Dean, Dockray, Ludovico, Broekman, Thoburn & Vilensky
Materialities of Independent Publishing: A Conversation with AAAAARG, Chto Delat?, I Cite, Mute, and Neural

Materialities Of Independent Publishing: A
Conversation With Aaaaarg, Chto Delat?,
I Cite, Mute, And Neural
Jodi Dean, Sean Dockray, Alessandro Ludovico, Pauline van
Mourik Broekman, Nicholas Thoburn, and Dmitry Vilensky
Abstract This text is a conversation among practitioners of independent political
media, focusing on the diverse materialities of independent publishing associated with
the new media environment. The conversation concentrates on the publishing projects
with which the participants are involved: the online archive and conversation platform
AAAAARG, the print and digital publications of artist and activist group Chto Delat?,
the blog I Cite, and the hybrid print/digital magazines Mute and Neural. Approaching
independent media as sites of political and aesthetic intervention, association, and
experimentation, the conversation ranges across a number of themes, including: the
technical structures of new media publishing; financial constraints in independent
publishing; independence and institutions; the sensory properties of paper and the
book; the politics of writing; design and the aesthetics of publishing; the relation
between social media and communicative capitalism; publishing as art; publishing as
self-education; and post-digital print.
Keywords independent publishing, art publishing, activist publishing, digital
archive, blog, magazine, newspaper

Nicholas Thoburn (NT) In one way or another all of you have an investment
in publishing as a political practice, where publishing might be understood
loosely as a political ‘gesture’ located ‘between the realm of discourse and the
material act’.1 And in large measure, this takes the path of critical intervention
in the form of the media with which you work - newspaper, blog, magazine,
and digital archive. That is, media come forward in your publishing practice
and writing as complex sets of materials, capacities, and effects, and as sites
of political intervention and critical reflection.
The aim of this conversation is to concentrate on these materials,
capacities, and effects of independent media (a term, ‘independent media’,
that I use advisedly, given its somewhat pre-digital associations and a
nagging feeling that it lacks purchase on the complexity of convergent media
environments). I’m keen as much as possible to keep each of your specific

Materialities Of Independent Publishing 157

1. Nat Muller
and Alessandro
Ludovico, ‘Of
Process and
Gestures: A
Publishing Act’, in
Alessandro Ludovico
and Natt Muller
(eds) The
Reader 3, London,
OpenMute, p6.

publishing projects at the forefront of the conversation, to convey a strong
sense of their ‘materialities’: the technical and aesthetic forms and materials
they mobilise; what strategies of authorship, editorship, or collectivity
they employ; how they relate to publics, laws, media paradigms, financial
structures; how they model or represent their media form, and so on. To start
us off, I would like to invite each of you to introduce your publishing project
with a few sentences: its aims, the mediums it uses, where it’s located, when
established - that kind of thing.

2. Jodi Dean,
Publicity’s Secret:
How Technoculture
Capitalizes on
Democracy, London,
Cornell University
Press, 2002.

3. Alessandro
Ludovico, Post-Digital
Print: The Mutation
of Publishing Since
1894, Eindhoven,
Onomatopee, 2012.

Jodi Dean (JD) I started my blog, I Cite, in January 2005. It’s on the Typepad
platform. I pay about 20 dollars a year for some extra features.
I first started the blog so that I could ‘talk’ to people in a format that was
not an academic article or an email. Or maybe it’s better to say that I was
looking for a medium in which to write, where what I was writing was not
immediately constrained by the form of an academic piece, written alone,
appearing once and late, if at all, or by the form of an email which is generally
of a message sent to specific people, who may or may not appreciate being
hailed or spammed every time something occurs to me.
There was another reason for starting the blog, though. I had already
begun formulating my critique of communicative capitalism (in the book
Publicity’s Secret and in a couple of articles).2 I was critical of the way that
participatory media entraps people into a media mentality, a 24/7 mindset
of reaching an audience and competing with the mainstream press. I thought
that if my critique is going to be worth anything, I better have more firsthand
experience, from the very belly of the beast.
Alessandro Ludovico (AL) I’m the editor in chief of Neural, a printed and
online magazine established in 1993 in Bari (Italy) dealing with new media
art, electronic music and hacktivism. It’s a publication which beyond being
committed to its topics, always experimented with publishing in various ways.
Furthermore, I’m one of the founders (together with Simon Worthington of
Mute and a few others) of, electronic cultural publishers, a network
of magazines related to new media art whose slogan is: ‘collaboration is
better than competition’. Finally, I’m finishing a book called Post-Digital
Print, about the historical and contemporary relationship between offline
and online publishing.3
Sean Dockray (SD) About five years ago, I wrote this description:
AAAARG is a conversation platform - at different times it performs as a school, or
a reading group, or a journal.
AAAARG was created with the intention of developing critical discourse outside
of an institutional framework. But rather than thinking of it like a new building,

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imagine scaffolding that attaches onto existing buildings and creates new
architectures between them.
More straightforwardly, the project is a website where people share texts:
usually PDFs, anything from a couple of inspiring pages to a book or a
collection of essays. The people who use the site tend to be writers, artists,
organizers, activists, curators, architects, librarians, publishers, designers,
philosophers, teachers, or students themselves. Although the texts are most
often in the domain of critical or political theory, there are also technical
documents, legal decisions, works of fiction, government declarations, poetry
collections and so on. There is no moderation.
It’s hard to imagine it now as anything other than it is - which is really
a library, and not a school, a reading group, or a journal! Still, AAAARG
supports quite a few self-organised reading groups, it spawned a sister project
called The Public School, and now produces a small online publication,
‘Contents’. It’s used by many people in many ways, and even when that use is
‘finished,’ the texts remain available on the site for others to use as a shared
Dmitry Vilensky (DV) The workgroup Chto Delat? (What Is to Be Done?) has
been publishing a newspaper, of the same name, since 2003. The newspaper
was edited by myself and David Riff (2003-2008) in collaboration with the
workgroup Chto Delat?, and since 2008 is mostly edited by me in collaboration
with other members of the group.
The newspaper is bilingual (Russian and English), and appears on
an irregular basis (roughly 4-5 times a year). It varies between 16 and 24
pages (A3). Its editions (1,000-9,000 copies) are distributed for free at
different cultural events, exhibitions, social forums, political gatherings,
and universities, but it has no fixed network of distribution. At the moment,
with an on-line audience much bigger than that for the paper version of the
newspaper, we concentrate more on newspapers as part of the exhibition and
contextualisation of our work - a continuation of art by other means.
Each newspaper addresses a theme or problem central to the search for
new political subjectivities, and their impact on art, activism, philosophy, and
cultural theory. So far, the rubrics and sections of the paper have followed a
free format, depending on theme at hand. There are no exhibition reviews.
The focus is on the local Russian situation, which the newspaper tries to link
to a broader international context. Contributors include artists, art theorists,
philosophers, activists, and writers from Russia, Western Europe and the
United States.
It is also important to focus on the role of publication as translation
device, something that is really important in the Russian situation – to
introduce different voices and languages and also to have a voice in different
international debates from a local perspective.
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 159

