Grahn’s experience as an Indigenous artist and questions of racialized identities, which in turn cycles back to the first and its focus on Sámi culture. It is impossible to determine a start or end point to the video, as each segment flows into the next, generating a cyclical narrative structure, though with bursts of linearity. This cyclical structure finds its roots in traditions of Sámi storytelling and oral culture. Harald Gaski explains 28 Tanya Shilina-Conte, ‘Black Screen, White Page: Ontology and Genealogy of Blank Space’, Word & Image, 31.4 (2015), 501–14 (p. 504). 29 Shilina-Conte, p. 509.

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that Sámi storytelling involves narrating multiple stories simultaneously with ‘one digression leading into another one into another one and so on’ until it returns to its original point, coming full circle, as it were.30 What is more, Grahn’s tripartite structure that moves from the cultural/spiritual to the dream/quotidian to the self-reflexive/internal mimics the tripartite structure of the celestial drum that functions as an intertitle between these three sections, the only instance of colour in an otherwise black and white video. As Juha Pentikäinen explains, this shamanic drum is a cognitive map of the Sámi universe. With the sun at its centre and gods, people, and animals surrounding it on subsequent concentric registers, it represents a cyclic world view.31 Whereas this shamanic drum engages temporality it also, by virtue of being a map, speaks to spatiality and geography, core concerns for Grahn as well as Wajstedt. In both their works, physical journeys play a central role with questions of directionality and geographical disorientation driving parts of the narrative. In Wajstedt’s case, an animated map visualizes her travels across Sápmi in search of key cultural, familial, and spiritual sites. These travels do not always go as planned and are marked by wrong turns, sites undiscovered, and places that do not conform to expectation. In Grahn’s case, she recounts not only her (failed) search for the sieidi and her father’s travels to her uncle’s house, but also her daily journey to her studio. This isn’t the type of travel typically associated with migration or what Naficy describes in relation to the journeys which are at issue in accented cinema. Instead, it more closely aligns with the observation by Yến Lê Espiritu and Lan Duong that place in relation to migration is actually far more complicated than conventionally thought. They argue that the male modernist concept of exile ought to be rethought through a feminist lens and done so by mobilizing Syrian artist Nisrine Bouhkari’s concept of ‘wanderism’, a term that is ‘not about being displaced or lost but about creating an alternative road with no beginning or end’.32 In this account, 30 Harald Gaski, ‘Voice in the Margin: A Suitable Place for a Minority Literature?’, in Sámi Culture in a New Era, ed. by Harald Gaski (Karasjok: Davvi Girji, 1997), pp. 199–223 (p. 199). As John Weinstock suggests with respect to Gaski’s observation, this cyclical structure is also essential for the yoik, a traditional Sámi improvised song. John Weinstock, ‘What Goes around Comes Around: Sámi Time and Indigeneity’, Sámi Culture, University of Texas at Austin, [accessed 15 June 2022]. 31 Juha Pentikäinen, ‘The Shamanic Drum as Cognitive Map’, Cahiers de Littérature Orale, 67–68 (2010), n.p. 32 Yến Lê Espiritu and Duong Lan, ‘Feminist Refugee Epistemology: Reading Displacement in Vietnamese and Syrian Refugee Art’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 43.3 (2018), 587–615 (p. 600).

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exile is less ‘a stigma of marginality or homelessness’ and instead perceived of as ‘a dynamic location from which to question the dominant order and enable new ways of knowing the world’.33 Indeed, wanderism is an apt way to account for both Grahn’s and Wajstedt’s works where spatiality, geography, and mapping in relation to subjectivity are far less structured by linearity or any assumed end point. It is also apt for describing the shared experience of artists in Among All These Tundras who ‘find themselves moving frequently between their homelands, urban centres, other circumpolar communities, or travelling for international exhibitions and residencies’.34 Space is key in another respect for Look Who’s Talking and, specifically, in a way that accounts for the parameters of its installation in and relationship to other works in Among All These Tundras. Curated by Heather Igloliorte, Amy Dickson, and Charissa von Harringa, Among All These Tundras featured the work of contemporary Indigenous artists from the circumpolar Arctic. The title, as the curators explain, is from Sámi poet Nils-Aslak Valkeapää’s ‘My Home Is in My Heart’ and it is a phrase rich in allusion to the structuring forces of their curatorial mandate – land, sovereignty, home(land), and language. Indeed, the poem itself ‘underscores the pivotal role of words, language, writing, and poetry as sovereign resources of decolonization – acts of resistance and reclamation against colonially inherited forms of domination’.35 Texts in multiple languages are employed in a range of ways – scripted, found, typed, written, spoken – in the show’s videos, sculptures, and performances. They activate histories of forced assimilation, cultural genocide, translation, (re)conciliation, and resilience. At OnSite Gallery in Treaty 13 Territory (Toronto), Look Who’s Talking was projected on the lower half of a back wall in a semi-enclosed space. Walls perpendicular to the right and left edges of the screen created a small three-sided room of sorts, approximately 60–70 square feet in size. Viewers could enter this space, though comfortably only one or two at a time. The video’s reflection on the floor created an invisible barrier that kept visitors from getting too close. So too did the size of the text, which sometimes spanned the full height of the screen and required a degree of distance to be legible, thus forcing viewers back: ‘WTF AM I? WHITE??’ On rare occasions, strobe effects were used for emphasis (e.g. ‘WHITE’) while at other points the video’s customary use of black text on white screen 33 Eva C. Karpinski quoted in Espiritu and Duong, p. 600. 34 Heather Igloliorte Amy Dickson, and Charissa von Harringa, Among All These Tundras, Exh. Cat. (Toronto: Onsite Gallery, 2019) p. 9. 35 Igloliorte et al., p. 5.

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was inverted to unsettling effect. This enabled Grahn’s words to take on a physical materiality with the capacity to compel movement from bodies in space, to repel them away from the screen. The power of language and indeed the agency of her words, now out in the world for others to read, not only speaks to the structural epistolarity of her practice, but also the way in which language itself is at issue in Look Who’s Talking and Among All These Tundras more broadly. The silence of Grahn’s work enabled other sounds from the exhibition to filter in to the viewing experience of Look Who’s Talking. Indeed one could hear talking as well as singing and music emanating from other videos nearby, ones representing the land, cultural practices, histories, and individuals from across the circumpolar north. Indeed Among All These Tundras was a strongly dialogic exhibition that fostered connections between works, a critically productive feature enabled by the curatorial selection and design of the show. The dialogic impetus of Among All These Tundras was propelled not just by the dispersal of words and language throughout the space of the exhibition, the sounds, music, and speech of specific works that seemed to reach out to one another. It was also embedded in exchanges between objects that communicated with one another through their materiality, a materiality in Grahn’s case, also afforded to text. For instance, Inuvialuk artist Kablusiak’s small soapstone sculptures of cigarettes, lighters, and tampon applicators – objects that challenge audiences to recognize the contemporaneity of Inuit life – prompt some of the same questions about the authenticity of identity that Grahn’s work does, though in Grahn’s case this is accomplished by engaging orality, translation, and writing. Likewise Look Whose Talking’s oscillation between addressing settler viewers and generating irreconcilable spaces of Indigeneity rendered it a (silent) participant in Iñupiaq artist Allison Akootchook Warden or Inuk artist Taqralik Partridge’s performances that asked assembled audiences, Indigenous and settler alike, to reflect on meaning and language. In conclusion, Grahn’s particular uses of text in a strongly dialogic installation, one that prompts a certain kind of mobile and active spectatorship, opens up new ways of thinking about the context of moments of reception of epistolary forms. Here, the dynamics of exchange between writer and receiver engage the subjectivities of both, reimagine the process of reading, and activate the site of consumption as a determining frame that decolonizes epistolarity itself. Grahn’s message to us destabilizes conceptions of ‘us’ and encourages readers to confront the nature of language, orality, historical erasures, and lingering silences. It also destabilizes/decolonizes the conventions of temporality and spatiality that undergird more traditional epistolary

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forms, appealing to a cyclical rather than linear narrative structure, one that refreshes its dialogic exchanges with each pass, forming new constellations with the soundtrack provided by neighbouring (Indigenous) voices. In mobilizing electronic epistolary media to creative and decolonizing ends, Grahn shows how to expand the possibilities of epistolarity itself.

