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Intimate Ephemera Reading Young Lives in Australian Zine Culture
MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS
MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS An imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited 187 Grattan Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia [email protected] www.mup.com.au First published 2008 Text © Anna Poletti 2008 Design and typography © Melbourne University Publishing Ltd 2008 This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part maybe reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher. Every attempt has been made to locate the copyright holders for material quoted in this book. Any person or organisation that may have been overlooked or misattributed may contact the publisher. Designed by Phil Campbell Typeset by I & M Typesetting Printed in Australia by the Design and Print Centre, The University of Melbourne National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Poletti, Anna. Intimate ephemera: reading young lives in Australian zine culture. 9780522855647 (pdf) 9780522855654 (pbk) Includes index. Bibliography. Youth—Australia. Youth—Biography Subculture—Australia. Social movements—Australia. Youths’ writings, Australian. Publishers and publishing—Australia. 305.235
This book is dedicated to the memory of Angie Lamb.
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography
Zines making Zinesters
Narrating and (Re) Figuring the Bedroom
‘Singing Hollow Winds’: Narratives of Depression
Materialising Intimacy: Reading the Perzine as Autobiographical Object
Acknowledgments I am very grateful to Ivor Indyk for his unwavering commitment to this project and his generosity and faith in my instincts. Thanks also go to Therese Davis and Ros Smith for reading sections of the work and providing invaluable advice and assistance at key points. Ken Gelder, Gillian Whidock and lulie Rak read the original version of the manuscript and gave vital and encouraging feedback. Many zinesters have kindly supplied back issues, traded publica tions and given me access to their zine libraries. I thank the following people for their interest in the project, without which it would have been an impossible undertaking: Adam Ford, Shane McGrath, Anwyn, Lou/Louise, loel Catchlove, Demian Hobby, Kylie Purr, Luke Collison, Luke Dearnley, Richard Watts, Kristy Sullivan, Melamoo, Sean Healy, Craig Garrett, Michelle de Cean, Nicola Hardy, Luke Sinclair, Ianto Ware, Express Media, Sticky, The Octapod Association and the This Is Not Art organising committee of 2003. I would also like to thank the following friends, family and col leagues for their support and advice, always given in good humour and with boundless generosity: Carl and Virginia Poletti, Michal Kulbicki, Amanda Kerley, Samantha Arnull, Lokesh Thondavada, Rachel O’Reilly, Andrew Morgan, Paul Byron, Stephen Saul, Tim O’Farrell, David Teh, Tom Cho, Kirsty Leishman, lonathan Dale, Bronwyn Dann and lohannes Klabbers. A special mention must go to my brother Marcus, who assisted with the preparation of images.
Author’s Note Zines enact a variety of idiosyncratic modes of representation that do not fit smoothly into traditional practices of citation and reference. In response to such challenges I employ two distinct modes of citing zine material: re-presentation, where I have retyped the text into the body of the text; and direct citation, where the relevant pages have been scanned and inserted into the text. These two methods have been used to maximise the interpretative potential of the readings pre sented here, and to encode the broad argument that text and layout can (and should) be read together in perzines. Thus, it is intended that the reader take the time to read the text of the inserted scans where possible. I have eschewed the practice of acknowledging spelling and grammatical errors within quotations with the designation ‘ [sic] ’, as its use—which if applied faithfully could overwhelm the flow of many of the texts presented here—proved to be both impractical and an unnecessary intervention in the zines’ highly personal, and often deliberate, ways of speaking. Similarly, I have not maintained the practice of designating zine texts as unpaginated with ‘unpag’, as the vast majority of zines do not have page numbers and it seemed, when applied, to be an unnecessary and repetitive notation. Where an indi vidual zine has page numbers they are listed at the end of the quota tion as per tradition, yet the majority of quotations are without a page designation. The reader should also note that within zine quotations an unbracketed ellipsis is from the original text, while square brack eted ellipses indicate where I have edited out a portion of the text in the interest of clarity. Other formal practices of citation have also been adapted to the zine form; authors are referred to by their first names throughout, a reflection of the common practice of using only a first name, or pseu donym, by zinesters. Where zinesters have used their full names they are given when the text is introduced, but in the interest of consist ency all zinesters are referred to by their first names in subsequent references. I have also standardised how perzine tides present their issue number by presenting all zine tides in italics followed by the hash symbol and the issue number, thus Trade Entrance #7. Perzines without issue numbers are referred to by tide only.
Finally, the citation of zines in the bibliography supplies as much bibliographical information for each text as I was able to glean. Most zines do not display publication dates, places of publication or their author’s full name. In many cases I have taken the place of publica tion from the postal address listed in the zine, and garnered the date of publication from dated entries in the text itself.
In our struggle for responsibility, we fight against someone who is masked. The mask of the adult is called ‘experience’. It is expressionless, impenetrable, and ever the same. The adult has already experienced everything: youth, ideals, hopes ... It was all an illusion. Often we feel intimidated or embittered. Perhaps he is right. What can our retort be? We have not yet experienced anything. (Benjamin ‘Experience’ 3) Before he became an influential philosopher of culture and capi talism, Walter Benjamin was a young person. Like many young people today, he was also a formidable theorist of youthful experience; how ever, these writings are not frequendy referred to in youth studies or in fields such as cultural studies, where Benjamin’s theories are often in use. Benjamin’s short essay ‘Experience’, written when he was twentyone, speaks with his characteristic insight about the central problem facing the young: that they are lauded, and hated, for their lack of experience, that they are denied any serious political or cultural respect because experience is seen (by the dominant, adult culture) as the necessary condition for such respect. In Benjamin’s critique,
youth is followed ‘by grand “experience”, the years of compromise, impoverishment of ideas, and lack of energy’ (4)—at least, that is the state the young are told they must achieve before they will be taken seriously Writing eighty years after Benjamin, youth studies theorist Henry Giroux describes a situation which is essentially unchanged: Youth as a complex, shifting, and contradictory category is rarely narrated in the dominant public sphere by the young ... they are restricted from speaking in those spheres where public conversation shapes social policy and refused the power to make knowledge consequential with respect to their own collective needs. (Giroux 24) Later arguments such as Giroux’s posit the attention paid to young people in the media and academia as a homogenising discursive force. Several theorists have recendy argued that the discourses of youth are structured by external, adult influences such as the inter ests of consumer capitalism (Latham), a new critical field such as cul tural studies (Evans) or, as Benjamin argued to his youth club counterparts in 1913, the persistent trivialisation of youthful experi ence by a sentimental adult culture (‘Experience’). These discursive critiques of the concept of youth encourage us to consider the his torical contingency of young people whose ‘common experiences ... [are] examined not from the standpoint of their own perspectives but more often than not as evidence of the nature of capitalism, or of the growth of the humanitarian conscience’ (Hendrick 1). In his article ‘Hiding in the Light: Youth Surveillance and Display’, Dick Hebdige observes that ‘the category “youth” gets mobilised in official ... dis course ... when young people make their presence felt by going “out of bounds”, by resisting through rituals, dressing strangely, striking bizarre attitudes, breaking rules, breaking bottles, windows, heads, issuing rhetorical challenges to the law’ (17-18). The close reading of personal zines offers one avenue of investi gation which, by taking narratives of youthful experience produced by the young as its focus, seeks to put the perspective of young people at the centre without that attention being drawn by the spectacle usu ally associated with youth subcultures. The predominandy invisible nature of zine culture sits in sharp distinction to the dominance of
the visual and the visible in studies of youth (Hebdige). Such a reading can extrapolate the discourses and modes of emplotment employed by young people to communicate their experiences and provide valuable additional material to the analysis of the issues facing youth in contemporary Australia. However, any engagement between the mainstream or the academy and a subculture is bound to be fraught, and has the poten tial to produce dissatisfaction on both sides. Zinester and under ground filmmaker Bruce LaBruce performs this tension when he spends several pages problematicising his invitation to write about queercore fanzines for an anthology on gay and lesbian popular culture: I’m not going to be a fucking sentimentalist now, and I’m not going to write about punk, because whenever anybody tries to, they come off sounding really stupid. Punk isn’t supposed to be written about, just like ‘queercore’ fanzines aren’t supposed to be catalogued and historicised and ana lysed to death, for Christsake. They’re supposed to be dis posable. That’s the whole point. Throw your fanzines away right now. Go ahead. Xeroxed material doesn’t last forever anyway, you know. It fades. (LaBruce, 193) In his cynical and playful assessment of what might be gained from writing about queercore fanzines, LaBruce exposes the specific chal lenges zines present to institutionalised modes of reading and valuing texts. Epitomised by the inevitable fading of photocopied text, LaBruce portrays the disposable, ephemeral zine and the reified prac tices of cataloguing and analysing which are seen to define the critical process as locked in an irreconcilable opposition. Many Australian zinesters will no doubt agree that zines are better off in the bin than in an academic monograph. However, this book rejects this opposition between disposability and analysis by proposing a methodology for reading ephemeral texts such as the zine that does not seek to fix them or pin them like butterflies underneath the glass of academic categorisation. We, as readers, can develop the skills and sensitivities the zines seek to coax out of us; rather than taming them, we can allow them to influence, change and expand our reading practices.
Like the diary manuscripts read by Cynthia Huff, zines employ a ‘visual rhetoric [which] uses sensory data to complicate and extend spatial and perceptual boundaries beyond the merely written’ (518). In recognising the zine as a medium of writing and publishing deserving of close textual interpretation, this rhetoric and its interface with narrative become of primary interest. This approach contributes to, and to an extent challenges, existing critical approaches to zines that have maintained a distance from the specificities of zine texts by focusing on the social and political organisation of zine culture (see Duncombe; Harris; Atton; McLaughlin). The detailed interpretation of personal zine narratives presented here seeks to establish that the zine can be fruitfully introduced into broader critical considerations of writing and reading, taking auto/biography scholarship as the case in point. At the same time, we will investigate how ‘form and subjectivity work together’ (Huff 508) in personal zines to present consistent the matic preoccupations; the bedroom, consumption, depression and a relationship with the past will be established as issues common to the autobiographers publishing in Australian zine culture. These themes also powerfully shape the construction of subjectivity in the texts. A focus on unpacking the notion of zine culture as a narrative commu nity, using close reading and narrative analysis to establish how this community works to construct and perpetuate discourses and strate gies for the representation of individual identities and shared experi ences, is central to this project. This element of the work contributes to auto/biography scholarship by presenting an empirical study of a previously untheorised mode of life writing, and by illustrating how existing methods of reading auto/biography can be applied to life writing texts which occur outside traditional, mainstream publishing, while at the same time undergoing augmentation in the process of interpreting these texts. Unlike diary manuscripts or other handmade objects of com munication such as letters, personal zines are created and circulate within an existing population of readers and thus do not need to be brought to readers by being ‘accepted for publication’, and ‘fulfil[ling] several criteria of accessibility’ (Temple 77). Indeed, the reading and writing practices that constitute zine culture give compelling evi dence that everyday (that is, non-specialised and non-academic)
readers are interested in developing reading strategies which extend beyond those encoded in mass-produced, professionally published texts. Furthermore, zines eschew the value attached to the ‘accessible text’ as both a mass-produced object available for purchase in a plethora of locations and as an ideology of text construction and layout, in favour of intimate, handmade and decidedly gestural text objects which invite the reader to negotiate the gaps in texts that often present themselves as proudly messy jennifer Sinor suggests that in making such texts zinesters are ‘some of the most savvy life writers I know’ (242) ; however, I believe that it is as a community of adventurous writers and readers that zine culture offers a compelling instance of people developing savvy modes of representation which seek to reward adventurous readers with handmade gifts, unique nar ratives, and a distinctive and intimate connection to the author. To this end, I hope to demonstrate how zine producers make a decisive contribution to the nuances of the reader/writer relationship in con temporary autobiography through their unique experiments with narrative and materiality. Finally, I aim to exemplify how a ‘collaged and contextualised’ (Huff 508) reading strategy may be constructed in response to com plex and deeply situated texts. The reading method practised here traverses many modes of reading, using genre-specific narrative theory in the case of the Gothic, reader-response theory, psychoanaly sis, poststructuralism and readings of materiality and affect in an attempt to expand upon the unique sense of possibility and intrigue which comes with holding a zine in your hands. Moreover, the strategy is to foreground the zines themselves, presenting a range of quota tions and images to facilitate the readers’ ability to assess the inter pretation offered here against their own reading of the text. Of course, this can only truly be done by coming into contact with the publica tions themselves. Thus, I have attempted to theorise and dramatise the affective and narrative meanings perzines seek to communicate, and those which they also construct and rely upon through their cir culation in a specific economy of gifting and exchange. In summary, I hope to demonstrate how to negotiate the anxie ties of‘disciplin[ing] undisciplined subjects’ (Duncombe 15) which is often attendant in subcultural studies by taking the risk of not accepting ‘that it is easy to dismiss as uncomplicated or juvenile what
a 16-year-old girl ... is writing late at night at her computer’ (Sinor 242). By reading zine narratives against contemporary discourses of youth, it becomes possible to flesh out the dialectical relationship perzines create with mainstream, adult, consumer society and their critique of its assumed dominance. To an extent, this dialectic is dependent on perzine-makers embracing the potential of juvenilia, of marking their territory and engaging their readers precisely through the stereotypes of adolescence and adolescent immaturity of style that prohibit their access to established cultural forms. After all, many readers (zinesters among them) could easily resituate the analysis of narratives of depression presented here as merely ‘teen angst’ and let that be the end of it. But to do so would radically impoverish our investigation of writing and reading practices in contemporary cul ture; and it would only serve to validate the suspicion among many involved in DIY culture that ‘to explain is to weaken’ (LaBruce 192).