Pauline van Mourik Broekman (PvMB) After so many years - we’ve been at it

4. See Pauline van
Mourik Broekman
(2011) ‘Mute’s
100% Cut by
ACE - A Personal
Consideration of
Mute’s Defunding’,

5. Régis Debray,
‘Socialism: A LifeCycle’, New Left
Review 46 (2007):

for 17! - I seem to find it harder and harder to figure out what ‘Mute’ is. But
sticking to the basic narrative for the moment, it formed as an artist-initiated
publication engaging with the question of what new technologies (read:
the internet and convergent media) meant for artistic production; asking
whether, or to what degree, the internet’s promise of a radically democratised
space, where a range of gate-keepers might be challenged, would upset the
‘art system’ as was (and sadly, still is). Since that founding moment in 1994,
when Mute appeared appropriating the format of the Financial Times, as
producers we have gradually been forced to engage much more seriously
- and materially - with the realities of Publishing with a capital ‘P’. Having
tried out six different physical formats in an attempt to create a sustainable
niche for Mute’s critical content - which meanwhile moved far beyond its
founding questions - our production apparatus now finds itself strangely
distended across a variety of geographic, institutional, professional and social
spaces, ranging from the German Leuphana University (with whom we have
recently started an intensive collaboration), to a series of active email lists,
to a small office in London’s Soho. It will be interesting to see what effect
this enforced virtualisation, which is predominantly a response to losing our
core funding from Arts Council England, will have on the project overall.4
Our fantastic and long-serving editorial board are thankfully along for the
ride. These are: Josephine Berry Slater, Omar El-Khairy, Matthew Hyland,
Anthony Iles, Demetra Kotouza, Hari Kunzru, Stefan Szczelkun, Mira Mattar
and Benedict Seymour.
NT Many thanks for your introductory words; I’m very pleased - they set
us off in intriguing and promising directions. I’m struck by the different
capacities and aims that you’ve highlighted in your publishing projects.
Moving now to focus on their specific features and media forms, I’d like us
to consider first the question of political writing, which comes across most
apparently in the descriptions from Jodi and Dmitry of I Cite and Chto
Delat?. This conversation aims to move beyond a narrow focus on textual
communication, and we will do so soon, but writing is clearly a key component
of the materialities of publishing. Political writing published more or less
independently of corporate media institutions has been a central aspect of
the history of radical cultures. Régis Debray recently identified what he calls
the ‘genetic helix’ of socialism as the book, the newspaper, and the school/
party.5 He argues, not uniquely, that in our era of the screen and the image,
this nexus collapses, taking radical politics with it - it’s a gloomy prognosis.
  Jodi and Dmitry, whether or not you have some sympathy for Debray’s
diagnosis, I think it is true to say that political writing still holds for you some
kind of political power, albeit that the conjunction of writing and radicalism

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has become most complicated. Dmitry, you talk of the themes of Chto Delat?
newspapers contributing to a ‘search for new political subjectivities’. Can you
discuss any specific examples of that practice - however tentative or precarious
they may be - from the concrete experience of publishing Chto Delat? Also, I’m
interested in the name of your group, ‘What Is to Be Done?’ What effect does a
name with such strong associations to the Russian revolutionary tradition have
in Russia - or indeed the US and elsewhere - today? I’m reminded of course
that it is in Lenin’s pamphlet of that title that he sets out his understanding
of the party newspaper as ‘collective organiser’ - not only in its distribution
and consumption, but in its production also. How do you relate to that model
of the political press?
  And Jodi, with regard to your comment about I Cite enabling a different
mode of ‘talk’ or ‘writing’ to that of academic writing or email, is there
a political dimension to this? Put another way, you have been exploring
the theme of ‘communism’ in your blog, but does this link up with the
communicative form of blog talk at all - or are blogs always and only in the
‘belly of the beast’?
JD Is there a political dimension to I Cite’s enabling a different mode of
‘talk’ or ‘writing’? This is hard. My first answer is no. That is, the fact of
blogging, that there are blogs and bloggers, is not in itself any more politically
significant than the fact that there is television, radio, film, and newspapers.
But saying this immediately suggests the opposite and I need to answer yes.
Just as with any medium, blogs have political effects. Much of my academic
writing is about the ways that networked communication supports and furthers
communicative capitalism, helping reformat democratic ideals into means for
the intensification of capitalism - and hence inequality. Media democracy, mass
participation in personal media, is the political form of neoliberal capitalism.
Many participate, a few profit thereby. The fact that I talk about communism
on my blog is either politically insignificant or significant in a horrible way.
As with the activity of any one blog or blogger, it exemplifies and furthers
the hold of capitalism as it renders political activity into individual acts of
participation. Politics becomes nothing but the individual’s contribution to
the flow of circulating media.
Well, this is a pretty unpleasant way for me to think about what I do on
I Cite, why I have kept track of the extremes of finance capital for over five
years, why I blog about Žižek’s writing, why I’ve undertaken readings of
Lenin, etc. And lately, since the Egyptian revolution, the mass protests in
Greece and Spain, and the movement around Occupy Wall Street in the
US, I’ve been wondering if I’ve been insufficiently dialectical or have overplayed the negative. What this amazing outpouring of revolutionary energy
has made me see is the collective dimension of blogs and social media. The
co-production of a left communicative common, that stretches across media
and is constituted through photos and videos uploaded from the occupations,
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 161

massive reposting, forwarding, tweeting, and lots of blog commentary, and
that includes mainstream journalistic outlets like the Guardian, Al Jazeera, and
the New York Times, this new left communicative common seems, for now at
any rate, to have an urgency and intensity irreducible to any one of its nodes.
It persists as the flow between them and the way that this flow is creating
something like its own media storm or front (I’m thinking in part here of
some of the cool visualisations of October 15 on Twitter - the modelling of
the number of tweets regarding demonstrations in Rome looks like some kind
of mountain or solar flare). I like thinking of I Cite as one of the thousands
of elements contributing to this left communicative common.
DV When I talk about a ‘search for new political subjectivities’ I mean, first
of all, that we see our main task as an educational process - to research certain
issues and try to open up the process of research to larger audiences who
could start to undertake their own investigations. Formally, we are located
in the art world, but we are trying to escape from the professional art public
and address the issues that we deal with to audiences outside of the art world.
We also have a very clear political identification embodied in the name of
our collective. The question of ‘What is to be done?’ is clearly marked by
the history of leftist struggle and thinking. The name of our group is an
actualisation of the history of the workers’ movement and revolutionary
theory in Russia. The name in itself is a gesture of actualisation of the past. I
was very glad when the last Documenta decided to choose the same title for
their leitmotif on education, so that now a rather broad public would know
that this question comes from a novel written by the Russian nineteenth
century writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, and directly refers to the first socialist
workers’ self-organisation cells in Russia, which Lenin later actualised in his
famous 1902 pamphlet What Is to Be Done? Chto Delat? also sees itself as a
self-organizing collective structure that works through reflections on, and
redefinitions of, the political engagement of art in society.
To be engaged means for us that we practice art as a production of
knowledge, as a political and economic issue - and not a solitary contemplation
of the sublime or entertainment for the ruling class. It means to be involved
with all the complexities of contemporary social and political life and make
a claim that we, with all our efforts, are able to influence and change this
condition for the better. Whatever one means by ‘better’, we have an historical
responsibility to make the world more free, human and to fight alienation.
To openly display one’s leftism in the Russian historical moment of 2003
was not only a challenge in the sense of an artistic gesture; it also meant
adopting a dissident civic stance. For my generation, this was a kind of return
to Soviet times, when any honest artist was incapable of having anything to
do with official culture. In the same way, for us the contemporary Russian art
establishment had become a grotesque likeness of late-Soviet official culture,
to which it was necessary to oppose other values. So this was not a particularly

