“shtick fur-balls revisited” (= proposed titles in my head so far)

virtual space issue zeroIt was called Virtual Space and there was just one issue, “issue zero: place-kicks”. We made less than 20 copies, mostly by hunting round town for a photocopier with an A2 bed. It was an experiment, a mockup for a magazine, and it had no date appearing anywhere on its pages. (But it was early 1989, I’d just quit NME and wasn’t on-staff yet at The Wire.) We were serious: we went looking for funding. The other of the two being designer Paul Elliman, who’d just left The Wire. (Note to self: I haven’t seen Paul in an age and must call him up.)

The media momentum in the mid-80s was very much towards the elective affinity niche: people who took themselves to be anti-system dissenters* had pioneered the communication micro-cluster as a supposed zone of resistance (the indie label, the avant-garde movements, the specialist journal, the theoretico-critical discipline), but the system they declared they were resisting was actually not at all unhappy with this development. Self-balkanised geometries relocate (and quickly muffle) dissent. Freedoms of choice; freedoms of association: knowledge and intelligence arrive and evolve as a consequence — of course — of a degree of unfreedom in both choice and association. There was a knot here, a contradiction inside a conflict inside a conundrum: fuzzily but very strongly, I wanted start from the established reactive niche to push in another, much wider direction, against the encroaching self-quarantine around me; to shake up all the little comfort zones of specialisation. What would a magazine look like that covered everything, from every perspective? What would its production routines and technical shortcuts be? How would this ethos shape its editorial tactics and strategies?

(I should write this whole story up properly. Actually I have been writing it up properly, in the guise of a review of a record no one likes, including me and its makers. Read it when I finish it aka THE INDEFINITE FAR FUTURE dot dot sigh #smh)

Anyway, like Paul I too left The Wire, my project not at all finished — luckily with a few professional skills I could barter into a (much less ambitious) working life. For a decade or so, from c.2000, I had been giving a good part of my time — and surely more significantly my emotional energy — to my parents’ welfare: they were increasingly old and increasingly ill, and I owed them the best of me. Now that this duty is properly discharged, I’ve been returning to the projects of my youth, and wondering again — pretty ludicrously, given all the changes in media and how you get paid — about running some kind of magazine. Knowing full well that I have neither the resources (time/money) nor (in certain basic ways) the temperament, lessons I learnt the hard way the first time round. What should I be doing instead? The internet very much suits my temperament and habits, in good and bad ways. How can I shape these into a thing that’s useful — or anyway beguiling — for others (as I like to believe I briefly did, long ago, in the aftermath of Virtual Space issue zero, which helped get me an editorial role at The Wire).

At a minimum, I’d like to be pointing readers to the various writers that I routinely turn to, and see what transpires. If I could even get people squabbling debating in the comments-threads here, and attract traffic as a consequence of the smell of blood in the water quality of the discussion…

Have fun starting arguments? Light the blue touchpaper and lean in? No: those may have been my mottos at The Wire more than 20 years ago, but I don’t think they helpfully apply any more. Firestarting is hardly the problem on the internet: it’s how to bring together mutually inflammatory material and not set off exhausting flamewars. It’s something patiently grown-up, not something cheekily adolescent. Grown-up but enticing; catching, even. Hmmmm.

Let’s pick a scatter of who I might mean, and you the reader can do the math. Bearing in mind that my attentions will shift from month to month — I read a lot, and I likeread more a lot more than I hateread (though as you’ll see this somewhat means I merely hateread vicaroiously). I’m a magazine journalist: by definition I honour my boredom as hidden critique. If the butterfly-brained refusal to settle is the manifestation of one kind of symptom, incessant re-appearance at the same spot is another. This would be a very rough sketch of a possible ground; let’s just say that, and not pay attention to the clangour of everything that isn’t here.

• Marcello Carlin (here being nice about me). We are pals, of course. Whatever the thing is that I’m building, it can’t be hostile to fellowship or intimacy; and so must take into account the issues that can arise from this.

Frank Kogan: here with an oldie that adverts to a tradition of writing and thinking which is not so distant from what I have in mind. Aside from the late Richard Cook, the two figures whose aesthetic I most wanted to fuse at The Wire (or clatter against each other, as a way to talk about all kinds of music) were Greil Marcus and Frank. I wasn’t really there long enough (and also hadn’t entirely had my head round Frank’s thinking, I suspect).