Bibliography Allison, Katherine Rae, ‘Pope’s Epistolary Art’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon, 1995) Bertrand, Karine, ‘Epistolary Enunciation in Quebec and Indigenous Cinemas: The Letter as Identity Vector and Memory Tool’, Área Abierta, 19.3 (2019), 307–26 Espiritu, Yến Lê and Duong Lan, ‘Feminist Refugee Epistemology: Reading Displacement in Vietnamese and Syrian Refugee Art’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 43.3 (2018), 587–615 Garneau, David, ‘Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation: Art, Curation, and Healing’, in Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action in and beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, ed. by Dylan Robinson and Martin Keavy (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016), pp. 21–41 Gaski, Harald, ‘Voice in the Margin: A Suitable Place for a Minority Literature?’, in Sámi Culture in a New Era, ed. by Harald Gaski (Karasjok: Davvi Girji, 1997), pp. 199–223 Igloliorte, Heather, Amy Dickson, and Charissa von Harringa, Among All These Tundras. Exh. Cat. (Toronto: Onsite Gallery, 2019) Johnson, Mariana, ‘Staying Home: Cuban Exile Film from Within’, in Cinematic Homecomings: Exile and Return in Transnational Cinema, ed. by Rebecca Prime (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), pp. 129–46 MacKenzie, Scott and Anna Westerståhl Stenport, ‘Contemporary Experimental Feminist Sámi Documentary: The First Person Politics of Liselotte Wajstedt and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’, Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, 6.2 (2016), 169–82 Moffat, Kate, ‘Bodies in Transition: Somatechnics and the Experimental Art of Liselotte Wajstedt’s Sámi Nieida Jojk (Sámi Daughter Yoik, 2007)’, Somatechnics, 8.1 (2018), 48–63 Naficy, Hamid, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001) Pentikäinen, Juha, ‘The Shamanic Drum as Cognitive Map’, Cahiers de Littérature Orale, 67–68 (2010), n.p. Rickard, Jolene, ‘Sovereignty: A Line in the Sand’, Aperture, 139 (1995), 51–59

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Shilina-Conte, Tanya, ‘Black Screen, White Page: Ontology and Genealogy of Blank Space’, Word & Image, 31.4 (2015), 501–14 Skelly, Julia, ‘Among All These Tundras’, Inuit Art Quarterly, 32.1 (Spring 2019), n.p. Smith, Sarah E.K. and Carla Staunton, ‘Unsettling Canadian Heritage: Decolonial Aesthetics in Canadian Video and Performance Art’, Journal of Canadian Studies, 52.1 (Winter 2018), 306–41 Stanley, Liz, ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing’, Cultural Sociology, 9.2 (2015), 240–55 Weinstock, John, ‘What Goes around Comes Around: Sámi Time and Indigeneity’, Sámi Culture, University of Texas at Austin, [accessed 15 June 2022] Wilson, Pamela, ‘Indigenous Documentary Media’, in Contemporary Documentary, ed. by Daniel Marcus and Selmin Kara (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 87–105

About the Author Christine Sprengler is Professor of Art History at Western University. She is the author of Screening Nostalgia (2009), Hitchcock and Contemporary Art (2014) and Fractured Fifties (2023) as well as articles on contemporary film, media art, art and artificial intelligence, and cinematic installation.

14. Epistolary Relays in Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite (On the Other Side/ On the Edge of Heaven) (2007) Sunka Simon

Abstract Fatih Akin’s 2007 f ilm Auf der anderen Seite follows its protagonists’ diasporic trajectories between Germany and Turkey. The film constructs a complex narrative in three interlaced segments that pit narrated against narrative time, sound against image. This chapter explores how cinematography, editing, and sound design construct an epistolary relay system in which characters cross paths unbeknownst to them, in which a scene is restaged from ‘the other side’ to unsettle spectatorial assumptions in order to reflect on trans-European migration along with German and Turkish histories of oppression. Keywords: Fatih Akin; diasporic cinema; trans-European migration; postal relay

Fatih Akin’s 2007 film Auf der anderen Seite (On the Other Side/On the Edge of Heaven) traces seven characters’ liminal lives as they venture across or are caught between national, political, cultural, gender, and familial boundaries. Two young star-crossed lovers, Ayten (Nurgül Yeşilçay) and Charlotte/Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), f ind and lose each other in the process of transgressing national, political, and heterosexual boundaries. Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz), a first-generation Turkish migrant, lives in Bremen, where his love interest, Yeter (Nursel Köse), has been working in the red-light district. Yeter is Ayten’s estranged mother. After a drunk Ali hits Yeter and the fall kills her, he ends up in prison and is subsequently expelled to Turkey. Ali’s adult son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a professor of German literature at the

Higgins, T. and C. Fowler (eds.), Epistolary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2023 doi 10.5117/9789463729666_ch14

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University of Hamburg, opens and closes the film in the form of a road trip to his father’s village along the Black Sea coast. In Istanbul, the expat Markus (Lars Rudolph) runs a German bookstore. He turns it over to Nejat, who in turn asks Lotte’s grieving mother Susanne (Hannah Schygulla), to mind it during his trip to reconnect with his father. In Auf der anderen Seite, mobility and migration are multi-sourced and multi-directional, demonstrably rewarding and lethal at the same time. Akin does not depict mobility and migration ‘as one way traffic from country of origin to host society, but rather as more mobile scenarios, axial stories, multisited lives and itinerant identities, each of which nevertheless maintains a sense of situated actors and of agency’.1 The film’s characters display an identity concept that Deniz Göktürk defines as ‘itinerant’.2 Migration is a response to an existential crisis that forces individuals to adapt to rapidly changing contexts and situations. Akin structured his film accordingly by utilizing a complexly interwoven three-part segmentation and a flipped mise-en-scène that approximates epistolarity’s dialogic, in which subject and object, self and other, switch from one scene to the next (from writing to reading and vice versa). He takes it one step further by linking this itinerant ontology to a migratory subject position that impacts everyone, not just those who actively experience diasporic lives. For example, whereas Susanne first connects mobility to her own youth, to tourism and freedom, Lotte’s death and Ayten’s imprisonment alter her frame of reference. Nejat is jolted from the complacency of his successful cultural and economic integration by his father’s act of violence while the lure of bourgeois domesticity blinds Yeter to its systemically gendered and volatile power dynamics. Finally, Lotte’s unacknowledged claim to privileged mobility leads to her death amidst Istanbul’s rubble. Fatih Akin and Rainer Klausmann pair the complex narration with cinematography and sound design that engage viewers to see and hear spaces, times, and events from different sides, switching positions and revealing intersections and connections coincidentally, fleetingly, and almost always belatedly. Auf der anderen Seite pays tribute to its title by un- and refolding form and content, envelope and letter, the scenes of arrival and departure, sender and addressee. As it does so, the f ilm functions 1 Tom Cheesman et al., ‘Axial Writing Project’, Transnational Communities Programme (1998), . Quoted by Deniz Göktürk, ‘Anyone at Home? Itinerant Identities in European Cinema of the 1990s’, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 43.2 (Fall 2002), 201–12 (p. 203). 2 Tom Cheesman et al., p. 203.

