In the fate of the small magazine lies the fate of culture itself—culture, at least, as many of us would insist on having it. Through the small magazine ideas, values, and feelings course through a readership, however small or large, affecting them in some way, influencing their action, and shaping discourse. In the fate of the magazine, arguably, also lies the fate of politics. What did Hermann Goring say: “When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”? At a micro level, the small magazine more often than not offers models of production, distribution, and exchange divergent (if not downright opposed to) those of the dominant society. Given these facts, one can look to the small magazine as an emergent venue for alternative cultural formations and practices.
While I would argue that the majority of small magazines pose alternative models of production, distribution, exchange, and reception—if only to project kinder, gentler versions of surplus value-based economy (a.k.a. Capitalism)—more rarely does the small magazine inject aesthetics with explicit political content, nor with forms which should mobilize aesthetics for political action. One of the most famous magazines for politicizing aesthetic forms is L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, whose legacy Roof books/SEGUE Foundation is largely responsible for, having published books by the magazine’s editors (Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein) and many of its contributors over the years. Of the same generation, Bay Area magazines like This and Soup, as well forums such as Poetics Journal and Sulfur, have offered hubs for poetries injected with politics. In the past decades many magazine projects have followed in the wake of these legendary publications—so many that I will not attempt to name them here—offering new articulations of the relationship of politics to aesthetics. Alongside these magazines, small presses obviously play a huge roll in bringing book-length projects, translations, and emergent works of criticism and scholarship into the world.
Today SEGUE series celebrates Cannot Exist, a small magazine devoted to intersections between poetry, philosophy, and politics. Cannot Exist—the 4th issue of which just appeared—is edited by Andy Gricevich of Madison, Wisconsin, and features writings by those present today—myself, Laura Sims, Lawrence Griffin, Rodrigo Toscano, Rick Burkhardt, Christina Strong—as well as many others including Rob Halpern, Judith Goldman, Alan Davis, Lisa Jarnot, Roberto Harrison, and Kevin Killian. Like Stacy Szymaszek’s Gam, something that strikes me about Cannot Exist is the magazine’s blend of “unknowns” with established writers, as well as those local to the Midwest (and Wisconsin in particular) with those from far and wide in the continental United States. Something else striking is the various range of styles and approaches Cannot Exist includes under the categories “philosophy,” “politics” and "poetry".
Cannot Exist may also has one of the best names of any small magazine, ever!—being right up there with Ed Sanders' Fuck You! and Bill Robert’s Sal Mimeo. Running a Google search on “cannot exist” earlier today I turned up the following headlines: “A Bernie Madoff scam cannot exist under ‘traditional’ portfolio management”; “An omnipotent being cannot exist: Does evil show that an all powerful being can exist?”; “these awesome breaches in space-time do not and indeed cannot exist”. At the bottom of the headlines is a listing for Stan Brakhage’s 1994 film, Cannot Exist, where I suspect Andy came up with the name for the magazine. Regardless of its origin, the name Cannot Exist points to something that small magazines enact, which is the fact that culture is constantly made at the margins—places where something may not seem to exist at all—and from those margins often tend to make new centers, eclipsing and displacing existing ones. In the name Cannot Exist I also hear a wonderful play on anti-essentialist philosophies, in which politics and ethics trump ontology (i.e., metaphysical noodling).
Thank you for attending today’s readings, and please stay for a conversation afterwards where we hope you may respond to the presenters and share your thoughts about small magazine history in its relationship to politics.
Without further adieu I give you Andy Gricevich, editor of Cannot Exist …