New Formations

unique experience for us: we simply returned to our dissident youth. Yet at
the same time, in the 2000s, we had more opportunities to realise ourselves,
and we saw ourselves as part of an overall movement. Immediately after us,
other new civic initiatives arose with which it was interesting to cooperate:
among them, the Pyotr Alexeev Resistance Movement (2004), the Institute
for Collective Action (2004), the Vpered Socialist Movement (2005), and the
Russian Social Forum (2005). It was they who became our main reference
group: we still draw our political legitimacy from our relationships with them
and with a number of newer initiatives that have clearly arisen under our
At the same time, having positioned our project as international, we began
discovering new themes and areas of struggle: the theory of the multitude,
immaterial labour, social forums, the movement of movements, urban
studies, research into everyday life, etc. We also encountered past thinkers
(such as Cornelius Castoriadis and Henri Lefebvre) who were largely absent
from Russian intellectual discourse, as well as newer figures that were much
discussed at that time (such as Negri, Virno, and Rancière). There was a
strong sense of discovery, and this always gives one a particular energy. We
consciously strove to take the position of Russian cultural leftists who were
open-minded and focused on involvement in international cultural activist
networks, and we have been successful in realizing this aim.
NT I was a little concerned that starting a conversation about the ‘materialities’
of publishing with a question about writing and text might lead us in the wrong
direction, but as is clear from Jodi’s and Dmitry’s comments, writing is of
course a material practice with its own technological and publishing forms,
cognitive and affective patterns, temporal structures, and subjectifying powers.
With regard to the materialities of digital publishing, your description, Jodi,
of a ‘media storm’ emerging from the Occupy movement is very suggestive
of the way media flows can aggregate into a kind of quasi-autonomous entity,
taking on a life of its own that has agential effects as it draws participants up
into the event. In the past that might have been the function of a manifesto
or slogan, but with social media, as you suggest, the contributing parts to
this agential aggregate become many and various, including particular blogs,
still and moving image files, analytic frameworks, slogans or memes (‘We
are the 99%’), but also more abstract forms such as densities of reposting
and forwarding, and, in that wonderful ‘VersuS’ social media visualisation
you mention, cartographies of data flow. Here a multiplicity of social media
communications, each with their particular communicative function on the
day, are converted into a strange kind of collective, intensive entity, a digital
‘solar flare’ as you put it.6 Its creators, ‘Art is Open Source’, have made
some intriguing comment about how this intensive mapping might be used
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 163

6. Art Is Open
Source, ‘VersuS
- Rome, October
15th, the Riots on
Social Networks’,

7. See http://

tactically in real time and, subsequently, as a means of rethinking the nature
and representational forms of collective action - it would be interesting in this
regard to compare the representational effects of this Twitter visualisation with
the photograph of the 1848 ‘monster meeting’ of the Chartists in Kennington
Common, said to be the first photograph of a crowd.7
But returning to your own publishing projects, I’m keen to hear more from
Pauline and Sean about the technical and organizational structure of Mute
and AAAAARG. Pauline, as Mute has developed from a printed magazine to
the current ‘distended’ arrangement of different platforms and institutions,
has it been accompanied by changes in the way the editorial group have
characterised or imagined Mute as a project? And can you comment more on
how Mute’s publishing platforms and institutional structures are organised? I
would be interested to hear too if you see Mute as having any kind of agential
effects or quasi-autonomy, along the lines mentioned above - are there ways
in which the magazine itself serves to draw certain relations between people,
things, and events?
PvMB Reading across these questions I would say that, in Mute’s case, a
decisive role has been played by the persistently auto-didactic nature of the
project; also the way we tend to see-saw between extreme stubbornness and
extreme pragmatism. Overall, our desire has been, simply, to produce the
editorial content that feels culturally, socially, politically ‘necessary’ in the
present day (and of course this is historically and even personally contingent;
a fundamentally embodied thing), and to find and develop the forms in
which to do that. These forms range from textual and visual styles and idioms
(artistic, experimental, academic, journalistic), the physical carriers for them,
and then the software systems and infrastructures for which these are also
converted and adapted. It bears re-stating that these need to be ones we are
able to access, work with; and that grant us the largest possible audience for
our work.
If you mix this ‘simple’ premise with the cultural and economic context
in which we found ourselves in the UK, then you have to account for its
interaction with a whole raft of phenomena, ranging from the dot com
boom and yBa cultures of the ’90s; the New Labour era (with its Creative
Industries and Regeneration-centric funding programmes); the increasing
corporatisation of mainstream cultural institutions and media; the explosion
of cheap, digital tools and platforms; the evolution of anti-capitalist struggles
and modes of activism; state incursion into/control over all areas of the
social body; discourses around self-organisation; the financial crisis; and so
on and so forth. In this context, which was one of easy credit and relatively
generous state funding for culture, Mute for a long time did manage to eek
out a place for its activity, adapting its working model and organisational
economy in a spirit of - as I said - radical pragmatism. The complex material
and organisational form that has resulted from this (which, to some people’s