• Seth Edenbaum, and a PDF of a work-in-progress. In some form this should already have been a published book (for several years). As with Marcello and Frank, a friend — and I feel a slight squirmy degree of embarassment that I’ve haven’t been able to do more to draw proper attention to his work, and to him. I used to be good at this; or at least, I once briefly had a platform I hoped to do this kind of broadcasting with. Which some people remember fondly.

(Already we possibly recognise an underlying question: what is wrong with the cultural world we face, that these three are all basically outlier minds, their marginality less a function of their own often daunting rigour than of the failure of what — further up — I termed the routines and shortcuts and tactics and strategies of editorial practice and production?)

Plus some more (rather younger) names: outsider I’d guess more by choice than unspoken decree.

• Alex Harrowell, the Yorkshire Ranter.

• That Tasmanian Devil of prose Hazel Robinson (who is also my extremely close friend off the net as well as on).

isabelthespy, writing a streak on Britney just before xmas.

And for now I’m stopping at just six. Because I’m imagining even just these guys in a room, debating I don’t know what, and I can no longer hear myself think >:D >:D >:D Though the project would certainly also include the blog I started with Tallita Dyllen, if we work out a way to encompass doing it while living in London and Beirut respectively; and any material that Victoria DeRijke writes, once she frees herself from the horrible clutches of academia. sadface emoticon.

I’d only want to do it — but do what? I literally have no idea how to realise this practicably — if it could be a space bending towards curiosity, generosity, mischief and so on. Is it doable? Is it something you’d like to see, or be part of?

2 comments

  1. j.

    ddd, offhand thoughts—

    what’s the role of pleasure here?

    it often strikes me how joyless ilm has become (and makes me, and which is a condition i contribute to), since its older generosity and curiosity and the surprise of all its accidental encounters got old or wore off or whatever.

    it seems like a big part of that joy came from thinking together (about the stuff, about ourselves, about people in general). which is maybe why you come back to the idea of a space for re-cultivating that joy, from those kinds of encounters? because it’s hard to see that the other kinds of opportunities/occasions for thinking-in-writing that persist out there are all that favorable to CO-thinking, which was maybe something that was still / seemed to be fostered via the institution of a proper magazine, edited with vision, somehow in touch with an imagineable audience, etc. (thus the idea: A MAGAZINE. i never edited one, but still i have the same bonkers fantasy from time to time: ‘i think it could really work, if i just put together the right kind of journal, imagine it’.)

  2. Marcello Carlin

    I am ridiculously late to the party here – it doesn’t actually seem to have stopped raining since New Year’s Eve, even when it has been dry – so have only just come across this modest proposal.

    I’m thinking about this from the perspective of somebody who has just had a “landmark” birthday – another two days (fingers crossed) and I’ll have outlived my dad – and is therefore a little bit more mindful of the notion of time running out, or at least there being only so much time (though that can in itself reveal itself to be infinite), than I was when I turned forty. So I do feel it’s time to get moving and actually do something that I might be “remembered” by, and that doesn’t just (or at all?) mean my number one albums as secret Arcades/reconfigure humanity project.

    ILx has, I think, gone down much the same road as the NME (and maybe Wire) has done, in that every generation thinks its ILx/NME/Wire was the best. It means something else now to (largely) an entirely different assemblage of people – I poke my nose in there every now and then, but otherwise am content to stand well back – so I don’t necessarily know enough to know whether its now urgency is appreciably different in nature or speed from what you, I and others did there a decade plus ago.

    (and yes on my part there was the added, aggrieved urgency arising from the fact that I was mainly trying to save a – meaning my – life…)

    But yes, something should be done, and yes, we’ll probably have to club together and do it, and no, I don’t know how, and yes, if I’m going to be part of this then L has to be part of it too – I now come as half of a double act, just as before ILx and everything else there was another double act, with another L – because our common mission is really not that far away from what you are proposing.

    and yes, we need to think together (while remembering that sometimes the most fruitful stuff comes from people thinking as polar opposites, or in parallel – Max H AND Ben W) and put together – something colourful, something that’s going to be unmissable, even with the largest darts, something non-yelpy clickbait provocative, i.e. writing and thinking that will provoke in terms of inspiring people and maybe helping music and art change their ways and present something new to the world in return.

    And it needs to be joyful. Joyful Noises Of The Punctum. But not a BS Johnson blackboard lecture (I like to think of myself as having a vital bit more fight in me than either BSJ or my dad had). More like Esthetix of old but opening up the roof in the hope of not letting in more rain.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>