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along the lines of a dialogic exchange in order to make visible and unsettle the naturalized boundaries of subjectivity, national and cultural identity, space, and time. Within his concept of accented cinema, Hamid Naficy regards epistolarity as a foundational narrative, structural, and medium-reflexive element and he reminds us of Terry Eagleton’s dialogic basis of ‘the scene of production’, doubled by the constant re-positioning of the diasporic subject when addressing or being addressed by host- or homeland: As ‘speech-for-another’, the letter, in Terry Eagleton’s words, is ‘over­hearing itself in the ears of the addressee’. The scene of the letter’s reception is always already embedded in its scene of production (and vice-versa).3

Accented filmmakers having been subjected to regional, national, and global media traditions and institutions as privileged points of access to their connected yet disparate communities throughout their lives, become hyper-conscious of their approaches to representation.4 For a curious, creative, and self-reflexive person, such as Fatih Akin, this intermediary position between different media sources can fuel connections that are inaccessible to mono-linguists, as much as it can fuel a desire to fill a representation gap, respond to misconceptions, or bridge a divide. Auf der anderen Seite employs a structural epistolary discourse that is designed to represent the existential crisis of displaced lives and reposition spectatorship as it reflects on, responds to, and reworks film form. Yet it also becomes crucial not to reduce epistolarity in cinema to the visual appearance of epistolary artefacts but instead to watch for and listen to the correspondences between and across geopolitics, narration, and semiotics. The film was made at a time, when Kurdish and Syrian asylum seekers were fleeing violence in their home countries, and desperate parents from wartorn and economically undersourced regions were sending their children across borders to northern Europe. When accented filmmakers like Akin are representing not only these contemporary experiences, but also their parents’ and their own displacements, they do so not only in dialogue with German and Turkish histories of oppression but also within and outside of the countries’ privileged artistic expressions. 3 Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001) p. 137. 4 Nick Couldry discusses the naturalization process of the media’s privileged access to the ‘We’ and the ‘Real’ in his book Media Rituals: A Critical Approach (New York: Routledge, 2003).

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The similarities between epistolary exchange and the impact of migration – even after death – is made morbidly visible in one particular scene. Two coffins trade places at the airport, their respective remains ‘repatriated’ in a macabre dead letter exchange that correlates the life lived ‘on the other side’ with that of an undeliverable piece of mail, as if they had never resided there, never been ‘addressable’ to begin with. The bodies are ‘returned to sender’ according to EU protocols that reduce hybrid individual, national, and family histories to a naturalized amalgam of bureaucratic (last known address), economic (who pays for the funeral), or race-infused national designations (birthplace). The posthumous human trafficking both does and does not represent their inhabitants’ interstitial rerouted lives between birth and host countries. But the film doesn’t stop at this signpost. Along with the ‘complex world-making’ that Claudia Breger attests for Akin’s film,5 I argue it sets up a medium-reflexive epistolary relay system consisting of a combination of narrative complexity, intertextual and inter-generational casting, and opposing affective character profiles, which is strengthened by a cinematography that consistently points to existing divides at the same time that it encourages reconnections across them. I will focus on close readings of the film’s segmentation, the cinematography and mise-en-scène of selected scenes that trace the epistolary circuitry of reconnections within Akin’s film. According to Belén Vidal, [t]he letter f igure presents a sort of threshold: between present and past, the intimate and the social, but also between the materiality of the object and the immateriality of the ghost, through the separation of the voice from the tangible presence of the body. The letter’s figuration thus constitutes a hidden third term in the symbolic intersubjectivity of correspondence (the encounter between Self and Other): a space between presence and absence, inscribed by a moment of opacity in the visual text – the symbolic/writing suddenly erupting into the iconic/visual.6

Vidal’s ‘eruption into the iconic/visual’ occurs in the form of three intertitles for the three segments in Akin’s film – Yeter’s Death, Lotte’s Death, On the Other Side. These make the system of narration visible, the first two 5 Claudia Breger, ‘Configuring Affect: Complex World-Making in Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite’, Cinema Journal, 54.1 (2014), 65–80. 6 Belén Vidal, ‘Labyrinths of Loss: The Letter as Figure of Desire and Deferral in the Literary Film’, Journal of European Studies, 36.4 (2006), 418–36 (p. 426).

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inscribing certain death for Yeter and Lotte, taking the surprise, if not the suspense, out of the narrative process. The intertitles function as envelopes for the individual letters (the three segments) but also as epistolary inserts within the temporally and spatially displaced postal relay system of the film as a whole. Each segment holds sub-segments of the others, and each main segment, in turn, is delayed and interrupted by Nejat’s road trip which also functions as a frame narrative (envelope) and an insert (letter, photograph etc.), since snippets of it appear in each segment. If we read the film’s three segments as letters ‘from the other side’ (from another segment, from death, from a different time and space), Auf der anderen Seite encourages spectators to renegotiate the positions of sender and addressee, medium and message, both on the formal, systemic level and on the narrative level that deals with migration in an exceedingly interconnected and globalized Europe. Just because two young women – Lotte and Ayten – sit in the cafeteria at the University of Hamburg or in the same spot on the ferry to Istanbul does not tell us about their origins, intentions, and destinations. As a result, the narration uses epistolary relays to engage spectators beyond binary poles. To explain how this works I will explore the use of in-scene missed encounters, flipped screens in reiterations of the same scene, the function of a message board in the Istanbul bookstore, and asynchronous image/sound pairing. The film opens with a black screen and the sound of waves. This sound ushers in our first counterintuitive image: a dry, sandy rural gas station in Turkey. This is where we eventually meet Nejat for the first time, tanking up mid-roadtrip from Hamburg via Istanbul to his father’s village on the Black Sea coast. The opening pits sound against image and narrated against narrative time. Not only is the gas station scene lifted out of the final narrated segment but it is itself acoustically preceded by the end of the film. For the duration of the end credits the camera stays behind Nejat, who stands facing the sea, awaiting his father’s boat. The film ends before the father returns. It is in this final long take that we hear the sound of waves again, and this time the sound is matched with the image. Flipping end and beginning, Nejat’s delayed arrival on screen in the first scene is thus superseded by the deferral of another arrival (his father’s) in the final scene. Or put differently, the dichotomy of arrival and departure is deconstructed from the very start. Ali’s and Nejat’s displacements, and the relationship between sound and image are intertwined. Regarding the road trip as frame narrative, Claudia Breger argues that, [t]he point of this narrative arrangement is not circularity. The foreshadowing introductory sequence, moments of which had also been

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repeated at the end of part 1, has found an unambiguous spatiotemporal location in the film’s narrative, and this time, we accompany Nejat to his destination. The point may, however, be about the significance of location, and positionality in a transnational world, or the inscription of the socio-symbolic into the affective process dramatized through Nejat’s travel.7

Breger helps us realize how the frame narrative and three-part segmentation – Yeter’s Death, Lotte’s Death, and On the Other Side – function as an epistolary relay system of overlapping asynchronous re-missions. Nejat’s road trip to the Black Sea coast opens and closes the film in medias res, despite the fact that as yet untold events, namely Yeter’s death and Ali’s subsequent imprisonment (told in the first segment), motivated his journey. The frame narrative has us join the film mid-trip, meeting Nejat along his path of rediscovery rather than beginning from a fixed location or time. The sound-image asynchronicity, the frame narrative, and the three segments’ intertitles therefore speak from ‘the other side’ – of the events, of narrative chronology, and of death. The effect of a ‘dead letter’ exchange, missing the addressee and returning to the address of the sender, who no longer resides there, is made even more pronounced in Yeter’s and Ayten’s storylines. Mother and daughter become displaced and separated from one another (literally into different narrative strands) because of the repressive state measures deployed against secular leftist Kurdish groups during their struggle for political recognition in the period of repressive military rule during the 1970s – a painful sequence of events which, not unlike the earlier mass genocide of Armenian Turks, the Turkish state is all too anxious to erase from official history and cultural memory, given its maturation into a modern democratic country on the verge of applying for EU membership.8

The dialogic discourse, shedding light on intersectionalities between minoritarian and dominant demographic groups in each country and the repressed and official memorialization of the past is thus integrated into 7 Belén Vidal, p. 74. 8 Keith Hussein, ‘Fresh Start: Transnational and Cultural Movements of Identity in Auf der anderen Seite’, Seismopolite: Journal of Art and Politics (September 2012) [accessed 9 April 2021].