New Formations

surprise, includes things like consultancy services in ‘digital strategy’ aimed
at the cultural sector, next to broadly leftist cultural critique) may indeed
have some kind of agential power, but it is really very hard to say what it is,
particularly since we resist systematic analysis of, and ‘singularising’ into,
homogenous categories of ‘audience’ or ‘client base’.
Listening to other small, independent publications analyse their
developmental process (like I recently did with, to name one example, the
journal Collapse), I think there are certain processes at play which recur in
many different settings.8 For me the most interesting and important of these
is the way that a journal or magazine can act as a kind of connection engine
with ‘strangers’, due to its function as a space of recognition, affinity, or
attractive otherness (with this I mean that it’s not just about recognising and
being semi-narcissistically drawn to an image of oneself, one’s own subjectivity
and proclivities; but the manner readers are drawn to ‘alien’ ideas that are
nonetheless compelling, troubling, or intriguing - hence drawing them
into the reader - and potentially even contributor - circle of that journal). If
there’s quite an intense editorial process at the ‘centre’ of the journal - like
there is, and has always been, with Mute - then this connection-engine draws
people in, propels people out, in a continual, dynamic process, which, due
to its intensity, very effectively blurs the lines of ‘professionalism’, friendship,
editorial, social, political praxis.
For fear of being too waffley or recherché about this, I’d say this was - if
any - the type of agential power Mute also had, and that this becomes heavily
internationalised by dint of its situation on the Internet. In terms of how
Editors then conjure that, each one would probably do it differently - some
seeing it more like a traditional (print) journal, some getting quite swallowed
up by discourses around openness/distributedness/community-participation.
Aspects of that characterisation have probably also changed over time, in the
sense that, circa 2006/7, we might have held onto a more strictly autonomous
figure for our project, which is something I don’t think even the most hopeful
are able to do now – given our partnerships with an ‘incubator’ project in
a university (Leuphana), or our state funding for a commercially oriented
publishing-technology project (Progressive Publishing System / PPS).9 Having
said all that, the minute any kind of direct or indirect manipulation of
content started to occur, our editors would cease to be interested, so whatever
institutional affiliations we might be open to now that we would not have been
several years ago, it remains a delicate balance.
NT Sean, you talk very evocatively of AAAAARG as a generative ‘scaffolding’
between institutions. Can you say more about this? Does this image of
scaffolding relate to discourses of media ‘independence’ or ‘institutional
critique’? And if scaffolding is the more abstract aspect of AAAAARG - its
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 165

8. http://www.
publicationsuniaayp; http://

9. http://www.

governing image - can you talk concretely about how specific aspects of the
AAAAARG platform function to further (and perhaps also obstruct) the
scaffolding? It would be interesting to hear too if this manner of existence
runs into any difficulties - do some institutions object to having scaffolding
constructed amidst them?
SD The image of scaffolding was simply a way of describing an orientation
with respect to institutions that was neither inside nor outside, dependent
nor independent, reformist or oppositional, etc. At the time, the institutions
I meant were specifically Universities, which seemed to have absorbed theory
into closed seminar rooms, academic formalities, and rarefied publishing
worlds. Especially after the momentum of the anti-globalisation movement
ran into the aftermath of September 11, criticality had more or less retreated,
exhausted within the well-managed circuits of the academy. ‘Scaffolding’ was
meant to allude to both networked communication media and to prefigurative,
improvisational quasi-institutions. It suggested the possibility of the office
worker who shuts her door and climbs out the window.
How did AAAAARG actually function with respect to this image? For
one, it circulated scans of books and essays outside of their normal paths
(trajectories governed by geographic distribution, price, contracts, etc.) so
that they became available for people that previously didn’t have access.
People eventually began to ask others for scans or copies of particular texts,
and when those scans were uploaded they stayed available on the site. When
a reading group uploaded a few texts as a way to distribute them among
members, those texts also stayed available. Everything stayed available. The
concept of ‘Issues’ provided a way for people to make subjective groupings
of texts, from ‘anti-austerity encampment movements’ to ‘DEPOSITORY TO
SCIENCES PLEASE.’ These groupings could be shared so that anyone might
add a text into an Issue, an act of collective bibliography-making. The idea
was that AAAAARG would be an infinite resource, mobilised (and nurtured)
by reading groups, social movements, fringe scholars, temporary projects,
students, and so on.
My history is too general to be accurate and what I’m about to write is too
specific to be true, but I’ll continue anyway: due in part to the seductiveness of
The Coming Insurrection as well as the wave of student occupations beginning in
2009 (many accompanied by emphatic communiqués with a theoretical force
and refusal to make demands) it felt as though a plug had been pulled. Or
maybe that’s just my impression. But the chain of events - from the revolution
in Tunisia to Occupy Everything, but also the ongoing haemorrhaging of
social wealth into the financial industry - has certainly re-oriented political
discourse and one’s sense of what is possible.
As regards your earlier question, I’ve never felt as though AAAARG has had
any agential power because it’s never really been an agent. It didn’t speak or

New Formations

make demands; it’s usually been more of a site of potential or vision of what’s
coming (for better or worse) than a vehicle for making change. Compared
to publishing bodies, it certainly never produced anything new or original,
rather it actively explored and exploited the affordances of asynchronous,
networked communication. But all of this is rather commonplace for what’s
called ‘piracy,’ isn’t it?
Anyway, yes, some entities did object to the site - AAAARG was ultimately
taken down by the publisher Macmillan over certain texts, including Beyond
NT AAAAARG’s name has varied somewhat over time. Can you comment
on this? Does its variability relate at all to the structure and functionality of
the web?
SD When people say or write the name they have done it in all kinds of
different ways, adding (or subtracting) As, Rs, Gs, and sometimes Hs. It’s had
different names over time, usually adding on As as the site has had to keep
moving. Since this perpetual change seems to be part of the nature of the
project, my convention has been to be deliberately inconsistent with the name.
I think one part of what you’re referring to about the web is the way in
which data moves from place to place in two ways - one is that it is copied
between directories or computers; and the other is that the addressing is
changed. Although it seems fairly stable at this point, over time it changes
significantly with things slipping in and out of view. We rely on search engines
and the diligence of website administrators to maintain a semblance of stability
(through 301 redirects, for example) but the reality is quite the opposite. I’m
interested in how things (files or simply concepts) circulate within this system,
making use of both visibility and invisibility. Another related dimension would
be the ease of citation, the ways in which both official (executed internally) and
unofficial (accomplished from the outside) copies of entire sites are produced
and eventually confront one another. I’ve heard of people who have backed
up the entirety of AAAAARG, some of whom even initiate new library projects
(such as Henry Warwick’s Alexandria project). The inevitable consequence
of all of this seems to be that the library manifests itself in new places and in
new ways over time - sometimes with additional As, but not always.
NT The expression ‘independent media’ may still have some tactical use to
characterise a publishing space and practice in distinction from commercial
media, but it’s clear from what Pauline and Sean say here that Mute and
AAAAARG have moved a long way from the analytic frameworks of media
‘independence’ as some kind of autonomous or liberated media space. We
might characterise these projects more as ‘topological’ media forms: neither
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 167

