As Tight As Wire

Richard Marshall, “Modernist Ghosts,” 3:AM Magazine 18 June 2013


. . . Reality is inevitably, and tragically, the boss, relentless and remorselessly impervious to the dreams of its inhabitants. We hope for autonomy, agency, but fear it’s just the drink talking post hoc most of time. ‘When you say my name, you retain nothing of me but my absence. And nobody is present behind these words I speak’ says Emilie in the Andrew Gallix short story “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter“. The story presents a doomed lover contemplating his lost love. The materiality, the bodily anxiety presses in against the frenetic, desperate and seething mind of the protagonist and throughout there’s a need to try and combine the two — the mind and the body — to understand the relationship in some way. The story is implacable and granite strong in this. The violence of physical action, the dangerous crime that bodies seem to presuppose in the narrative, carries ‘the mute reminder of the possibility of impossibility’ symbolized by an insane aside about anal rape. What kind of dark matter is being imagined in this? The subject is Occasionalism, the question of powers and causality.

. . . Gallix’s odd fiction seems also to hold lyricism in a merciless fixed embrace. The facts are stone, as dry as archaism, stratified, absorbed and the utter indifference to the sensual passion of its protagonist is expressed in a language chisselled and polished like marble. Everything is imagined with prodigal allusiveness. It’s as tight as wire, extremes of tragedy, pathos and irony are cut like contours ploughed into copper with a burin. If the effect is a dismembered cruelty, it is a cruelty of the universe, of a cause from somewhere else altogether, somewhere or some agency that knows enough to cause it.

Gallix’s approach is not alone in the Fiddleblack collection. Nor is this conceit I’m pressing — arbitrarily at times, but then making a run of it to see where we might go, for there are others that might be mysteriously pressed into action. The impossibility of causality without knowledge of how to create or annhiliate, well, that has some edge, even if we think it exactly false. But Gallix, to continue using him as a catalyst here, has that line about the ‘possibility of impossibility,’ and who cannot unforgive a paradox when we’re telling each other stories about how it isn’t?

. . . But the orgiastic demonstration of writing’s imaginative physique is best in the antiquity of Gallix’s Roman fairy tale of Valentin Vermot, a ghost haunted by ghosts that, abbreviated to an essentialist verbatim, goes: ‘Once upon a time there was a man called Valentin. Valentin Vermot. Just like you. He thought he was haunted by a ghost, but his ex-wife assured him that there was no such thing. “There are no ghosts,” she said. “There are no ghosts.” Valentin opened his eyes. He was all alone, but Emilie’s voice was still ringing in his ears. There are no ghosts, there are no ghosts, there are no ghosts, there are no ghosts…’ . . .

Detour in the Orthodoxy

This interview with Clémentine Deliss was published in 3:AM Magazine in December 2005:

Detour in the Orthodoxy: Andrew Gallix Interviews Clémentine Deliss

3:AM: I gather that Metronome was primarily an arts magazine. Why did you decide, after nine years, to launch into fiction with a new publishing house called Metronome Press?

CD: Metronome has always worked with fiction. The very first issues included texts of fiction rather than criticism or theoretical texts written by art critics. The intention has been to create a detour in the orthodoxy of a person’s work whether they are an artist, critic, or writer. There is no point in replicating the same identity that one carries as a professional within the context of Metronome. Metronome is there to create a short-circuit between professionals working in different fields of aesthetic practice, and in many cases, in different urban locations (spanning Africa to Europe). The spark or trigger that awakens professional curiosity is potent when a moment of differentiation or otherness is recognised by the participating interlocutors (there can be no complacency with regard to the intersection of different theoretical discourses within art). So fiction in the context of contemporary art practice sets up a certain field of expression in contrast to the more standardised forms of writing we find in art magazines. Metronome is an organ, not an art magazine as such. To set up Metronome Press is to build on the ongoing interest in fiction and translation, nothing more. There is no exception to the rule.

London launch of Metronome Press at the Arts Club: Tom McCarthy & Louise Stern

London launch of Metronome Press at the Arts Club: Tom McCarthy & Louise Stern

3:AM: Metronome Press is “dedicated to developing fiction and new styles of writing in relation to contemporary art practice”. Why are you so interested in the art/writing interface? Is the distinction between the two worlds disappearing?