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the segmented narration in the film. Hussein points out that Ayten and Yeter live apart from one another and never get the chance to reconnect in the narrative. While Yeter sets her sight on economic improvement, Ayten believes in political change for the rights of Kurdish descendants in Turkey. Just when Yeter finds a home with Ali in Bremen, unbeknownst to her, Ayten sleeps in the streets. Both women take chances on promises from individuals (like Ali), and from systems of power (Germany’s asylum law) to survive their displacements. These promises fail them on familiar economic and political levels. The film reflects this systemic failure through a narration that relegates Yeter and Ayten to separate narrative segments. The failure on the family level is given a more hopeful spin in other inter-personal connections (between Lotte and Ayten, Yeter and Nejat, Susanne and Nejat, and Susanne and Ayten). Akin matches individual and collective mourning work with Ayten’s political activism to access ‘the transformative power’ of dialogic memory ‘that can improve hitherto divisive social and political relationships’, here experienced in the German-Turkish past but also in inner-German and inner-Turkish border-crossings.9 At the outset, Susanne, Yeter, and Ali resist delving into their own and their countries’ past and current involvement in repression of minorities. Susanne believes in the concept of the nation-state and the European Union, while Lotte and Ayten’s awareness of post-colonial developments and the effects of globalism make them hyper-critical of the previous generation’s inadequacy to face current inequities. Ironically Susanne, who was part of the counter-cultural movement in the 1970s pushing the war-time generation to reckon with its complicity in the Holocaust and advocating for gender equality, is at first critical of Lotte and Ayten’s approaches to change the system. Nejat, on the other hand, seeks refuge in classic German literary and intellectual history and trusts in his generation’s cross-cultural competence to move the needle forward, until Ali’s act of aggression wakes him up. Struggles to un-erase unwanted recollections produce both parallels and collisions between German memory culture after the Holocaust, its more recent attempt to deal with as well as populist rejection of (im)migration and diversity, and Turkey’s oppression of ethnic and political minorities. The frame narrative emerges from and envelopes the three inserted narrative segments (Yeter’s Death, Lotte’s Death, On the Other Side) which each in their own way construct adjacencies that miss each other on the diegetic level. 9 Aleida Assmann, ‘Dialogic Memory’, in Dialogue as a Trans-disciplinary Concept: Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue and its Contemporary Reception, ed. by Paul Mendes-Flohr (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2015), 199–214 (p. 199).

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Not only does Akin constitute his three segments as letters from beyond, his characters’ itineraries cross through and over one another repeatedly, before they and the viewer are aware of the other, or while trying to locate one another. The combination of fluid cinematography and editing constructs a postal relay system. The camera briefly glimpses Yeter on a bus while Ayten is going in the opposite direction, shows Lotte leaning against one side of the ferry, and Ayten on the other side. These missed encounters occur within one scene, with the viewer functioning as a third-party witness, or they occur between scenes, in which case the attentive viewer can deliver the ‘errant letters’ by intercepting them.10 Means of transportation (buses, ferries, subways) are shown to facilitate connections from point A to B but cannot do so sideways, between tangential and itinerant routes. The latter is the work the film performs. Setting these scenes in public spaces and showing bodies inserted into pre-inscribed transit routes, between Hamburg and Bremen (Nejat and Ayten) or from work to home (Yeter) foregrounds the dominant linearity of the system. By contrast, Auf der anderen Seite asserts the advantage of the moving image to represent and reflect on disconnections as reconnections. Akin’s insertions of missed encounters are never conveyed through point-of-view shots, instead they incentivize viewers to forge the connections the characters missed, while encouraging them to rework their own romantic impulses inherited from mainstream cinema. Viewers are also encouraged to stay mindful of the mail order, a concept which I defined as the default communication system that erroneously assumes a stable and containable triangulated designation of sender–message–addressee in Mail-Orders: The Fiction of Letters in Postmodern Culture.11 Our desire for a happy end – for Nejat to connect to his roots, for Ayten to find her mother, for Lotte to spring Ayten from jail – are thwarted from the start: the intertitles of the first two segments bluntly tell us that Lotte and Yeter will die; the third segment takes place ‘on the other side’ of their deaths. Akin thus reroutes cinematic destinations and spectatorial habits, moving displacements into the field of vision. The film’s three-part segmentation helps to draw out the different ways in which [e]xile and epistolarity are constitutively linked because both are driven by distance, separation, absence, and loss, as well as the desire to bridge 10 Homer Obed Brown analyses the tendency for letters to go astray in ‘The Errant Letter and the Whispering Gallery’, Genre, 10 (1977), 573–99. 11 Sunka Simon, Mail-Orders: The Fiction of Letters in Postmodern Culture (New York: SUNY Press, 2002).

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these multiple gaps. Whatever form the epistle takes […], it becomes, in the words of Linda Kauffman, a ‘metonymic and a metaphoric displacement of desire’ – the desire to be with another and to re-imagine an elsewhere and other times.12

The storyline of each segment is replete with displaced fragments of the other storylines. Narrative units cross over into each other’s territories, under cover, without fanfare. As they do so, they not only follow the practice of epistolary inserts (locks of hair, pressed flowers etc.) but also the infamous introductory epistolary line, ‘By the time you read/see this, I am already dead’. In addition to the missed encounters described above, viewers get to see and hear the same scenes from different perspectives, building in a contrapuntal, polyphonous textuality that resists both cause and effect and shortcuts to documentary authenticity. Instead of placing viewers into a privileged position, the reiterative narration sets up a postal relay that reworks linear thinking and epistemological certainty. As part of each repeat, we switch positions from sender to addressee within and between the ‘same’ scenes. Just when we think we ‘know’ a character, through sharing their space, we get a second view on it from the other side, thereby denaturalizing space and time coordinates and deconstructing the concept of a shared space. Postal relay is most noticeable in the two scenes in the first segment that feature Nejat lecturing on Goethe’s opinion on revolution. Here, the camera switches sides from a head-on of Nejat to focus on a sleeping Ayten in the back of the auditorium. The unmotivated cut and violation of the 180-degree axis performs the only revolution in this instance. Because we don’t know Ayten’s story yet, her placement lets us read her only as ‘a student’. In the first iteration of this scene, Akin seems to cynically reflect on millennial apathy amidst an unchanged academic landscape, indicating the failure of the 1968 student movement and more recent diversity initiatives. By the time the same cut occurs during the scene’s second iteration, this time beginning the scene from Ayten’s side as Nejat is citing Goethe’s conservativism – ‘for [revolutions] destroy as many good old things as they create good new ones’ – viewers have more understanding of Ayten’s situation. We have learned that Ayten’s exhaustion stems from protesting against the oppression of the Kurdish minority in Turkey and, being illegally in Germany, from sleeping in the streets. Having been made privy to ‘her side’, we realize 12 Naficy, p. 134.

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that her presence is both a corrective to Goethe’s defence of the status quo and our assumptions of the correlation between space and identity. Ayten confirms this when Lotte asks her what her major is, and then why she is at the university if she is not a student: ‘I am hungry and this is the cheapest place to eat’. The university provides temporary safe harbour and subsidized cafeteria food. In its reiteration, the scene exposes the heterogeneity of space, of migration and host-land integration experiences. The message board at Markus’s and later Nejat’s German bookstore in Istanbul encapsulates the film’s palimpsestic narrative map. Looking to make contact with Ayten after Yeter’s death in the first segment, Nejat pins her image on the board with his phone number. In the second segment, after Nejat has decided to buy the bookstore and stay in Istanbul, he also uses the board to advertise a room in his new apartment which Lotte then rents from him, as she is setting her hopes on freeing Ayten from prison. Since Lotte has never seen Yeter, and Nejat has not seen Ayten, neither makes that vital connection. On the message board dedicated notes to displaced addressees mingle with advertisements and love connections. Some get pinned on top of others, their content and address subsequently obscured to casual readers. Some decay and become unreadable, while others are only readable in a specific language or by a specific person. Others get ripped off by users or censored by the owner, leaving gaps soon filled by new posts. The Murderers Are among Us (Wolfgang Staudte, 1946) began by zeroing in on a wall used as a bulletin board that paired a poster of a ‘beautiful Germany’ with missing person signs and relocation notes for displaced, bombed out family members. Then and now, the contrastive collages on the message board forge reconnections in unlikely ways, including Akin’s own recontextualization of this postwar epistolary device for a new Europe shaped by migration and refugee crises. Eventually, in the third segment, Nejat removes Yeter’s poster from the board because he does not want the reminder that it brings him. Selime Büyükgöze argues that in the 1990s and 2000s, ‘the preoccupation with memory in Turkey gained momentum’, and that in films of that era that employ or invoke the dialogicity of epistolary discourse to deal with memory ‘the dialogue is broken. An epistle communicates loss through bringing the absent figure into a presence’.13 When we consider that just prior to Nejat’s removal of the poster, his cousin informed him that his father was waiting for him, and that this dilemma motivated the first and only emotional 13 Selime Büyükgöze, ‘The Use of Epistolarity for Documenting the Past in Films from Turkey’, Sinecine: Sinema Araştırmaları Dergisi, 10.2 (Fall 2019), 455–79 (p. 459 and p. 462).

