Studio 8: Post – card

Studio brief

Neither matter nor space nor time is what, up until 20 years ago, it always was.

So said the writer Paul Valery in 1928. This studio will respond to his provocation, keeping in mind that he was reacting to the modern conveniences of gas, water and electricity, as well as the railway system, the radio, and the newly efficient and global reach of the postal system.

We will look at one element of that system – the picture postcard – from a number of different perspectives. We’ll read it as a technology that altered time, space and subjectivities. And as a structure that linked and shaped experiences of "home" and "away", "everyday" and "the holiday". We’ll think about what was (and is) shown on the picture postcard, and how the one side relates to the other. When it was first introduced the postcard was talked about as an indecent form of communication (because it travelled without an envelope). It was also heralded as truly modern, because you could write "on the go", and democratic, because users were freed from the difficulty and formality of writing a letter. This studio will be a useful place for conversations about modernity, history, technology, privacy, choice, time and space.

"I am reminded here of a fairy play that, as a child, I saw in a foreign theatre. Or perhaps I only fancy I saw it. In the Sorcerer’s palace the furniture spoke and sang, took a poetic and mischievous part in the action. A door opening set off the piping or solemn tones of a village band. If anyone sat down on a pouf, it would sigh politely. At a touch everything breathed forth a melody. I sincerely hope we are not moving toward such excesses in the magic of sound. Even now one can no longer eat or drink at a cafe without being disturbed by a concert. But it will be wonderfully pleasant to be able to transform at will an empty hour, an interminable evening, an endless Sunday, into an enchantment, an expression of tenderness, a flight of the spirit. Days can be gloomy; there are men and women who are very much alone, and many whom age or infirmity confines to their own company with which they are only too familiar. These men and women, reduced to boredom and gloom, can now fill their sad and useless hours with beauty or passion." Paul Valery

Summer preparation

Weeks one to seven: outline and reading list

  1. Extending the edges
    Rebecca Solnit – In The Day of the Postman
    James Douglas – The Postcard Craze

  2. Extending the edges (continued)
    Wolfgang Shivelbusch – Railway Space and Railway Time
    Jules Verne – Around the World in Eighty Days

  3. Holiday
    Rem Koolhaus – Coney Island: the Technology of the Fantastic
    Siegfried Kracuaer – The Hotel Lobby in Detective Fiction

  4. Organising a library (or what to do with information)
    Walter Benjamin – Organising my Library
    One panel from the Ideographies of Knowledge symposium (video)

  5. Picnic
    Daniel Spoerri – An Anecdoted Topography of Chance
    Holly Pester – go to reception and ask for Sara in red felt tip
    Archive visit to be confirmed

  6. Eiffel tower
    Walter Benjamin – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
    Roland Barthes – The Eiffel Tower

  7. Student presentations of dissertation topics
    There will also be a session on learning from the assessment criteria (8) and structuring a dissertation (9).


The image above is a drawing from the Illustrated London News, October 2, 1909. It is entitled "A Postcard Habit in Germany: the Postman as a walking Stationer and Letter-box". The caption reads: "the rage for picture postcards appears to be still the rage in Germany, as it is in this country. The people of Berlin want to write postcards even when sitting in an open-air restaurant. The cards the postman sells are written there and then, and promptly posted in the letter box which he carries on his back.’"

Image credit: From Frank Staff’s History of the Picture Postcard.

The postcard rage


Tutor Edwina Attlee

Dissertation Studios


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