Defining the zine The development of an informed reading practice for the zine must negotiate several issues, the first of which is the problem of defining it. To date, most critical definitions of zines take their status as the products of amateurs or alternative presses as the central defining feature of the publications. This approach foregrounds the zine form as the result of low-budget, unprofessional and often haphazard modes of production. An example of this can be found in Stephen Duncombe’s definition of the zine in the opening pages of Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture: ‘zines are non-commercial, non-professional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute themselves’ (6). Similarly, Chris Atton sees zines as defined by ‘the processes, forma tions and significations that constitute zine culture’, presenting zines as particular instantiations of social relations constructed through the media (Alternative59-61). Any attempt to devise a succinct and suitably flexible definition of the zine form is bound to be troubled. As a mode of subcultural publishing, zines are characterised by their material form, as well as by their content, mode of production and circulation. To begin with form, the zine can have any number of physical features and varia tions in dimensions, weight, paper stock, and binding; indeed, zines
are characterised by an ever-expanding use of materials. Some exam ples taken from the zine collection gathered over the four years of research that inform this book illustrate the diversity of physical char acteristics: Canteen Zine is a small photocopied publication bound with staples which comes in the long rectangular greaseproof paper bag used to serve a chicken and corn roll; Grrowl #3 is A5 in portrait orientation and photocopied on red paper; Kitsch zine is A6 and bound with staples and gaffer tape, and mixes pages of white paper with transparencies, both printed with text and images; a copy of the weekly zine YOU was presented as an A4 page photocopied on both sides, folded and placed in a cassette tape case. The physical diversity of the publications, their extensive range of sizes, colours, shapes and use of materials, is itself constitutive of the zine form. That is, there is litde use in offering a physical description of the ‘typical’ Australian zine, when it can only offer an arbitrary set of attributes that reduce the eclectic features of different zines to a constructed, normalised form. Zines are also defined by their specific materials and strategies. The recycling of pre-existing media material and found-text in col lage, the use of the photocopier as the means of production, and the personalisation of the photocopied text are common features of Australian zines. With this in mind, zine production may be consid ered a kind of art practice, defined by the application of particular materials and skills in the production of a specific kind of object. This approach is adopted by Liz Farrelly in the book Zines, which presents visual documentation of a wide range of zines, eschewing content in favour of examining the unique graphic design and text-building characteristics of the publications. The variety of publications ana lysed in this book is intended to give the reader a clear indication of their physical diversity. Attempting to build upon this kind of material characterisation of zines with a description of their content further complicates mat ters. Duncombe attempts to map the diversity of topics covered in zines by producing a ‘zine taxonomy’, which offers the following genres of zines: fanzines (broken down into subcategories by subject, that is, music and sports), political zines, personal zines, scene zines (covering local and community events in the zinester’s area), network zines (which review zine publications), fringe culture zines (covering
UFOs, conspiracy theories and so on), religious zines, vocational zines (detailing ‘life on the job’), health zines, sex zines, travel zines, comix, literary zines, art zines and ‘the rest’ (9-13). While many of these genre distinctions reflect divisions operating within zine cul ture itself—for example, Sydney’s (now defunct) Vox Populis Zine Distro catalogue includes the categories general zines, comix, music, art zines—the collapse of Duncombe’s taxonomy into ‘the rest—a large category’ underscores the futility of attempting to solidify or organise a definition of zines based on their content. As Kirsty Leishman argues: ‘Duncombe’s work reveals that zines are ill con tained and thus it is useful because it relieves subsequent researchers from pursuing such an arduous, yet futile, endeavour’ (7). Chris Atton also suggests that the generality of the taxonomy, and its unavoidable dissolution into ‘the rest’, offers litde guidance for the construction of a definition of zines (Alternative 58-9). A more useful categorisation of the contents of zines is offered when Duncombe himself says that ‘zines span almost every field, from the sublime to the ridiculous, making a detour through the unfathomable’ (9). The unquantifiable diversity of topics covered in zines resists a content-based definition, and is one reason why several critics have chosen to focus on specific kinds of zines, such as those produced in the riot grrrl movement and British football culture where the zine is interpreted as serving par ticular topical interests, rather than adhering to a specific generic format (see Harris; Haynes). The problems presented by the ever expanding diversity of topics covered by zines are one explanation for the prevalence of the emphasis on the broader practices of zine cul ture such as mode of media production in critical studies of zines, as well as reflecting the expansion of zine-making and reading beyond the specific practices of fanzine publications which were dominant earlier in the twentieth-century (see Wertham). I have chosen the personal zine—or ‘perzine’ as it is commonly known—as the zine best suited to an investigation of the narrative and representational modes of the contemporary zine. As well as being a popular style of zine-making in both Australian and America at this time, the personal zine is often positioned in scholarly work on zines as exemplifying the characteristics of self-publishing (Sinor 243) and therefore, as we shall see in Chapter 1, is an important subject for further investigation in the nascent field of zine research.
As an autobiographical mode, the perzine is adopted by life writers who are not traditional authors of autobiography. Current scholarly analysis on zines has emphasised that zine culture is made up of young writers and readers predominantly under the age of thirty-five, and more commonly adolescents, who do not have estab lished cultural sites reserved for their self-representation (Harris; Sinor; Schilt; Leishman). For this reason they propose an exciting challenge for autobiography and cultural studies, as the close ana lysis of perzine narratives requires the development of a framework for interpreting how age-specific discourses contribute to the con struction of identities in life writing, responding to what Kathleen Woodward has argued is the consistent invisibility of age as a cate gory of social division (90). Thus this investigation resists LaBruce’s diagnosis of the ter minal effects analysis may have on the zine. In assuming that the interpretation of zines will necessarily result in the demise of the texts, LaBruce posits the practices of cataloguing, historicising and analysis as the only tools available to the critic, and assumes that they necessarily have destructive consequences for their subject. This anxi ety about the effects of analysis is shared by Andy Medhurst, who is suspicious of the capacity of cultural studies to account for punk: Analysing punk through the chilly lenses of academia can only subject that passion, my passion, to scepticism and challenge. It could be argued that scepticism and challenge are exacdy what should constitute the core of politically responsible academic practice, and ninety-nine times in a hundred Id completely agree, but I still flinch from taking the analytical scalpel to punk. (Medhurst 228) Chilly lenses, scalpels and death need not be the fate of the zine when approached with a critical gaze, and while these concerns are often grounded in fears about how analytical practice approaches marginal texts, they are also founded in assumptions regarding the scholar’s role as a privileged arbiter of meaning. Philippe Lejeune offers a means of breaking this deadlock by rejecting the role of the critic as a definer’ and adopting the position of the reader:
By taking as the starting point the position of the reader, (which is mine, the only one I know well), I have the chance to understand more clearly how the texts function (the dif ferences in how they function) since they were written for us, readers and in reading them, it is we who make them function. (Lejeune 4) As I discuss later in this introduction, it is precisely as readers, and not as undertakers, definers or assassins, that zines seek our engage ment. Yet scholars reading zines have intimated that this is no easy task, as lennifer Sinor suggests in her recent article Another Form of Crying: Girl Zines as Life Writing’, where she articulates the issues facing the critic reading zines in highly personal terms: I am a fraud. Writing about girls zines like Valerie’s, asking girls and young women across the country, strangers, to send me their writing, their self-published souls, fills me with uneasiness. Not only have I never written a zine, the politics they practice—leftist, feminist, gay-positive—are beliefs I came to as an adult. My adolescence was far less informed, far less empowered, and far more marked by passive conformity. I poach. I ramble the pages, read their anger, consume their passion and their complexity. They awe me, but they are not me. (Sinor 240) For Sinor the aura of intimacy around personal zines forces her to confront her position as a reader situated beyond the realm of reader ship imagined by the texts. On the one hand, Sinor’s uneasiness is a recognition that the critical analysis of zines occurs outside their sub cultural context; yet the awkwardness of receiving such personal and often confessional texts from strangers is, I will argue, a constitutive part of the zine medium. While zine culture is often interpreted as an underground network or subculture—terms that imply connection and knowingness—Australian perzine narratives exert much energy reflecting on and constructing a reader who is not known to the author. In this way they explicidy confront the reader with their per sonal and productive role in the text, a confrontation LaBruce takes up by challenging his reader to ‘throw your fanzines away right now’.
Rather than disposing of zines, Jennifer Sinor suggests that ‘zines do not arrive “already read” in the way other texts do’, arguing that we need to contextualise the production and circulation of zines to understand the way they function as autobiographical texts (242). Going beyond the parameters of Sinor and LaBruce’s articles, I pro pose that we should investigate the physical and narrative idiosyn crasies of the perzine as dramatising and exaggerating the characteristics of all textual encounters. In both their narrative quali ties and their materiality, zines provoke reflection on cultural perma nency. Their circulation and construction within a specific cultural practice is in distinct contrast to institutionalised, globalised and capitalist modes of textual production and reception, where the prac tices of professional publishing are ‘associated with fixity, perma nence and a consequent gravity’ (Rivett 31). The reading stance(s) required by the zine draw our attention to and disrupt established methods of reading, textual analysis and critical practice. In this respect, this analysis is also concerned with questions of production. Personal zines do not share many of the characteristics of the texts that make up the bulk of sources studied in literary or cul tural studies and, more specifically, scholarship on auto/biography. Of central importance to these non-traditional texts is the fact that zines are not mass-produced; they are not published by a pro fessional publishing house, and thus not ‘sanctioned as significant by [their] status as a mass produced commodity’ (Huff 510). Moreover, zines are not easily available, do not participate in standardised modes of presentation and distribution, and are not well recognised within literary communities or among the reading (most commonly constituted as ‘book-buying’) public. Zines are homemade, ephem eral and amateur. They circulate among communities of readers through the mail, in out-of-the-way spaces, and are passed around hand-to-hand among social groups. They are also non-traditional because of the modes of emplotment that characterise them; in the case of personal zines, we find a unique mixture of established modes of life writing, such as the diary, alongside zine-specific narratives such as cut’n’paste collage. These material and textual idiosyncrasies challenge the literary critic to practise ‘connected reading’, which Gillian Whidock describes as a practice which ‘pulls at the loose threads of autobiography, and uses them to make sutures between,
across and among autobiographical narratives’ (Intimate Empire 204). Thus this book seeks to further the field of zine studies by bringing these sensitive and investigative reading strategies to per zine texts, and considering how we can extend the practice of con nected reading to texts which perform the ‘loose threads’ explicidy in their material and narrative presentation.
The zine economy Most people have not heard of zines because they are not easy to find (unless you know where to look) and their lifespan—as objects circu lating in a particular economy—is short. The producer of a zine can run out of copies in a few hours at a zine fair, or may mail out the entire print run to their readers in the course of a day. The particu larities of the zine economy indicate the ephemeral nature of the publications themselves. Australian zines are circulated by three main strategies: com mission selling through online distributors and sympathetic stores, direct distribution of zines at zine fairs and markets and individual postal circulation. In Australia, most zines are priced between one and five dollars, with some publications costing up to fifteen dollars. Consignment selling in Australian zine culture is practised in two dis tinct ways. One is through online zine distributors, which are run on volunteer labour by zinesters or individuals dedicated to zine reading, and offer a service to zinesters by advertising and selling zines through mail order. In the last few years the two largest and best-known online distributors of Australian zines, Smitten Kitten Zine Distro (see Zobl) and Vox Populis (see Amelia), have both folded and this practice is currently waning as a means of national distribution. The most important function undertaken by these zine distributors was on the international stage, giving Australian zine culture a definable show case online and linking it with the zine cultures of the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Distributors such as Smitten Kitten and Vox Populis also stocked zines from overseas, offering Australians a relatively simple means of accessing zines from other countries by circulating overseas publications through the domestic postal service, rather than individuals having to seek them out and order them internationally. Online distributors are also one of the most public sites of zine accessibility, allowing anyone to obtain zines
without direct engagement with the individuals who produce them. Current examples of online distributors based in Australia include Fat Cheeks Distro, based in Perth, Disruption Distro in South Australia, and Crimson Regret in Sydney. Selling zines on consignment in sympathetic stores is a more haphazard process, where some stores have established reputations for selling zines (such as Polyester Books in Melbourne) while other stores may briefly stock zines whilst a zinester is a member of staff. Operating on the basic philosophy of consignment where money is received once all the goods are sold, this method of distribution is usually only taken up by zinesters who are willing and able to nego tiate the business relationship it requires. Consignment selling in stores requires infrastructure support for the production of invoices, the on-going visits to the store to collect payment and restock, a matter further complicated by the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax in 2000, which requires the producer to collect and pay to the tax office the 10% tax due on their goods. The percentage of zines produced which are stocked in independent book and record stores is low and would constitute less than 20% of the zines in circulation. The exception to this is Sticky, a zine-dedicated store operated as an artist-run initiative in Melbourne, Victoria. Sticky has a high turnover of stock from both Australia and overseas, and is organised around the principles of an art space rather than a commercial oudet, which relieves it from the pressures of making profit from sales. As the only fixed physical site dedicated to the sale of zines in the country, many institutions seeking information or to collect zines do so solely through Sticky. This has given Sticky the ancillary task of being a point of intersection between established educational, art and community institutions and the decidedly ephemeral zine culture. In recent years Sticky has extended this role by hosting excursions of school groups and presenting zine workshops to schools and local libraries. Another means of circulating zines has more recendy developed in the organisation of zine fairs. Several urban local councils, arts organisations and community groups throughout Australia now organise zine fairs, which most commonly take the form of a market where zinesters are stall holders. These fairs involve the direct sale of zines as well as trade, with zinesters mixing with readers and other interested parties in a market environment. While money-for-goods
exchange is accepted at these fairs, many zinesters have signs at their stalls explaining their preference for trade or barter. Usually exchange involves zine-for-zine trade, however some zinesters will trade for anything; at the Honey Bee zine fair held in the Sydney suburb of Newtown in 2003, three zinesters (who were also housemates) traded a selection of their zines for a kitten, who later featured in their zines (Flight Path, Secret Archives of the Recent Past). Many zinesters will also have free zines available, such as the perzines Sleeping in the rain, Neverending Irony and You. At the larger zine fairs, such as the one held at This Is Not Art in Newcasde, stallholders also include independent record labels, comic makers, small press, t-shirt and patch designers. However, Australian zine culture’s primary mode of distribution is the postal system, which is utilised both by distribution services and individual zinesters. A large part of zine circulation is conducted via one-on-one communication through the postal system, and this practice has influenced the development of an attendant letter writing culture. Once a trade relationship has been established, zinesters will often include their trade partners on mailing lists, transforming the negotiated trade relationship into a less structured one. Many zinesters I have made direct trades with subsequendy send me each new issue of their zine, regardless of whether I had something to trade at the time. These implicit trade relationships—where each sends the other a new zine when it is completed—are more akin to connections established and maintained through practices of gifting, rather than being organised around explicit exchange. I will examine these prac tices in Chapter Six, which investigates how gifting is registered in the material form of the zine. While these practices of gifting and exchange form the commu nity of zinesters, many zinesters also give their zines away to family members and friends who are not part of the zine community. For example, the zine Another Dental Visit #1 which details Carmen’s experiences with depression and her research into the condition and its treatment, was initially produced as means of communicating with friends and family with whom Carmen wanted to share her expe riences. In the introduction to the second printing of the zine, Carmen credits the positive feedback of the original readers for her decision to distribute it more widely. Zines are also commonly left in public
places: on trains, in cafes and pubs, and slipped between the pages of slick magazines in newsagents. These strategies extend the potential audience of the zine by placing them in spaces where they direcdy intersect with the public, and many zinesters practice only this kind of distribution, shunning the more organized aspects of zine culture. Adam Ford, for example, circulates his personal zine Jutchy Ya Ya mainly in these informal ways, handing them out in person at social events, leaving them in various public places and sending them through the mail to a small collection of recipients. The anonymous producer of You zine—a weekly letter addressed to ‘you’—leaves the zine in small piles in venues and community spaces around Melbourne, and also sends them to friends in other states and cities to leave in public places. The practice of trade and gifting functions not only as a primary means of distribution but is also constitutive of how perzines con struct and communicate meaning. Amy Spencer describes this aspect of zine culture as ‘the zine [being] passed physically through the net work connecting people together, sharing a sense of solidarity in their interest in the underground of independent culture’ (15). While the physicality of zine networks has received some critical attention, this network and the practices that constitute it also function as the con text in which zine narratives produce meaning. The trade transaction works upon the narratives presented in the publications as the text bears the trace of the negotiated exchange that brought it into the reader’s possession. This affective trace and its resonance within the act of reading is one of the features of zine culture I seek to address, as they raise questions regarding the affective difference in the experi ence of reading a text which you acquire by giving its author a kitten, or something you have made yourself. How do these factors con tribute to the reader’s relationship to the narrative? These aspects of zine practice introduce new sets of considerations into the theorisa tion of the identifications and disidentifications occurring between the reader and the writer’s text (Miller 2-4) that extend beyond the function of the narrative into the physical and social components of text acquisition and reading. One response has already been illus trated in fennifer Sinor’s assessment of herself as a fraudulent reader, where Sinor is unable to locate a position for herself within the narrative economy that delivered the texts to her through the mail.
