Postal Networks, Affect, and Going Astray: Aesthetic Solidarity

Presentation by Eileen Joy (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville).

This paper will examine (or raise) the question of network affects, specifically in relation to (re)turns to outmoded communication technologies, such as the post-card and the mixtape, as seen especially in the hybrid media ventures of Tiny Mix Tapes, where users request “cassette” music mixes through invented themes such as “unrequited love, 1980-1988,” “I made you fall in love with me but now I’m not sure what I want …,” and “I feel disconnected from my friends, families, and even body: the world is an interesting place,” and also PostSecret (, a “community art project,” where people anonymously mail in their somewhat shameful or embarrassing secrets on hand-made postcards. This paper will argue that both Tiny Mix Tapes and PostSecret serve as important switching stations for affective-communitarian postal systems that participate in what Derrida would say is both a lack and an excess of address (The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond), similar to the medieval genre of the envoi, which was very prevalent in medieval troubadour lyric: a short stanza or set of brief stanzas appended to the end of a poem to address an actual or imaginary person outside of the poem itself, which poem then became a sort of postcard.

Ultimately, what I want to explore here is both the historicity of the “postal system” and its relation to affect, through the medieval envoi, as well as the ways in which the mixtape and the post-secret (as intra-temporal envois) engage in what Derrida termed “postal maneuvering,” where we see the entangled operations of “relays, delay, anticipation, destination, telecommunicating, network, the possibility, and therefore the fatal necessity of going astray” (The Post Card, p. 66). This paper will also explore how the specific, networked engagement with older communication technologies (pre- Internet and even premodern) enables a valuable “virtual” space for what the social theorist Scott Lash calls “aesthetic reflexivity,” whereby it is possible to critique (through play) various power/knowledge structures, and to also allow oneself to be spontaneously traversed by others’ emotions, which then becomes a valuable form of queerly im/personal solidarity.

Eileen A. Joy teaches at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has published various articles and book chapters on Old English literature, cultural studies, embodied affectivities, violence, ethics, and the post/human. She is the founder and co-editor of postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies, the Lead Ingenitor of the BABEL Working Group, and co-director of punctum books: spontaneous acts of scholarly combustion. She is also the co-editor of The Postmodern Beowulf (West Virginia University Press, 2007) and Cultural Studies of the Modern Middle Ages (Palgrave, 2007).

Eileen Joy presents at "Network Archaeology."


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