This month, Swiss Institute becomes Swiss In Situ, moving temporarily to a massive space at 102 Franklin Street in Tribeca. Their first exhibition, up through September 2, features a collection of artist-made zines from the independent Swiss publishing houses Nieves and Innen. Some of our favorites are below.
- In the early sixties, the London Review of Books’ Mary-Kay Wilmers was working as a secretary at Faber, where one of her superiors was T. S. Eliot. His managerial style left something to be desired, she writes: “I had some bad moments with him. I hadn’t been there more than a few months when he caught me looking out of the window onto Russell Square. I had my back both to my colleagues and to the door, and I was saying: ‘Look at all those lucky people in Russell Square doing bugger all.’ My colleagues were silent and when I turned round I realized why: Eliot had come into the room and was glowering at me. I might as well have been tearing at the grapes with murderous paws. After I’d graduated to blurb-writing he showed all the directors a blurb I’d written, saying: ‘Surely we can’t publish this.’ It was for Ann Jellicoe’s play The Knack and I’d said that the knack in question was the knack of getting girls into bed. Once, early on, I pointed out a discrepancy between two printings of one of his early poems—I can’t remember which. I was quite proud of myself. He said it didn’t matter.”
- While we’re on Faber—in Eliot’s day, they declined to publish Basil Bunting’s poems. But now they’ve put out a long-awaited critical edition of his work, which corrects, as Christopher Spaide says, a decades-long oversight on the publishers’ part: “Bunting’s arrival at Faber comes with a certain poetic justice: after enduring a stinging rejection by Eliot, the former Faber editor, in his lifetime, he has now been published alongside scholarly editions of Eliot’s work, and he looks every bit the major British poet. The editor of the new edition is Don Share, a poet and the editor of Poetry magazine. Over the phone, Share suggested that Bunting ‘is more important to us, and even more legible to us, now than he has been, because he was right about so many things early on.’ Specifically, Share brought up Bunting’s reliance on performance (‘He was kind of a proto-performance poet’), his gratitude to small presses, and his grounding of global concerns in a local community.”
- One of many reasons that Japan is culturally superior to the U.S.: its citizens are presently in the thrall of an existentially despairing egg yolk. “Meet Gudetama, the anthropomorphic embodiment of severe depression. Gudetama is a cartoon egg yolk that feels existence is almost unbearable. It shivers with sadness. It clings to a strip of bacon as a security blanket. Rather than engage in society, it jams its face into an eggshell and mutters the words, ‘Cold world. What can we do about it?’ … How did a sad little egg win so many Japanese hearts? Why did a billion-dollar corporation decide to market a character embodying depression? And what does Gudetama’s appeal reveal about Japan’s culture?”
- Boyd McDonald had a passion, and that passion was publishing one of the best fucking gay-sex magazines ever to see a printing press: “He found his calling in the early 1970s after he got sober, dropped out of straight life, holed up in a New York City SRO, and began publishing the zine Straight to Hell, a compendium of real-life gay-sex stories that is still being published today, more than twenty years after his death. Though Straight to Hell was mainly composed of stories sent in by anonymous contributors, it was always inflected with McDonald’s own dexterous wit, radical politics, and unashamed obsession with the details of sex. Straight to Hell painted a world full of glory holes, where around every corner men were having every kind of sex. A reader once called it both ‘fantastic jerk-off material & consciousness-raising stuff.’ ”
- Then, on the other hand, there are teens. As if to take a perverse pride in the fact that nothing is sacred in this world, that no norm can go unchallenged, today’s teens have decided they no longer enjoy sex. “Noah Patterson, eighteen, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously: a work project, a YouTube clip, a video game. To shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste. ‘For an average date, you’re going to spend at least two hours, and in that two hours I won’t be doing something I enjoy,’ he said … He has never had sex, although he likes porn. ‘I’d rather be watching YouTube videos and making money.’ Sex, he said, is ‘not going to be something people ask you for on your résumé.’ ”
- Every April for years, intrepid editors have searched in vain for a way to fuse National Poetry Month to Mathematics Awareness Month, killing two birds with one stone. It turns out a pair of Italian mathematicians solved the problem centuries ago: “Niccolò Tartaglia (ca. 1500–1557) had discovered a way to solve certain kinds of cubic equations. Another mathematician, Girolamo Cardano (1501–1576), wanted to learn the formula and promised not to publish it. Tartaglia shared the formula with Cardano as a poem, and Cardano ended up publishing it.” Even with its terza-rima rhyme scheme, though, the poem is pretty bad, I’m sorry to report. It begins: “When the cube with the cose beside it / Equates itself to some other whole number, / Find two others, of which it is the difference. // Hereafter you will consider this customarily / That their product always will be equal / To the third of the cube of the cose net.”
