The following appeared in one of Alexander Cockburn's columns, a series entitled "Beat the Devil," published in the Nation Magazine:

Hang in There

A correspondent chides me for not answering his letter, which was an invitation to evaluate his novel, 644 pages in length. I'm a poor correspondent, it's true. I store letters in boxes by year and am now working my way through the 1991s. In his book _The World of the Shining Prince_, about the _Tale of Genji_ and the Japanese court a thousand years ago, Ivan Morris describes skill in the art of correspondence as a determinant of social reputation:

First it was necessary to choose paper of the proper thickness, size, design, and colour to suit the emotional mood that one wished to suggest, as well as the season of the year and even the weather of the particular day. The calligraphy, of course, was at least as important as the actual message, and often the writer had to make numerous drafts with different brushes before producing the precise effect he wished. The nucleus of the text was usually a thirty-one syllable poem whose central image was some aspect of nature that delicately symbolized the occasion. Having finished his letter, the writer would carefully fold it in one of the accepted styles. The next step was to select the proper branch or spray of blossom to which the letter must be attached. This depended on the dominant mood of the letter and on the imagery of the poem. It was also correlated with the colour of the paper: blue paper for a willow twig, green for oak, crimson for maple . . .
So as you see, it all takes time.


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Last modified: Friday, 30-Aug-1996 23:03:37 EDT