inside nor outside institutions, but emergent from the interaction of diverse
platforms, political conjunctures, contributors, readers, concepts, and
financial or legal structures. Media projects in this image of topology would be
immanent to those diverse material relations, not delimited and autonomous
bodies carved out from them. (Not, of course, that this kind of distributed
and mutable structure in itself guarantees progressive political effects.)
I’d like to continue with this discussion of media form and consider in
more detail some specific instances of experimentation with publishing
practice. It seems to me that it is significant that most of you have a relation
to art practice. The work that Humanities researchers and political activists
generate with poststructuralist or Marxist theory should necessarily be selfcritical of its textual and media form, but it frequently fails to be so. Whereas
reflexive approaches would seem to be less easily avoided in art practice, at
least once it engages with the same body of theory - shoot me down if that’s
naive! In any case, I would venture that experimentation in publishing form
has a central place in the media projects we’re discussing. Alessandro, you
make that point, above, that Neural has ‘always experimented with publishing
in various ways’. Can you describe particular examples? It would be very
interesting to hear from you about Neural in this regard, but also about your
art projects ‘Amazon Noir’ and ‘Face to Facebook’.
AL Neural started surrounded by the thrills of the rising global ‘telematic’
networks in 1993, reflecting an interest in intertwining culture and technology
with publishing (either cyberpunk science fiction, internet artworks, or hacker
technologies and practices) in both print and digital media. So, printing a
magazine about digital art and culture in that historical moment meant to
be surrounded by stimuli that pushed beyond the usual structural design
forms and conceptual paradigms of publishing. After almost two decades we
can recognise also that that time was the beginning of the most important
mutation of publishing, through its new networked, screen-based and real
time dimensions. And the printed page started also to have a different role
in the late 2000s, but this role is still to be extensively defined.
At that time, in the mid-1990s, Neural tried to experiment with publishing
through different perspectives. First, aesthetically: the page numbering was
strictly in binary numbers, just zeros and ones, even if the printer started to
complain that this was driving him crazy. But also sensorially: we referred
to optical art, publishing large ‘optical’ artworks in the centrefold; and we
published ‘stereograms’ apparently rude black and white images, that when
viewed from a different angle revealed a three-dimensional picture, tricking
the readers’ eyes and drawing them into a new visual dimension for a while.
And finally, politically: in issue #18 we published a hacktivist fake, a double
page of fake stickers created by the Italian hacker laboratories’ network.
These fake stickers sarcastically simulated the real ones that are mandatory
on any book or CD/DVD sold in Italy, because of the strict law supporting the

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national Authors’ and Musicians’ Society (SIAE). On the ones we published the
‘Unauthorized Duplication Prohibited’ sentence was replaced by: ‘Suggested
Duplication on any Media’.
As another example, in issue #30 we delivered ‘Notepad’ to all our
subscribers - an artwork by the S.W.A.M.P. duo. It was an apparently ordinary
yellow legal pad, but each ruled line, when magnified, reveals itself to be
‘microprinted’ text enumerating the full names, dates, and locations of each
Iraqi civilian death on record over the first three years of the Iraq War. And
in issue #40 we’ve printed and will distribute in the same way a leaflet of
the Newstweek project (a device which hijacks online major news websites,
changing them while you’re accessing internet on a wireless network) that at
first glance seems to be a classic telco corporate leaflet ad. All these examples
try to expand the printed page to an active role that transcends its usual mode
of private reading.
With these and other experiments in publishing, we’ve tried to avoid the
ephemerality that is the norm in ‘augmented’ content, where it exists just for
the spectacular sake of it. Placing a shortcut to a video through a QR code
can be effective if the connection between the printed resource and the online
content is not going to disappear soon, otherwise the printed information
will remain but the augmentation will be lost. And instead of augmenting the
experience in terms of entertainment, I’m much more in favour of triggering
specific actions (like supporting the online processes) and changes (like
taking responsibility for activating new online processes) through the same
smartphone-based technologies.
Another feature of our experimentation concerns the archive. The printing
and distribution of paper content has become an intrinsic and passive form of
archiving, when this content is preserved somewhere by magazine consumers,
in contrast to the potential disposability of online content which can simply
disappear at any minute if the system administrator doesn’t secure enough
copies. This is why I’ve tried to develop both theoretically and practically the
concept of the ‘distributed archive’, a structure where people personally take
the responsibility to preserve and share printed content. There are already
plenty of ‘archipelagos’ of previously submerged archives that would emerge,
if collectively and digitally indexed, and shared with those who need to access
them. I’m trying to apply this to Neural itself in the ‘Neural Archive’ project,
an online database with all the data about the publications received by Neural
during the years, which should be part of a larger network of small institutions,
whose final goal would be to test and then formulate a viable model to easily
build and share these kind of databases.
Turning to my projects outside of Neural, these social and commercial
aspects of the relation between the materiality of the printed page and the
manipulability of its digital embodiment were foregrounded in Amazon Noir,
an artwork which I developed with Paolo Cirio and Ubermorgen.10 This
work explored the boundaries of copyrighting text, examining the intrinsic
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 169


technological paradox of protecting a digital text from unauthorised copying,
especially when dealing with the monstrous amount of copyrighted content
buyable from Amazon features a powerful and attractive
marketing tool called ‘Search Inside the Book’ which allows potential
customers to search the entire text of a book; Amazon Noir merely exploited
this mechanism by stretching it to its own logical conclusion. The software
script we used obtained the entire text and then automatically saved it as a
PDF file: once we had established the first sentence of the text, the software
then used the last words of this sentence as a search term for retrieving the
first words of the next sentence. By reiterating this process (a total of 2,000
to 3,000 queries for an average book) and automatically reconstructing the
fragments, the software ended up collecting the entire text. In order to better
visualise the process, we created an installation: two overhead projectors,
displaying the project’s logo and a diagram of the internal workings of our
software, as well as a medical incubator containing one of the ‘stolen’ (and
digitally reprinted) books. The book we chose to ‘steal’ was (of course) Steal
This Book, the American 1970s counterculture classic by the activist Abbie
Hoffman. In a sense, we literally ‘re-incarnated’ the book in a new, mutated
physical form. But we also put up a warning sign near the incubator:
The book inside the incubator is the physical embodiment of a complex
hacking action. It has been obtained exploiting the Amazon ‘Search Inside The Book’
tool. Take care because it’s an illegitimate and premature son born from the relationship
between Amazon and Copyright. It’s illegitimate because it’s an unauthorized print of a
copyright-protected book. And it’s premature because the gestation of this relationship’s
outcome is far from being mature.
We asked ourselves: what’s the difference between digitally scanning the text
of a book we already own, and obtaining it through Amazon Noir? In strictly
conceptual terms, there is no difference at all, other then the amount of time
we spent on the project. We wished to set up our own Amazon, definitively
circumventing the confusion of endless purchase-inducing stimuli. So we
stole the hidden and disjointed connections between the sentences of a text,
to reveal them for our own amusement and edification; we stole the digital
implementation of synaptic connections between memories (both human and
electronic) created by a giant online retailer in order to amuse and seduce us
into compulsive consumption; we were thieves of memory (in a McLuhanian
sense), stealing for the right to remember, the right to independently and
freely construct our own physical memory.
Finally, in Face to Facebook (developed again with Paolo Cirio and part of
the ‘Hacking Monopolism’ trilogy together with Amazon Noir and Google
Will Eat Itself) we ‘stole’ 1 million Facebook profiles’ public data, filtering
them through their profile pictures with face-recognition software, and then

