Reading List

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Excuse this scribble




Dorothy's message to Grandma is a great example of how a postcard can capture a single moment. Not content with just telling her grandmother she's in London, she uses the physical act of writing to bring her experience to life. The bumpy scrawl gives the reader the sensation of being on an underground train somewhere beneath Edwardian London.

There are risks for us here though. Just as we've learnt to understand photography's limits in telling us the truth, we must be a bit circumspect about how much one card can ever tell us about the past.

Although perhaps more honestly so than photographs, postcard messages are of course very subjective. While space restrictions encourage people to keep to the facts, the sender will always give us their version of events. We can't be sure but I suspect Dorothy may well have hammed up the jumpiness of the train for her Grandma's enjoyment. The neat address certainly suggests she regained her poise at some point :)

More generally, postcard messages may also encourage us to fall foul of what Susan Sontag called the 'atomizing' of life.

Sontag was wary of photos; seeing them as no more than thin slices of space and time. She felt there was a danger that by relying on photos, people create histories of freestanding moments (or 'particles') rather than remembering life as it is - continuous. I know when I think back to my favourite holidays or childhood, it's often photos which come to mind first rather than memories of the whole experience. The same reservations must apply to postcardese.

But, as Postcardy and Debs explained the other week, if we are wanting the truth it may be best to look to the top right hand corner. Our friend the tilted stamp is back. A clear, undeniable sign that Dorothy loved her grandma.

9 comments:

  1. You're right...what a nice moment captured with a postcard! I always write and send postcards when I'm travelling. And I love getting them in the mail from others too!

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  2. Really interesting comment about Susan Sontag's observations. Very true, really. I sometime wonder if I am actually remembering events, or if the pictures of them created the memory instead.

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  3. Interesting post and card. Certainly captures writing while moving. I've tried it and it looked like I was just learning to write! Happy PFF

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  4. It seems like my memories are all like snapshots. But maybe they are more like an experience that is concentrated (I couldn't think of a better word) or shorthand.

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  5. Moment or process? It depends, from case to case. :)

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  6. Great message on the card! Thanks for posting this "slice."

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  7. You don't think the bumpy journey in the train could have meant the stamp was stuck on crookedly? This whole topic has ensured OCD behaviour from me as I measure *exactly* where and how to add the stamp to a postcard. :)

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  8. Interesting observations about postcards and photography!

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  9. Isn't interesting that Dorothy describes herself as being 'in' the tube rather than 'on' the tube, as we would say nowadays. I suppose 'in' the tube is more accurate, and somehow it makes it sound more like the cramped, unpleasant experience it often is.

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