Similarly, Thomas McLaughlin negotiates this complex positioning of the reader in the zine text by responding to the zine Attitude Problem by asserting ‘I am of course exacdy the reader he detests’ (62). These negative reactions belie the complex investments of the zine in dis courses of authenticity, youth and subculture that challenge readers who may fall outside the community In McLaughlin and Sinor’s encounters we see the institutionalised reader respond to these issues by self-effacement. However I believe we must be prepared to explore how we may respond to and engage personal zine narratives beyond acknowledging that they ‘are not me’ (Sinor 242), and by braving the possibility of ‘com[ing] off sounding really stupid’ (LaBruce 193). These aspects of the zine economy stand in juxtaposition to the dominant world of professional publishing, where writer’s festivals, readings and book-signings function as the special, rare events where authors ‘step out’ from behind their texts to become embodied sub jects before their readers. These momentary instances of author and reader occupying a shared material space are predicated on pre existing knowledge, constituted by fame or notoriety and an estab lished literary career; in these instances the reader is already established as constituting the writer’s audience. In their rarity these literary events constitute an uncommon mixing of the textual and the material which professional structures, constituted within discourses and practices of capitalism, professionalism, and hierarchy, usually work to keep segregated. Published authors can only usually be con tacted through their publishers, their books accessed through the mediating institution of a bookshop or library, and their personal contact details, such as postal or email address and phone numbers, are protected information. In mainstream commercial culture, the absence of the author is a precondition of acquiring a text; a distance which frees the reader-as-consumer to select a text shielded from the gaze of its creator, which in turn structures the position of the indi vidual reader as having no definable relationship with the individual author. Philippe Lejeune characterises this relationship as follows: ‘ [f] or the reader, who does not know the real person, all the while believing in his existence, the author is defined as the person capable of producing this discourse, and so he imagines what he is like from whathe produces’ (11). The practices of trade via the postal system or in person at zine fairs predicates access to the text on a personal exchange between the 16 Intimate
potential reader and the author, and while this aspect of zine culture has received relatively substantial attention in critical commentaries on zines, the focus has been primarily on illustrating how these prac tices constitute a resistance to capitalist modes of exchange. By contrast, I believe that the specific reorganisation and reconstitution of the reader/author relationship in zine culture offers unique mate rial for analysis to those of us interested in theorising practices of contemporary cultural reception. Moreover, the close reading of the textual and material characteristics of the perzine, and their dynamic interface occasions a re-evaluation of the elements of our reading practices which are structured by global late-capitalist systems of publishing, distribution and the mass-production of texts. This recon sideration may lead us to reconsider through what codes and practices the status of ‘author’ is constituted and with what assump tions the reader approaches the text. For example, the zine suggests a rejection of Lejeune’s suggestion that the position of ‘the author’ of autobiography is predicated on the publication of several books, the existence of which lend veracity to his existence beyond the text (11-12). By contrast, the ephemeral, personal yet public circulation of zines constructs a very different concept of ‘the author’ which is embedded in discourses of independent cultural production, com munity building and experimentation with narrative and material form. The question then becomes how we read autobiographical texts that do not utilise the permanency and gravity associated with the book form to metonymically fix the author’s identity, and existence, in the reader’s mind.
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography
Theories of the zine There is little in the way of established scholarship that constitutes a ‘field’ of zine studies. When surveying the existing literature, one finds pockets and enclaves of specific interests, and small breakaway arti cles. On the one hand, the scarcity of work on zines clearly illustrates Anita Harris’s suggestion that ‘there is considerable effort put in [by zinesters] to keep zines outside regulation’ (‘gURL’ 48), that zine cul ture continues to operate successfully ‘under the radar’. On the other hand, and more importandy, the wide variety of interest in zines points to the diversity of the publications and their uses, their appli cability and interest to the fields of communications and media studies (Atton), youth studies (Harris), linguistics (Androutsopoulos), ethnography (Eichhorn), popular culture (McLaughlin), and graphic design (Triggs). The most coherent collection of analytical articles exists in the field of youth studies and in the work of feminist sociologists working on the practices of the third-wave feminist movement known as riot grrrl. Originating in Washington DC, riot grrrl has been positioned by theorists as the epitome of third-wave feminism, and is often
championed by feminist scholars as evidence of the next generation of women making feminism their own (for example, see Bail). Stemming from a critique of sexism in the independent music scenes in Washington and Olympia in the United States, riot grrrl was cham pioned by independent bands such as Bikini Kill—whose zine Bikini Kill is often credited with publishing the first riot grrrl manifesto— and quickly developed as a grassroots political and cultural move ment aimed at empowering young women as producers of independent culture (music, zines, websites) and events (Spencer 292-6). Central to the successful development and spread of riot grrrl was the formation of riot grrrl chapters, which would meet regularly in towns, suburbs and colleges to organise events, disseminate riot grrrl literature, create zines and T-shirts and form bands. While Kathy Bail claims riot grrrl as part of the movement she labels ‘DIY femi nism’ which is ‘largely about individual practice and taking on per sonal challenges rather than group identifications’ (16), riot grrrl successfully organised, and radicalised, a section of the previous and current generations of young women through constructing a sense of solidarity among predominandy middle-class white girls and young women in countries such as the United States, Britain, Australia and parts ofWestern Europe. Feminist theorists interested in the use of the zine medium in the riot grrrl movement have presented grrrl zines as an instance of ‘girls writing about their lives without an adult audience in mind’ (Schilt 73). Employing a combination of textual interpretation of zines and interviews with zine-makers, these studies focus on the use of the zine medium as a means of resisting and evading the over-determi nation of ‘girlhood’ in late modernity, where ageism and patriarchal ideology are seen to dominate the experiences of teenage girls (Harris ‘gURL’ 39; Leonard 115). These studies share an attendant interest in the problematisation of the concept of ‘subculture’ as it was defined in texts such as Resistance Through Rituals by focusing on the geo graphical distances traversed by riot grrrl texts. This process is described by Leonard as ‘using riot grrrl as a case study [to] consider how a sub-culture can maintain a sense of “community” when its participants do not meet in the collective space of a club or music venue, but are broadcast over a wide geographical area’ (101). Both Leonard and Harris prefer the use of the term ‘network’ to describe
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 19
riot grrrl, arguing that its ambiguous and shifting status as public and private practice (epitomised, in their view, by the zine form) chal lenges the traditional gendered understanding of subcultures as predominandy masculine, street based activities (Harris ‘gURL’ 47). As we will see later in this chapter, these studies of zine culture through the lens of riot grrrl place a great deal of emphasis on zines as texts which resist external modes of regulation and definition of girls’ expe rience and identity (Schilt 78-9; Harris ‘gURL’ 48). The rethinking of subculture through zines is also undertaken by Kate Eichhorn, who offers the concept of ‘textual communities’ as a means of understanding the unique practices of zine culture. In her article, ‘Sites unseen: Ethnographic research in a textual community’, Eichhorn is primarily concerned with how the ethnographic or socio logical researcher can conduct research within a community which has no discernable physical sites of engagement. Eichhorn defines a textual community as constituted by people ‘brought together through a shared text, a shared set of texts, or a shared set of reading and writing practices’ and, like the theorists discussed above, places importance on ‘their ability to link people across geographic bounda ries’ (566). These discussions indicate the disciplinary affiliations of their researchers—after all, a literary or cultural studies critic does not share the same anxieties or identify the same challenges regarding the lack of physical presence in zine culture—and they also clearly demonstrate that a large portion of the (small and scattered) field of zine studies has been undertaken by researchers such as Hill and Schilt in the social sciences. Typically, these studies employ the narra tives published in zines as evidence of specific subcultural practices. What we can gain from the studies on riot grrrl culture and zines is a sense of how the publications construct communities and social net works through the production and circulation of narratives. Zine culture has also generated interest in the discipline of media and communications studies, and this discipline offers another perspective from which to think through its unique practices. In his book Alternative Media, Chris Atton approaches zines alongside other media forms from the perspective of communications theory. Primarily interested in developing a communications model which can satisfactorily depict the practices of a range of alternative media
of the 1990s, Atton uses several case studies to examine how different media are used by various community and interest groups (3). Importantly, Atton argues for ‘a theoretical and a methodological framework that incorporates content as one element in an alternative media culture that is equally interested in the processes and relations that form around alternative media production’ rather than con structing a definition based on content alone (3). He constructs the following ‘topology of alternative or radical media’ as a framework for understanding alternative media: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
Content (politically radical, socially/culturally radical); news values Form—graphics, visual language; varieties of presentation and binding, aesthetics Reprographic innovations/adaptations—use of mimeographs, IBM typesetting, offset litho, photocopiers ‘Distributive use’—alternative sites for distribution, clandes tine/invisible distribution networks, anti-copyright Transformed social relations, roles and responsibilities—reader writers, collective organisation, deprofessionalisation of, for example, journalism, printing, publishing Transformed communication processes—horizontal linkages, networks. (Atton Alternative 27)
This topology offers an informative breakdown of the organisation and production of alternative media which can contribute to an understanding of how zine culture is organised, bringing attention to its horizontal organisation, the processes of deprofessionalisation, and the diversity of graphic and material modes of presentation which are used. Atton’s interpretation of zines in his chapter ‘What use is a zine?’ also offers a sound starting point for positioning zine narratives. Examining the well-known American perzine Cometbus, Atton observes that the narration of the mundane in perzines can be inter preted: as instances of popular production rooted in specificities of everyday life, whose authors—as active agents—project
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 21
their sense of self onto cultural practices. They represent their own quotidian experiences, producing their own lives as a work. Through this they produce difference and from that difference ... come social identity and social relations. (Atton Alternative 63) Like Atton, Thomas McLaughlin dedicates a chapter of his book Street Smarts and Cultural Theory: Listening to the Vernacular to zine culture, arguing for an interpretation of zines as instances of popular cultural theorising. McLaughlin uses the example of zines to chal lenge the privileging of intellectual and academic modes of knowl edge production in our understanding of critical thinking. McLaughlin situates his engagement with zine culture through the concept of the ‘elite fan’, which he defines as ‘following a cultural practice closely’ (23), and goes on to posit his investigation of zine culture as one which will examine the ‘overdy interpretive and theoretical activity that fans produce in the zines’, investigating ‘what issues worry zine writers when they consider popular culture, what kinds of questions they ask as critics in order to make their own sense of the text, and what kinds of theoretical insights these questions might lead to’ (55). Elite fandom is central to McLaughlin’s interpretation of zine culture, firstly, because it allows him to position zines as a parallel to academic knowledge production, thus strengthening his overall argument that vernacular theories hold as much value as academic theories. McLaughlin resituates the obsessions of fandom, which he argues have been used to epitomise the passivity of cultural consumption (57), by asserting their similarities with academic specialisations: A ‘fan’ who gathers expertise about early punk music or Star Trek scripts is often thought to be wasting time with debased materials and can be understood only in terms of obsession and personal emptiness. I agree that zine writers and espe cially publishers are obsessed ... But is their commitment so different from that of the academic scholar? Certainly working on the correspondence of Victorian poets seems no less bizarre to the general public than collecting the manuscripts of early punk rockers. (McLaughlin 71)
This argument for zine producers to be recognised as critical cultural theorists is based not only upon the accumulated knowledge of the elite fan, but also on the proposition of ‘widespread fan awareness that all media culture is produced by corporate power for economic purposes’ (57). McLaughlin’s reliance on the concept of fandom in structuring his analysis struggles to account for the diversity of topics and styles of writing in zine culture. This problem is pardy brought about by the absence of a theory of audience for the zine, as the positioning of zinesters as ‘fans’ posits them as audience for the products of popular culture, and zines as an instance of the members of an audience talking among themselves (69). While this characterisation seems fit ting for the publications discussed by Jenkins (who explicitly desig nates them as ‘fanzines’), it fails to account fully for zine culture as partly constituted by practices of reading zines, where the zines them selves construct and imagine an audience, both within and outside the subcultural context. Also, the epistemological privilege given to the status of the elite fan makes extensive knowledge and familiarity with specific cultural practices the condition of conferring the status of ‘theory’ to any zine publication, leaving the position of auto biographical zines (where one is a ‘fan’ of oneself?) indeterminable at best. McLaughlin’s study, however, does give a strong conceptualisa tion of the zine form as constitutive of a critical approach to massproduced culture, where the preference for ‘the raw rather than the cooked’ in zine texts is seen as requiring specific reading strategies which (pre) suppose a different ‘mindset’ to traditional practices of cultural consumption (75). Kirsty Leishman indicates a useful realignment of McLaughlin’s theory of the vernacular in her discussion of Australian zine culture’s internal debates regarding the status of the form, and its relationship to institutions of cultural power (such as the academy and the main stream press). Leishman suggests that McLaughlin’s statement, that vernacular theory ‘makes a distinctive contribution to understanding popular culture because it comes from a perspective that academic cultural theory cannot adopt’ (McLaughlin 62), facilitates the recog nition that Australian zine culture’s extensive theorisation of itself ‘has contributed substantially to the understanding of the popular
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 23
culture practice of zine publishing’ (Leishman 33). This repositioning of the concept of vernacular theory to include the self-conscious theorising of zine practice encourages scholars working on zines to recognise the discussions within the zine community as relevant to their critical analysis. In these studies, the reliance on the concept of resistance can be understood as symptomatic of the highly influential interpretative frameworks introduced by the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, which initiated the study of youth subcultures beyond the prevailing models of deviance. The intractable problems of reading for resistance are well documented in the recent theorising of cultural studies (see Pile 1-5; Bennet 600-603). Andy Bennet and Keith Kahn-Harris point out that the resistance model of youth cul ture developed by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham in the early 1970s overlooks a range of factors influ encing how and why young people adopt particular subcultural prac tices. These include: overestimating the presence of collective, cohesive and static class consciousness in participants of youth sub cultures such as punk; neglecting the possibility that subcultural par ticipation can be done for ‘fun’ rather than for sustained political purposes; and overlooking the distinctions within class groups which influence why some will take up a particular subcultural positioning while others will not (6-9). The resistance approach to zines is char acterised by the interpretation of zine narratives as instantiations of ideologies that stand in opposition to mainstream late capitalist con sumer and media culture, and contends that zines are defined by that oppositional stance. Whether it is ‘third-wave’ feminist ideology of riot grrrl, vernacular theory (McLaughlin) or native reporting (Atton), the ideologies evidenced in zine practices are read as modes of resisting the dominant contemporary political and economic ideolo gies and concepts of subjectivity. The centrality of oppositional positioning in scholarly explora tions of zines is epitomised by Stephen Duncombe in his introduc tion to Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, the only book-length study of contemporary zine culture: In an era marked by the rapid centralization of corporate media, zines are independent and localized, coming out of
cities, suburbs and small towns across the USA, assembled on kitchen tables. They celebrate the everyperson in a world of celebrity, losers in a society that rewards the best and the brightest. Rejecting the corporate dream of an atomized population broken down into discrete and instrumental tar get markets, zine writers form networks and forge communi ties around diverse identities and interests. (Duncombe 2) For Duncombe, the study of zines offers a means of analysing a mode of cultural production and consumption which is an ‘alternative ... way of understanding and acting in the world that operates with different rules and upon different values than those of consumer capitalism’ (6). The practices of trade and gifting, not-for-profit cultural production and valorisation of amateur aesthetics are inter preted by Duncombe as instantiations of political resistance through cultural production, and indeed it is an interest in political resistance which structures Duncombe’s analysis of zine culture (3). Duncombe defines the study of the ‘politics of zine culture’ as interrogating the following elements of zines: what zine writers articulate—either explicitly, or as is often the case impliedly—as being the problems of the present culture, economic, and political system; what they imagine and create as possible solutions to these problems; and what strategies and chances they have for actualising these ideals on both a small and a large scale. (Duncombe 3-4) This interest in the political potential of zine culture interprets zine texts and the practices which surround their production and consumption as a p red o m i n antly political practice expressed through a cultural form. As an approach to a textual community, the resist ance approach to zines privileges what they say, rather than how they say it. Like the studies of riot grrrl culture, vernacular theory and alternative media, Duncombe’s study (which in many ways can be seen as the nucleus of contemporary zine theory) reads the narratives of zine culture as windows into political ideology. This interpretative dual focus—which reads both the texts and the circumstances of their production and consumption, privileging
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 25
the ideological—can be understood as a response to the direct links and blurrings that zine culture practises. As the close readings of zines in this book will illustrate, zines continually reflect upon and draw attention to their status as object and text, as well as the practices that create them. To this point, analytical approaches to zines have predominandy focused on theorising the practices of zine-making and how political interests are represented in zine texts. While Harris, Schilt and Leonard extrapolate riot grrrl philosophies from particular zines, Atton and McLaughlin have constructed particular theoretical catch-alls for zine culture which focus on the alternative or popular interests expressed in zines. Similarly, Duncombe uses the concept of the political underground and the ‘bohemian diaspora’ to structure the zine-making experience (33). These theorisations attempt to take into account the diversity and multiplicity of zine cultures (in the United States, Australia and Britain) that are also characterised by a surprising level of coherence and sense of community. These approaches also marvel at the zine culture’s production of a cultural network and practices across great geographical distances (Eichhorn; Sinor). An important element of the ‘resistance’ reading of zines is that the personal nature of zine-making is emphasised as constitutive of the zine’s mode of resistance. Indeed, a large number of the scholarly examinations of zine culture enshrine the personal at the centre of zine culture, and stress the link between the personal and the resistant in zines: in many cases those who produce zines (‘zinesters’) turn to themselves, to their own lives, their own experiences, and turn these into the subjects of their writing. At the heart of zine culture is not the study of the ‘other’ (celebrity, cul tural object or activity) but the study of the self, of personal expression, sociality and the building of community. (Atton Alternative 54-5) All critical interpretations of zines call forth the personal nature of zine publishing as both its defining characteristic and the founda tion of its capacity for resistance. Anita Harris defines the zine as ‘a kind of personalised newsletter and forum for ‘rants’ originating in
punk and anarchist circles’ (‘Revisiting’ 133), while lennifer Sinor claims that ‘zines vary in content from sci-fi zines to personal zines to queer zines, but they are united in their commitment to the personal’ (243). V. Vale suggests that ‘As a response to media being irrelevant and generally misleading, idiosyncratic personal publishing has proliferated en masse’ (5). This claim to the personal made on behalf of zines forms the basis of the ‘resistance’ reading as it binarises the small scale and personal against the mass-produced and impersonal. These claims lead to the recurrent positioning of zines as an authentic site of expression placed in juxtaposition to massproduced cultural forms such as the globalised capital-driven music, television, fashion and film cultures.
