Every magazine needs a mission statement; that's what we learned in Magazine 101. Having a mission is handy. Coming up with it, on the other hand, is no fun.
BOT didn't get around to articulating its mission until its second issue. The bear motif was an ongoing theme; each issue had a bear-related article, because T. was obsessed by bears. The title was also a semiotic pun of sorts ("because whatever you're saying bears on the text," he told me rather feverishly).
It hardly stands as a raison d'etre, though.So how did we explain ourselves? In the debut issue I wrote that we "decided to put out BOT as 'the last zine of the eighties.' Conveniently enough, this could be modified to 'the first zine of the nineties' if necessary. As it turned out, this was the case, but better late than goddam never." (That would be my 'crusty newspaper editor' persona at work.)
Part of the reluctance to say what we were about was that it was hard to articulate. We knew what we didn't want to be better than what we did want to be.B. took a stab at it in issue #2:
If a work has tendencies that set off alarms in the collective brain of the BOT editorial staff, then that piece may be in for a rough ride. The problem is that we don't know what will alarm us until we see it; we take everything we get, pick it apart, then make our decision. Perhaps that is a hangover from various deconstructionist tendencies floating around these days...for some reason, as hard as it is to say what we won't like, it's harder still to say what we will like.
Deconstructionism, it seemed, worked its way into a lot of conversations back then. It was fitting because this was a magazine that was literally made for being taken apart. It consisted of unbound pages in a plastic bag. You could rearrange it, if you wanted; you could tape it to your walls. I think we eventually bowed to the wisdom of page numbers, but that's as far as it went. The freedom of the unbound magazine was very liberating.
But the guidelines? Oh, yes. A few paragraphs later, B. says, "I feel I've made things no clearer" and he pretty much hadn't. General guidelines were: Letters good. Rock criticism: "Keep it to yourself." Book reviews/movie reviews good. "We love essays!" Also, "We love art!" As for fiction and poetry, the backbone of most literary magazines, there's an almost avuncular warning: "Remember, it's easy for muddled thought to hide behind the mask of artifice." (Careful, kids!) Investigative journalism: "If time is of the essence, you're sending it to the wrong people." (Well, he had us there.) And finally: "We love miscellaneous info-type things!" (This was to become evident.)
It was easy, looking at our inspirations, to see what we wanted to be. One of them was Wyndham Lewis's Blast. I can't honestly say that I sat down and read this slice of pre-WWI rabblerousing all the way through. The stark typesetting and graphic design, however, were (and are) things of beauty. I can't say that Lewis himself seemed like a lot of laughs (although the Wyndham Lewis society may prove me otherwise). I particularly liked the Manifesto (seen here), although it isn't reproduced in its entirety online anywhere I can find.*
Another inspiration was Semiotext(e) USA, which in the late '80s served as the Sears-Roebuck of underground literature (one online catalog describes it as "Critical Theory/Art/Comic Books," which about sums it up). Lots of material from this has made its way back online. Lots of good stuff here, put together lovingly. I first read The Abolition of Work here, though it was published elsewhere as well.**
In the end, B. finally did get down to what amounts to a statement of purpose, somewhat contrarian and with its roots definitely showing. "We want to be agitators and instigators, not mediators and referees. We want to be part of the argument, not a monument to argument itself. That's not to say we won't print material we don't agree with; on the contrary, if something agitates us there is a good chance it will agitate our readers, and if we feel that agitation to be a positive thing, then we would probably run it. That's the liberal intellectual way, after all."
Next: Issue 1, or "Get On with it, Already. What Was IN this Thing?"
*(Miscellany: We also liked the Blast First label, also named in homage to Lewis, a lot. Today, as we see, it's still popular to blast philistines, even if they're no longer from Putney. These folks have turned their wrath on The Gap, Britney Spears, Netscape, and Subway, among others. Eat fresh!)
**The Semiotext(e) publishing concern is still around, of course. Lately they published Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotext(e) Reader. Publisher Sylvere Lotringer speaks here about what this means:
Hating capitalism seems like a luxury at this point because what else is there? But accepting that as a fact already is playing the capitalist game: cynicism by day and new age by night. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jack Smith kept repeating: I need something to hate. Something is better than nothing, and this is what we’re finally left with in this society of plenty.
Posted at April 08, 2003 09:58 PM