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outburst from Nejat in the film (he swipes all books off his desk), it becomes clear that amnesia and erasure – of Yeter, of the Ottoman past, of minority histories, including those of women and Kurdish children – cannot be the answer. Invoking Avery Gordon’s concept of ‘haunting’, Büyükgöze continues: [e]pistles are ‘the remains’, the words, voice, and image of the lost ones. Hence their loss is not a personal tragedy but rather a collective one, the use of the epistolary form holds the potential to reveal the abusive systems of power and their impacts on the lives of ordinary people. Epistles haunt the fictive time in films and serve as reminders of what has been lost through bearing witness to its presence.14

Yeter’s flyer on the public message board functions like Büyükgöze’s haunting presence with collective addressees. When viewers catch sight of it early in the film, we have already met Yeter, while Ayten is still looking for her, and Nejat is using the mother’s image to look for the daughter. The flyer addresses us as semi-omniscient viewers, but we cannot close the circuit. Eventually, Nejat’s flyer of Yeter ceases to reference Ayten and turns into a memorial to Yeter, along with all missed connections in the film. For Nejat, who brought Yeter’s image along with him and reencounters it at a volatile time in his own life, the image is a reminder of loss and further attests to the way that trauma follows one wherever one goes, remaining inescapable. Since the bulletin board is placed directly opposite his desk, Yeter’s image looks at Nejat, witness to his loss of control, placing the son in the position of the father. Ali’s abuse keeps haunting Nejat in the new environment. While he can remove the poster, he cannot do the same to its message. Dealing with injustices or crimes, along with the complex motivators for migration, has to involve confronting absence and loss along with culpability. For this reason, the film’s mise-en-scène, here the bookstore’s message board, becomes a prominent part of the epistolary circuitry. It is in front of the empty space where Yeter’s image used to hang – and Akin counts on us to remember, to bear witness to its absence – that Susanne and Ayten first tentatively shake hands and then hug each other, finding a way forward together … at least for a while. Like letters returned to sender because the addressee has moved on, Akin has viewers belatedly recognize significant moments and spaces from one segment to another. The lecture hall scenes described above and 14 Büyükgöze, p. 463. She quotes from Avery Gordon’s book Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

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the bulletin board are two examples. Screen-memories transport these epistles backward and forward. In these postal relay moments, designations and destinations get rerouted. Departure turns into arrival, arrival into departure. The reconnections after the fact apply to familial relationships (that Yeter and Ayten are mother and daughter), as much as to intent or destination (when Ayten appears in the back of Nejat’s lecture hall). Desires and fears along with political and personal goals are unearthed slowly, if at all. Instead of ‘meanwhile at the castle’ conventions, the inner- and inter-sequence crossovers remain polyphonic co-existences. Neither viewers nor characters can claim access to these different experiences at the same time and in the same space. As fragments, the micro-flows only make sense in retrospect; some remain obscured, while others only reveal themselves after repeated screenings. In the third segment of Akin’s Edge of Heaven as characters and viewers begin to connect some of these fragments, the surviving protagonists Susanne, Ayten, and Nejat similarly form an ad hoc provisional community to see abandoned projects through a critical phase (Ayten’s liberation from prison, the fate of the bookstore, Nejat’s road trip to talk to his father) and inadvertently help each other emerge on the other side of grief and anger. Whether the end result is a form of reparation remains uncertain. If anything, the epistolary relay system of the film encourages us to see things from the other side, minding the gap that reveals and interrupts biological, racial, gender, and social scripts. One interpretation of the long take that ends but doesn’t resolve the film is that Nejat will need time to see things from his father’s side. His waiting by the beach opposite the surf just signals his patience, and reminds us of the long road to get there by sending us back to the beginning of the film incentivized by and emulating the overlapping movement and sound of the waves. Turning to the sound, according to Büyükgöze, the role of off-screen asynchronous sound and ‘sound flashbacks’ are in keeping with the dominant way in which Turkish films have represented the past.15 The film’s sonic framing of the narrative mimics the waves as they crest and withdraw, the transnational, polysemic tide of stories and meanings rolling over one another, some to beach themselves into visibility, others to get swept out of sight by strong currents to surface or strand elsewhere, in another time.16 By the time Nejat finally arrives at the Black Sea coast in the third segment, the 15 Büyükgöze p. 458. 16 I would argue that Akin updates John Barth’s critique of modernism from his essay ‘Literature of Replenishment’. See ‘Literature of Replenishment’, in The Friday Book: Essays and Other

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film reconnects sound with image. At this point, the image cues an acoustic memory that takes us back to the beginning of the film, which has thus trained us to recognize and locate the push and pull of image and sound, of subconscious memories, in between whose deferred and displaced arrivalinto-signification Akin situates his film. The viewer as listener arrives at the shore long before Nejat does. We wait for him to show up. And when he does, waiting for his father to return from his fishing trip, the sound of the waves recalls us to the beginning, and we leave him there – beyond the ending. As Berna Gueneli has emphasized, Akin employs an ‘aesthetic of heterogeneity’ that foregrounds sound and music to create intertextual and transcultural resonances that hail spectators and listeners in different ways and that run parallel to the multi-lingualism of his films.17 The opening scene at the gas station sets in motion the intertextual, transcultural dialogue of the film as a whole. Because image and sound enter into an asynchronous relationship in the first shot of the film does not imply a lack of referentiality. We hear the waves that we don’t get to see until the end of the film, and we hear the car before it pops into view and the music before the scene cuts to its interior source. As sound, the waves have no territorial marker, the car does not belong to any specific brand – yet. Their sounds could have been recorded anywhere – at the Elbe in Hamburg, the Bosporus in Istanbul, the Weser in Bremen. This is decidedly different from the music we hear: the singer, Kazim Koyuncu, was born on the northeast Black Sea coast and died at Nejat’s age from cancer, which the gas station attendant blames on the fallout from Chernobyl. Along with Nejat, as we are learning about the source of the music, the regional memories and importance of the singer, air-, sound-, and water-waves are denaturalized as transnational carriers or delivery vehicles and embedded in historically specific and geopolitical contexts. After having watched the first segment, we begin to realize that despite his under-emoted demeanour, Nejat experienced the loss of his father (first to alcoholic rage, to prison, and to repatriation) and the loss of Yeter (a repetition of the loss of his mother) as his own up-rooting. By the time we realize this loss as one of the reasons for his road trip, the music has already keyed this grief in more than familial, or even national – Turkish vs German – terms. Hence the epistolary system of narration has moved us into a different spectatorial and auditory position than before. Non-Fiction (Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp. 193–206. John Barth also gave epistolarity a novel treatment in his Letters (New York: Putnam, 1979). 17 Berna Gueneli, Fatih Akin’s Cinema and the New Sound of Europe (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019), p. 164.

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As I have shown, the frame narrative situates the subject and object of the gaze in transit. It reverts arrival into departure through sound and duration. Further, the film refuses to grant the familial and romantic reconnections likely championed by viewers. Tantalizingly close, characters just miss each other en route. Yet their rerouted lives create unexpected alliances across gender, age, class, sexual, and ethnic differences in their stead. The film’s reiterative mise-en-scènes recast familiar spaces from ‘the other side’ and thereby foreground coexisting yet diverging geopolitical situations. In combination, these cinematic reconfigurations construct an epistolary relay system that reveals how the intersubjective triad of sender–message–receiver continuously restages itself, how the intricate ways in which subjects relay one another in ongoing displacements layer themselves over and reproduce those incurred as a result of diasporic lives.