Zine culture and authenticity The resistance model is particularly reliant on interpreting zine nar ratives in terms of the political possibilities of the medium. In his reading of perzines Stephen Duncombe suggests that ‘the narratives told in these [personal] zines are of and by the real individuals and the events chronicled and personalities revealed are far more textured than their scripted and handled counterparts in the mass media’ (24). Thus, the experiences that are narrated in perzines are often uncriti cally accepted as evidence of the potential power of narrating experi ence, without a suitably reflexive conception of ‘narrating’ or ‘experience’ (Smith and Watson Reading 24-8). The continued reliance on ‘authenticity’ in zine commentaries is also the result of the difficulties commentators have in defining the zine form. Leishman, for example, argues that ‘the task of articulating a definition that could account for the infinitely variable format and content of the publications described as zines by their creators is unmanageable’ (7). This is illustrated in an article arguing for the importance of libraries collecting zines in the Library Resources and Technical Services journal, where Richard A. Stoddart and Teresa Kiser conclude their attempt to define the form by saying: ‘Zines are a written product of the human need for self-expression. Beyond that, zines are hard to define. Their ephemeral nature makes it difficult to pinpoint a clear definition, yet it is possible to grasp the concept even though the specifics can sometimes be vague’ (192). The common solution to this problem is to turn to the definition based on
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 27
the philosophies and politics informing zine production. This relieves the difficulties of negotiating the very real problems of arguing a cohesive and inclusive definition of the zine form which could incor porate the diversity of publications in circulation in zine culture out lined in the introduction. Thus critics fall back on notions of the underground, the alternative and the authentic as constituting the zine’s importance and its sphere of intelligibility. The centrality of the concept of authenticity in analysing zine practice is partially the result of slippage between the idea of the zine as an accessible medium (requiring ‘only some stationery and access to a photocopier’) and the perceived accessibility of the zinesters through their works. One example of this slippage can be found in lessica Rosenberg and Gitana Garofalo’s discussion of the importance of zines in the riot grrrl movement: Riot Grrrl sees zine writing and publishing as a basic meth od of empowerment; zine production is self-motivated, political activism that a girl can do entirely independendy. Zines subvert standard patriarchal mainstream media by critiquing society and the media without being censored and also give girls a safe place to say what they feel and believe. (Rosenberg and Garofalo 811) Like Stoddart and Kiser who posit the zine as a ‘direct link to an indi vidual’s opinion, personality, or interpretation of the world’ because it is not ‘filtered through an editor, much less an editorial board’ (192— 3), Rosenberg and Garofalo posit the absence of traditional main stream methods of production, represented by the ‘patriarchal mainstream media’, as constituting zines as an uncomplicated site for girls ‘to say what they feel and believe’. This interpretation is sup ported by transcripts of interviews with riot grrrls (including zinesters), one of whom responds to a question regarding the importance of riot grrrls creating their own culture by saying: ‘they’re real. You can feel people’s emotions in their music and their writing. They’re not fil tered, not trying to be dignified’ (822), while another interviewee reinforces this position by saying ‘Zines and music are more acces sible. Anyone can buy them’ (823).
Kirsty Leishman identifies this understanding of the ‘realness’ of zines by summarising zine culture’s position on mainstream media as follows: In principle, many zine editors decry the mass media as irrevocably corrupted by its need to appease advertisers’ interests. For them, the self-publisher is able to express him or herself unhindered by the agenda of the powerful and, thus, it is only they, through a vanity publication, who are engaged in an authentic mode of expression. (Leishman 8) From Leishman’s analysis of the Australian zine community it becomes possible to situate the testimonies to the accessibility and realness of zine culture by zinesters—whether sourced from the texts themselves or from interviews—as illustrative of the productive dis cursive effects of DfY ethics, rather than a fact of zine culture to be reported. This book argues that the positing of zines as ‘direct and unfiltered’ (Stoddart and Kiser 193), as ‘real’ (Duncombe 24) and ‘genuine’ (Rosenberg and Garofalo 811) covers over the role played by the dis course of DfY as a productive discursive force in zine culture. This naturalisation of the role of DfY also produces the impression that understandings of DfY ethics and their enactment in cultural production are static in zine culture. However, the concepts of authenticity, accessibility and free expression are continually con tested in Australian zine practice. As part of the practice of reading zines as particular instantiations of cultural resistance, the discursive (re) production of the ‘authenticity’ of the medium in crit ical studies eschews the effects narrative structures, narration styles and layouts have on the production and communication of meaning. This is particularly true of studies of riot grrrl zines which seek to read them as uniquely resistant sites of productive girl culture opposed to mainstream, consumption-based modes of expression (see Harris; Schiit). White these examinations of riot grrrl personal zines connect zine practices with new modes of girls’ empowerment, they lack an interpretative framework which explains and contextual ises how and what is actually being produced when, for example,
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 29
‘zines ... teach girls how to be cultural producers ... and lead them to feel more empowered to express their own ideas and opinions’ (Schilt 79). Most importandy, the continued critical practice of citing zine content without a working interpretative framework for how the nar ratives construct and communicate meaning fails to recognise that as ‘opportunities to inscribe their daily lives’ (Sinor 248) perzines are in fact acts of inscription, representation and narration as complex as the more recognised modes of writing such as journalism, literature or even blogging. The conflation of the accessible medium with the accessible author denies the possibility that among the myriad topics covered by zines, ‘authentic expression’ itself may be a subject. So long as we continue to examine zines and zine culture simul taneously we will remain on the periphery of both the culture and the texts it produces. While I recognise that it is difficult to separate zine texts from the subcultural context of their production, it seems odd that zine studies continually privilege the social and subcultural (however renamed) elements of zines over their status as texts. This emphasis on zines as constituting a social and political network often takes zine narratives at face value, reinscribing their status as ama teur texts by overlooking their modes of emplotment and narrative strategies in favour of reading zine narratives as testimony or inter view material.
The DIY ethic The majority of commentary on zine culture takes the do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic as the ideological underpinning of the publications. The result of this positioning is that DIY becomes the main point of focus in zine texts and practices, interviews with zinesters and empirical research conducted by the researcher. These approaches privilege the unmasking of DIY ideology over those readings of zine culture which would examine how DIY actually works to produce zine texts. The prevalence of resistance readings of zines illustrates how the reading for ideology framework has dominated zine study, and works to stabi lise and reify a set of propositions which are, in the Australian context at least, continually contested, debated and shifting within the zine community. Throughout this study I will return to situating DIY as a primary discursive influence in the production of zine texts, examining how it 30
structures the production and circulation of texts and the meanings circulated in zine culture. But in the short term we must immediately address the question: what exacdy is DIY? Amy Spencer produces a genealogy of the DIY ethic which charts ‘The History of DIY Publishing’ (94) taking in the publishing and art activities of the Beats, Fluxus, the Dada movement, the Situationist International and the independent newspapers of 1960s countercul ture (94-139), as well as the inception of the fanzine through science fiction fandom (94-8). By examining a variety of precedents for the contemporary zine, taken predominandy from art and culture move ments, Spencer gives an historical overview of self-publishing prac tices which foregrounds the recurrent concerns of community-building (133), self-promotion (111) and the refusal to rely on mainstream, professionalised modes of cultural production and distribution as defining characteristics of the DIY ethic. Stephen Duncombe offers a similar historical sketch of the zine form, drawing parallels which reach back further than Dada to the political pamphlets of the eight eenth century such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (27) and the writings of early anarchists (34). However, both Kirsty Leishman and Chris Atton have criticised this kind of historical positioning of contemporary zines, arguing that it involves a necessary ‘revision of the meaning and functions of publishing in previous artistic movements’ (Atton Alternative 56). For Leishman, the extrapolation of DIY through comparisons with politi cal publishing such as the pamphlets and the samizdat ‘has the effect of investing the process of self-publishing with an intrinsic ability to affect social and political change’, an effect produced by the act of claiming historical connection and influence, rather than through the replication of the results of those movements (38). Despite these concerns, and perhaps because it avoids the grander claims to the history of political resistance made by others (Duncombe; Hultkrans), Spencer’s genealogy of the zine form is instructive in that it offers an overview of the development of DIY approaches to publishing which foregrounds the recurrent fascination with communities, self-determination and formal experimentation. Functioning as an introductory text, however, Spencer’s work does not make a con sistent argument for an understanding of the discursivity of DIY or move beyond a descriptive (and at times prescriptive) examination of self-publishing movements throughout the twentieth century. Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 31
The contemporary DIY ethic emphasises the validity of ‘eve ryday’ individuals, commonly positioned as amateurs, embracing the tools of cultural production. Epitomised by the rough, unprofessional and limited sounds of garage punk bands—who often only knew how to play their instruments in the most rudimentary way—DIY culture embraces the aesthetic of the homemade, and takes pleasure in the production and circulation of cultural products outside the economy of cultural industries both elite and popular. While many theorists (such as Duncombe) position DIY discourse as having specific politi cal motivations, in Australia DIY culture is often enacted out of more playful interests than rigorous or focused strategising for political change. Contemporary Australian DIY culture has an equally strong interest in skill-sharing and development, non-commercial modes of circulation and distribution, and practices of craft and thrift as sources of pleasure and community-building which seek no greater effect than their own existence. This kind of philosophy can seen in events such as the annual This Is Not Art festival in Newcasde, publications such as Cyclic Defrost, and initiatives such as The Network of Uncollectable Artists (NUCA) and Sticky zine store. That is not to say that DIY culture is apolitical. Rather, there is a need for the recogni tion of a spectrum of political and cultural activity which takes place under the rubric (and just as often not) of DIY, a level of nuance often overlooked by theorists who focus solely on the resistance such prac tices instantiate. The DIY ethic is most usefully understood as a primary discur sive context for zine culture, as that set of precepts which both pro duces particular instantiations of DIY culture and inscribes the ‘domain of intelligibility’ (Buder Bodies 187) in which such culture can be consumed and understood. Reading zines as resistant texts often results in an analysis that focuses on zines as expressions of the DIY ethic without an acknowledgment of how these texts actually produce and inscribe the DIY ethic itself. While it may be sufficient to read zines as instantiations of particular ideologies, without a suit ably reflexive understanding of how the productive effects of dis course inscribe the domain of their intelligibility, interpretations of zine culture structured by discourses of resistance remain of limited use in the examination of zine narratives. The discursive approach to zines is adopted, albeit in a different manifestation, by Richard Haynes in his study of football (soccer) 32 Intimate
fanzines in the United Kingdom. In his analysis of punk fanzines as precursors to football fanzines, Haynes makes the following observa tion regarding the fanzine’s role in the punk movement: The access and enthusiasm to produce fanzines enabled a definition of punk from those submerged within the cul ture. To be more precise, it enabled a multitude of defini tions, scrambling definitions and commentary in the tabloid and music press. (Haynes 40) In foregrounding the productive function of the fanzine in creating and circulating ideas about punk, Haynes illustrates how football fan zines produce and (re)produce specific discourses about football fandom (see, for example, 113-29). The positioning of punk and foot ball fanzines as producing and ‘scrambling’ definitions and identity formations—what it means ‘to be’ a punk or supporter of a particular club—foregrounds the extent to which the zines contribute to the production of their own domain of intelligibility, rather than being the outcomes or expressions of specific discourses such as DIY, punk or football. Haynes goes on to assert that ‘Fanzines communicated and constructed punk, with particular social vocabularies and ideo logical formations’ (41), which further suggests a reorientation of the understanding of the relationship between ‘punk’ and its instantia tions, questioning, as Judith Buder does in her influential work on discourse, the hierarchical theorisation that posits discourse as pre ceding its cultural expression.
