The Letter

Total run time: 9:58
HD video, stereo, B&W

“The Letter” is a ten-minute single-channel digital video that employs semiotic theory as literal (yes, literal!) symbolic architecture for the piece’s content. Namely, this content involves bizarre moments of missed connection and begs the question: does a letter always arrive at its destination? If so, when? And if not, why? 

“The Letter” features stereo audio which is narrated by a text-to-speech bot. It begins at the moment of letter writing. The narrator writes a letter: “a.” And then another: “b.” Quickly, viewers learn that these letters may change, either into another letter: “c.” Or perhaps a number, “3.” And while these changes might appear to be governed by a set of arbitrary rules, they are not. Furthermore, by pairing text-based visuals with the bot-voice of the narrator, “The Letter” engages language on both the level of writing as well as speech. As such, dialogue is frequently depicted on screen and the narrator makes statements like “in the letter, I tell you…” As the video progresses, the visuals become more complex. The letter is split into two: The On-Top Letter and The Underneath Letter. Each of these letters is then diagrammed. Slowly, viewers are prompted to the realization that the letter has, in fact, not arrived. This is further complicated by the fact that the letter’s destinations appear to be multiple and each of the non-recipients remains unnamed. Despite this, the audience simultaneously learns more about these non-recipients and what separates them from the letter writer as well as the initial instance of letter writing, be it politics, age, geography, circumstance, or time. Ultimately, the video is most interested in exploring the way these factors influence the limits of language.

The theoretical backdrop at play in “The Letter” is informed by the work of Edgar Allan Poe and his short story, “The Purloined Letter,” as well as one of the major critical essay written in response: “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,’” by Jacques Lacan. Poe’s story explores the role of a physical letter as well as the gravity of the written word and what happens when a text, a piece of information, goes missing. Lacan’s work then calls into question the function of individual letters within psychoanalytic theory. What do the slippages that can occur between these letters tell us about our own psyches? And what does it mean for individual letters to go missing? Through the visual language of animated video, “The Letter” personifies Lacan and Poe’s theories of misplaced letters and extrapolates on them. Letters are cut in half, people are forgiven, the audience is taken through the process of examining the nuances of various fraught relationships in the narrator’s life. Rather than hypothesizing answers of its own, “The Letter” functions as a thought exercise, prompting viewers to consider the way language functions as individual letters, as the product of letter writing, and—most importantly—as both text and speech that occur interpersonally, between people.