Of Nothing Accounted


  • [out of nothing] has always and conscientiously avoided the use of the term experimental in describing itself. Perhaps we-as-editors-cum-curators are over-sensitive to this term because our formal education was capstoned at an institution known for self-conscious and so-named experimentation. But we are not ignorant of readerly perceptions, much less the “how”s by which the literary marketplace operates. If you look us up on Duotrope, “experimental” is where you will find us, and find us collocated with other journals which are very different from [out of nothing].
  • The submissions figures (the term we will now and continue to use to refer to these numbers so particularly arranged) we shared earlier this month via outwardfromnothingness.com propose a greater context for questions of who publishes who. Explicitly: Who submits to whom?
  • Are women less likely to submit work to a journal classified as “experimental”? Are men more likely? (We’re not sure if there are pains to be taken to separate these questions, but we do know that they are not identical.)
  • More specifically, what role does the perceived aesthetic of [out of nothing] have in the numbers of submissions we receive? Does an aesthetic perceived as being more technological, digital, etc. attract submissions tilted more toward one gender than another? If so, why?
  • Indeed, how gendered is the term “experimental”? How gendered is any aesthetic that declares itself as such?
  • VIDA’s target journals may be the most telling choices according to one criteria of cruciality: they probably do mark the glass ceiling for women in literary arts. I.e., The New Yorker is the “CEO level”…
  • But, one the other hand, and with the possible exception of Tin House, the publications VIDA elects to watchdog all broadcast a brand that appears to be aesthetic- and thus (it could be argued) gender-neutral. In fact such a position, one Johannes Göransson has marked in his critique of “good writing,” is inherently tilted, especially in the literary arts, towards the male and / or masculine. This is the aesthetic of no-aesthetic, if you want to call it what you want to call it.
  • But is this really gender-blindness? And we mean not a justice-is-blind blindness but an Oedipus-is-blind-before-he-blinds-himself blindness. Or is it the echo of the rude speakeasy talk of those editors in West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, joking about the education-via-gang-rape of “female writers?”
  • The control for these figures, it stands to be suggested, doesn’t really work as a control. To make VIDA’s measure make the most sense and impact most effectively where they should impact, we need a good control, a beneficent blindness.
  • Unfortunately, our own submissions figures as reported do not necessarily provide any additional context. They themselves need additional context. Are women submitting less to other journals? More? Does the amount of free time generally available to women or do other societal issues play into this at all? (We have heard from many other female editors about the lack of submissions from females as well, though there are obviously many women-oriented or feminist presses and journals. What else is going on here?)
  • Maybe “experimental” is less gendered that it is infantilizing. For men, infantilization may be experienced as primarily emasculating. For women, however, infantilization is most commonly just another way for the dominant (by-and-large masculine, even where female) culture to say, “You’re saying nothing; you’re just bawling, or prattling, or imitating real words. Get back to us when you grow up out of pretending to the world of adult, therefore male, articulateness. (Maybe.)”
  • OK, but maybe both we and you should be looking to what’s incubating in the world of literary experiment for ways to think differently about gender, editorship / curation, the value of publishing, the particular subjectivity that is readership, literary production period?
  • For example: how “active” should editors be? How much active solicitation should happen? When do certain actions start to become affirmative action?
  • Perhaps the failures and set-backs we witness in the context of the self-consciously aestheticized, whether “experimental” or otherwise (i.e., genre writing, which can be both bane and blessing, as VIDA is well aware), can inform us in ways similar failures and setbacks elsewhere cannot. And maybe there’s something to celebrate in our more esoteric circles after all.

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