A new focus: From ideology to narrative This summary of existing concepts applied to zine culture is intended to illustrate that the central debates in zine-related research currently centre around negotiating the openly oppositional stance often adopted in the publications, with a suitably critical and reflexive interpretive strategy. Until now, the emphasis in zine study has been on the political, in the sense that researchers have attempted to understand and theorise how zines conceptualise and instantiate their relationship to the elements of mainstream culture which they deride, avoid, critique and reinterpret. Commentators agree that zines and zine culture constitute a unique site of cultural production that is frequendy characterised by strong ideological commitments, Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 33
while also maintaining, or producing, a distinct community of readers and writers. Despite a diversified critical interest in zines, there has been a surprising level of consistency in the reliance on models of resistance and readings for ideology. However, scholars have also identified the sticking points for critical engagements with zines, which arise from their topical and physical diversity, their ability to construct and perform sociality across large distances, and their unique status as publicly distributed yet homemade texts. This project originates from a curiosity about what might become visible if resistance models were given less currency in inter preting zines. I am interested in developing an interpretative strategy that investigates the claims to the personal and the authentic made both by and for zines. By focusing on how the personal and the authentic are constructed and mediated in the perzine text, I wish to reorientate the critical attention paid to zines and contribute to a theo risation of their unique appeal and potential as self-published texts. The aim is to offer a close analysis and investigation of how perzines operate as instances of self-publishing which perform highly specific and thematised narratives of identity, and which are also character ised by developed practices of self-reflexive consideration of how one publishes ‘the self’. In developing a methodology suitable for the task, I have drawn on literary studies’ dedication to the possibilities pro duced by close textual analysis, and more specifically the practices of connected reading and contextual text analysis practised in contem porary auto/biography scholarship. A narrative-focused approach to zines, which privileges the texts over the collection of behaviours that produce them, presents oppor tunities both to challenge and to develop further the state of contem porary zine research. In approaching perzines as sites of narrative production and circulation, the existing emphasis on ideological extrapolation—where scholars often reiterate the claims made in zines—can be replaced by an interrogation into how the narrative modes unique to zines are used to construct and present particular identities and communities embedded within specific discursive regimes. By refiguring the claim to the personal through an examina tion of zine-making as a process of self-making, the positioning of zines as authentic sites of expression will be complicated by the atten tion paid to how zines narrate and present subjectivity through a dialectical engagement with multiple discourses. 34 Intimate
For these reasons I have chosen to focus on the ‘perzine’. The personal zine has become a predominant form of zine writing in the last five to ten years in Australia (Poletti 184). It is characterised by the authors taking their life and identity as the main focus of the zine they produce. The perzine is typified by this narrative preoccupation with self-hood and the textual representation of the self. While ‘the personal’ is commonly employed by commentators to characterise all zine production it is the perzine which is often cited as the exem plification of the zine form, or has received specific scholarly focus (Sinor; Hodgson et al.; Harris; Leonard; Schilt; Poletti). A textual focus on the personal zine allows a more concise investigation of the zine as a medium of personal publishing, while also allowing a close analy sis of the perzine as an autobiographical form. In exploring the per zine in this way, the explicit claims to authenticity and the personal that define life-writing practices can be used to add theoretical and conceptual structure to what have been, up to this point in the critical literature, quite vaguely articulated features of zines.
Personal publishing: Engaging auto/biography studies through the perzine The focus on perzines in this study facilitates a close analysis of the issues of authenticity and truth claims made for zine culture, the construction of community through narrative, the diversity of form, and the workings of conceptions of public and private. Taking selected current strands of auto/biography theory as a point of departure, I will present thematically structured close readings of a selection of perzine narratives with the aim of interrogating the ‘self’ in self-publishing. Such an approach examines the discourses that produce autobiographical writing in zine culture. Each chapter presents a close reading of particular aspects of autobiographical zines and the discourses which both enable them, and which they produce. This process of reading for discourse provides a means of conceptualising how perzines perform particular styles of autobiographical writing, and how they communicate meaning and imagine the possibilities of communication through various strategies of narrative and presentation. Contemporary autobiography theory can be particularly useful in reconceptualising the resistant features of perzine narratives by Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 35
offering a more developed and specific analysis of the discursive social forces that construct and influence the subject, and how the autobiographer writes back against such forces. One such productive encounter can be illustrated by bringing Liz Stanley’s formulation of ‘audit selves’ to an analysis of perzine narratives: The relevance of the idea of‘audit selves’ to the concerns of feminist auto/biography can be indicated by reference to some of the figures, personae rather than persons, who have stalked public discourse in recent years, for example ‘the hyperactive boy’, ‘the criminal youth’, ‘the sexually abused girl’, ‘the mentally ill woman’, ‘the part-time woman worker’, ‘the single mother’, ‘the menopausal woman’, ‘the homeless man’, and ‘the HIV positive man’. Audit selves are composite figures, typically heavily gendered ones, which are artefacts of information collection, retrieval and analy sis systems. (Stanley‘From “Self-made Women’” 50) Stanley’s application of ‘audit selves’ attempts to initiate a critical engagement with the various autobiographical practices conducted in ‘audit culture’. Audit selves are those selves created in encounters such as job applications, census forms, dole forms and the bureau cratic cultures of banking and housing rental. Stanley argues that the combination of information collection and surveillance which char acterise audit culture results in the solidification of an individual’s identity, based on selected facts, which is then policed by the ongoing collection, storage and cross-checking of data gathered through audit encounters (54). In the Australian context, such information sharing and surveillance is increasingly common between organisations such as Centrelink, the Australian Tax Office, banks, educational institu tions (in the administration of the student loan scheme, for example) and employers. Stanley goes on to suggest that: The outcome of these gendered patterns in the form of ‘audit selves’ becomes constitutive of the kind of people we need to seem to be in the organisational encounters we find ourselves in. That is, audit gives rise to information require ments which impinge on organisational encounters and
produce generalised audit selves that are then accorded the status of truths rather than truisms. In turn, the people who are the objects of organisational encounters shape their self-presentations to organisational information needs, by providing this piece of information and that, the form of which is predetermined as relevant or essential for organisational purposes. In addition, people may feel or may actually be constrained to perform these characteris tics of the audit selves with which they are associated because there are surveillance consequences involved. (Stanley‘From “Self-made Women’” 54, emphasis added) This interpretation of the effects of engagements with the increas ingly necessary and ongoing encounters with audit culture is one means of gaining a level of specificity and particularity to the ‘regula tory regimes’ which zines are posited as resisting (Harris ‘Revisiting’ 134). In Australian perzines, there are many examples of resistance to audit culture, in particular the highly structured and surveillanceorientated practices of Centrelink, the organisation responsible for the administration of social security payments, that works in con junction with the privatised system of job Network providers to regulate and enforce the job seeking activities of payment recipients. Centrelink also oversees the payment of student allowances, and thus a large portion of zine-makers have had contact with the organisa tion, either as students or when they have left employment or educa tion and are looking for work. Indeed, references to and discussions of Centrelink are very common in a variety of Australian zines and DIY culture. In the zine 5 Roaring Amy presents a critique of the systems of information collection and evaluation used by Centrelink (see Figure 1). The question ‘Do you fit into one of these boxes? Remember we will check ... ’ parodies the audit encounter as producing a general ised profile which is likened to packaging and limiting the individual into a predetermined identity selected from a limited array of ‘welfare recipient’ designations: ‘unemployed’, ‘poor student’, ‘mentally unstable’, ‘serious junkie’. The audit requirements of Centrelink, which must be fulfilled to receive payments, are depicted as implementing the policy of ‘you’re all liars until proven otherwise’ and the ongoing
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 37
Cent relink sqh
giving you options /
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AWl> (&UHC. CtMA -jliqrM&c Oo you lit i/rfoHu ontone, of kxws ? ^croerr»bi/ k/£ Mill cJiecte,...
^JJunempi°yed n.b If you left your job voluntarily you will be breached at a rate*of 18% for 6 months. Yo.u evidently did not appreciate your privelige enough and need to be taught a. lesson. JJ Living below the poverty line n.b this is not as 'cut and dry'as it may first appear. You may be required to undergo a lot of tedious asessments and so forth. you wm understand this is to make it fair for everyone. There are still a" lot of lever levels below the poverty line. Homeless
TX ,» «. f^Going through some sort of ’life crisis’ This will need to be proven to effect you financially. Note that ina case such as escaping from domestic violence we take this quite seriously. This usually takes the form of aproperly cnducted asessment done by a social worker, and to prove you are escaping you must be in a refuge. The fact ’that this accomodation is not always available will not be taken into consideration. ---------—
Figure 1: Two-page spread from ^’Roaring
our cfctfa femes are, 6bwe ll axldi jjxi ml eve/jtimt l Poor student I^you are eligible there are sone things you will need to take into consideration. You may want to consider just getting a job n.b if you are not kicked out of home or left for a reason which we regard as reasonable (having homophobic’ parents does not count unfortunately for all you fags) you will still only get the dependant rate, which is cofisiderably less. Yes,even if you're 24. Mentally unstable, serious junkie, or some other socially, inept condition We give people like you special conditions. IF you agree to psychiatric testing and case management (constant surveillance) we may consider allowing you to not actively be seeking work and still get payment. How about that!
If you ticked yes to any of the above you may MAY BE eligible for centrelink assistnace. You will need to prove your status as our policy is'you're all liars until proven otherwise'.Once your on our system prepare to be hounded with lots of forms, continual fuck ups on our behalf, constant meetings at our convenience^ an increased phone bill due to the amount of times you , need to correct our mistakes, standing in long lines with staff who also don't understnad our stupid systems and to top it all off fuck all money.
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 39
requests for information—most commonly made through the fort nightly form which details the individual’s job-seeking efforts—is portrayed as hounding and distrust. Paul offers a slighdy different perspective on the audit culture of Centrelink in Starzine #2, reflecting on the time he spent working for Centrelink and processing the large amounts of information that the organisation collected: I have a confession to make—I used to work at Centrelink. I say this because I like to think I have some knowledge as to what goes on behind the walls and plastic plant dividers I am now forced to stare at as I wait to hand in my form. Though it was a few years ago now. When I was 20,1 started out in the Newstart section. I had to ask my supervisor to cancel my own dole, which was a litde strange. My days consisted of processing sul9’s (dole forms) cos that’s the easiest task for trainees. The forms without fortnighdy income (cleanskins) were processed via a handheld scanner in batches of 50, pinned together, and chucked in storage for a certain time until they’d be destroyed. Doing this, I’d look back upon all the stress of filling out my own forms, trying to list different places so they wouldn’t catch me out. I thought they cared, but in reality there’s not enough time to care. (Paul Starzine #2) In this narrative, Paul’s status as a past employee of Centrelink affords him the unique position of narrating an ‘inside’ view of the large-scale audit practices of the organisation, which he presents as largely ineffective. While Amy’s collage states that ‘our databases are so great we’ll catch you out everytime!’, Paul portrays the audit prac tices of Centrelink as far less sophisticated, where the information which is collected in certain forms—Newstart requests for payment without income to declare—are not even read; they are merely scanned and later destroyed. Paul’s narrative is surrounded by moti vational and promotional statements regarding Centrelink’s status as a ‘premier broker of information and solutions and excellence in service’ and a ‘key part of the community which finds solutions for its customers’, yet his narrative reflects upon Centrelink’s provision of
services, and its ineffectiveness in ‘helping people’ as internal proc esses become streamlined and staff are placed under strict efficiency programs. Another reflection on the efficacy of Centrelink is presented in Handpash zine, where Sandy narrates his experiences of dealing with Centrelink during a period of depression. In an essay tided ‘Centrelink can destroy your life’, which is organised as a series of numbered points, Sandy reflects on Centrelink’s strategies for assisting cus tomers with mental health problems: 4. now this is fucking great, my case manager at the job net work [ ... ] is making me see a counselor also at the job network, it is so fucking retarded i want to punch someone, myself, probably, how are you supposed to see, talk to, and trust a counselor employed by the job network? given that for most people involved in job network programs, the job network is probably one of their main problems/sources of stress, given also that the job network can have you breached (i.e. have your income cut off), what could possibly make anyone with three-quarters of a brain think that somebody in need of help could ever get it from a job network counselor? (Sandy Handpash) In what is best described as a rant, Sandy presents the frustrations produced when he is required to engage in an audit encounter which presupposes honesty and trust, and a willingness to be helped, yet maintains a surveillance element. In this instance both his case man ager and the counsellor are perceived to have the power to report him for a breach of his mutual obligation requirements which must be met for his payments to continue; in refusing to see the counsellor he may be breached, because it may be concluded that he does not want to be helped. Sandy also suspects that the counsellor will be able to judge and recommend a course of action regarding his payments. Here the narrative presents a heightened sense of tension which is the product of a recognition that self-presentation in the audit encounter must conform to the informational requirements of the organisation. The threat of being judged in breach of his obligations, and the resultingloss of his income, dominates the narrator’s thinking
Rethinking Resistance, Authenticity and Autobiography 41
and results in conflict about the possibility of receiving help for his depression from a counsellor embedded within the surveillance and regulatory practices of Centrelink. In her exploration of the concept of audit selves in autobiog raphy, Stanley focuses on unpacking how individual audit encounters are translated into generalised profiles of ‘types’ that are then mobi lised in public discourse. The sample list of identities quoted above informs Stanley’s reflection on how individuals in specific audit encounters become mindful of the ‘kinds of people we need to seem to be’ in order to respond correctly to audit requirements, and achieve the desired outcome (such as the continuation of Centrelink pay ments). Augmenting Stanley’s list, Amy’s narrative presents a cynical, but perhaps not completely inaccurate, summation of identities on offer to the Centrelink customer. Paul’s narrative of the presentation of the bureaucracy from the ‘inside’ suggests that the information collection conducted by Centrelink has little direct impact on indi vidual lives. In his narration of the encounter with the job network counsellor, Sandy presents a failed audit encounter, where ‘there is so much more i would have said with a little prodding’, and ultimately the counsellor fails to solicit information from him. The small pieces of information which are collected in this instance are portrayed as failures of containment resulting in leakage, and the narrative ends with an extensive list of all the details which were not provided during the meeting: ‘and so she does not know that i have been cutting myself, doesn’t know about the panic attacks, doesn’t know about the intense feeling of fucking doom wrapped around me like concrete’. For Stanley, the audit self is a compelling concept for autobiog raphy studies because it extends the study of autobiography into mundane and recurrent cultural engagements. The audit self requires us to ask: what kind of self is constituted by systems of audit, and with what consequences for the relationship between the ‘exteriority self’ of audit and notions of inferiority? (Stanley ‘From “Self-made Women’” 45) In concluding her essay Stanley allows for ‘gaps, disjunctures and silences’ in the audit selves which may be sites of ‘performance
and resistance’ in ‘conceptions of ‘the public” (‘From “Self-made Women’” 57), and it is in relation to these two observations, regarding exteriority and inferiority and interventions in understandings of ‘the public’, that perzine narratives can be productively read. On the one hand, the concept of audit selves offers a clear image of a nexus of discourses and practices to which the perzine form is reacting or resisting. In narrating personal experiences with Centrelink, zinesters critique the functionality and effectiveness of one instance of audit culture, highlighting the failure of Centrelink’s processes to successfully capture or deal fairly with the information it strives to collect. The production and circulation of these opinions on Centrelink intervene in the dominant public conception of Centrelink as a functioning bureaucratic organisation. On the other hand, Stanley’s concept of audit selves also suggests an approach to the per zine form where the zine, enabled by the discourse of DIY, can be understood as a site of self-representation produced outside the organisational encounter that seeks to narrate those experiences, thoughts and feelings which for a variety of reasons are not repre sented in the zinester’s audit profile (s). The perzine can be interpreted as a creative response to the unsatisfying and insufficient modes of self-representation available in audit culture, where experiences which may be deemed irrelevant to, or indeed jeopardise, the func tionality of the audit self, can be narrated.