CD: I am interested in experiments related to interpretation. Metronome is an interpretational tool rather than a vehicle for the promotion of artists’ works. Metronome Press has a similar attitude. It has not been set up within a literary field, but within the context of writing produced in relation to art production. Our challenge is the art world, and its discourse, not the literary world. We do not deny that visual artists can produce good literature, nor do we exclude the input of writers within our framework, but our main area of investigation is research and experimentation in art practice.

3:AM: Three of the first four novels in the collection are by writers (Tom Gidley, Tom McCarthy and Phyllis Kiehl) who also have artistic activities. Are they primarily artists who write on the side, or is writing integral to their artistic vision? Did you encourage any of them to take up the pen for the first time, or were all three already writers as well as artists?

CD: Phyllis Kiehl and Tom Gidley are primarily visual artists. Both have written in the past, and have now produced novels. They were writers before I knew them. I had published Phyllis Kiehl’s short stories in several earlier issues of Metronome (4, 5, 6, 7), and Tom Gidley had written a lot for Frieze in the past. I knew that Gidley had withdrawn for a while in order to write a book, and so I contacted him when we set up Metronome Press to see if he was interested. Phyllis was working on Fat Mountain Scenes whilst she and I were living in Paris. By publishing Fat Mountain Scenes, she was able to place her novel within the art context prior to the literary world of publishing.

3:AM: How did you come across Tom Gidley, Phyllis Kiehl and Tom McCarthy’s works?

CD: As I said above, I knew Tom Gidley and Tom McCarthy had both finished novels and whilst I had not read them, I was curious to follow up the hunch that fiction within art practice might be the way forward. And Phyllis as I said earlier, was in the process of writing her first novel as we both moved to Paris. It all made sense and their inclusion in the first collection of fiction produced by Metronome Press is a sign that perhaps there is a further interest out there. We are keen to receive manuscripts, scenarios, novels, etc., from artists.

London launch: Phyllis Kiehl & Tom Gidley

London launch: Phyllis Kiehl & Tom Gidley

3:AM: In the US, it is quite acceptable for writers to play music and do art (or vice versa), but not so much in Europe. Is this something that should be encouraged?

CD: It’s always interesting to enter different territories. Today there is an important shift in the way we view art as an aesthetic field or set of practices, rather than as differentiated compartmentalised art productions (theatre/dance/visual arts/literature/film, etc). But you have to be lucid about whatever crossover you are ready to experiment with, and the context in which you are doing it. For Metronome Press to take on the airs of a literary publishing house in Paris, with all the history this city has, would be suicide! However, for us to work within art practice using fiction as a means of expression, and encouraging artists to experiment with other styles of communication, seems a logical step to take in today’s world.

3:AM: Do you see Metronome Press as a French, English or Anglo-French venture? It is based in Paris, but the first four novels are in English and one of your web addresses is a UK address…

CD: Metronome Press is based in Paris. It has no nationalist identity. It relates to those locations where we live (and that is necessarily subjective) and to those locations where we have worked.

3:AM: You are republishing Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler’s The Young and Evil which had originally been published by Obelisk Press in 1933. How did this come about?

CD: Thomas Boutoux and I loved the book. It is languid and tight at the same time. A perfect combination of erotic thinking and scenic or episodic action with a touch of historical information on the art scene of the early twentieth century. We were fortunate to be able to secure the rights and reprint an edition that is laid out exactly as the first edition was. There are cheap versions from other publishers, but the graphics that Charles Henri Ford had developed are rarely respected.

3:AM: The latest issue of Metronome mixes fiction and erotica as a homage to Maurice Girodias‘s Olympia Press. Do you see Metronome Press as the heir of the Olympia Press?

CD: Metronome Press is inspired by the system that Girodias had developed. If we could have a hotel too and a bar like Girodias we’d be happy! Let’s hope, however, that we don’t enjoy the multiple bankruptcies that characterised Girodias’ professional career!

3:AM: Do you think the anglophone literary scene in Paris is about to enjoy a revival?

