It 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).
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?