Home > Siegert, visual culture, war, Winchester > Winchester Speaker Series: Phillips and Milne

Winchester Speaker Series: Phillips and Milne

We are today kicking off our new research centre seminar series with John Phillips (National University of Singapore) and his talk “Seeing Things” – which promises to address Bernard Stiegler, military technologies and critical theory.

And next week Thursday, continuing with Esther Milne with Siegert, not Stiegler!


Seminar Series:  3 November  2011, 5 pm at seminar room 8-9.

‘Technologies of Presence:  Intimate Absence and Public Privacy’

Esther Milne

Intimacy, affect and image are always intertwined at the level of technology.  The practices of mail-art, for example, are enabled by the material conditions of the postal exchange. In turn, the economies of this exchange are underpinned by the dance between absence and presence: writing a letter signals the absence of the recipient and, simultaneously, aims to bridge the gap between writer and recipient.

This paper traces the production of presence across nineteenth century postal networks in order to make some preliminary remarks about twenty first century platforms of social media, such as Twitter. In particular it explores the emergence of contemporary patterns of ‘public privacy’ through their socio-technical historical settings. Postcard media offers one such site. As Bernhard Siegert and Jacques Derrida have demonstrated, the postcard operates as a liminal figure for the reformulation of public and private communication.

‘Public Privacy’ describes the ways in which subjects use the public signifying systems of social media to produce images of love, desire and pain.  Yet such rhetorical strategies are not unique to distributed digital platforms. After all, the eighteenth century epistolary network, often called ‘The Republic of Letters’, was responsible for reconfiguring the public and private domain. Through an exploration of mail-art practice, this paper identifies the postal principle of Twitter to challenge recent claims for the ‘death of privacy’.

BIO: Dr Esther Milne is Deputy Head of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia. She researches in the areas of celebrity production within legislative and cultural contexts; and the history of networked postal communication systems. Her recent book, Letters, Postcards, Email: Technologies of Presence, is published by Routledge.  

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