CD: I don’t think that is the issue. Everyone and everywhere is anglophone these days. But we do hope that Paris will open up even more to the international situation it has always nurtured.

Present Absence

Lars Iyer, “Impossible Literature,” interview by Antônio Xerxenesky, 3:AM Magazine 6 February 2013

In The Savage Detectives, perhaps more than in the work of Vila-Matas and Bernhard, melancholy blossoms into a kind of promise. The disjunction between Modernism and the present, between Literature, capital ‘L’, and Politics, capital ‘P’, becomes utterly unbearable. For me, that unbearableness allows Literature to appear in its impossibility, as a kind of present absence, as a kind of disappearance, and along with it the vanished legacy of Modernism.

Impossible Literature

Lars Iyer, “Impossible Literature,” interview by Antônio Xerxenesky, 3:AM Magazine 6 February 2013

Andrew Gallix suggestively distinguishes between two kinds of belatedness. There is the belatedness already present in Don Quixote: the novel as a ‘fallen’ form, coming in the wake of older forms. And then, there is the romantic and Modern dream of the ‘Literary Absolute’, which expresses belatedness with respect to a total work of art — like Mallarmé’s conception of The Book, for example. Such belatedness, for me, holds in particular for those Modernist vanguards which sought in some way to link art to politics, which sought to change life, to change the world. As I argue in my manifesto, the conditions for such vanguards have vanished, and with them a whole dream of Literature, with a capital ‘L’.

A Writing Against Itself

Andrew Gallix, “Go Forth (Vol. 4)” by Nicolle Elizabeth, The Believer Logger 14 November 2012

Andrew Gallix is editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine, which the Guardian credits as technically the first literary blog ever. He writes fiction and criticism, edits books, and teaches at the Sorbonne, and I love him.

NICOLLE ELIZABETH: What is 3:AM, and how did it start?

ANDREW GALLIX: 3:AM is one of the oldest literary webzines out there, as it was launched in April 2000. We were among the first to make use of the international dimension of the web: the founder was American, our first webmaster was Canadian, and the rest of the team was located in Britain, France, Ireland and the US. We were the first, or one of the first, to launch a literary blog (if by that you mean a compendium of literary news links). We innovated by placing fiction in a wider cultural (artistic, in particular musical) context. We also pioneered the revival of live literary events in London, mixing music, art, and spoken word.

NE: This is a collective thing?

AG: Very much so. The whole point of 3:AM was to foster a community of literary loners; to create a space where we can be alone together.

NE: Print ever or no?

AG: Two anthologies of 3:AM short stories (edited by Andrew Stevens) have been published, but the magazine itself is online-only. I think we were also pioneers from that point of view: we realized that online publications were the way forward. They cost virtually nothing, which means that only literary/artistic criteria apply, instead of financial considerations. There are no space constraints (a piece can be as long or as short as it needs to be). You can reach so many more readers than if you publish a story in a small literary journal. Christiana Spens has just launched 3:AM Press, which releases both ebooks and limited print editions, showing our attachment to both formats.

NE: Main concerns ethically?

AG: There is no party line, although we are rather contrarian, hence our tagline (a nod to Groucho Marx, the Ramones, and Adorno): “Whatever it is, we’re against it.” It sounds rather pedantic, I know, but what I consider to be real literature is always, at some level, a writing against itself.

NE: Main concerns aesthetically?

AG: Once again, 3:AM is a very broad anti-church. Personally, I think we should publish fiction that has the inevitability of death.

NE: What advice do you have for those who wish to start a magazine?

AG: Don’t give up the day job.

NE: Anything else you’d like to tell us here?

AG: Sure, but only things which cannot be told.

Too Much of a Writer to Even Begin to Write

David Winters, Rev. of The Preparation of the Novel by Roland Barthes, 3:AM Magazine 28 June 2011

As Raymond Federman once wrote, ‘everybody is writing a novel these days,’ even if, and perhaps because, ‘nobody knows why.’ We live in a world where the wish to write, or, more often, to have written, speaks only of some other, inner wish, whose sense is left unspoken. The novel, real or projected, achieved or abandoned, exists in the mind of its writer less as a literary object than as a wish underwritten by other wishes. In this sense, The Preparation of the Novel takes the measure not of a set of texts, but of a nested structure of desires.