Disciplining subjects: The question of genre autobiography wraps up the interrupted and fragmentary discourses of identity (those stories we tell ourselves and are told, that hold us together as ‘persons’) and presents them as persons themselves. (Gilmore 17) The recent critical repositioning of life writing from an expressive act, an act that expresses the autobiographer, to a productive act, where the act of narration is seen to be productive of the autobiographical textual self, has come to precedence over the last three decades of autobiography theory. A version of the theoretical positions informing this critical shift was famously suggested by Paul de Man in his 1979 article ‘Autobiography as De-facement’:
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We assume that life produces the autobiography as an act produces its consequences, but can we not suggest, with equal justice, that the autobiographical project may itself produce and determine the life and that whatever the writer does is in fact governed by the technical demands of self-portraiture and thus determined, in all its aspects, by the resources of his medium? (de Man 920) Over a decade later, Sidonie Smith rearticulates this change in thinking about the autobiographical by claiming: The theory of self-expression that has driven various strands of autobiography theory assumes that self-identity emerges from a psychic inferiority, located somewhere ‘inside’ the narrating subject. There it lies in a state most coherent, unified, evidentiary, even expectant, awaiting transmission to a surface, a tongue, a pen, a keyboard. Through such media the essence of this inner self can be translated into the metaphorical equivalence in language, into strings of words and narrative sequences. (Smith ‘Performativity’ 108) For Smith the ramifications of philosophical arguments about the construction of identity through performance and recitation, made famous in the work of judith Buder, force the critic of autobiography to radically revisit the issue of who, and what, is being presented in life writing. Much of this re-evaluation of autobiography theory has examined how the critical formation of autobiography theory, and the genre-making work of early critics of the genre, have influenced, defined and restricted how autobiographical texts are constructed and received (Smith and Watson Reading 111-35). This change in critical practice has led many to (re) consider the act of life writing as self-making, rather than self-expressive. As Smith suggests: In each instance ... narrative performativity constitutes infe riority. That is, the inferiority or self that is said to be prior to the autobiographical expression or reflection is an effect of autobiographical storytelling. (Smith ‘Performativity’ 109)
This resituating of the conditions of the autobiographical not only realigns the interpretative practice of the critic within particular theoretical developments—developments which have exerted a great deal of influence on critical reading practices over the last twenty years—but can be taken as the basis for interpreting texts which do not display the levels of coherence traditionally associated with the recording of the ‘great life’. That is, the issue of narrative performativity raised by Smith should not only influence how we think about the representational practice of life writing and the status of the ‘inte rior’ as the subject of narration, but also reorientate our thinking about the practice of narration itself. While the notion of performativity is most commonly aligned with the possibilities of subversion and resistance, this concept may also be used to investigate autobio graphical acts which may (re) produce the subject as (self-) consciously marginal and self-effacing. These developments in life-writing studies are particularly useful in critically situating the concept of authenticity identified in current zine research. The application of the concepts of performativity and of identities constructed through narrative and discourse helps to diffuse the current reliance on notions of zines representing ‘the real’, without a radical loss of consequence or validity for the medium. On the contrary, by reading perzine texts as performing and producing particular notions of self-hood through life writing and text-making, the potential for productive and informative inter pretations of zine narratives is increased. The claims of authenticity can be situated as working within particular discursive contexts, the discourse of authenticity among them, and their efficacy and poten tial for communicating meaning can be more thoroughly examined. One consequence of bringing perzines into the field of life writing studies is that if the practice of life writing by those who do not neady fit the description of the traditional ‘autobiographical sub ject’ ‘promptjs] a profound renegotiation of the terms and forms of self-representation’ (Gilmore 2), then this obliges the critic not only to interrogate the subject of narrative and the narrative’s functioning, but also to examine assumptions of completeness, coherence and stability as effects produced by the written word, particularly when presented as professionally printed and bound. The ephemeral and temporary characteristics of the zine text-object are distinct in their
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ability to occasion critical engagement with ideas surrounding permanency and cultural products. These considerations are one expansive interpretation of the contemporary relevance of de Man’s assessment that: The difficulties of generic definition that affect the study of autobiography repeat an inherent instability that undoes the model as soon as it is established ... it apdy connotes the turning motion of tropes and confirms that the specu lar moment is not primarily a situation or an event that can be located in a history, but that it is the manifestation, on the level of the referent, of a linguistic structure. The specu lar moment that is part of all understanding reveals the tropological structure that underlies all cognitions, including knowledge of the self. The interest of autobiography, then, is not that it reveals reliable self-knowledge—it does not— but that it demonstrates in a striking way the impossibility of closure and of totalisation (that is the impossibility of coming into being) of all textual systems made up of tropological systems, (de Man 922) If we take de Man’s reflection on tropological systems to include the systems of meaning within which texts as cultural products circulate, how the materiality of books, letters, blogs, diaries and zines con tribute to the specular moment, we can identify a call (which I should now make in my own name, rather than through de Man) to interro gate the tropes of textual presentation and production as a constitu tive factor in the production of autobiographical selves. For de Man the problems of generic definition of the autobiographical are unique not because of the claims made by the author on behalf of the text, or the pact made between author and reader regarding ‘the subject’ of life writing (Lejeune), but because life narrative texts lay claim to acting as linking devices between the textual and the material world. He describes this claim, or series of claims, as an obsession with ‘the need to move from cognition to resolution and to action, from specu lative to political and legal authority’ (922), and while these claims are of uncontested importance to contemporary life writing studies, some critics are also turning to the material production and
presentation of life narratives as contributing to how these claims are made, by and on behalf of different subjects (see Temple; Rak; Schaffer and Smith. The study of autobiography continues to expand and diversify in the aftermath of the rejection of the hegemonic and exemplary genre of‘autobiography’, and ‘life writing’ has replaced the term ‘auto biography’ as the most general mode of designation. However, the problematics of genre and generic definition remain visibly present in contemporary autobiography studies. One symptom of this can be identified in the appendix of fifty-two genres of life narrative Sidonie Smith and julia Watson attach to their guide for reading autobiog raphy (Reading 183-207), a list they admit could have been ‘much longer’ (146). The production of such an appendix appears to react against the perceived narrowness of‘Autobiography’ as genre by des ignating each differential of prose as constituting a new genre. For Smith and Watson, generic distinction is based on intent, critical con tribution, thematic or philosophical grounds; their appendix reads like an eternal splitting, where boundaries between and within genres seem fluid. For example, we find included the genres of‘captivity nar rative’, an ‘overarching term for any narrative told by someone who is, or has been, held captive by some capturing group’ (190) and ‘prison narratives’, a ‘mode of captivity narrative written during or after the period of incarceration’ (201), as well as separate entries for the diary, the journal and serial autobiography. This continual naming of new genres embraces an ethic of plurality which is both refreshing and worrisome, just as Stephen Duncombe’s attempts to construct a taxonomy of zines results in its dissolution into the category of ‘the rest’, Smith and Watson’s list of genres raises interesting questions about the applicability of such schematics in the face of a pluralised and continually expanding field of research. While the taxonomy and the appendix both admit their partiality and incompleteness, they are still presumed to be of some use in the engagement with untheorised texts. However, how are we to mobilise these concepts once they are named? And, in the case of the fifty-two genres of life narrative, how do they relate to the diverse reading practices enacted on life writing texts within and outside the academy? In the context of this project’s aims, there are two main issues rising out of the list of genres presented by Smith and Watson.
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The first relates to their reorganisation of critical commentaries on life writing where, extending beyond theme-based micro distinctions, the appendix designates theoretically informed genres such as: Autobiographies: Leigh Gilmore proposed the term auto biographies to suggest how many women’s life narratives transgress received genre norms. She defines autobio graphies as ‘those changing elements of the contradictory discourses and practices of truth and identity’ and explores how the autobiographical is constituted in a wide range of women’s personal narratives ... (Smith and Watson Reading Autobiography 184) While this classification of Gilmore’s theoretical investigations into non-canonical women’s writing articulates the explicit challenge she makes to the ‘law of genre and gender’ in conceptions of the autobio graphical, it radically constrains the sustained critique of the prac tices of genre-making that Gilmore presents (16-64). Following the statement quoted by Smith and Watson in their summary of autobio graphies, Gilmore goes on to posit how her study of Audre Lorde’s Zami:A New Spelling of My Name and Carolyn Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman aims to ‘show how autobiographies avoids the ter minal questions of genre and close delimitation and offers a way, instead, to ask: Where is the autobiographical? What constitutes its representation?’ (13). The repositioning of autobiographies as genre in the appendix appears to detach Gilmore’s interpretive method from the rigorous theoretical grounding upon which it is established. This move overlooks Gilmore’s critique of how generic criticism of autobiography is ‘installed as [a] border guard’ which ‘defends against the threat of mixed forms’ (33), and her assertion that ‘the law of genre creates oudaws’ (22), preferring instead to reposition autobiographies as a positive contribution to the expansion of life writing genres. Gilmore’s argument offers a reorientation of interpretative prac tices away from the attention on the generic to a strategy of writing and reading which aims to identify ‘a location in a text where self invention, self-discovery, and self-representation emerge within the technologies of autobiography’ (42). On the one hand, the content of
the theory of autobiographies is particularly focused on women’s writing and their experimentations beyond the limits of canonical autobiography, and situates them as specific responses to the conver gences of the laws of gender and genre. Yet Gilmore’s method also exemplifies a means of negotiating recurrent debates in autobiog raphy studies by defusing the impulse to define how particular narratives instantiate generalisable claims which can be abstracted to form genre definitions. By focusing on how specific discourses and narrative strategies—which she labels ‘technologies’—are deployed in the narration of textual identities Gilmore presents a mode of criti cal analysis and interpretation which refuses the practice of genre-making. Despite Gilmore’s claims, the practices of genre-making con tinue, as Smith and Watson’s index demonstrates. In part, this can be understood as a consequence of the continuing exploration of writing forms and practices undertaken in a number of disciplines. The recent turn to blog and online life writing forms, for example, has occasioned the most recent designation of new life writing genres (Zuern). In her article on queer weblogs lulie Rak positions the importance of thinking through (and naming) emergent genres of life writing as follows: Thinking of blogs as their own genre of life writing and rep resentation helps to characterize them as a type of com municative action that constitutes its own terms as it makes communication possible ... genres are social strategies within writing that are not themselves value free. Genres produce ideology, embody values, and make cultures pos sible. (Rak 176) From this perspective, the designation of genre can be anchored both through an attention to its enabling discourses, and by the types of communication they make possible. In this sense, genres are a pri mary tool of narrative communities for whom they have tremendous social power, both positive and exclusionary (176-7). However, Susan Tridgell has illustrated how more loosely applied concepts of genre can result in the de-politicising and over simplification of some popular autobiographies such as From the
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Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Burmese exile Pascal Khoo Thwe. Tridgell argues that reviews of Khoo Thwe’s autobiog raphy use the ‘poor boy fights odds, grows up, [migrates to the West], makes it rich’ schema to overlook the political ramifications of a nar rative which deeply criticises the Burmese military regime (77-8). Kate Douglas raises similar concerns in relation to the ‘normative readings’ performed in the reviews and public discussions of contem porary Australian Indigenous autobiography, particularly those written by and addressing the Stolen Generation. Douglas contends that the (white) public reception of these texts ‘has more to do with the promotion and promulgation of accessible, universalised autobi ographical standards than exploring the political act of writing and reading autobiographies, or the momentous social engagements so often made in these texts’ (179). These debates about genre occur within a field in which there continues to be examination of new and old modes of life writing which have hitherto not drawn critical attention, and the development of interpretative practices and strategies alongside the changing subjects of analysis. While critics such as Smith and Watson argue for the exten sive applicability of the strategies of contemporary autobiography theories in books such as Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image and Performance and Getting a Life: Everyday Uses of Autobiography, texts such as blogs and zines also challenge existing modes of enquiry and methods of framing. Rak argues, for example, that the practices of queer bloggers trouble the assumptions regarding the fluidity of iden tity which critics often posit as being epitomised by online writing technologies and ‘queer identities’ as they are imagined by queer theory. Rather, through her research Rak discovers that queer bloggers can and do (re)invest the script of liberal humanism, and its positing of a coherent and stable ‘true’ identity, through practices of representing ‘the real’ online (174-6). Rak strongly argues that the close reading of queer blogs can challenge the theoretical tools the critic may be tempted to employ in thinking of the blog as fitting into the diary genre, a generic alignment Rak posits as a means for critics to overcome ‘uneasiness and even queasiness about online diary scholarship’ where the interdeterminacy of the ‘new’ causes anxiety and crisis (170). Through an attentive reading of ‘blog rhetoric’ Rak argues against the impulse to see online diaries as merely a subgenre of the paper diary.
Another instance of critical investigation that thoroughly explores the ramifications of genre can be found in the anthology of contemporary diary criticism Inscribing the Daily: Critical Essays on Women’s Diaries. Collecting a range of investigations into the diary form, Inscribing the Daily is a sustained analysis of how generic expectations work to constitute and (de)limit how scholars engage the texts of marginalised authors. In her article ‘Fragments as Diary: Theoretical Implications of the Dreams and Visions of “Baby Doe” Tabor’, fudy Nolte Temple proposes that contemporary diary scholarship, which has been involved in the reclamation of lost texts by bringing many to publication, has resulted in the construction, and normalisation, of unrealistic expectations about how diary texts function: the scholars who would bring these brave new texts to light have themselves been socialized by years of learning to have conventional, limited and limiting standards for a readable text. Since most diary manuscripts do not meet these standards, scholars edit, cut, footnote, and otherwise manipulate the text in order to arrange its debut. What scholars, including myself, do to diaries in the name of love and/or promotion, has both gained acceptance for our field of study while at the same time delaying the inevi table face-to-face meeting between readers and actual diaries. (Temple 77) Using the collection of text fragments of ‘Baby Doe’ Tabor, an American recluse who died in 1935, as a case in point, Temple con siders how texts as difficult and fragmentary as Tabor’s resist scholarly modes of classification and normalised reading practices. In consid ering the impossibility of bringing Tabor’s text to publication, and a larger audience, Temple posits ‘three criteria for a publishable diary’ which she argues are ‘straight out of high school freshman English’ and ‘exclude more diaries than they include’ (77). The criteria are identified as: ‘(1) a central organising event, that is, ‘plot’ that occurs within an intelligible time framework; (2) a clearly drawn geographic and human universe, that is, ‘setting’; (3) a core consciousness and voice, that is, ‘character’ that gives the text internal rationality’ (77).