Bibliography Assmann, Aleida, ‘Dialogic Memory’, in Dialogue as a Trans-disciplinary Concept: Martin Buber’s Philosophy of Dialogue and its Contemporary Reception, ed. by Paul Mendes-Flohr (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2015), pp. 199–214 Barth, John, Letters (New York: Putnam, 1979) Barth, John, ‘Literature of Replenishment’, in The Friday Book: Essays and Other NonFiction (Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), pp. 193–206 Breger, Claudia, ‘Configuring Affect: Complex World-Making in Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite’, Cinema Journal, 54.1 (2014), 65–80 Brown, Homer Obed, ‘The Errant Letter and the Whispering Gallery’, Genre, 10 (1977), 573–99 Büyükgöze, Selime, ‘The Use of Epistolarity for Documenting the Past in Films from Turkey’, Sinecine: Sinema Araştırmaları Dergisi, 10.2 (2019), 455–79 Cheesman, Tom et al., ‘Axial Writing Project’, Transnational Communities Programme (1998), [accessed 10 April 2021] Couldry, Nick, Media Rituals: A Critical Approach (New York: Routledge, 2003) Göktürk, Deniz, ‘Anyone at Home? Itinerant Identities in European Cinema of the 1990s’, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, 43.2 (2002), 201–12 Gordon, Avery, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008) Gueneli, Berna, Fatih Akin’s Cinema and the New Sound of Europe (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019) Hussein, Keith, ‘Fresh Start: Transnational and Cultural Movements of Identity in Auf der anderen Seite’, Seismopolite: Journal of Art and Politics (September 2012),

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[accessed 9 April 2021] Naficy, Hamid, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001) Simon, Sunka, Mail-Orders: The Fiction of Letters in Postmodern Culture (New York: SUNY Press, 2002) Vidal, Belén, ‘Labyrinths of Loss: The Letter as Figure of Desire and Deferral in the Literary Film’, Journal of European Studies, 36.4 (2006), 418–36

About the Author Sunka Simon received her Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of the book Mail-Orders: The Fiction of Letters in Postmodern Culture (2002) and the forthcoming German Crime Dramas from Network TV to Netflix (Bloomsbury Press). Simon teaches courses on film and television at Swarthmore College.

Index 84 Charing Cross Road (Hanfff ) 176 absent 10, 43, 52, 63, 96, 99, 126, 199, 230, 268 absence 12, 13, 14, 21, 24, 31, 34, 46, 49, 57, 64, 76, 100, 112, 113, 125, 132, 141-142, 187, 204, 229, 231, 248, 262, 266, 269 absence and presence 32, 92, 146, 245 accented cinema 10, 24, 25, 27, 34, 35, 56, 247-248, 251, 254, 261 Adorno, Theodore 83, 84 Akass, Kim and Janet McCabe 97 Akerman, Chantal 24, 26-27, 29, 55-56 Akin, Fatih 259-261 All That Heaven Allows (Sirk) 97 Alonso, Lisandro 192, 196-197 Altman, Janet Gurkin 12, 13, 14, 56, 57, 64, 66, 131, 159, 160, 164, 165, 166, 167, 175, 178, 181 Among All These Tundras 244 An Angel at My Table (Campion) 158 Apocalypse Now (Coppola) 230, 231 arthouse 55 arthouse cinema 202 art cinema 29 artists’ correspondence 33, 191-192 audio letter 127 Auf der anderen Seite (On the Other Side/ On the Edge of Heaven) (Akin) 35, 259, 260-264, 266 Austin, J.L. 12, 151 authentic 22, 23-24, 31, 34, 42, 92, 98, 106,126, 128, 132, 134, 162, 225 authenticity 20, 21, 32, 59, 64, 92, 95, 99, 126, 127, 128, 134, 136-, 138, 193, 228, 233, 256, 267 authority 17, 41-48, 50-53, 163, 180, 208 authorship 33-34, 134, 160, 169, 173, 175, 177, 180-181, 187, 203, 205, 243 Barthes, Roland, the ‘writer-as-reader’ 178 Battle of Gettysburg (Ince) 194 Baudrillard, Jean 85 Bazin, André 135 Benjamin, Walter 151, 152 Bergala, Alain 194 Best Years of Our Lives, the (Wyler) 238 Bing, Wang 167 Bingham, Dennis 96, 157-160 biopic 158, 159, 160, 167 literary 158, 159, 160, 169 Black Hawk Down (Scott) 231 blog 10, 208 blogs 10, 16, 27, 91, 92, 94, 95, 213 blogging 211 body 19, 22, 42, 59-60, 62, 64, 67, 73, 75, 77, 79, 108-109, 110, 115, 118-119, 132, 140, 141, 163, 186, 200, 209, 220, 245-246, 262 bodies 26, 59, 60, 62, 64, 75, 85, 112, 141, 209, 242, 246, 256, 262, 266

Bridget Jones’ Diary (Maguire) 11, 13, 19, 94, 99 Brief Encounters (Muratova) 268-269 Brig, the (Jonas Mekas 1964) 61 Bright Leaves (McElwee) 199 Brooks, Peter 93, 94, 215 Buber, Martin 73 Butler, Judith 210 Büyükgöze, Selime 268 Calle, Sophie 24, 33, 215 Campaigning with Grant 228 capitalism 102, 120, 143, 150, 153, 154 capitalist 114, 118 Cardell, Kylie 208 Cave, Nick 30, 105 celebrities 37, 112 celebrity 30, 33, 92, 106, 108, 119, 134, 210, 220 Cerne, Adriana 57, 58 Chion, Michel 26, 62 Chow, Rey 14, 15, 316, 19, 21, 30 cities 29, 56, 63, 73-74, 90, 95, 97, 98, 100-101, 134-135, 198-199 civil war 25, 225, 235, 238 civil war epistolary 227 The Clansman (Dixon) 229 co-authorship 187 computer 73, 76, 81, 82, 84, 96, 98, 99, 100, 121,152, 153, 199 confession 16, 22, 25, 32, 67, 97, 107, 109, 110, 181, 193, 210, 216-218, 220, 247 confessional 27, 33, 34, 93, 108, 121, 192, 209, 215 connect 26, 30, 41, 58, 61, 82, 94, 112, 175, 185, 187, 266, 270 connection 12, 15, 31, 33, 59, 64, 65, 93, 98, 100, 115, 117, 120, 126, 140, 149, 185, 187, 235, 242, 244, 250, 253, 268 connections 31, 33, 34, 67, 91, 93, 97, 98, 100, 102, 139, 148, 150, 194, 236, 238, 250, 256, 260, 261, 265, 266, 268, 269 connecting12, 102, 110 Connell, R. W. 41 correspondence 10-12, 22, 26, 28-29, 33-35, 43-44, 52, 58, 64, 72, 76, 82-83, 159-160, 163, 165, 169, 174-175, 179, 182, 184-186, 191-198, 200, 203, 205, 225, 229, 242, 244, 261-262 Corrigan, Timothy 57 courtship 20, 23, 30, 32, 89, 92, 100 Cyrano de Bergerac 175-6 Daley, Margaretmary 33, 193, 198 Dash & Lily 95, 101 ‘dead letter’ exchange 264 Dear Esther 174 Dear John (Hallström) 11, 19, 21-22, 176

