Who’s In Here?

My-rejection-lettersYears ago, when I started getting occasional acceptance letters along with the mountain of rejection letters from journals, I was thrilled. That I’d have readers. That I’d find people with whom to talk about my work. Or that somehow a network or community could be formed this way.

But it became clear to me quickly that this would not quite happen. At least not in the romantic way I’d imagined. Few relationships have started purely out of my work appearing in a literary journal. And yet, I have a sense that over the years a web has been woven slowly: its cords fragile, continually broken and then re-made in different patterns. That web constructed out of a slew of contacts with people and readings and conferences and universities and collectivities and journals and presses.

Still I wonder what exactly connects us as writers who have been published in the same journal. An aesthetic flash in the pan? An editorial conceit? Or something more?

I sent out an email to a few of the contributors to the most recent edition of [out of nothing] to start a conversation. Rather than sending a list of questions, I just asked for them to read my first two posts and send me any responses they had, any thoughts or thinking around the issues I was raising. I’ll be sharing selections from some of the responses I get here on the blog.

Andrew Choate responded immediately. I’d been drawn in by the mysteriousness of his photograph titled “Begin the Cantankerous Sobbing” in the current issue. A dead, bright green grasshopper upended on a windowsill, its aged wood revealed under peeling paint. I was interested to see more of his thinking. His response was a little startling:

First, the desire for a “literary community” has not been on my radar for a decade. For one thing, it implies living people. And at least for me, any community that I am a part of is partly dead (possibly some are as-yet-unborn, but that’s doubtful). Not that I have anything, a priori, against living people, but the idea of being connected to them just by being on the planet at the same time doesn’t do anything for me or mean anything to me.

Tangent: when I applied to CalArts in 2000, I was 24, and I included in my reason for wanting to attend, the desire to be part of a community. I did not find a community I wanted to be a part of when I was there, or at least I didn’t find the intellectual kinship I thought I would/ said I desired. Not that I didn’t find friends and enjoy some of the folks, but my “work” and my activity already fit into a canon that I had constructed involving some combination of Henri Michaux, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Paul Lovens, Pierrot le Fou and Maurice Blanchot’s essays in The Work of Fire. Not that I required anyone with whom I would enter into a community to have those artists / works be touchstones for their own practices, but I wasn’t interested in MAX/MSP patches, hypertext, personal expression, etc. Zeitgeistyness and interiority being the two most repulsive aesthetic forces in the universe to me.

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Does the comfort of belonging to a community really ever exist? A soft place to rest and repair.

Despite sharing a distrust of simplistic notions of community, despite feeling all communities to be potentially dangerous and always precarious, I still have a desire to work for a greater sense of connectedness; l’m invested in creating dialogue, exchange and alternative economies. Can I trade something of mine for something of yours? Can we push the boundaries of what we are able to do together in physical and virtual spaces?

Andrew also responded to my wondering about publishing in journals and its ramifications in terms of dialogue:

As far as my thoughts on publishing, whether in print or online or whatever – they are all just different mediums. I don’t have any problem with online publications but they are inherently devalued in my mind compared to a printed object. I prefer to hold books in my hand and read them and mark them up. Online writing will never get that kind of attention, at least not from a person like me, for whom marginalia is half the value of a book. I even mark up magazines and newspapers (then type up my markings and throw the originals away, or cut them up and glue them into a blank book).

And just in case you’re not aware i’ve been writing some “blog” or tumblr posts or something for LACE. I don’t consider a lot of it writing, just slapping.

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How comfortable are you with speaking into the void? How comfortable with your words falling into the ether? Do you wonder if they will ever come back? Which is more uncomfortable: invisibility or visibility?

Who’s out there and who’s in here? Are you sure? You have to be sure.

– Dawn Lundy Martin in Discipline

* The image was  the first to come up by Googling “mountains of rejection letters.”



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