What Is a Letter?

Peter Stallybrass, University of Pennsylvania

Thursday, October 12, 2017 - 6:00pm

Wing Foundation Lecture Series on the History of the Book, Newberry Library (Chicago, IL)

Newberry Library
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60610

Peter Stallybrass begins with a very simple proposition—with some surprising implications— that the vast majority of letters written between the 1530s and the 1920s consist mainly of blank paper—and that they are designed to do so. To put his proposition at its bluntest, letters throughout Europe and America for about four centuries were designed to waste as much paper as possible. Why? Because the more paper you waste, the shorter the letter you have to write. He argues that letters, despite the endless rhetoric about the significance of long letters, usually aspired to be telegrams, postcards, or emails.

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