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De Beauvoir, Simone 210 deceive 20, 62, 133, 154 deceit 148, 154 deception 162, 150, 181 decolonial aesthetics 241, 243 Deer Hunter, the (Cimino) 238 Derrida, Jacques 73, 78-9, 141 detail 91-93, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101-102 details 91, 94, 96, 99, 101 feminine detail 90 dialogic exchange 261 diaries 10, 11, 17, 24, 27, 30, 91, 92, 94, 95, 166, 181, 192, 193, 202, 208, 213, 226, 227, 230, 231 diary 10, 13, 15, 24, 27, 32, 34, 91, 94, 95, 193, 198-201, 203, 207-209, 210, 212, 213, 215, 218, 219, 222, 225, 232 journal 235 diary film 200, 201 diasporic cinema 259 digital art 207, 211 disembodied 14, 83, 204, 231 disembodiment 13, 20, 21, 26, 76, 82 Dispatches (Herr) 230 distance 24, 29, 33, 56, 57, 59, 64-68, 92, 96-97, 137, 145, 176, 182, 183-187, 191, 193, 197-198, 204, 209, 215, 248, 255-266 Doane, Mary Ann 26, 59, 60 documentary 27, 34, 63, 127, 196, 204, 225, 230-231, 233, 235, 238, 245, 267 domestic 57, 80-81, 89, 91-92, 98, 144, 229 domesticity 97, 214, 260 domestic spaces 99, 102 Drummer of the Eight 227 Eagleton, Terry 261 Eberwein, Robert 227, 229 Eimbcke, Fernando 192, 197 electronic communications 242, 243 electronic epistolary 249, 251, 257 Elsaesser, Thomas 93, 96, 144 email 10, 12, 15, 20, 21, 24, 30, 31, 42, 59, 76, 82, 99, 100, 106, 107, 121, 139, 141, 176, 215-216 emails 13,16, 17, 23, 27, 71, 105, 107, 142, 146, 174, 187 Emin, Tracey 215 emotion 21, 41, 48-51, 54, 93, 236 emotional 16, 18-23, 27-28, 30-31, 34, 41, 48-53, 90-94, 96-100, 102-103, 106, 118, 128, 133, 135-136, 154, 182-183, 200, 213, 225, 227, 229-230, 232, 236, 238, 252, 268 emotional capitalism 102 L’Enfant aimé ou Je joue à être une femme mariée 67 entanglement(s) 10, 14, 15-16, 19, 23, 27, 30, 35 epistolarity 11-12, 17-18, 20, 23-26, 28-29, 31, 34-35, 40, 55-56, 63, 73, 92, 94, 125, 127, 130, 137, 241, 243-244, 246-250, 253, 256-257, 260-261, 266

and exile 266-7 epistolarium 163, 169 epistolary communication 16, 41, 47, 125-126, 134-135 epistolary discourse 10, 19, 40, 51, 58, 89-90, 100-101, 261, 268 epistolary distance 193, 198 epistolary essayistic 56 epistolary games 174 epistolary hauntology 72 epistolary intent 9, 11-12, 16, 23, 27, 29, 31, 35, 58, 65-66, 78, 83-84, 247, 251-252 epistolary interactivity 175, 176, 182, 183, 184, 186 epistolary listening 56, 58, 63, 64, 65, 68 epistolary mediation 57 epistolary novel 12-13,164 epistolary performativity 132 Erice, Victor and Abbas Kiarostami 194, 195 Eshka Innuin (Jourdain) 247 essay film 10, 24, 26-27, 29, 32, 35, 56, 61, 63, 204 exchange 15, 26, 30, 33, 64, 74, 80, 81, 84, 98-99, 105-106, 108-109, 119, 128, 176, 191, 198, 228, 256-257, 261, 264 epistolary exchange 12, 13, 21, 31, 43, 61, 63, 79, 81, 101, 125, 126, 132, 193, 195, 197, 262 essay cinema 56 essayistic 56, 61 exile 56, 72, 200, 254-255 exiled 25, 80, 179, 244 experimental cinema 11 fan letters 106 Fantasma (Alonso) 197 female voice 22, 97 femininity 20, 24, 33, 40, 209-211, 213, 220 fiction of the letter, the 64 First Draft of the Revolution 32-33, 173-174 Foucault, Michel 151 framing 95-96, 98, 100-101, 161, 198, 270 Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick) 230, 231 Furedi, Frank 21-22 Game of Thrones 17, 18, 19, 28, 39, 40, 43, 45, 48, 49, 52, 242, 250 Garneau, David 241-241 gender 19, 23, 25, 30, 40-41, 57, 91, 150, 152, 160, 162, 168, 210, 213, 220, 228, 259-260, 265, 270, 272 Getting to Know the Big, Wide World (Muratova) 130 Gettysburg (Maxwell) 229 ghost 72-76, 78-80, 111, 161, 175, 182, 186-187, 199, 232 262 Gilroy, Amanda and Wilhelmus Maria Verhoeven 20, 64 Gone Home 174 gossip 118, 178, 180, 220

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Gossip Girl 17 Graham, Seth 125 Grahn, Carola 31, 244-245 Grand-Dad 227 Griffith, D. W 227-229 Birth of a Nation, the (1915) 227-229 Gueneli, Berna 271 Guerín, José Luis 33, 191, 192, 193, 197, 198-199, 200-204, 205 Guest (Mekas) 198 Guns of the Trees (Mekas) 199 Happy Birthday to John (Mekas) 201 Higgins, Teri 181 His Trust 228 Ibáñez, Lourde Monterrubio 58, 63 I Don’t Know Which Tree It Comes from That Fragrance (Mekas) 201 indigenous 246, 247, 248, 249, 251, 256 artists 241, 244, 250, 251, 252, 253, 255 bodies 242, 246 identity 242 knowledges 250 languages 241, 244, 252 peoples 242, 244, 245, 251 women artists 247 I Have Scrutinized Every Stone and Log on the Southwest Side of the Mountain 245 injunction, (communicative) 10, 24, 25, 34, 244 injunctions 11, 252 In Old Kentucky 228 Instagram 25, 33, 102, 207-209, 210, 211-212, 216 instantaneous 21, 31, 32, 74, 84, 136, 176, 184, 186, 187 instantaneity 186, 253 interactive epistolary 174, 176, 186 interactive letters 174, 183 interactivity 33, 173, 175, 176, 179, 182, 183, 186 In the City of Sylvia (Guerín) 203 In the Valley of Elah (Haggis) 231 In the Year of the Pig (de Antonio) 233 intimate 24, 27-31, 33, 42, 58-59, 63-64, 89-90, 92, 95, 98-99, 101, 105-107, 117, 119, 121, 127, 130, 139, 145-146, 161, 192, 196, 207, 242, 247, 249, 253, 262 intimacy 10, 11, 16, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 28, 29-32, 59, 64, 98, 99, 101, 105, 107, 117, 127, 130, 187, 195, 196, 215, 220 digital 215 embodied 105 shared 107 Il Mare, (Hyun-seung) 176 interactive reader 177 Iris (Isaac) 158 Jacobs, Ken 199 James, David E. 201 Jarhead (Mendes) 231

Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman) 67 Jermyn, Deborah 90 Je tu il elle (Akerman) 56, 57, 66-67 Jolly, Margaretta 43, 57, 163 Jorge, Nuno Barradas 58 Kafka, Franz 72, 182 Kawase, Naomi 192, 197 Kim, So Yong 192, 197 Kir otcintcotco (Niquay-Ottawa) 247 Kubelka, Peter 199 Lacuesta, Isaki 192, 197 Lake House, the (Agresti) 11, 19, 21, 30, 94, 96-97, 100-101, 176 La Libertad (Alonso) 196 laptop 71-72, 81-82, 90, 94 laptops 96, 98, 99, 100 Leave All Fair (Reid) 157-160, 162-163, 165-169 letter film 243, 246 Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophüls) 9394, 139, 143 Lettres de Panduranga/Letters from Panduranga (Trinh Thi) 61, 64 letter writing 22, 23, 30, 32, 46-47, 64, 82, 106, 132, 138, 157, 160-161, 164, 169, 175-176, 182, 187, 194, 243 letter-writing 31, 45-47, 49, 56, 64, 67, 82, 132, 135, 138, 159-160, 173-175 letters and diaries of soldiers 226, 234-5 Letters from Iwo Jima (Eastwood) 176 Letters to Juliet (Winick) 176 Let there be light (Huston) 230 LGBTQ 119 life narratives 207 Lipari, Lisbeth 29, 65 listening 29, 55-56, 58, 63-68 literary 10, 20, 30, 40, 90, 114, 138, 148, 157-159, 161-163, 177, 192-193, 201, 207, 212-213, 216, 236, 265 literature 25, 32, 91, 93, 106, 126, 253, 259 loneliness 30, 32, 97, 105, 108, 113-118, 121 Long Farewells (Muratova) 129 Lost, Lost, Lost (Mekas) 200 Love, Simon (Berlanti) 19, 21, 22, 98, 176 Loxham, Abigail 196, 202 Mansfield, Katherine 32, 157, 165 Mary and Max, (Elliott) 176 masculine 23, 28, 39, 40-53 masculinity 40-53 masculinities 41, 44 masquerade 16, 24, 27, 150, 181, 203, 207, 209, 214 Mekas, Jonas 33, 192, 197, 198, 205 melodrama 23, 30-31, 89-91, 93-97, 99, 102, 118, 139, 143-144, 152, 154 digital 143, 146, 154 melodramatic tradition 146

