‘Our hopes lie in a time of alliances’

Part of what made my recent graduate program so rewarding was the regular exchange of ideas with peers, across disciplines and countries. Near the end of my first year of the program, a colleague and I began an intentional sharing and debating of ideas that, in many ways, led me to the letter-writing and relational care that I would explore in my MFA thesis. Our exchange has recently been published, in a special issue, “On Correspondence,” of the Something Other online journal. It’s a long piece, wandering and exhaustive as we seek to talk / write together through the various meanings and iterations of handwritten correspondence. The introductory editorial calls it “a cornucopia of found quotation, private reminiscence, academic reflection, advice passed between artists and writers, confessions, invitations, and more. Illustrated with handmade collages, and postcards gleaned from flea markets, it has the feel of a carefully tended antique shop: it’s possible to dip in and out, but the longer you stay, the more dear delights might emerge.”

I’m sharing here just the very beginning of our collaborative essay and then a link to the full piece, for anyone who might wish to think through all of this with us.

“Our hopes lie in a time of alliances”: epistolary praxis and transdisciplinary composing

Rachel Epp Buller and Derek Owens

An earnest letter is or should be life-warrant or death-warrant, for what is each instant but a gun, harmless because “unloaded,” but that touched “goes off”?

— Emily Dickinson, letter to L. Norcross, 1880


In Muriel Barbery’s The Life of Elves, a mythical story of a world in danger, separate factions unite their interests in the belief that “our hopes lie in a time of alliances.” We, too, seek out alliances. We come from established backgrounds in writing and art history, yet at mid-career we both returned to graduate school, seeking out new peers in a transdisciplinary creative practice program. We found that working across disciplines offered fertile ground for our own practices while opening up new ways of being and thinking. Our intermedial experimentations and collaborations led us to the letter form. What follows is an edited version of our recent epistolary exchanges–an extended, sometimes meandering, hybrid meditation on how historical and contemporary forms of written interpersonal communication might act as a bridge between disciplines and, at the same time, embody a human desire for love and support.

Full text here.


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