In this seminar / studio we will investigate historical and contemporary independent publishing as a diverse set of forms and systems for producing and circulating discourse within definite material and social contexts. We will carefully research a set of landmark publications from multiple disciplines and practices, which exemplify radical possibilities for form, content, and distribution. We are particularly interested in the cut-n-paste immediacy of self-produced and extra-institutional publications.
Case studies will include:
The Situationist Times, Archigram, The East Village Other, The Black Panther, Whole Earth Catalog, Infolio, 0-9, Aspen, Re/Search, Maximum Rock N Roll, Roller Derby, and Dot Dot Dot.
These publications each exist within specific communities. We will investigate how each activates and creates communities of sympathetic readers and writers. We will additionally make a sort of “media archaeology” of these publications, examining how technologies of print and networks of circulation make them possible and shape their content. Finally, we will reflect, dialectically, on the contemporary digital conditions which have re-invigorated their circulation.
In the first half of the course, students will research one publication and present it to class as a particular publishing model. In the second half of the semester, students will edit, design, and produce their own publication which takes the model and carries it into the present.
RAW INTRODUCTION (opening lecture notes)
The publications we’ll look at
Anarchy, Black Mask, Black Panther, Clip Kit, Archigram, Art-rite, Aspen, Maximum Rock n Roll, Whole Earth Catalog, East Village Other, Sniffin Glue, New Left Notes, Between C & D, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, …
belong to many different discourses and practices — art, architecture, politics, music, and culture in more general senses. there’s no single, obvious discursive category, or subject, for all of them. yet they all belong together as instances of a publishing form which it is our interest in this class to specify.
The argument is that all these publications share an animating impulse. They also make a particular and urgent address to their readers.
What animates them?
To begin with, they each strongly evidence the lure, the appeal of self publishing.
HP Lovecraft (quoted in Lisa Gitelman, p 143) wrote:
“the yearning to have thoughts and ideals permanently crystalized in the magic medium of type”
the labor “purely for love” “without the stultifying influence of commercialism”
A pure and urgent impulse for communication outside the available channels.
This class is likewise urgently addressed to cultural producers. we want to abstract a set of models for contemporary publishing
Why Archigram? lt comes from the original desire not to put out a regularized and predictable “magazine” with lots of pages and a cover, but to push out, excrete (almost) a thing that would explode upon the oppressed assistants in London offices and the students in the shape of a large piece of poster, collage of images, or booklet whatever was necessary at the time. Hence the need for a name that was more analogous to a thing like a message or some abstract communication, telegram, aerogramme, etc.
We’re focusing on a particular sort of publication. One which is produced outside the academy (though it can also enter partially) and outside whatever industry might lie to the side (design, music, culture). Self-produced and independent, and always imagined in opposition or contrast to something commercial or institutional
By “publishing form” I mean the whole set of things which formally condition what is published: means of production, circuits of distribution, editorial procedures, institutional supports.
Outside of, but it’s also often opposed to. These publications are anti-commercial, anti-academic, anti-mainstream.
In some relation to this oppositional attitude, these publications each seek to carve out some new space of practice, a space for which there is no platform or visibility before the publication.
[carving out a new space]
We will look at publications outside the design world.
As graphic designers we are luckily (arguably) unencumbered by the disciplinary fixities of say architecture. but also within design worlds, these sorts of publications are meant to carve new and other spaces in the discipline … or to connect the discipline to other practices.
Dot Dot Dot: from but not about the discipline.
Or (architecture) a place to speculate beyond constraints of building realities (archigram).
In these publications, form and production are inextricably tied to what is being published.
Writers who must take their literary experiment forward —who make new languages — do so thru control of and intervention in the materialities of publishing form (gertrude stein eg).
“There had to be both a press and a magazine absolutely specific to one’s own commitments and possibilities. nothing short of that was good enough.” Robert Creeley
So the publication extends the discipline, uniquely. The particularities of the publication make possible the formal innovation of the writing or architecture or music.
An interesting example is Maximum Rock n Roll. Record reviews.
What are the properties of these publications, that we can abstract as models?
forms/concepts/models of productions
They’re not books. They have some urgent relationship to the present moment.
Forms of contingency : inexpensive, accessible.
Ephemeral, things in process
An urgency which conflates divisions of labor in publishing.
What comes into being when there is an urgent requirement in the world according to which hierarchies and divisions of labor which ordinarily structure production must be over-run collapsed?
“What could be engendered in the way of unknown capacities, in circumstances where urgency demanded destroying the stages of explicative progression.”
Jacques Ranciere, Ignorant Schoomaster p12
What are particular circumstances of this sort of urgency?
A form in which production and inspiration (Rothenberg talking about Whitman and Dickinson) are related & undivided acts.
Mimeo, Ditto, Xerox, offset, DTP.
A distribution form which gets around established power relations and hierarchies: academies, galleries, industries (music); governments: samizdat, dissident publishing in the former soviet bloc.
Our interest is in actual publishing models: and how content and form are developed in relation to conditions of production.
So, publishing is an act, not just a set of artefact/objects
An action in the world
Publishing: to make public
A thesis of the class is that publishing is a social action which brings a community of readers and producers into coherent formation. one publishes to find comrades (breton).
Publishing, in a self-reflexive circularity, both comes out of and constructs communities. These communities can be oriented around certain already established practices — music, architecture, politics, art — or they can develop a readership around some new cultural territory.
They turn readers into producers/ participants / they become manuals for participation in certain subcultures.
These publications make room for themselves in the existing cultural landscape. There is not already a place for them. that’s the thesis at least.
These publications open alternative or oppositional spaces, they are also always connected in some way to real spaces. Art-rite was produced around and distributed within Artists Space. Archigram happened in graduate studios at the AA. Maximum rock n roll : bay area punk clubs and radio station.
Public and counter-public (Michael Warner): circularity of address.
And this social action has formal/aesthetic dimensions/consequences/ancillaries.
Our interest in these printed artefacts must be conditioned by our current digital disposition and environments. are we motivated by a nostalgic romanticism or is there something we’re intent on in these publications which can either describe the digital condition or offer a way out of its binds?
A resurgence of interest in and production of independent printed publications: why?
Here’s a suggestion, which follows a line of thought from Adorno and Benjamin.
Benjamin believed that at the birth of a given social form or technological process the utopian dimension was present and, furthermore, that it is precisely at the moment of the obsolescence of that technology that it once more releases this dimension, like the last gleam of a dying star. For obsolescence, the very law of commodity production, both frees the outmoded object from the grip of utility and reveals the hollow promise of that law.