While in grad school at Sandy Eggo State U, I had the distinct pleasure of being editor of the student-run Pacific Review literary journal, a shoestring budget lit mag with the print quality of a community newsletter and the distribution of a photocopied zine. As editor I basically had total control over the content of the issue that I edited, which would be the last time in my life that would be true.
Back then, the Internet was still in its infancy (I think I got my first email address about the time this edition came out, in ‘97 or ‘98), and being in lo-fi high-brow print was lots of fun. It was how writers like Charles Bukowski first got their start and it was in the boozy Bukowski spirit that I wanted to edit the journal. Although PacRev called for submissions for fiction and poetry, I wanted to take my issue of the journal to another level and include ‘found objects’.
Specifically, these included cover art that was taken from a 1950s Chinese Communist propaganda pamphlet that I bought at a garage sale. I liked the way the revolution/kung-fu pose fits with the issue title, ‘Have At You All’, which was the title of a journal of political satire in eighteenth-century London. Unfortunately in those days we had to razor the original pamphlet to get the image, which destroyed it; I still think the iconoclasm was worth it.
I also included a short story written by my psychotic neighbor who seemed to be on unnervingly familiar terms with the local DA. We lived in an old house converted into four studio apartments; he had the whole attic floor and I’m pretty sure burgled me when I was out of town one time. His foray into fiction was unintentionally surreal (it borders on outsider art) and about a thousand times more interesting than most of the stuff we received in the inbox churned out by both MFA students and full-time writers. To print it, we had to fake provenance and my drinking and dope-smoking buddy Fat Matt wrote an introduction as ‘guest editor’ that claimed he found the manuscript stuck in a muddy cake of cricket shit accumulated behind an abandoned refrigerator.
The other found object was a three or four-page letter handwritten on paper torn from a receipt book that I found stuffed into the sleeve of a used vinyl record of Bill Evans Live at Montreux. It was a break-up letter, or more accurately a desperate cri de coeur from a man who had been dumped by his girlfriend and/or left her because he caught her cheating…multiple times with different men. For sheer rawness of emotion and aesthetic impact, it beat any of the poetry we received (or even what we printed) and also vectored with reality in tantalizing ways: was this a draft? Was the letter ever sent? Who stuffed it in the record sleeve, sender or receiver? Was it a real letter or some sort of fantasy?
Unfortunately, the previous editor was a complete twat and was unable to get his issue out on time (rich kid; couldn’t understand budgets), so we decided to do a ‘double-issue’ in which his issue and mine were printed back to back, like a flipbook. This would have been more interesting if he hadn’t also used material from the Chinese Communist propaganda pamphlet on his cover and if large portions of his issue weren’t given over to fawning adoration of one of the professors in the lit department (the prof was far more interesting—and in his own conservative way, fringe—than the twat editor made him seem; which indicates at least a double failing on the part of the twat editor). I felt my thunder was, if not stolen, at least muffled.
However, my point is that it is exactly this sort of ad hoc construction and improvised vision thing that lo-fi print culture was able to foster and which completely vanishes on the web. Whereas PacRev was able to create a tangible object that was itself a synthesis of other objects and objectives capable of creating a new aesthetic experience, the web reduces everything to information: it is the ultimate version of show and tell, in which experience is rendered into neutral evidence. On the web, everything is simultaneously second-hand and sanitized; like a patient etherized on a table, as the man said.
I’m glad to see that PacRev is still in business, and to judge from the appearance of the website, not much has changed over the years as to budget (miniscule) and ambition (ranging from avant-garde to stultifying) and distribution (whoever happens to be in the neighborhood that day). There’s also a blog (or two or three; it’s hard to say based on google results).
Pacific Review, I salute you!!
The Naked City, Jules Dassin. 1948. The DNA of this film can be found in everything from forensic cop TV shows to postmodern jazz albums to docu-dramas and more. The framing and cutting set the standard for TV cop shows that would follow in the 1950s; the emphasis on police procedure parallels in chicken-and-egg fashion the technology-driven plots of Dragnet (already on radio in 1947; TV in 1951). The odd use of narrative voice over by the producer (not a character in the show) creates a distancing device; the VO often comments on the scenes as they happen, creating cognitive dissonance between action and narration that a later generation of postmodern critics would come to call ‘metatextual framing.’ The on-location visuals of New York recall crime scene photos—Weegee was a creative consultant on the movie—that create a sense of immediacy and verisimilitude that become the basis for the entire docu-dramas genre. No wonder then that when John Zorn released the first album by his NY-based avant-garde jazz/punk band (called, what else? ‘Naked City’) in 1989, he used a Weegee image on the cover. Watching the original film now is like looking at cave paintings: in it we see a whole history not yet born but with which we are already familiar.
Der Lauf der Dinge (The Way Things Go), Peter Fischli and David Weiss. 1987. Since you’re my “friend” I know that you’re as enthralled by Rube Goldberg contraptions as I am, and this short film presents the mother of them all. It goes on for a full 30 minutes, and not only involves mechanical but chemically generated movements. Things burn, dissolve, inflate, flow, and fly. We’re treated to flame, acid, smoke, water, steam, foam, and myriad combinations thereof, not to mention plenty of rolling, plunking, falling, sliding, expanding, exploding, swinging, and popping tires, bottles, planks, candles, balloons and balls. Usually the delight in Rube Goldberg contraptions stems from a slack-jawed wonder at the slapstick interactions of the stuff of everyday life—hence their prominence in Bugs Bunny cartoons. But to expand this to half an hour on film is to increase from wonder to science demonstration, to laugh-out-loud absurdity, and finally to a sort of industrial sublime that renders one part of the process if not part of the action.