Intimate Economies: Postsecret, Materiality, and the Affect of Confession

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    Date(s) - 13 Apr 2012
    12:00 AM - 12:00 AM

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    Intimate Economies: Postsecret, Materiality, and the Affect of Confession

    Dr Anna Poletti

    In 2004, Frank Warren began an art project known as “PostSecret”, which invited people to write a secret which “is true and you have never shared” on a postcard and mail it to him. Participants were encouraged to “let the postcard be your canvas”, and were invited to “see a secret” by visiting the project website. Beginning with a batch of 3,000 custom made cards, five years later, Warren continues to receive handmade postcards to the mailing address.

    He has amassed a collection of over 150,000 cards and has produced five hardcover books showcasing secrets he has received. The project also continues to have a strong online presence, with Warren regularly updating the project blog with scans of recently received cards, developing a Facebook presence for the project, and launching the “PostSecret Community” website where people can share secrets by uploading videos.

    In this paper I will situate the “PostSecret” project as an example of an intimate public existing across multiple media and sites. While handmade objects and the postal system form the affective and material core of “PostSecret”, Warren has created and maintained a participatory intimate public centred on life narrative through the use of a range of traditional and new media forms. The scale and success of “PostSecret” evidences the continuing appeal of the handmade as a signifier of authenticity in life narrative production and consumption, yet “PostSecret” is also an example of how online sites can be used to constitute and expand an intimate public. Presenting a textual analysis of the postcard as a personal memento reproduced online and in book form, I argue that the success of PostSecret results from its ingenious use of form to construct a community of feeling structured by the affects associated with confession.

    Anna Poletti recently took up a Lectureship in English in the School of English, Communications & Performance Studies at Monash University and is a member of the Centre for the Book.  She has an ongoing research interest in the role of affect and materiality in the circulation of autobiographical narratives. Her work theorises the increasing movement of narratives of self across mediums – from the handmade to the digital and the professionally published – drawing on feminist literary theory and autobiography theory.  Anna’s book Intimate Ephemera: Reading Young Lives in Australian Zine Culture was published by Melbourne University Press in 2008.

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