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posted all the filtered data on a custom-made dating website, sorted by their
facial expression characteristics.11 In the installation we produced, we glued
more than 1,700 profile pictures on white-painted square wood panels,
and projected also the software diagram and an introductory video. Here
the ‘printed’ part deals more with materializing ‘stolen’ personal online
information. The ‘profile pictures’ treated as public data by Facebook, and
scraped with a script by Paolo and me, once properly printed are a terrific
proof of our online fragility and at the same time of how ‘printing’ is becoming
a contemporary form of ‘validation’. In fact we decided to print them on the
type of photographic paper once used for passport pictures (the ‘silk’ finish).
The amazing effect of all these faces together was completely different when
visualised in a video (‘overwhelming’ when zooming in and out), printed with
ink-jet printers (‘a huge amount of recognisable faces’), and on its proper
‘validating’ medium, photographic paper (giving the instant impression that
‘all those people are real’). What does it mean when the picture (with your
face) with which you choose to represent yourself in the potential arena of
700 Millions Facebook users is printed, re-contextualised, and exhibited
somewhere else, with absolutely no user control? Probably, it reinforces the
concept that print still has a strong role in giving information a specific status,
because more than five centuries of the social use of print have developed a
powerful instinctive attitude towards it.
NT What you say here Alessandro about Neural’s concern to ‘expand the
printed page’ is very suggestive of the possibilities of print in new media
environments. Could you comment more on this theme by telling us how
you understand ‘post-digital print’, the topic of your current book project?
AL Post-Digital Print: the Mutation of Publishing since 1894 is the outcome
of quite extensive research that I carried out at the Willem De Kooning
Academy as guest researcher in the Communication Design program run by
Florian Cramer. The concept behind it is to understand both historically and
strategically the new role of print in the 2010s, dealing with the prophets
of its death and its digital competitors, but also its history as something of a
perfect medium, the oldest still in use and the protagonist of countless media
experiments, not to mention its possible evolution and further mutations. The
concept of post-digital print can be better explained through a description of
a few of its chapters. In the first chapter, I analyze ten different moments in
history when the death of paper was announced (before the digital); of course,
it never happened, proving that perhaps even current pronouncements
will prove to be mistaken (by the way, the first one I’ve found dates back to
1894, which explains the subtitle). In the second chapter I’ve tried to track
a history of how avant-garde and underground movements have used print
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 171


tactically or strategically, reflecting or anticipating its evolutions. In the third
chapter I go deeper in analyzing the ‘mutation’ of paper in recent years, and
what ‘material paper represents in immaterial times’. And the sixth chapter
addresses the basis on which print can survive as an infrastructure and a
medium for sharing content and experience, and also as a way of generating
collective practice and alliances. Beyond this book, I’m continuing to research
the relationship between print and online in various forms, especially artistic
ones. Personally, I think this relationship will be one of the pivotal media
arenas of change (and so of new potential territories for experimentation
and innovation) in the coming years.

12. Theodor
W. Adorno,
Musings’ in Notes
to Literature Volume
2, Shierry Weber
Nicholsen (trans),
Rolf Tiedemann
(ed), New York,
Columbia University
Press, 1992, p20.
13. Stéphane
Mallarmé, ‘The
Book: A Spiritual
Bradford Cook
(trans), in Hazard
Adams (ed), Critical
Theory Since Plato,
New York, Harcourt
Brace, 1971, p691.

NT Taking a lead from some of these points, I’d like to turn to the material
forms of the book and the archive. Sensory form has historically played a key
role in constituting the body, experience, and metaphors of the book and the
archive. For both Adorno and Mallarmé, the physical and sensory properties of
the book are key to its promise, which lies to a large degree in its existence as
a kind of ‘monad’. For Adorno, the book is ‘something self-contained, lasting,
hermetic - something that absorbs the reader and closes the lid over him, as it
were, the way the cover of the book closes on the text’.12 And for Mallarmé, ‘The
foldings of a book, in comparison with the large-sized, open newspaper, have
an almost religious significance. But an even greater significance lies in their
thickness when they are piled together; for then they form a tomb in miniature
for our souls’.13 I find these to be very appealing characterisations of the book,
but today they come with a sense of nostalgia, and the strong emphasis they
place on the material form and physical characteristics of the printed book
appears to leave little room for a digital future of this medium. Sean, I want
to ask you two related questions on this theme. What happens to the sensory
properties of paper in AAAAARG - are they lost, reconfigured, replaced with
other sensory experiences? And what happens to the book in AAAAARG, once
it is digitised and becomes less a self-enclosed and autonomous object than, as
you put it, part of an ‘infinite resource’?
SD It is a romantic way of thinking about books - and a way that I also find
appealing - but of course it’s a characterisation that comes after the fact
of the book; it’s a way that Adorno, Mallarmé, and others have described
and generalised their own experiences with these objects. I see no reason
why future readers’ experiences with various forms of digital publishing
won’t cohere into something similar, feelings of attachment, enclosure,
impenetrability, and so on.
AAAARG is stuck in between both worlds. So many of the files on the site
are images of paper (usually taken with a scanner, but occasionally a camera)
packaged in a PDF. You can see it in the underlines, binding gradients,
folds, stains, and tears; and you can often, but not always, see the labour and
technology involved in making the transformation from physical to digital.

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So one’s experience is often to be perhaps more aware of the paper that is
not there. Of course, there are other files which have completely divorced
themselves from any sense of the paper, whether because they are texts that
are native to the digital - or because of a particularly virtuosic scanning job.
There are problems with the nostalgia for books - a nostalgia that I am
most certainly stricken with. We can’t take the book object out of the political
economy of the book, and our attempts to recreate ‘the book’ in the digital will
very likely also import legal and economic structures that ought to be radically
reformulated or overthrown. In this context, as in others, there seem to be
a few ways that this is playing out, simultaneously: one is the replication of
existing territories and power structures by extending them into the digital;
another, in the spirit of the California Ideology, would be that attempt to use
the digital as a leading edge in reshaping the public, of subsuming it into
the market; and a third could be trying to make the best of this situation,
with access to tools and each other, in order to build new structures that are
more connected to those contesting the established and emerging forces of
And what’s more, it seems like the physical book itself is becoming
something else - material is recombined and re-published and re-packaged
from the web, such that we now have many more books being published each
year than ever before - perhaps not as self-enclosed as it was for Adorno. I
don’t want to make equivalences between the digital and physical book - there
are very real physiological and psychical differences between holding ink on
paper versus holding a manufactured hard drive, coursing with radio waves
and emitting some frequency of light - but I think the break is really staggered
and imperfect. We’ll never really lose the book and the digital isn’t confined
to pixels on a screen.
NT Turning to social media, I want to ask Jodi to comment more on the
technical structures of the blog. In Blog Theory you propose an intriguing
concept of ‘whatever blogging’ to describe the association of blogs with the
decline of symbolic efficiency, as expressions are severed from their content
and converted into quantitative values and graphic representations of
communication flow.14 The more we communicate, it seems, the more what is
communicated tends toward abstraction, and the evacuation of consequence
save for the perpetuation of communication. Can you describe the technical
features and affective qualities of this process, how the field of ‘whatever
blogging’ is constituted? And how might we oppose these tendencies? Can
we reaffirm writing as deliberation and meaning? Are there any ways to make
progressive use of the ‘whatever’ field?
JD The basic features of blogs include posts (which are time-stamped,
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 173

