The Body in Letters: Once Again, Through Time and Space

Lena Simic, Rachel Epp Buller, Emily Underwood-Lee

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

The text traces the beginnings of a transcontinental epistolary exchange between three women who identify as artists, writers, mothers. While we each find ourselves drawn to letters for personal reasons, we acknowledge that our exchange operates within a lengthy history of feminist thinking through correspondences and epistolary experiments. Early suffragists in the United States and across Europe developed and strengthened their platforms by sharing ideas back and forth with feminist sisters near and far (Fillard and Orazi). Letters proved a pivotal means of communication during the Second Wave for English-speaking feminists on both sides of the Atlantic: archives give witness to feminist epistles as a place for processing both the personal and the political (Jolly). For two years beginning in 1975, a group of English female artists, seeking solidarity, mailed each other small artworks as a way of reaching out and finding connections. What came to be known alternately as Feministo, Postal Art Event, or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman / Housewife functioned as a kind of epistolary consciousness-raising group. In a time before digital connectivity, these letters offered a system of support and encouragement, as well as a way of processing difficult ideas and shared experiences (Tobin). In 1981, London/LA Lab paired artists from the two cities in a cross-continental exchange of words, stories, and performance. Mail art collaborations and exchanges of all sorts have proliferated in recent decades, perhaps in a nostalgic longing for earlier times.
Part of our shared interest in letters involves intentionally choosing the epistolary format as a site for intellectual exchange. While Andrew Berardini posits that, “All writing to be read by someone else is a kind of letter. One person writing to another. From me to you,” the particulars of the letter form and its mode of relational address allow for a blurring of authorial voices and a possible flattening of hierarchy within the academy. Nearly two decades ago, Anne Bower argued for letters as a better form of scholarly exchange than academic articles because letter-writing has the potential to shift our relationship to our material – and to each other – and to offer greater opportunities for intimacy and engagement. As we consider together various “inappropriate bodies,” implicit in our discussions are long-standing accepted conventions of academic writing and the ways in which feminist writers have intervened in recent decades, using inappropriately informal or personal voices and methodologies. We approach the letter form as one in which deep listening and genuine care offer radical possibilities for transforming academic writing and relationships, inside and outside of the academy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInappropriate Bodies:Art, Design, and Maternity
EditorsRachel Epp Buller, Charles Reeve
Place of PublicationBradford, Ontario, Canada
PublisherDemeter Press
Chapter17
Pages331-344
ISBN (Print)978-1-77258-209-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019

Keywords

  • maternal, art, letters, correspondence, feminism, mail art

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    Simic, L., Epp Buller, R., & Underwood-Lee, E. (2019). The Body in Letters: Once Again, Through Time and Space. In R. Epp Buller, & C. Reeve (Eds.), Inappropriate Bodies:Art, Design, and Maternity (pp. 331-344). Demeter Press.