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Temple concludes this observation by commenting that ‘[ojnly if the writer is among the literary elite—Woolf, Nin—do readers accept more fluidity within the text and its persona’ (77). These observations ask us to consider how the re-presentation of diary texts in profes sional, standardised publishing encodes particular expectations and structures of readable texts, and intersects with a consideration of how the material presentation of a text contributes to how it is read. The problems of genre, its constitution, boundaries and appli cation as an interpretive tool, are of importance to this project, not only because I offer an extensive analysis of a life writing practice that has not been attempted before, but also because the life writing in zines intersects with these reflections on the role of genre and mate rial presentation in stabilising and disciplining wayward autobiogra phers and their texts. While contemporary zine scholarship has done much to establish, define and delimit the broad field of ‘the zine’ as a genre, these definitions have focused on defining a media genre, not a literary one. Moreover, these definitions have sought to organise the concept of the zine around the theorisation of the practices that pro duce the texts, rather than textual features. Arguments made by theo rists such as Gilmore and Temple are compelling counter-claims against the proposition of working towards a genre definition of the perzine as a life writing medium, even if such a definition were to be based on its material and narrative instability. This discussion illustrates that the practice of genre definition presents specific problems—and temptations—when encountering a new life writing form. The contemporary interrogations of genre in autobiography studies reflect upon disciplined subjects; in light of the critiques of the genre of ‘autobiography’ as a limited and limiting category which authorised and privileged specific subject positions, critics continue to engage the disciplinary ramifications of the study of life writing. These ramifications include a self-reflexivity on behalf of the critic who must recognise herself as being produced and authorised by specific discourses and situated within particular prac tices of assessing what constitutes ‘the readable’. Rak’s arguments against the practice of extending existing categories of genre by the critic is a compelling one as, like Temple, she encourages us to strive to be attentive and flexible readers who are prepared to investigate texts which challenge our disciplinary tools and how we apply them.
Critically, Rak’s work on blogs and Temple’s analysis of the scraps of paper upon which textual fragments are inscribed indicates the second issue arising out of the list of genres offered by Smith and Watson. Neither blogs nor other forms of online life writing appear in the appendix—needless to say, neither do zines—as the listed genres are solely defined by their textual characteristics. This representation of genre both retains the critic’s position as a disciplined subject—dili gently applying the tools of literary criticism only to the appropriate features of the object of investigation—and continues the naturalisa tion of systems of textual delivery by overlooking how these systems contribute to a text’s meaning. For Rak, the blog needs to be read within the discourses and practices of the internet as a unique mode of textual delivery. Her analysis of ‘blog ideology’ and ‘blog rhetoric’ link contemporary blogging practices to the development of the internet and the uniqueness of the net as a site of writing and reading (166-77). Similarly, the study of personal zines needs also to read the narratives as embedded within specific ideologies of cultural produc tion and social networks, such as DIY. As texts which seek to forge a connection between the textual and material world, zines use specific strategies of narrative and material production, and it is the materiality of the zine that presents the most pressing issue when considering how to read zines within current debates on life writing. For while theories of life writing are well equipped to unpack the dynamics of textuality and representa tion, there is very litde work done on developing interpretative strate gies for those autobiographical acts that engage in practices of material as well as textual production. On the one hand, this lack is understandable, as the majority of work being done in autobiography studies still takes professionally produced texts as its focus. As an object, the mass-produced book demands litde interpretative atten tion beyond its cover design (for example, see Whidock ‘The Skin’ 63-7). Structured by well-established standards regarding acceptable variations in size, paper, production quality, font and layout, the mass-produced book is still predominandy assumed to be an invisible medium of textual delivery in discussions of life writing. However, the foregrounding of the practices of text-making under taken in zine culture demands the extension of the interpretative gaze to include the material as both a separate constitutive element of the
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autobiographical practice, and as uniquely interfacing with the functionality of the narratives. The style of reading demanded by the personal zine makes use of viewing and interpreting skills which are tactile as well as intellec tual. Reading personal zines is a decidedly embodied experience, where the textual object reflects on issues of scale, between the read er’s body and the object and between items within the object itself. The text-object has a distinctive physical presence which is constitu tive of the reading, communicative experience. In reading the perzine as life writing text, we are drawn into considerations of the communi cative potential of aura, intimacy and the personal as they function within a text-object which is presented as a handmade expression or representation of self. In this regard, the concept of life writing as self making takes on another dimension, as the zinester literally con structs the physical text-object. The unique employment of zines as objects of trade, and as homemade self-representational texts, cannot be fully accounted for by the current modes of genre designation, and requires a turn to considerations of objects and meaning outside auto/biography studies, and indeed literary studies. In considering how the zine text-object performs specific dynamics of materiality, and participates and reflects upon modes of consumption, commer cialism and exchange, we must turn to other sites of critical enquiry and practice.
Materiality and textuality One site of critical enquiry where the boundaries between objects and texts have been interrogated is in the theoretical analysis of quilts and quilt culture, which has been of specific interest to feminist scholars. There are several commonalities between the construction of the zine and the quilt that suggest that quilt theory may offer a starting point for a consideration of the interface between textuality and materiality. Both forms are produced by the re-use of existing materials in the production of a new whole that remembers its parts. The visibility of the seams and joins, which in many ways form the basis of the layperson’s understanding of quilts, can be seen in the collaging techniques in zines, where the edges of collaged materials are often visible in the photocopy, and the act of binding the text is augmented with ribbon, twine or tape. In discussing the NAMES AIDS
memorial quilt, Susanna Egan describes the auto/biographical potency of quilting through its enactment of a ‘hodgepodge’ approach to community and individual identity which uses a range of media and genres in the creation of ‘open-ended compositions of the indi vidual in specific cultural contexts’ (19): This hodgepodge describes the accidental or ad hoc nature of much (auto)biographical composition; like a poduck meal, it contains surprises for everyone involved. The solitary artist ... incorporates these random and various elements into a work over which he may be presumed to have control, suggesting by means of his artifice the pres sures of contingent experiences. (Egan 19) In this instance, ‘hodgepodge’ not only designates the amalgamation of diverse materials in the creation of a perzine or quilt: by employing a colloquial term Egan reminds us that each person’s ‘hodgepodge’ is context-bound and specific, and always a local enactment of fusion which speaks from and resonates with its specific conditions of construction. Quilts and zines are also conscious labouring choices, which, as Nora Ruth Roberts claims, are a testament to a ‘way of calculating what to produce and what to spend our labouring hours doing’ (131) which privileges the communicative power of the handmade over the economic potential of labouring; both objects remain embedded in practices of craft in the face of increasing, and almost saturating, technological advances in publishing and textiles technologies. Van E. Hillard posits the labouring which produces the quilt as being ‘steeped in... the kind of thoughtful creation that emerges from max imising the effect of limited resources’ (116). Critical examinations of quilt culture have investigated the quilt and its modes of production as a means of (re)thinking women’s labour, the distinction between art and craft, and as a potent meta phor for women’s textuality (Torsney and Elsley 3). The analysis of reallife quilts and literary quilts, in the work of writers such as Alice Walker, have brought the practices of women’s quilting and writing into a pro ductive dialectic. Of central importance to these critical investigations is the unique power of the quilt to connect the individual to the past
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through the interpretation of the traces of the quilter registered at the level of the object itself. In interpreting the quilt as a specific and evocative form of women’s labour, Nora Ruth Roberts examines the quilt as heirloom, and argues that handmade quilts are objects with a specific and highly resonant aura which speaks of the individual and group labour which brings the object to fruition (127). Likewise, Linda Otto Lipsett examines the friendship quilt as the only historical document left behind by frontier women in the 1800s (16). In these readings of the quilt, the object holds traces of its producer, consti tuted in quilting as a uniquely personal mode of production. The physical trace of the quilter is read by following generations, involving imaginative work which takes the object as a point of departure for constructing a sense of connection with one’s ancestry. Readings such as these focus on personal production—the handmade object—as contributing to the communicative powers of the object by estab lishing meaningful connections between maker and reader which inform the act of reading. For Roberts, the quilt exemplifies the connection between labour and aura as quilts speak out of a long tradition of women’s labour and skill. This connection to tradition situates the quilt’s auratic power firmly within the Benjaminian theory of aura, to which I shall return. The focus on labour power in theories of quilt culture, and specifi cally Roberts’ reading of‘quilt-value’, participates in feminist revisita tions of Marxist conceptions of labour and capital. In analysing quilting practices and offering readings of historical and contempo rary quilts, feminist scholars have devised a unique opportunity to examine a form of women’s labour which is both utilitarian and expressive, domestic and public (Torsney and Elsley 2-3; Egan 18), where ‘feminine’ labour and value trouble traditional Marxist formu lations (Roberts 126). The connections here with Walter Benjamin’s reflections on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ are based in his initial discussion and definition of aura (215-17), which is at work in an analysis such as Roberts’ which positions the predominance of the mass-produced quilt, which is ‘produced so easily’, as increasing the aura of the handmade (127). This style of reading quilts forgoes Benjamin’s negative assessment of the aura, which he replaces with politics through the processes of reproduction (218), adopting aura as
a positive assessment to be used in the politicised reading of women’s labour and expression in quilt-making. However, quilts are permanent lasting objects, whose meanings are bound up in their capacity to produce warmth and comfort as well as their function as personal expressions and legacies of women, two differing potentialities which are not always in harmony (Torsney 14-17). On the other hand, zines are particularly ephemeral and flimsy, thus their aura is vasdy different. While quilt theory offers an excellent example of thinking through how the personal, the material and the textual can intersect, their permanence, their position within a historical artisan tradition is in juxtaposition with the contempo rary ephemerality of the zine as object. Before moving on to the analysis of zine narratives, it is impor tant to situate how zines perform ephemerality more conclusively, as much of my argument and interpretation of perzines takes this as a point of departure. As the close readings of perzines presented in this book will illustrate, the practice of self-making through zine-making is particularly momentary. Characterised by small print runs, flimsy publications and loosely structured modes of distribution, as well as delicate and fleeting connections between author and text—such as out-of-date contact details, continually changing tides, the common use of pseudonyms or just first names—self-making and self-made perzines are short-lived points of cohesion, where the autobiogra pher’s identity finds temporary material and textual representation which is often ‘out of date’ before the last copies of the zine have been sold or given out. This is shown by the refusal of many zine producers to reprint issues (even if they have sold well and been popular), and the explanations offered for changing publication names, or the reasons given for another issue being released. For example, Esther concludes issue #2 of I think so ... zine by saying: ‘This has been I think so ... no. 2. everything in here was true for me for a moment, now it’s all lies.’ The claim to a particularly transient handmade truth is in some ways at the heart of the perzine medium, and is in sharp juxtaposi tion with the long production times, drafting and editing processes of the mass-produced book and the detailed and protracted work of the quilter. The physical and textual ephemerality also does not bear up well under the genre-making gaze, for while it is indeed tempting to
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take ephemerality as a key component of a definition of the perzine genre, this move towards reification immediately begins to struggle under the weight of its own contradiction and runs quite a serious risk of over-prescriptiveness. Thus Intimate Ephemera offers a set of readings of the perzine that locates zines at the nexus of the narrative, the material and the autobiographical, reading the materiality of personal zines and theorising its effects.
Zines Making Zinesters
If, as suggested in the previous chapter, zines represent a distinct set of choices regarding labour, they also present us with a unique reading praxis. A first step in attempting to investigate how personal zines function as autobiographical texts is to examine these two choices— production and consumption—by characterising the implied reader that the personal zine creates. In doing so, we can begin to distin guish the different narrative modes employed in personal zines, and unpack their effects and potential for creating particular types of meaning. In addition, in paying attention to the reader of perzines, we can further appreciate the effects of the DIY ethic as a structuring discourse of narration, which, as we shall see, is neither fixed nor fixing of the texts it is often credited with inspiring. Here I illustrate two coexistent, yet often contradictory, charac teristics of the imagined reader in perzines. The first is that of the sympathetic reader produced through the enabling ideology of DIY. It posits the imagined reader as a peer, one who is knowledgeable about and sympathetic to the values of DIY and the importance of DIY cul tural production. However, this idealised sympathetic reader is trou bled by the zine-maker’s self-reflexive positioning as a non-traditional author of autobiography. This results in the second characteristic of the imagined reader, which is defined by that reader’s assumed
hostility to the zinester’s entry into the domain of autobiography as a practice constituted by particular frameworks of ‘worthy’ and ‘inter esting’ lives which conflates ‘the value of the text with the value of the autobiographer’ (Gilmore 17). Here the imagined reader is posited as evaluating the narrative’s worthiness, and sceptically assessing whether the experiences being presented are suitably interesting, entertaining or dynamic. The stance of this hostile reader can be understood as a foil for the zinester’s anxiety regarding their self-publishing activities in relation to autobiography’s status as a literary genre, which in this context includes the subject of the ‘Professional Writer’ invested with a level of cultural authority through publication in professional contexts. Zinesters publishing life writing are all too aware that the genre of autobiography has been, and is still, predominandy constituted and dominated by the narration of ‘great lives’, which ‘are almost invariably those of white middle and upper class men who have achieved success according to conventional... stand ards’ (Stanley Auto/biographical 4). Moreover, the zinester as autobiographer both exhibits in their writing and predicts in their reader an explicit sensitivity, bordering on paranoia, regarding the representation of young lives which, for all intents and purposes, do not contain the requisite dramatic elements which may drive and, to an extent, validate the narrative in traditional contexts. In the material that follows, I explore the tensions between the sympathetic and the hostile reader that resonate throughout per zines. I examine how different forms of narration are used by zinesters to produce the sympathetic reader and disarm the hostile one, and analyse the strategies of layout and text production to illustrate a pat tern of disruption and defence which negates the possibility of reading the personal zine as allowing ‘open access’ to the life of its author. These practices of narration and layout complicate zine cul ture’s own assumptions regarding the zine as an ‘authentic’ site of publication (Leishman 34). Moreover, the implied reader of the per zine is neither a static, nor a coherent construction, but a flexible and contradictory companion who excites anxiety, attempts at placation, defensiveness and seductive overtures from the zinester narrator. While perzines often struggle with the implied reader as both sympathetic and hostile, they may also not imagine any reader at all.