14. Jodi Dean, Blog
Theory: Feedback and
Capture in the Circuits
of Drive, Cambridge,
Polity Press, 2010.

permalinked, and archived), comments, and links. These features aren’t
necessarily separate insofar as posts have permalinks and can themselves
be comments; for example, that a specific blog has disabled its comment
feature doesn’t preclude the possibility of a discussion arising about that blog
elsewhere. Two further features of blogs arise from their settings: hits (that
is, viewers, visitors) and a kind of generic legibility, or, what we might call
the blog form (the standard visual features associated with but not exclusive
to popular platforms like Blogger and Typepad). I bring up the latter point
since so much of online content is now time-stamped, permalinked, and
archived, yet we would not call it a blog (the New York Times website has blogs
but these are sub-features of the site, not the site itself). All these features
enable certain kinds of quantification: bloggers can know how many hits we
get on a given day (even minute by minute), we can track which posts get
the most hits, which sites send us the most visitors, who has linked to us or
re-blogged our content, how popular we are compared to other blogs, etc.
Now, this quantification is interesting because it accentuates the way that,
regardless of its content, any post, comment, or link is a contribution; it is an
addition to a communicative field. Half the visitors to my blog could be rightwing bad guys looking for examples of left-wing lunacy - but each visitor counts
the same. Likewise, quantitatively speaking, there is no difference between
comments that are spam, from trolls, or seriously thoughtful engagements.
Each comment counts the same (as in post A got 25 comments; post B didn’t
get any). Each post counts the same (an assumption repeated in surveys of
bloggers - we are asked how many times we post a day). Most bloggers who
blog for pay are paid on the basis of the two numbers: how many posts and
how many comments per post. Whether the content is inane or profound is
The standardisation and quantification of blogging induce a kind of
contradictory sensibility in some bloggers. On the one hand, our opinion
counts. We are commenting on matters of significance (at least to someone
- see, look, people are reading what we write! We can prove it; we’ve got the
numbers!). Without this promise or lure of someone, somewhere, hearing
our voice, reading our words, registering that we think, opine, and feel,
there wouldn’t be blogging (or any writing for another). On the other hand,
knowing that our blog is one among hundreds of millions, that we have very
few readers, and we can prove it - look, only 100 hits today and that was to
the kitty picture - provides a cover of anonymity, the feeling that one could
write absolutely anything and it would be okay, that we are free to express
what we want without repercussion. So bloggers (and obviously I don’t have
in mind celebrity bloggers or old-school ‘A-list bloggers’) persist in this
affective interzone of unique importance and liberated anonymity. It’s like
we can expose what we want without having to deal with any consequences
- exposure without exposure. Thus, a few years ago there were all sorts of
stories about people losing their jobs because of what they wrote on their

New Formations

blogs. Incidentally, the same phenomenon occurs in other social media - the
repercussions of indiscrimination that made their way to Facebook.
The overall field of social media, then, relies on this double sense of
exposing without being exposed, of being unique but indistinguishable. What
registers is the addition to the communicative field, the contribution, not the
content, not the meaning. Word clouds are great examples here - they are
graphic representations of word frequency. They can say how many times a
word is used, but not the context or purpose or intent or connotation of its
use. So a preacher could use the word ‘God’ as many times as the profaner;
the only difference is that the latter also uses the words ‘damn it.’
Can this field where whatever is said counts the same as any other thing
that is said be used progressively? Not really; I mean only in a very limited
way. Sure, there are spam operations and ways to try to manipulate search
engine results. But if you think about it, most critical work relies on a level of
meaning. Satire, irony, comedy, deconstruction, détournement all invoke a
prior meaningful setting into which they intervene. Rather than ‘progressive
use of the whatever field’ I would urge a more direct and decisive assertion of
collective political will, something that cuts through the bland whateverness
without commitments to recognise that this is nothing but the maintenance
of the malleable inhabitants of capitalism when what is really needed is the
discipline of communist collectives.
NT Dmitry, the Chto Delat? group produces work across a range of media film, radio, performance, installation, website, blog - but the media form of
the ‘newspaper’ has an especially significant place for you: Chto Delat? began
its collective work through the production of a newspaper and has continued
to produce newspapers as a key part of its exhibitions and interventions.
Many will argue that the newspaper is now a redundant or ‘retro’ media form,
given the superior distributive and interactive capacities of digital media.
But such assessments fail to appreciate the complex form and functionality
of the newspaper, which is not merely a means of information distribution.
It is noteworthy in this regard that the Occupy movement (which has been a
constant throughout this conversation) has been producing regular printed
newspapers from the precarious sites of occupation, when an exclusive focus
on new media might have been more practical.
So, I would like to ask you some questions about the appeal of the media
form of the newspaper. First, Chto Delat?’s emphasis on self-education is
influenced by Paulo Freire, but on this theme of the newspaper it is the
pedagogical practice of Jean Oury and Félix Guattari that comes to my mind.
For Oury and Guattari (building on work by Célestin Freinet on ‘institutional
pedagogy’) the collectively produced publication works as a therapeutic ‘third
object’, a mediator to draw out, problematise, and transversalise social and
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 175

15. Gary Genosko,
Félix Guattari: A
Critical Introduction,
Cambridge, Pluto
Press, 2009;
Genosko, ‘Busted:
Félix Guattari
and the Grande
Encyclopédie des
Rhizomes 11/12
(2005/6), http://
html ; François
Dosse, Gilles Deleuze
and Félix Guattari:
Intersecting Lives, D.
Glassman (trans),
New York, Columbia
University Press,

