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September 29, 2010

USP / ESP

It isn't normal to be putting out a specialist literary magazine in print these days. Everything is online. Supposedly. And online is cheap, gets more readers, can be nicely designed, etc. It's especially not normal to be doing this in the surrealist/absurdist tradition, which is exactly why it needs to be done. (I'll save raving about why surrealism needs to come back into the public eye for another blog.)

We have to think about where our edges are. Being in print isn't unique, but can become so if done well enough. Most printed literary magazines fall into a small range of sizes, the primary two being A3 folded or royal octavo, roughly (bigger than A5, not quite A4), saddle-stitched (that's stapled in lay terms) or perfect bound (with a spine). These formats are standard for a reason – printers have the equipment to put these out at a reasonable price, with less hand-finishing. Prose magazines like The Idler or Granta actually look more like books than magazines, but they're called the latter instead of compendiums or anthologies because they're published regularly.

So Polarity's shape and feel was an important distinction to be made. Our models have beautiful looks – magazines like The Believer, with its slightly-off standard shape, retro-vibe, or McSweeney's, published by the same independent team, which has a unique design every issue, from mock-broadsheets, to a travel-case shape complete with haircomb and a story by Robert Coover printed on one suite from a deck of cards. We went for a solid 21cm x 21cm for two reasons: firstly, it came to me in a dream that Polarity was a square magazine and secondly because the width allows us to fit the magazine in standard A4 envelopes, without fussing around with larger sizes and postage costs.

Since starting, we've found a few closer competitors than we imagined were out there. I've not yet looked it up properly, but there's a Leeds-based magazine called Phosphor, run by people connected to the Leeds Surrealism Group. Also something we found on a recent foray to Foyles, called Patricide – a new, Wales-based mag, printed roughly royal octavo with spine. It's long, intense and produced somewhat on the cheap side, with a colour cover, but black and white inner pages and thin paper stock.

Patricide's an interesting case because it employs some of the USPs Polarity went for, but in slightly different ways. It runs thematic issues with the material graded through the magazine under chapter headings, with little emphasis on the contributors' personalities, as it's about the content. They also use quotations to intersperse the new content.

Polarity has two themes per issue, and the material is graded according to how closely each piece of writing or art fits one theme or the other, with a grey area in the middle where the work loosely fits both or neither of the themes. We also have 'provocations' – quotations from various sources (newspaper articles, stories, essays) that suit the themes. And we have archival material – longer extracts from out of copyright texts to add a wider, pre-surrealism scope to the magazine.

One place we differ from them, and from most magazines out there, is in not including biographical  details for our contributors. Most magazines are an ego-fest of fame and famished, mouldy gratings from the cheeseblock of contemporary celebrity culture. Polarity is designed to try and look like the content is more important than the people writing it – we can celebrate (thank) the (unpaid) contributors in other, better ways, such as by making the magazine gorgeous and not letting any typos slip through. At the same time, readers are a curious species, and we've chosen these people's work for our first issue for a reason, so we went for a 'Further Reading' list at the back instead. This means people can read other work by our contributors and hopefully chase up more surrealism-connected work.

USPs are a business point, something I personally tend to refer to ironically when talking to creatives about Polarity. Yet these have all been important factors in getting the magazine noticed – we mentioned Tenderproduct, and we've another place stocking the magazine in London, the independent and thoroughly exciting Intervention Gallery, based in the middle of Kilburn Cemetery, near Kensal Rise Tube. Without any hard work on our parts, they've both shifted copies of the magazine to people wandering in. Ditto feedback from word of mouth: everyone who's picked the magazine up to look at has said good things about the design. It's making it much easier to build up early  interest than it was for previous lit-mags I've been involved with.

But at the same time, the real reasons for thinking Polarity is a good idea, in the middle of a recession, is based on gut instinct. I've been asking people for years if there's anything in the UK like The Believer, or anything which publishes the kind of weird stuff that the surrealists were into. Everyone says no, which doesn't mean it's not there, but that whatever is there isn't quite right for what we want to read.

So, like most literary movements and manifesto groups, if no one else is putting out the work you want to see, you create it yourself. These groups – the vorticists, the imagistes, surrealists, situationists and all the other little private clubs – have had little more to ride on than the shared sense of being 'different', coming from a sense exclusion or disillusionment with existing magazines,  before diving in to the world of publishing. There's a degree of ESP about it, a gut feeling that there are other people out there who feel the same way. So far, I'm being proven right, it's just finding out how to reach all those people we haven't yet.


August 25, 2010

Essential Definitions

Some riffs off the chord sequence set by Georges Bataille, in his Critical Dictionary.

A Book

A device for determining correlations between time and thoughts. E.g. the rate at which seeds planted in childhood can blossom into: werewolves in sundappled glades flirting with vampires wearing duck's asses; arguments urging the ascent/descent of creationism along the staircase of human progress; warnings about the dangers of sexual relations with one's mother / one's siblings / egg-laying land mammals / people dressed as animals / people imagining one dressed as an animal / a shark.

Essential characteristics include: multiple facets containing legible squiggles that can through time be made partially illegible, thereby enhancing the Hyper-Mysteron Rating of a Book (Harrumb); limpeting procedures allowing the attachment of facets; portability (when one is able to carry away); transportability (when one is able to be carried away by). The depth of a Book's squiggles are measured in Meanings per centrimetre of Subtext.

A Magazine

When a book-related phenomenon lends itself to transition measurement in any of time's directions, periodically released.

