I’ve been reflecting on the term ‘partial connections’, which I discussed in the previous week, in relation to working with postcards in my practice. The term, which explores the meanings of objects produced by relational networks, is also reiterated to some extent by James Clifford in his 1997 essay, ‘The Museum as Contact Zone’. ‘Contact zones’, first coined by Mary Louise Pratt, refers to “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power…”.
Within the notion of partial connections, Strathernian anthropology dictates that levels of complexity remain the same regardless of scale. Therefore, as Pratt’s undefined ‘social space’ becomes condensed into Clifford’s ‘museum’, so the site of the contact zone can be concentrated within a single object. Furthermore, within ethnographic practice, this object may also be represented by text or image translation.
The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and beyond
In trying to find links between my work and anthropological ideas of partial connections, contact zones and translation, I began to read Jacques Derrida’s 1979 book ‘The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and beyond’. In the first section, Envois, he describes purchasing a large number of the same postcard with which to send letters to a loved one. Each entry is printed along with the date it was sent, as an epistolary novel.
Although my interests in the work were initially related to the postcard format, I soon found links to other aspects of my practice, including autoethnography and online writing. The act of translation, through the sending, receiving and decoding of information, is also prevalent in the text. As I am reading the 1987 English version, there is a foreword with translation notes, which includes a glossary of terms to elaborate on the way that the translator, Alan Bass, understood the original French. Additionally, Bass traces the etymological networks of prominent terms within the text including ‘post’ as a noun, verb and prefix.
1. To display (a notice) in a public place.
2. To announce or publish.
3. To submit (a message) to an Internet message board or blog.
4. (Brit.) The official service or system that delivers letters and parcels.
5. (Brit.) To send (a letter or parcel) via the postal system.
6. After in time or order.
7. Used in names of newspapers i.e. The Washington Post.
8. (in bookkeeping) To enter (an item) in a ledger. To record.
9. A position of paid employment; a job.
10. To send (someone) to a place to take up an appointment. mid 16th cent.: from French poste, from Italian posto, from a contraction of popular Latinpositum, neuter past participle of ponere ‘to place’.
11. A long, sturdy piece of timber or metal set upright in the ground and used as a support or marker. i.e. signpost, starting post, etc.
12. (archaic) With haste.
These definitions, which focus around the act of sending, announcing, publishing, recording, etc, set up a correlation between the postcard and the blog post. This is reflected in Derrida’s work, through the open format of his postcard writings and the potential network of recipients of his text. The inclusion of Freud’s fort/da experiment as the (im)possibility of its arrival with the intended recipient, also produces the blog-post-card as contact zone between sender(s) and receiver(s).
This leads me to consider my blog, not only as a reflection on, but also as an aspect of my practice, and the postcard, as “sparse, indigent, insignificant, anecdotic, fragmentary… [with] limits to what it can contain” as a useful analogy for the museum. (Wills, 1984)
Arka Chattopadhyay, Jacques Derrida and the Paradox of Translation
John Philips, Reading The Postcard