October 2011

I have just slipped a letter into the envelope. I bring my hand over the envelope, letting my palm rest on it for a moment, and then, with my four fingers brought together, I slide my hand slowly over the envelope. By pressing the flap gently I seal it. But just as I was doing this I experienced a mild shock of recognition. I felt that the movement of my hand had suddenly become impregnated with meanings which are only partly identified. It had transformed into ritualized gesture, something that has connections to a wider frame of reference than my private sphere of life. Rituals and socially constructed practices are  performed in the presence of a community, but, I don’t have such community around me now. Here I am on my own with my sealed envelope, the very symbol of my privacy, because it protects my letter from the eyes of the outsiders. And yet, this gesture is reminiscent of something else that I know of.

I can identify the act of sealing a letter with the endless chain of gestures which have been repeated through the ages in different cultures across the world: the closing of the eyes of a child which is about to fall asleep, the closing of the eyes of a person who has just passed away. It was precisely the smooth movement of my hand through which I felt connected to the wider horizon of human behavior: that of soothing someone, of sending someone asleep, of saying goodbye.

What will the future be like? Are there still letters that people send to each others? If not, it will not be possible to seal them and experience rare moments of recognition and revelation of the things you would not otherwise have had even thought of. It is not just that some objects fall out of everyday use; there are plenty of immaterial things that disappear too: bodily practises, gestures, movements, and all the emotions and meanings, private and socially shared, that are connected with these practises.

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