Monday, July 14, 2008

Publishing and Writing

I've been invited to Monterrey, Mexico for the upcoming poLiteratura, IV Encuentro de Escritores Jóvenes del Norte de México y Sur de Estados Unidos <link and link>. Here is my paper, on the topic of "Book Mix: the publishers’ repercussion within the literary work of journalists-editors-writers."

Prefatory Notes

The we in this paper refers to Vanessa Place, Pam Ore, Sarah LaBorde and myself. The later we refers to only Vanessa Place and I, except when it also refers to Janice Lee and to the Les Figues Press board of directors and to the members of the Press, without which there would not be a we.

The Press, in this case, refers to Les Figues Press, an independent nonprofit literary publisher located in Los Angeles, California, committed to creating aesthetic conversations between readers, writers and artists.

Readers, writers and artists refers to the aforementioned we’s of the Press, for we are all readers, and many of us are writers, and now there are visual artists too, for the primary people who support the Press are artists and writers and readers of the avant-garde.

Avant-garde is a word that many people don’t like to use, and it embarrasses many people, and many people say the avant-garde no longer exists, and can not exist, and some like to explain how it’s a military term, meaning ‘before the guard,’ and do you really want to be associated with the military (you, who live in the United States, speaking English and publishing English-language work), and some think the avant-garde is really cool and romantic, and others ask, “Is the word avant-garde hyphenated or not hyphenated,” and the poet Eileen Myles says, “the term [is] a little pedantic, but if I’m not that [meaning avant-garde], what am I?”

Prefatory notes are thoughts, terms and ideas to be considered beforehand, before the real argument or the main points, which we anticipate will be clearly articulated in a formed structure, usually an essay, with an introduction, a body and a conclusion, or at least a beginning, middle and end. A formed structure is a built thing, like a building, like a government office, a bank, or a temple, and buildings adhere to mechanical principles, that’s what makes them stand, and the humans who go inside buildings adhere to rules of conduct, and that’s what makes a building operate as a structure for use.

Before we started Les Figues, we thought a lot about what we wanted to make and would it be square, like a government building, or round, like communities and geodesic domes, or would it be something small and red, something bird-sized and tunneled underground. Something people would have to believe in, because they could not believe out. And that’s what we picked—all of them. For as a nonprofit organization, we use the government’s definitions and structural parameters, and as a publisher, our primary project is an annual series of books called TrenchArt, which is curated to emphasis textual interconnection and author interdependence, and we know of no other literary publisher who is or has published work in this way, and so we made something people would have to believe in, something small and red, something inside.

To create something new is to make a change. New things are created everyday, and some new things are repetitions of the old, and some new things are riffs of other things, and some new things are just new.

Avant-garde is a term that has become useful to describe the work published by the Press, but it’s not a word I use to describe my own writing. That term doesn’t help me to think about my work, and so I don’t use it to refer to me or my writing.

Changing the World: Some people believe engaging in combat is best, because for them there is a clear right and a clear wrong, and those who agree with them are right and those who disagree are wrong. Other people believe the disagreeable ones would change their minds if they would just listen to the reasons they should. Others say the disagreeable ones are going through a phase, though the ones who say this have never personally gone through a such phase themselves. Still others talk about eggs. They describe eggs and make eggs—how do you picture an egg? An egg in its shell. A white egg, oval egg, chicken egg. A smaller, spotted blue egg. A round and brownish egg, soft like leather and deflating on the ground. A snake egg.

The egg explained: A moment ago, you were thinking about eggs, and the picture you were picturing started as one kind of egg before changing into another. This was a change of egg-ness, a change predicated on an image, predicated on something said aloud, something seemingly off-topic.

What I am Trying to Say: Everything I say here about the Press, I could also say about my writing. There are mechanical principles and narrative conventions, there are nouns and verb tenses and characters who do things, and letters are characters and so are the imagined others, I’s, She’s and We’s. I like to make things that look like one thing even as they contain another.

Les Figues publish books, but that’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to connect people to each other and to each other’s work. To read something and to be inspired, to be challenged or to be excited and to want to tell others, to want to read it again, to want to make something because of something you just read.

This is the writing I want to make.

I don’t think writing can be made alone, and certainly it doesn’t exist in aloneness. Writing needs readers, and readers need writing, and reading and writing connect people in unexpected ways. Like eggs.

Prefatory notes, continued, and how they related to publishing: Publishing is an act of anticipation, it is looking for what yet doesn’t exist, but what could, and maybe even should. The main body of a book emerges slowly, as that book’s place within a culture. Books published by small presses have a different shelf life than most books published by large, profit-driven publishers, because large publishers generally publish the thing that must be had right now, and of course now is always changing. Small press publishers publish work they love, because they love it, and they want that work to exist in the world for as long as possible. Many great books were first published by small presses, and those books still exist in the world and in the culture. [James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman, and many many more.]

Thinking about the Others: This refers to authors and characters. As a publisher, I set my own writing aside to make books out of the writing of others. As a writer, I set my self aside in order to consider the subject of others. These considerations are, of course, filtered through the sack of consciousness which is me, but I’m okay with that contradiction. Imagining others is better than sitting around thinking about myself. Just like I wouldn’t want to publish only books by me or only we.

As a publisher: I see many versions of similar books, manuscripts in their unfinished form. It is surprising how many people are trying to write the same kind of thing, for people aren’t as unique as we might wish they were. As a writer, I’m a fairly critical reader, and as a publisher, I’m even more critical. This is good for my writing.

I know that becoming a publisher has affected my writing in certain ways. I am a better reader. I see how some people like some books and other people like other books, and both books can be very good books, so the goal is to try and make a very good book and some people will like it and some people won’t, and it can still be very good book.

Measuring the Immeasurable or What I am Trying to Say: I think my being a writer has affected Les Figues more than Les Figues has affected my writing. Because we always approached Les Figues as an aesthetic project, something to be made, in the same way that a writer would make a piece of writing. It’s always this question of what’s being made, and how does it function in the world, aesthetically and ethically, and as Les Figues is made by many we’s working together, a piece of writing is finally fully made by many we’s imagining together.

Final prefatory note before your response: Thank you in advance.

5 comments:

Cheryl said...

What a charming and fun anti-manifesto manifesto. It makes me happy as an I and part of various We's and as a writer.

Amina said...

"A book is written so that it can be put beside other books and take its place on a hypothetical bookshelf. Once it is there, in some way or other it alters the shelf, expelling certain other volumes from their places or forcing them back into the second row, while demanding that certain others should be brought up to the front." -- Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature

Amina said...

This made me want to write.

Amina said...

What you wrote, I mean.

Sylvíssima said...

Loved this paper. Loved meeting Les Figues. Do not be surprised if you are quoted soon (by me) (although i wouldnt be surprised that also by others).

Hope Les Figues continues to travel to engage more and more readers.