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Epistol ary Entanglements in Film, Media and the Visual Arts

Manovich, Lev 208 message board 263, 268-269 message 9, 10, 12-16, 33, 106, 119, 127-131, 141, 146, 176, 183, 185, 205, 253, 263, 266, 272 messages 11, 12, 13, 14, 21, 29, 30, 35, 64, 66, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 95, 145, 153, 157, 163, 169, 183, 186, 219, 242 Middleton Murry, John 157 migration 35, 56, 254, 262-263, 265, 268-269 as multi-directional 259-260 Milne, Esther 21, 31, 42 Muratova, Kira 23, 31, 125-126 Murderers Are Among Us, the (Staudte) 268 mise-en-scène 12, 17, 30, 89, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 103, 160, 163, 260, 262, 269, 272 Modleski, Tania 89 mother 17, 25, 27, 29, 35, 56, 58, 61-62, 63-65, 67, 128-129, 120, 139, 155, 177 mothers 57 Naficy, Hamid 24, 34, 56, 241, 242, 243, 247, 248, 254, 261 Nancy, Jean-Luc 65 narrative 10-12, 16-20, 22-24, 28-30, 32, 34-35, 39, 40, 42, 49, 52, 56-59, 72, 76-77, 90, 92, 97, 99-100, 102, 136, 150, 158-160, 162, 164, 168-169, 174-175, 178, 180-181, 204, 207, 214, 216, 219, 225-227, 231-232, 234-235, 238, 243, 246, 250, 252-254, 257, 259, 261-268, 270, 272 narrator 10, 81, 174, 178, 207, 212, 225 narration 12, 16, 18, 25, 26, 34, 35, 61, 97, 162, 167,184,185, 227, 230, 231, 233, 237, 260, 261, 262, 263, 265, 267, 271 Netflix 92, 101 Notes for Jerome (Mekas) 201 Online blog 209 Paradise not Yet Lost, or Ooana’s Third Year (Mekas) 201 Paths of Glory (Kubrick) 230 Perfect Man, the (Rosman) 11, 21, 176 perform 11-12, 14, 24, 31, 33, 39, 44, 45, 66, 80, 101, 109-110, 125-127, 132, 136, 138-139, 148, 157, 165, 167-168, 184, 204, 207, 217, 231-232, 236, 244, 246, 255-256, 266-267 performance 11, 17, 25, 28, 40, 41, 42, 43, 47, 48, 49, 51, 52, 53, 108, 111, 150, 151, 197, 208, 209, 213, 214, 216, 252 Personal Shopper (Assayas) 19, 71-74, 78, 80, 81, 84 Pidduck, Julianne 161, 163, 167 phone 56, 83, 84, 85, 106, 121, 127, 129, 148, 153, 174, 208, 217, 221, 253 cellphone 73, 231 smartphone 77, 78, 207 iPhone 71, 81, 82 Plath, Sylvia 158, 166 Polaschek, Bronwyn 168

postal relay 259, 262, 263, 264, 266-267, 270, 272 power (masculine) 28, 39-53 P.S. I Love You, (LaGravenese) 19, 176 public spaces 117, 266 Rascaroli, Laura 11, 27, 61 Rebecca Belmore’s Apparition 252 reciprocity 125, 160, 169, 192, 193, 197, 225 reciprocal 31, 43, 169, 193, 195, 196 reciprocation 196 Red Badge of Courage, the (Crane) 225 religion 105-106, 113, 115 religious 108, 109, 110, 112, 116, 117, 151, 249 remake 99, 176 Restrepo (Hetherington, Junger) 225, 227, 231-238 Ricketts, Harry 165 Riviere, Joan 210 Robinson, Gregory 13, 92, 95 Rowland, Clara 60 Rojek, Chris 112 romance scams 31, 94, 144, 146, 150, 152 romance 19-23, 30, 31, 33-34, 99, 100, 143-144, 146, 216, 220 romanticism 23, 95, 102 romantic genres 192, 197 Rooksby, Emma 82 Rooney, Sally 10, 13, 35, 92, 95 Rose, Nikolas 221 Rosales, Jaime 192 Sámi 35, 241-242, 244-246, 248-250, 253-255 Sámi artists 244, 245, 248 Sámi culture 245, 253 Sámi Daughter Yoik (Wajstedt) 245-246 Sans Soleil 26, 58, 61, 63 Sara is Missing 174 Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg) 226 scam 23, 94, 139-140, 144, 146, 148, 150-154 scammer 31, 141, 143, 147, 149 Scenes from the Life of Andy Warhol: Friendships and Intersections (Mekas) 201 Schmid, Marion and Kim Knowles 25 Serra, Albert 192, 196, 209-10, 217, 221 self-reflection 33, 67, 191, 192, 208 Sex and the City (TV) 11, 30, 89-90, 94-96, 98, 102 Sex and the City: The Movie (King) 89, 94 Sheehan, Rebecca Anne 58 Sherman, Cindy 214 Shop around the Corner (Lubitsch) 20, 59, 65, 99 Schor, Naomi 30, 91, 98 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Kwapis) 19, 176 Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut) 136 Smith, Linda Tuwhai 247 social media 39, 106, 207, 209-210, 212, 220

279

Index

software 108 soldier narrative 34, 225-238 soldier testimony 34, 230, 231 soldier-as-witness 34, 227, 230 somatechnics 246 Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (Guerín) 203 soundtrack 27, 58, 62, 65-66, 95, 257 Soviet cinema 31, 125 Post-Soviet cinema 31, 125 split subjectivity 245, 249 Stanley, Liz 12, 43, 58, 63, 65, 74, 163, 247 Sunless (Marker) 61 Sylvia (Jeffs) 158, 159, 160 symmetry (framing) 100, 101 technology 32, 98, 191 technologies 42, 76, 80, 186, 187, 246, 253 television 10-11, 13, 17, 23, 29-30, 39-40, 54, 90, 92-93, 95, 102 temporal polyvalence 131, 157-159, 164, 169 texts 10, 15-16, 29, 71, 73-74, 76-78, 81-83, 91-92, 94, 187, 242, 251, 252 text messages 10, 16, 82, 83, 91, 92, 94, 174, 187 therapy 21, 118 Thin Red Line, (Malick) 230 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Johnson) 19, 95, 99, 101 Todas las cartas: Correspondencias fílmicas/The Complete Letters: Filmed Correspondences 191 transmission 32, 108, 175, 176, 185, 186, 187

Ulman, Amalia 11, 207-208, 211, 213, 217 Vidal, Belén 161, 162-163, 168-9, 202, 262 video installation 34, 215, 241, 244, 255 video letter 33, 127, 128 video letters 191, 193, 199, 204 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own 98 virtual presence 10, 12, 13, 16 visual/textual texture 10, 16, 25, 29 voiceover 20, 35, 55, 72, 82, 133, 135, 246 voice-over 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 34, 56, 58, 59, 60, 62-66, 95, 96, 98, 101, 102, 103, 161, 167, 193, 197, 200, 204, 230, 231 von Goethen Johann Wolfgang andSchille, Friedrich 254-5 wanderism 225, 230 Walden: Diaries, Notes, and Sketches (Mekas) 199 war film 230 Williams, Linda 90 You’ve Got Mail (Ephron) 19-21, 30, 59, 65, 94, 96, 99-100, 176 Young Victoria, the (Valleé) 19, 21, 98 Zefijiro Torna or Scenes from the Life of George Maciunas (Fluxus) (Mekas) 201