- Legend tells of a radical library in Lawrence, Kansas—a library teeming with zines, a countercultural cornucopia, its shelves overflowing with DIY ephemera. And this library … is totally out of business. But the University of Kansas has acquired its holdings and plans to digitize all of them. “You can already explore over 830 digitized examples from the Solidarity archives in the Internet Archive … There are hand-illustrated guides to fertility awareness, freedom for Palestine publications, essays against prisons, Firefly fanzines, and more curious titles like ‘Don’t Leave Me: How to Make Better Coffee at Home and Spend More Time With Your Cat(s).’ ”
- Today in butterfly genitalia and literary luminaries: a new book examines Nabokov’s work as a lepidopterist, especially his “intensely magnified” drawings of butterflies’ reproductive organs. The book argues that Nabokov’s drawings provide a new lens through which to view his fiction—but maybe they’re just butterfly drawings. Laura Marsh writes, “The more we find out about Nabokov’s work as a lepidopterist, the more difficult it is to grasp what he saw in butterflies, and how much his study really found its way into the worlds of his books … As a lepidopterist, he was interested in stories that spanned vast, geological time periods, informed by fine-grained empirical observations. But in his novels and stories, butterflies flit in and out of the narrative, either to adorn a moment of impossible desire or as flickering omens of doom—as in the case of the red admiral that lands on John Shade’s arm before he is assassinated in Pale Fire. They are creatures of the ever-disappearing present, hardly existing for any concrete purpose at all; their wings bear the heavy load of subjectivity.”
- Writers, screenwriters, narrative artists of all stripes: if you’re still laying the foundation for your next project, I suggest throwing a kidnapping into the mix. People love kidnappings, especially when they involve young women. Add a seamy, irrepressibly erotic abduction to your plot and success will be yours for the taking. As Anna Leszkiewicz notes, “British and American pop culture has been gripped by the kidnap narrative. Young women stare desperately out of skylights or at heavy metal doors, before wrenching themselves through. Their kidnapper has methodically planned their captivity for years, making escape particularly difficult. They often exploit the mental weaknesses in their abusers in order to do so. They struggle to find a psychological liberty that matches their newfound physical freedom, and to detach themselves from the events of their captivity … The victim is always a young woman, usually adolescent either at the time of her capture, or during her captivity. She looks a specific way, too: a pretty brunette with big, round eyes; skinny when first captured, gaunt as her captivity develops; and despite the huge number of missing black girls and women, she’s white. She has all the physical attributes Hollywood and our wider society problematically conflate with innocence, purity and victimhood—and enthusiastically sexualize.”
- Jonathan Shaw owns the largest collection of vintage tattoo flashes in the world. Lucky for us, he’s put them in a book called, yes, Vintage Tattoo Flash. Behold the mess of cowboys, sailors, smoking skulls, neon dice, good-luck charms, babes, and babies that have made their way onto American bodies from Long Beach to the Bowery.
“Zines + the World of ABC No Rio,” an exhibition on display through September 27 at the Center for Book Arts, draws from the extensive zine library at ABC No Rio, a social center founded on the Lower East Side in 1980.
