From Central Park no. 14, Fall 1988
by Stephen-Paul Martin
Most literature these days is boring. It therefore follows that most literary magazines are boring. Most of them are simply collections of poetry/fiction/nonfiction with no forcefully articulated commitment to anything other than the pseudo-ideal of “literary excellence.” What makes this especially frustrating is that these magazines — if they were constituted with more political intelligence — might provide us with an alternative to the mass stupidity encouraged by mainstream communication networks. The need for alternative networks, serving readers who no longer want to take their cues from the banalities of mass media, has never been more pressing.
A person familiar with Segue Distribution, Sun & Moon Press, South End Press, Maisonneuve Press, Xexoxial Endarchy, Runaway Spoon Press, Edge Distribution, This Press, and the networks centered around magazines like nrg, Acts, Paper Air, Asylum, Score, Generator, Kaidron, Interstate, Atticus and many other alternative magazines will know that such networks already exist. But the need to constitute these networks around a more clearly defined pattern of psycho-political opposition remains.
One possible model for developing such a pattern of opposition can be found in the communication network that revolves around PhotoStatic, an international xerox magazine based in Iowa City. Recent issues of this publication have actually included two magazines in one, with the bottom third of each PhotoStatic page being devoted to an offshoot publication, Retrofuturism. Both magazines show the clear influence of Dadaism, and both challenge conventional notions of what it means to be aesthetically “serious” in a world that is already a bad imitation of its own worst impulses.
The most recent PhotoStatic/Retrofuturism is a very powerful example of how subversive intelligence can be created when political awareness is combined with radical aesthetics. The issue is centered around the concept of “Plagiarism”, an idea which is in part a reflection of the editors’ delightfully absurd sense of humor (“Plagiarism saves time”) and is in part a serious attempt to show that the meaning of a text will depend largely on the context in which it appears. The xerox art in PhotoStatic #31, all of it “plagiarized,” is located in a context of highly intelligent political and aesthetic commentary provided by Lloyd Dunn, John Heck, Harry Polkinhorn, Geof Huth, Thad Metz, and Mark Rose, as if to say that aesthetic events today need to be explicitly radicalized and seen as tools of opposition, means of resisting the officially-sanctioned madness aimed at us each day from Washington and our communication system.
Readers of this publication will come away from it with a concept of information that has little to do with what is jammed down our throats by newspapers, picture-tubes, movie screens, billboards, and rock videos. If gradual separation from the toxic environment of media culture is one of the central moral projects of our time, then visual literature will find its true importance in a political context, as part of an oppositional project whose goal is nothing less than a full-scale reassessment of what it means to be a conscious human being.