We lack a people. We seek a people – Paul Klee
Sometimes I think about the concept of the relation between what we call writers, what we call publishers, and what we call readers. I don’t think about it enough to really have it figured out. Also, I don’t really understand what a publisher is. Publishers to me seem kind of like RSL clubs: I know they still have more influence than they should, but I can’t help but think that they are largely obsolete. Independent publishers, the kind that I do know a little something about through knowing people involved in running them, seem kind of like bowls clubs: genuinely wonderful institutions, and paradoxically at least as open to adaptation as larger corporations. As irrefutable proof of this mental image, I remind people of Local Consumption Press’ (and now that I goggle, I presume that they are no more?) Sydney launch of Strawberry Hills Forever, held at a bowls club.
My general rule of thumb though for conceiving of how publishers relate to their public, is that at all times, if they can figure out what it is, they give the public what they want. Now in some cases this is very easy. After Harry Potter changed the landscape of publishing, they shrewdly figured out that the public wanted more Harry Potter books. Which was clever, because they could have, say, gambled on the principle of supply and demand, and sat on their copyright, refusing to release books en masse, instead releasing one copy at a time for sale, auctioning them off to the parents of the global elite, as a kind of speculative investment, aggressively prosecuting against any pirate publications. But they didn’t. And the houses that didn’t have the rights to Harry, tried to put out their own versions.
Translation, as I see it, represents the potential for a kind of radical rupture in each language’s literary system. Nobody wants what they can’t understand. Translation brings something into your language that you never even wanted. Not only did you not know that Roberto Bolaño was writing, or that he existed, but if he lived in your house, and he got up every morning and read his latest manuscript to you page by page, you would tell him to please speak English, and go back to your cornflakes, and your Twilight: New Moon. Translation, as with several other speculative forms of literature, tries to break open a cosmos, and engender a people, out of nothing (well, nothing is a little extreme in plural societies, but who would know that watching an ABC book show).
But that seems like a hard slog, so I thought that maybe I would try something new on this blog for a while. Why not pretend I’m a publisher, and focus my energy on the principle of recursion. I was looking through my blog stats today at what I’ve always considered to be the most interesting section of website analytics: the search terms that lead users to a particular site.
It’s interesting for a number of reasons. One the one hand, it shows you something about referentiality/relationality/indexicality in the language practice present in a particular online environment. Or at least, it reveals as much about that nexus as the particular algorithms employed by google, or, say, altavista are capable of. Also, they often paradoxically reveal how search engines can lead people to the exact opposite of where they want to go*, since they are not always all that efficient at distinguishing between direct and indirect language, for example. Meaning that if I write a post analysing and critiquing the language used by Andrew Bolt, for example, chances are I’m going to get a whole bunch of outraged A Current Affair viewers stopping by to try to find out exactly how many “aboriginals” (don’t use an adjective as a noun for a people, nobody calls you “bigoteds”). But most of all, it’s a clue to what the people who came to my blog without previously knowing what it was, came here for.
So the experiment is to become a publisher. That is, to give the people what they want. To begin with, I have a backlog, of the search terms that have brought people here in the past. I’m excited to learn about the “Moroccan war between 1913 and 1926”. I don’t know what I’ll have to say about it, but we’ll see.
The other thing that interests me about this project is that it sets in place the architecture for a kind of request system. In that, any reader of the blog can pick out enough terms at random that they know to have appeared on this site, enter them into a search engine, and they will appear in my search term inbox, as a kind of challenge to find the link between them. Now I’m not saying that will happen, but I would certainly enjoy it if it did.
Now before I start, I have to acknowledge that I did steal this idea, from myself, about five years ago. But that was a one off. This is a process-based project. I’m not going to give it a time limit. It will either be productive or it won’t.
*of course, this is actually a fundamental quality of language. there is no adequate delimiting or erasing force in language. We can never speak out against something. Every time we call out the name of a word to abolish it, the word cranes its neck around and looks at us, as if to say: yes, what did you want?