03 May 2006

testing . . . one, two, three . . . testing

The worst already happened in the world of books. By and large they have come to seem over the last four decades an increasingly conservative mode of communication. Even bestsellers exist in a secondary position in our culture to the spectacles of film, television, the web, the Xbox, the iPod, the cell phone. Three behemoth media corporations dominate Manhattan publishing. These Brobdignagians employ the print arms of their swollen conglomerates as tax write-offs, considering low sales figures and small audiences tantamount to failure. That is, they view their products exactly the same way executives at McDonald’s view their death patties. More disheartening still, many independent presses have decided to mimic in miniature this preposterous paradigm rather than trying to subvert, re-imagine, or otherwise stand in opposition to it.

That isn't, of course, to suggest Manhattan isn't bringing out some wonderful and surprising work (think José Saramago, David Mitchell, David Markson), but it is to suggest it is bringing out less of it—much less of it—than it did, say, during the sixties, when over 100 big houses thrived in New York. Nor would I want to suggest that alternative presses don’t bring out some bland, simple, sloppy stuff in innovationists’ clothing. Still, in our current sociohistorical reality (and I use the term loosely), alternative presses by and large remain sites of aesthetic, political, and philosophical resistance. They remind us that our fiction, and hence our world, can always be other than it is. They exist, in other words, as a possibility space where everything can and should be thought and attempted.

It was with that in mind that Ted Pelton and I came up with the idea for this collective blog while lunching at a sushi bar in Boulder, Colorado, one blustery blue day late last month during the Small Press Festival hosted at the University by Jeffrey Deshell and Elizabeth Robinson. What we decided to do is bring together a number of diverse voices from the universe of alternative prose and publishing to discuss—well, to discuss anything that interests them. What, for instance, consistutes the "alternative"? What trends do they find engaging? What authors and what events? How does one go about starting an alternative press? Why? What are the politics of such an enterprise?

In addition, we hope to see reviews of engaging new and overlooked alternative books, announcements of upcoming publications and conferences and readings and the appearance of new presses, reports from the front, lists of resources, interviews, photos, conversations about experimental prose, you name it.

Needless to say, the goal isn't for us to agree, but for us all to engage in what we hope will be a stimulating, diverse, and revealing polylogue that both celebrates and interrogates the assumptions of alternative prose and publishing, while reminding ourselves all the while of that stingingly dead-on observation by Ronald Sukenick that summarizes the whole: If you don't use your own imagination, someone else is going to use it for you.

And so, onwords . . .