ABC No Rio is maybe best known for its punk and hardcore collective—until recently, they hosted matinee punk shows on Saturday afternoons, and these were originally curated with the intent of avoiding the violence, racism, and homophobia that had come to dominant punk as it was practiced up the road at CBGB. But ABC No Rio was conceived as an art space; it has a darkroom, a silk-screening collective, and—no mean thing, back in the day—a computer lab.
The zines on display at the Center for Book Arts span more than two decades, and speak to the curious diversity of the medium, to say nothing of its endurance. As the Center explains:
By its straddling the line between functional brochure and works of art realized in book form, the zine has retained its popularity even as the internet has largely become the preferred method of self-publishing … [a zine] is usually a cheaply-made and priced publication, often in black and white, mass-produced via a photocopier, and bound with staples. The exhibit presents and explains a range of these self-same printed materials, mixing both artists’ original creations with items from the ABC No Rio zine library archives, covering subject matter from arts-community history to political commentary.
Above are fourteen highly various examples—between them, they feature stray bullets, quests for enlightenment, impromptu jaunts to Chattanooga, mosh pits, camo jackets, Aladdin, “dumpster insurgence,” and more.
“Cats Hate Cops” is a tidy black-and-white pamphlet from Research & Destroy, a “radical zine collective” based in New York. Its title may seem, to the casual observer, like an editorial statement, but make no mistake: it’s a fact. The zine’s sixty-two pages comprise 150 years of cat-on-cop violence, all of it diligently chronicled by our nation’s newspapers—hard evidence, in other words. The first report is from 1805, when, in Edinburgh, a man attempting to police his dairy met with a cat bite on the neck; the latest is from the Melbourne Age, which last January ran a sidebar called “Anatomy of a Cat Attack.” (“Police close one lane and engage Scratchy, who resists.” Attaboy, Scratchy!)
Whether these are disconnected incidents or the enactment of a kind of feline political philosophy remains to be seen, but my money’s on the latter. It just makes sense. Cats and humans are coevolved; the Scratchys and Tigers of the world have had ample time to form opinions about authoritarianism and the police state. And think about it: Have you ever seen a cat driving a cruiser? Have you even once seen a cat with a badge? These animals want Friskies, not frisking.
Of course, the media tends to side with the state. “A mad cat upset the general routine of things last Friday morning at a grocery store,” reads a 1939 blurb, failing thereafter to give the cat’s point of view. Time and again, “Cats Hate Cops” describes a world in which the humane treatment of animals is not a going concern, and in which the police are generally assumed to be competent executors of the public will. The prose is often blunt: “After clubbing the animal into insensibility they shot it through the head,” one story ends.
A few years ago, I started a collection at NYU’s Fales Library & Special Collections to document the feminist Riot Grrrl movement in its formative and most active years, from 1989 to 1997. Originally a reaction against the failures of punk to extend its DIY model of empowerment to women, Riot Grrrl encouraged young women to form their own bands, self-publish personal stories and revolutionary agendas in zines, and carve out safe spaces in a violent, misogynist culture. Riot Grrrl was not a centralized movement, and many of the donors to the collection never called themselves “riot grrrls.” I never did, even though I went to the shows, read the zines, and identified as a punk and a feminist. Looking back, I see Riot Grrrl as descriptive of a moment as much as a movement: one that many young people now seem to want to study, learn from, and revivify. This summer, the Feminist Press published The Riot Grrrl Collection, my book of almost 350 pages of selections from the collection. Below are a few of my favorites.
This flyer, a pre–Riot Grrrl “manifesto” that was later repurposed for the minizine Riot Grrrl, is the first image in the book. Kathleen told me she made it in 1989, when she was volunteering at Safeplace, Olympia’s long-lived domestic-violence shelter and advocacy organization. Designed so that it could be folded up into a small rectangle with the word trust on top, this flyer was both a secret invitation and a public announcement, much like Riot Grrrl itself. Read More