Wednesday, December 24, 2008

BOOK ARTS: MIMEO MIMEO 2 JAB 24

Despite editing a journal of contemporary poetry and bringing out a modest number of single-author publications over the past couple of years, book making and book arts continues to remain something of a mystery to me. In fact, aside from taking a child-like delight in material objects fashioned by hands, my own preference for print over web-based publication is likewise a mystery. I imagine this preference has something to do with durability and care, with the fact that the work I read and edit is present and available to me (and thus to others) in a way web-based work is otherwise not. As print news gradually goes the way of the dodo bird, one newspaper after another shifting from print to exclusive internet publication, the political implications of insisting on print over web-based technologies have never been more important. The moment is one situated at the intersection of print and computer technologies — residual and emergent technologies — and it is precisely here, in the present, that we find the two collapsing into one another, giving rise to otherwise unanticipated forms of cultural production.

The political and material consequences embedded in this transformational moment — or the conditions of possibility contained within the overlap between print and digital technologies — have been at the fore of Kyle Schlesinger's work as poet, scholar, editor and book artist for over a decade. His Cuneiform Press has been with us for a number of years. But the journals he presently co-edits are more recent.

Edited by Schlesinger and Jed Birmingham, the second number of Mimeo Mimeo is no less impressive than the first. As Birmingham and Schlesinger relate in their surprisingly brief editorial statement, "Mimeo Mimeo is a forum for critical and cultural perspectives on artist's books, fine press printing and the mimeograph revolution." Informed by Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, the editors "see the mimeograph as one among many printing technologies (letterpress, offset, silk-screen, photocopiers, computers, etc.) that enabled poets, artists and editors to become independent publishers." They continue, "As editors we have no allegiance to any particular medium or media. We understand the mimeo revolution as an attitude — a material and immaterial perspective on the politics of print."

This second issue of the journal features poet and printer Alan Loney in conversation with Schlesinger, James Maynard on the little magazines edited by Robert Duncan between 1938 and 1941, derek beaulieu on Black Mountain and TISHbooks, and an essay by book artist Emily McVarish — who Schlesinger wrote on for the inaugural issue of ON, a journal built around statements on contemporary practice that Schlesinger co-edits with Thom Donovan and Michael Cross.

In addition to Mimeo Mimeo and ON, Schlesinger also co-edited with Craig Dworkin the current number of the Journal of Artists Books (JAB), a special issue devoted to investigating the intersection of experimental literature and artists' books. Schlesinger and Dworkin were recommended to JAB editor-in-chief Brad Freeman by Johanna Drucker for this special issue. The issue is quite extraordinary, particularly the essay by letterpress artist and Poltroon Press editor Alastair Johnston. Provocatively titled "Off the Road," the essay coincides with the traveling exhibition of Kerouac's On the Road scroll. Here Johnston pulls no punches, remarking at the start: "First a confession: I haven't read Kerouac." Addressing Kerouac and the scroll further on, Johnston writes:

He was a drunk with a typewriter who evolved into a speed-freak with a typewriter. The scroll of paper was an expedient to keep typing without worrying about inserting paper and numbering pages. Look at that scroll: the alignment is crooked, so every now and then he has to reset the left tab so there is a mildly Futurist jag visible. But that's not very compelling. What is interesting is the concept of the scroll.

But Johnston isn't so much concerned with Kerouac or historicizing the scroll as a site of textual inscription as he is with artists' books and ur-artists' books, those books that resist commercial success but nontheless introduce the formal techniques that create the conditions for figures like Kerouac to produce texts believed to be formally innovative. As Johnston remarks in a closing comment, "Great book artists, like the true avant-garde, are destined to be unheralded."

The Johnston essay appearing in this special issue of JAB might be considered something of a continuation of the interview that appeared in the first issue of Mimeo Mimeo. Conducted by Schlesinger over the course of several summer months, the interview is a riveting account of the Bay Area small press community during the 1970s replete with a string of delightful anecdotes, including one involving Clayton Eshleman and a six shooter.

Other contributors to this issue of JAB include Susan Vanderborg, Chris Burnett and Tate Shaw, David Pavelich, and Elisabeth Long. The issue also includes a handmade "Handmade-o-Meter" that requires assembly.

Organizing the issue around "artists' book" and "experimental literature" as overlapping, flexible categories grounded in a shared origin, Schlesinger and Dworkin write in their editorial statement: "As the rhetorical histories of the labels 'artists' book' and 'experimental literature' have developed and defined — evolving into genres of their own — they seem now to have separated to the point where one can think of them as distinct categories, with all the potential for interaction and competition, including healthy sibling rivalries and patterns of productive interference."