In these instances, the narrative is presented as being written for one self, and in this sense epitomises the anxiety regarding reception. Stephen Duncombe sees these narratives as emphasising authentic expression, arguing that: the refusal of some zines to make sense or have any order can be considered a reaction against the order and sense of more recent times, in particular the tendency for expression and identity to be packaged as a nice, neat product. But such nonsense is also the—perhaps illogi cal—conclusion to the ideal of pure expression. By eschew ing standards of language and logic the zine creator refuses to bend individual expression to any socially sanctified order. That this nonsense communicates nothing (except its own expressiveness) to the reader of the zine matters little, for the fact that no one except the creator can under stand it means that something absolutely authentic has been created. (Duncombe 34) For Duncombe, the poor quality layout, reproduction and expression common in zines is akin to the work of the Dadaists, and he argues that the ‘command to stop making sense has an honourable lineage in the cultural underground’ (34). While this interpretation of how zines test the limits of intelligibility and textual coherence remains focused on the politics of the form, drawing parallels between zine culture, anarchist philosophy and the ‘propaganda of the deed’ (346), it gives litde insight into how zines as texts and objects communi cate the possibility of authentic expression unique to zine modes of communication. This chapter investigates how these base claims of the zine medium are embodied in perzine narratives by analysing both their claims to authenticity and the narrative structures which support and problematise those claims.
The sympathetic reader we need to look more closely at the explicit textual other addressed within the text, the other to whom the narrator tells his story. For, as narrative theory suggests, a text’s
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narrator constructs an implied reader to whom the narra tive is addressed, even if never named. (Smith and Watson Reading 67) In their guide for interpreting life writing, Smith and Watson encourage a critical engagement with the multitude of founding concepts that authorise autobiographical texts. Their call for a ‘closer look’ at the implied readers of life narratives is especially useful in engaging with zines as ‘alternative texts’ which occupy a complex positioning in relation to the public and private circulation of life narratives, and the structuring discourses of life narration (Sinor 242). The concept of the implied reader, and its counterpart, the implied author, is a means of differentiating between the actual individual author of a text and the individual readers of that text, an important first step in compli cating the frequendy posited accessibility of the perzine. Susan R. Suleiman stresses that both these implied subject positions exist ‘only in a given work and [are] coextensive with it’, the implied reader being ‘created by the work and functioning], in a sense, as the work’s ideal interpreter’ (8). The concept of the implied reader is a staple of reader response theory and narrative theory more broadly, and in this instance offers a particularly useful means of unpacking contemporary assertions regarding how zines function to produce a textual community which ‘zinesters reinvent... every time they read or write a zine, imagining and, thereby, producing like-minded listeners’ (Sinor 244). Using the concept of the implied reader, this construction of a textual commu nity through the production of sympathetic readers demystifies zine culture as a unique form of subcultural organisation (Eichhorn; Leonard) and repositions it as engaging in the ‘necessary fictions’ that all narratives use to enable the communication of meaning (Suleiman 11). Let’s begin then to sketch the ‘ideal interpreter’ that perzines imagine through their narratives. The first step in building this profile is to recognise that the DIY ethic posits all people as potential creators of DIY culture. In the case of zine culture, all readers are positioned as potential zinesters. On the one hand, zines work to produce zinesters, both discursively (by positing the reader as a potential zinester), but also materially, by attempting to inspire, educate and motivate the
reader to engage in the production of zines. Stephen Duncombe char acterises this practice as ‘emulation’ and links it to the distinctive lack of copyrighting in zines and the practice of anti-copyright and copy left, where zinesters encourage others to redistribute or re-use their material (123-4). In reading for the implied reader, we can examine how these narratives work to produce emulation in their readers, a process which often begins with tales of inspiration. The role of inspiration in the creation of perzines is often pre sented not in purely personal or romantic terms but in terms of intertextual references between zines. There is a common practice in the presentation of ‘tales of inspiration’ whereby the zinester narrates their coming to zine-making as a response to ‘being made a zinester’ by a previous text. An example of this can be found in the introduc tion to an issue of Jutchy Ya Ya, by Adam Ford: the major inspiration for doing this zine, or at least the most immediate impetus, was sitting hungover on the toi let five minutes ago reading a copy of David Nicholls’ DISTANT VIOLINS, which is basically two A3 pages folded over with some writing in columns and two comics on it... Bang it down and get it out. It’s good writing, too, but it seems unconcerned with the way it might be received by any potential audience, a sort of epitome of (damn I’ve forgotten the word now) um the way zines are infinitely idiosyncratic, the way that they’re just one person writing stuff? That’s their beauty, sometimes they’re like reading someone else’s journal or diary or something—a window into the head so to speak, and the best zines are windows into the head of intelligent, funny and erudite individuals. Like Distant Violins is. Which made me want to try some thing quick and personal and hopefully unpretentious. (Ford Jutchy Ya Ya 4 February 2001) In this explanation for the production of Jutchy Ya Ya, the zinester situates Distant Violins as the immediate inspiration for his zine. The ‘infinitely idiosyncratic’ potential of the zine form epitomised by Distant Violins activates Ford’s own desires to ‘try something quick and personal and hopefully unpretentious’. His positioning of himself
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as a reader and writer of zines articulates the idealised effect of zine reading: that reading will result in writing; that consumption of another’s work will result in production. This is often the desired effect of zines (Duncombe 29-30). The portrayal of the moment of inspiration as occurring on the toilet connects Jutchy Ya Ya and the reading of Distant Violins with the banal and private. Forging a con nection between the personal (the hangover, the toilet) and the public (the production and circulation of the zine) the moment of inspira tion for Jutchy Ya Ya is narrated as instantaneous, Ford is driven from the toilet to the computer and immediately begins work on the first issue of Jutchy Ya Ya. The narration of this moment, which remembers Archimedes, performs a reaction to reading a zine which is compul sive and direct. Ford also recognises Distant Violins’ appearance of being ‘unconcerned with the way it might be received by any potential audience’ as a strategy which can be emulated, and that the ‘windowinto-the-head’ effect of some zines is a mode of narrative which he can attempt, rather than being an inherent quality of all zine writing. In this example, Jutchy Ya Ya is presented as being a productive response to the enjoyment of reading a zine constituted by the recog nition of how the narrative works to produce excitement and a sense of possibility in the reader. Michelle narrates a different kind of inspiration in the opening essay of issue #1 of A Show Of Hands, one of the longest running zine tides in Australia: Coming Forward. It’s hard to believe that after so long, A Show Of Hands zine is finally in your hands and out of my head, where it’s been festering away relendessly for a mighty long time. I first got the bug to do a zine when my family moved to Columbus, Ohio, in the summer of 1991. It was my friends Matt and Brad, Heather and Steph, loe and Andy, and a small home made photocopy publication called Rotten Fruit that gave me my first taste of the litde-known world of fanzines. Like most zines, it was written because everyone putting it out had something to say. They had thoughts and ideas that they wanted to share with other people. For them it
was a way to express yourself that could reach hundreds of people who had similar ideas, and some that didn’t. I was eighteen years old and I was truly, madly, deeply, fully and totally captivated. (Michelle) Like Ford’s narrative, these opening observations enshrine the cen trality of another zine as the inspiration for the production of the text the reader is encountering. These intertextual references work to (re)inscribe the importance of zines as coaxing, or instigating, texts for the narrative at hand. Narratives of intertextual inspiration also (re) assert the connectivity of zine texts, privileging the concept of a textual and narrative community over the interpretation of the zine as a standalone work whose processes of inception are hidden. Michelle presents her production of A Show Of Hands as a response to her exposure to Rotten Fruit and its producers; her description of becoming ‘truly, madly, deeply, fully and totally captivated’, a depic tion of falling in love, performs the implied and idealised response of the reader of her narrative, the implication being that to respond completely to A Show Of Hands, the reader will be inspired to make their own zine. These opening tales of inspiration have two functions in the construction of the implied reader: firsdy, they establish the zinester as a reader of zines, asserting a shared identity between the reader and the writer—‘you and I are people who read zines’. They perform the ideal response to the zine text, which is the production of a zine in response to reading one. Secondly, these narratives aim to demystify zine production for the reader; in acknowledging the zinester was not always a zinester—in narrating the time before they made the zine and an experience which led to its production—the accessibility and simplicity of zine-making is established and reinforced (typified by Ford’s phrase ‘Bang it down and get it out’). Narratives of inspiration can also take the form of motivational gestures. Michelle continues her opening essay in A Show Of Hands by positioning zine-making as productive and positive when compared to ‘whingeing’: And to be honest, I’m sick of people saying there’s nothing to do. Because you’ve got a brain and you’ve got ideas, and
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if it really bothers you that the sort of place you want to hang out at doesn’t exist, then get together with people and talk about what can be done. See who knows who and where you could get possible funding. If your big whinge is that there’s not good live music here, form a band for pete’s sake![...]So maybe doing azine is a step in the right direc tion. At the least, it’s something I love doing and keeps me happy. If something’s on your mind, stop mumbling into your beer at the pub and do something. Write about it. Get it out. It’s so much easier to whinge, but all bitch and no action gets nothing done and WE ALL GET BORED. (Michelle) Here, the structuring effect of DIY discourse is evident in Michelle’s provocation to readers to act on their potential for cultural produc tion rather than remain consumers. In narrative instances such as these, the reader is imagined to have latent potential as a zinester who will respond to a challenge (as Aizura says below) to ‘fust fucking write something’: It doesn’t matter what it means. It doesn’t matter how good it is. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if your friends think it’s cute. It doesn’t matter how fucked up your family is. It doesn’t matter if your mum would have a fit if she saw the pictures. It doesn’t matter how big you feel or how small you are. It doesn’t matter why, how, what or even when. It doesn’t matter that it takes up time and you’re not doing anything else. It doesn’t matter that it’s been done already. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t, fust fucking write something. (Aizura) In these provocative versions of the tale of inspiration, the text con structs the reader as responsive to a challenge, as being capable of pro ducing a zine if they choose to. On the surface, the emphasis is on action and choice, with the narrative expressing faith in the reader’s ability to produce a zine, and dismissing the ‘excuses’ the reader may have concocted for not making one. In considering how these narra tives imagine their sympathetic reader, we can also recognise that they have a decidedly prescriptive function. The tone of encouragement for 66
the imagined reader’s desires to create a zine also encodes and struc tures the domain of the appropriate or desired response to the act of reading. In imagining the reader has things to say, whether by ‘whingeing’ or wanting to write, the perzines ascribe to the reader opinions which, according to the ideology of DIY, should be shared (Spencer 15). These narratives seek to inspire the reader to overcome their uncertainty or apathy by offering themselves as concrete exam ples of what can be achieved if readers respond creatively to texts.
Writing, reading and the politics of young citizens Another dimension to these narratives of empowerment is that they imagine the reader, and indeed the zinester/narrator, as being under the constant threat of inaction. The explicit tone of urgency common to these pieces belies an anxiety which may or may not be named. In Michelle’s narrative, the reader as potential zinester is threatened by apathy, and the possibility of remaining stagnant in the self-satisfied state of ‘whingeing’. In Duncombe’s characterisation of zine culture the spectre of apathy emanates from mainstream consumer culture, where the democratisation of consumption in late capitalism has led to cultural products that are ‘produced not by us but for us, not according to the logic of community tradition or individual inspira tion, but according to the pecuniary rationale of the market’ (107). In the resistance model of zine culture, these narratives of empower ment speak out against the commercialisation and professionalisation of cultural production, valorising participatory culture over the binary of production and consumption (Duncombe 124-5). However, in the Australian context another reading of the poli tics of the tales of zine-inspiration is possible. Inactivity, time-wasting and apathy are common assumptions presented in adult culture in regards to young people, particularly in the family unit where adoles cent children are commonly portrayed as withdrawing from the family, not participating in household chores and shunning contact. A recent television advertisement for Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, illustrates the food’s powers of familial bonding by having the meal draw a Gothic teenage girl downstairs to the surprise of her parents. Moreover, several studies produced in the 1990s have revealed that young people in Australia have been the focus of exten sive negative representations in the media which are founded on these assumptions, and portray young people as ‘dole-bludgers’, gang Zines Making Zinesters 67
members or drug takers (Davis, 292-3). In his book Gangland: Cultural Elites and the New Generationalism, Mark Davis makes the claim that ‘generationalism, like gender or race, is one of the major “regulatory categories” around which Western culture is organised’ (15), citing state and federal government policy, established public intellectuals and the media as working collectively, albeit unconsciously, in a ‘backlash against youth culture’ (20) which denies young Australians access to media space, employment and free tertiary education. While Davis fails to theorise convincingly how ‘generationalism’ functions as a regulatory category beyond the sphere of media representation and its synergies with policy-making, he does illustrate, through extensive examples, that the Australian mainstream media fail to take the social justice issues facing young people, such as high suicide rates and unemployment, seriously; and that there are persistent and overwhelmingly negative portrayals of young people in the media. Similarly, Stephen Cushion analyses the media coverage of young anti-war protestors in Britain in 2004 and finds its reliance on cultural stereotypes of young people as consumers and sexualised actors trivialises the politics of the protests and fails to take young people seriously as citizens. He suggests that ‘UK media coverage of protesters offers a set of binary oppositions that are inimical to seeing young people as part of an informed, rational and democratic citi zenry. Public/private, citizen/consumer and active/passive are all systematically invoked by news media to ensure the dominant frame of (youth apathy) remains’ (unpag.). In Australia, the climate of generationalism is epitomised by the work-for-the-dole program, occurring under the banner of Mutual Obligation policy, which requires recipients of unemployment pay ments to ‘undertake another activity to improve their competitive ness in the labour market and/or contribute to the local community’ (Carson et al. 1). The authors of this study observe that the work-forthe-dole program and the concept of ‘mutual obligation’ are pardy founded on the assumption that ‘young people are deficient in selfesteem and commitment to work’ (2), and report that According to government policy statements, the rationale of WFD [work for the dole] is that young people should “give back to the community that supports them” and engage in “useful” activities in their communities to avoid the risk of social and economic marginalisation’ (3). In light
of these broader social factors, which take a negative stance regarding young people’s inclination towards productive activity and commu nity involvement, zinesters can be seen as placing emphasis on zine making as a self-determined, positive and creative endeavour which occurs in spaces which are independent of surveillance or control by mainstream organisations and institutions. These considerations of how stereotypes of young Australians are reworked in perzines will be further explored in Chapters 3 and 4. Returning to the narratives, we find that the tone of these tracts, sometimes intimate and coaxing, at other times forceful and cajoling, is also an invitation to act, aimed at transforming the typical relation ship between writers and readers of autobiography, which Nancy K. Miller succincdy characterises as follows: however vigilant about its readers, autobiography remains the act of the solitary ego asserting the right (or need) to take up room in the public spaces of reading and writing. Whatever reciprocity may be wished for from readers, readers remain the audience, unless they in turn produce autobiographical writing of their own. Until then the author’s signature remains a particular kind of sign on the page and in the world, a sign difficult to ignore: Reader, pay attention to me. (Miller 125) The prevalence of narratives of empowerment in perzines can be seen as a direct attempt to transform the reader from the role of audi ence into fellow autobiographer. This desire for transformation rests pardy in the influence of DIY, but also functions specifically as miti gation against the author’s anxieties regarding the taking up of public space and the demand for attention identified by Miller and to which I shall return. These narratives are often accompanied by educational infor mation which aims to further empower the reader as zinester. Many zines include information on how to acquire free photocopying from institutions such as Centrelink or the offices of local members of parliament, or reviews of other zines including contact information and advice on trading publications which help educate the reader in the practices of zine culture.
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The inclusion of information on zine production aims to educate and further demystify the zine medium, while reinforcing the expectation that the reader has the potential to make a zine. In its
zine Supply Chain i%j_>