16. Christina
Kiaer, Imagine
No Possessions:
The Socialist
Objects of Russian
London, The
MIT Press, 2005;
Nicholas Thoburn,
‘Communist Objects
and the Values of
Printed Matter’,
Social Text 28, 2
(2010): 1-30.
17. Gilles Deleuze
and Félix Guattari,
What Is Philosophy?
G. Burchell and H.
Tomlinson (trans),
London, Verso,
1994, pp167-8,

libidinal relations among groups, be they psychiatric associations or political
collectives. Gary Genosko has published some fascinating work on this aspect
of Guattari’s praxis, and it comes across clearly in the Dosse biography of
Deleuze and Guattari.15 With this question of group pedagogy in mind, what is
the role of the newspaper in the self-organisation and self-education practice
of Chto Delat?
DV The interrelations between all forms of our activity is very important, Chto
Delat? is conceived as an integral composition: we do research on a film project
and some materials of this research get published in the newspaper and in
our on-line journal (which is on-line extension of the newspaper); we start to
work on the publication and its outcomes inspire work on a new installation;
we plan an action and build a collaboration with new actors and it triggers a
new publication and so on. But in general, the newspaper is used as a medium
of contextualisation and communication with the broader community, and as
an interventionist pressure on mainstream cultural production.
I did not know about Guattari’s ideas here, but I totally agree. Yes, for us
the newspaper is also a ‘third object’ which carries a therapeutic function when it is printed despite all the impossibilities of making it happen, after all
the struggle around content, finance, and so on, the collective gets a mirror
which confirms its own fragile and crisis-ridden existence.
NT If we turn to the more physical and formal qualities, does the existence of
the newspaper as an ‘object’ have any value or significance to you? Chto Delat?
has made enticing engagements with the Constructivist project - you talk of
‘actualising’ Constructivism in new circumstances. To that end, I wonder if the
newspaper may be a way of actualising the Constructivist theme of the object
as ‘comrade’, as Rodchenko put it, where the revolution is the liberation of the
human and the object, what Arvatov called the ‘intensive expressiveness’ of
matter?16 Another way of thinking this theme of the newspaper as a political
object is through what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘monument’, a compound
of matter and sensation that ‘stands up by itself ’, independent of its creator,
as a product of the event and a projection into the future:
the monument is not something commemorating a past, it is a bloc of
present sensations that owe their preservation only to themselves and that
provide the event with the compound that celebrates it. The monument’s
action is not memory but fabulation … [I]t confides to the ear of the future
the persistent sensations that embody the event: the constantly renewed
suffering of men and women, their recreated protestations, their constantly
resumed struggle.17
DV Yes, the materiality (the ‘weight’) of newspaper is really important.
You should carry it for distribution, pass it from hand to hand, there is an

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important pressure of piles of newspapers stocked in the exhibition halls as takeaway artifacts (really monumental), or used as a wallpaper for installations.
We love these qualities, and the way they organise a routine communication
inside the group: ‘Hi there! Do you have newspapers to distribute at the rally
tomorrow? How many? Should we post a new batch?’ At a more subjective
level, I love to get the freshly printed newspaper in my hands; yes, it is a drug,
particularly in my case, when all the processes of production come through
my hands - first the idea, then editorial communication, lay-out, graphics,
finance, and then print.
NT On this theme, I want to ask Pauline if you can comment on the place
of printed paper in the history and future of Mute? I have in mind your
experiments with paper stock, the way paper interfaces with digital publishing
platforms (or fails to), the pleasures, pains, and constraints of producing a
printed product in the digital environment.
PvMB All this talk of newspapers is making me very nostalgic. It was the
first print format that we experimented with, and I agree it’s one of the most
powerful - both in terms of the historical resonances it can provoke, and
in terms of what you can practically do with it (which includes distributing
editorial to many people for quite low costs, being experimental with lay-out,
type, images; and yes, working through this ‘third object’, with all that that
might imply). The Scottish free-circulation newspaper, Variant, is testimony to
this, having hung onto the format much more doggedly than Mute did, and
continuing to go strong, in spite of all the difficult conditions for production
that all of us face.18 There again, where Variant has shown the potential power
and longevity of freely distributed critical content (which they also archive fully
on the web), the rise and rise of free newspapers - wherein editorial functions
as nothing more than a hook for advertising, targeted at different ‘segments’
of the market – shouldn’t be forgotten either, since this might represent the
dominant function this media form presently holds.
I shouldn’t take too much time talking about the specifics here, but the
shelf-display-and-sale model of distribution which Mute chose for its printed
matter - on the eve of the assault this suffered from free online editorial
- landed us in some kind of Catch-22 which, nearly two decades later, we
still can’t quite figure the exit to. Important coordinates here are: the costs
involved in developing high quality editorial (research, commissioning,
layout, proofing, printing; but also the maintenance of an organisation with
- apart from staff - reliable systems for admin, finance, legal, a constitutional
apparatus); the low returns you get on ‘specialist’ editorial via shelf-sales
(particularly if you can’t afford sustained Marketing/Distribution, and the
offline distribution infrastructure itself starts to crumble under the weight of
Materialities Of Independent Publishing 177

18. Since this
conversation took
place, Variant has lost
its Creative Scotland
funding and has
(temporarily, one
hopes) suspended
publication. See

online behemoths like Amazon); and then finally the lure to publish online,
borne of promises of a global audience and the transcendence of a lot of
those difficulties.
Mute’s original newspaper format constituted an art-like gesture: it
encapsulated many things we wanted to speak about, but in ‘mute’, visual,
encoded form - epitomised by the flesh tones of the FT-style newspaper,
which insisted on the corporeal substrate of the digital revolution, as well as
its intimate relationship to speculation and investment finance (a condition,
we sought to infer, that it shared with all prior communications and
infrastructural revolutions). Thereafter, our experiments with paper were an
engagement with the ‘Catch-22’ described above, whose negative effects we
nevertheless perceived as mere obstacles to be negotiated, as we continued
hopefully, stubbornly, to project a global community of readers we might
connect with and solidarities we might forge - as everyone does, I guess.
We didn’t want to change our editorial to suit the market, so instead focused
on the small degrees of freedom and change afforded to us by its carrier,
i.e. the varying magazine formats at our disposal (quarterly/biannual, small/
large, full colour/mono, lush/ziney). In retrospect, we may have overplayed
the part played by desire in reading and purchasing habits (in the sense that
we thought we could sway potential purchasers to support Mute by plying
them with ever more ‘appealing’ objects). Be that as it may, it did push us
to mine this liminal zone between paper and pixel that Sean evokes so well
- particularly, I’d say, in the late ’90s/early 2000s, when questions over the
relationship between the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ raged to nigh obsessional levels,
and magazines’ visual languages also grappled with their representation, or
Where we stand now, things are supposed to have stabilised somewhat.
The medial and conceptual hyper experimentation triggered by projected
‘digital futures’ has notionally died down, as mature social media and digital
publishing platforms are incorporated into our everyday lives, and the
behaviours associated with them normalised (the finger flicks associated with
the mobile or tablet touch screen, for example). Somewhere along the line you
asked about ePublishing. Well, things are very much up in the air on this front
currently, as independent publishers test the parameters and possibilities of
ePublishing while struggling to maintain commercial sustainability. Indeed, I
think the independent ePublishing situation, exciting though it undoubtedly
is, actually proves that this whole narrative of normalisation and integration
is a complete fiction; that, if there is any kind of ‘monument’ under collective
construction right now, it is one built under the sign of panic and distraction.
This conversation took place by email over the course of a few months from October
2011. Sponsorship was generously provided by CRESC (Centre for Research on SocioCultural Change),


New Formations


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