Editor

With lasers for eyes, these golems are said to be forged in dark caves by magi descended from the first human shamans. Their primary function: to create books and magazines. First recorded instance discovered near Hasankeyf approximately nine millennia ago. They are thought to be excellent gardeners, able to manufacture seeds in their stomachs which excrete into political and artistic movements. Many Editors have clocks instead of hearts, whips instead of hands and in their skulls a switch that allows them to turn all moral decency on and off at will.

Contributing Editor

Peripherally constructed Editors in the formation of a pentagram, carrying a natural protective incantation. Smaller in scale to full Editors, the magi often inject these creatures with holistic levels of relevant seeds, permanently infecting them with Book DNA according to need.

Advisor

Ancient Editors, their maturation marked by the smell of Book dust. Through time an Editor's skin naturally manifests tattoos from their creations. These tattoos can be harnessed and recorded by adolescent Editors given the correct cyphers, yet the process is costly; Advisors bear fruit once per year at most.

Designer

Beings whose skin is a non-Newtonian liquid, born with multiple hands. In the presence of an Editor, a Designer will melt, allowing their internal organs to be reforged according to need; hands will transmute into crustacea, legs into wheels, or in the case of incompetent moulding, mallet heads and tree stumps respectively. The brain must remain at the top of the reforged Designer form, with eyes radiating in all directions, to allow efficient operation.

Marketeer

Winged messengers made from woven speed. The surface of their hands can perfectly meld with the surface of books so as to deliver the produce of Editors and Designers without causing damage. They have many mouths and their ears function as radiowave antennae, allowing a psychic affinity with Designers. Naturally the Marketeer is a gregarious being, yet they also occur in isolation. Their wingspeed increases in packs, but the frequency of radio waves produced by individuals' antennae is not always consistent, causing disruption to their subvocal communication.

Polarity's Team

Editors: George Ttoouli, Neeral Bhatt, James Brookes

Contributing Editors: Zoe Brigley, Luke Kennard, Simon Turner, Theo Chiotis (TBC)

Advisory Board: Peter Blegvad, Frank Key, Carol Watts

Designer: James Harringman

Marketeers: Michael Wilson, Alexandra Szydlowska


August 11, 2010

Eponymous Introduction

Writing about web page http://www.polaritymag.co.uk

George Ttoouli introduces The Rhizomatic Angel

Welcome through the velveteen arches of this sanatorium under the sign of a broken hourglass, hosted by the editors of Polarity Magazine UK, George Ttoouli (Main Ed. & Prose), Neeral Bhatt (Art Ed.) and James Brookes (Poetry Ed.). Polarity is the magazine of the New Surreal; we’ve set out to fill a hole in the soul of today’s culture-kestrels. That sounds catchier than it means.

We’re attempting to synthesise the best parts of magazines like Georges Bataille’s Documentes, and contemporary mags like BOMB, The Believer and McSweeneys. Why? Because in the UK there isn’t anything quite as beautifully produced, contrary, untimely and entertaining out there. Each issue is themed around two falsely polarised ideas so as to create a weird artefact of ideas, creative work, interviews, essays and archival material. And, as a bonus, each issue comes with a free supplement, an artefact+ that props up the issue.

The first issue, Death vs. Taxes, has work by artists and writers new and established, as well as a free pamphlet proposing a system of taxation on thought, in order to help pull Britain out of recession. Really it’s an excuse to let all the weirdest parts of our ids out into the world, a call to arms to people like us, the start of some kind of critical mass. The feedback’s been good from readers so far, but don’t take my word for it – go take a look yourself.

This is both a social experiment – using the internet to facilitate a small press project – and an aesthetic crusade. The internet levels the playing field of traditional ideas of authority (hence, as Deleuze and Guattari pointed out a couple of decades ago, it’s a form of rhizome). You could merrily be reading a review of, say, Noam Chomsky, thinking it's all high quality for appearing in an established broadsheet; but it's followed by 40 extremely lucid reader comments that tear the ideas and standpoint apart, point out its biases. And so you pop up indie opinions, or other established writers who blog about the same subjects. Who do you listen to, trust?

There’s room on the internet to establish a base and grow, in the way most micro-businesses grow, slowly, patiently, according to limited resources. Polarity's aim, then, is to use the internet to create something that will save us from the boredom of the same-old-names cycled and recycled around mainstream magazines who aren't the strongholds of authority and opinion that they once were. (So, an angelic mission as well as a social experiment, even if the angels have huge, flaming swords and no interest in traditional ideas of angels).

Small scale ventures can survive, with a little ingenuity and a lot of quality, time and energy, by harnessing the internet in ways that cost little money. We’ve a small band of supporters – market research and content from Michael Wilson, Alexandra Szydlowska and an excellent designer, James Harringman – but at the moment we’re short on time and energy. The quality is out there, artists creating work that is immediately arresting, rewards revisits, and sits within the pages of a magazine you won’t want to throw away at the end of the year to clear space for whatever disposable, mainstream airport literature you've picked up, that will end up pulped into the foundations of a runway, or stretch of motorway.

We’re still in a kind of beta phase, testing out the design, the aesthetics, our ability to promote online, our ability to scare ourselves and others. We’ve a small business brain attached, from prior experience in small press publishing, and we’re learning new technologies as we go along. The real strength is our passion for Polarity, the desire to make it work, slowly. As long as there’s new content coming in, we can find the best ways to get the work out there, reach people, build a community, step by baby step.

Further reading

Gists & Piths – co-edited by George Ttoouli & Simon Turner

Iguanodon Studies – Neeral Bhatt’s critical art blog

James Brookes' online hovel

The Believer

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern

Documents

Story of the Eye

Some extracts from the Critical Dictionary / Encyclopaedia Acephalica


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