‘By the end of the 1970s,’ writes Kate Briggs in her preface to these lectures, ‘apparently “everyone knew” that Roland Barthes was writing a novel.’ Yet at the time of his death in 1980, Barthes had barely begun to plan his “Vita Nova”; the book remained a sketched hypothesis. This volume, comprising his third and final set of lectures at the Collège de France, could be said to plot the gulf between the project’s, any project’s, intention — its biographical or existential coordinates, conceived as a dense network of points — and its terminus as a felt form, whether fully grown or aborted, or both at once.

‘Will I really write a Novel?’ Barthes enquires at the outset of the course. ‘I’ll answer this and only this. I’ll proceed as if I were going to write one.’ He will prepare as if preparation were an end in itself, inhabiting the mad fantasy of a writing that falls short of its own composition, ‘pushing that fantasy as far as it will go.’ Only then will he breach or break, or get broken into, the recognition (kenshō) that writing is nothing but its wants and longings, that ‘the product is indistinguishable from the production, the practice from the drive.’ This is the reason why he must preserve the indeterminacy of each of the terms in his title. He speaks of a preparation that is neither ‘of’ nor ‘for’ a novel, and of a novel that is not a novel, nor a set of notes for a novel never to be written.

[…] Barthes is paralysed by his own crisis, which is also the crisis of all narrative, for him: a failure to navigate the passage from notation to novel. In this he is too much of a writer even to begin to write. He can only conjecture the contents of that transformation, whether dreamt or merely lived through, in which a novel ‘begins to take.’

[…] How does a novel persuade itself into completion? At the core of any novel is its own false promise to its author. The novel ensnares the novelist in its projected redemption of her life. Her life: not the open set of her possibilities, but the remains of the decisions she has made; the way she has lived. What’s left when her days have laid waste to her. She yearns for her novel to emerge, to claim its place as the end result of every action she has taken. In its light her life will get redrafted, justified as the story of the novel’s origin: its preparation. If her life had been different, people will say, her novel would not have been written. So, the novelist dreams of a single moment in which every ruinous thing she has done will be redeemed. Yet she is never delivered into this moment; her novel is a lie she tells herself, and literature is on the side of death. In the end, the novelist knows that she belongs here too, with literature.

[…] If, as Barthes says elsewhere, ‘a creative writer is one for whom writing is a problem’, then the novel to prepare will be one that presents its problems unsolved, exacerbated. A novel of which one could say that the scope of its failure is what makes it true.

Whatever Happened to 3:AM Magazine?

This appeared in Guardian Books on 10 July 2012:

Whatever Happened to 3:AM Magazine?

When the 3:AM website suddenly vanished last week, the might of social media helped track down the person who could switch the server back on. But what are the implications for online magazines?

[Turn it on again … server outages were undeniably on the rise, but this time there was no website to check. Photograph: Thomas Northcut/Getty Images]

I concluded my last contribution to this site with a quotation from Maurice Blanchot: “Literature is going toward itself, toward its essence, which is disappearance”. Little did I know that 3:AM Magazine — the literary webzine I had edited with a group of friends for more than a decade — would shortly after vanish suddenly into cyberspace. Whether it was going toward its essence is a moot point, which falls outside of our present remit.

When I am not running late, I often check the website, along with my email, before setting off for work. The last time I performed this routine, I sat, for what seemed like ages, staring, bleary-eyed, at an empty page that obstinately refused to load. Blogger’s block, as I like to call it, is a less heroic, technological version of l’angoisse de la page blanche: the agony experienced by writers in front of a blank page. The only sign of activity came from the little dotted line going round and round in vicious circles like Sisyphus‘s boulder or — rather fittingly in this instance — nobody’s business. With hindsight, I realise it should have put me in mind of the proverbial dotted line on which dodgy contracts are carelessly signed. At this juncture, however, I wasn’t unduly worried — or at least I wasn’t yet aware that my relative (and frankly uncharacteristic) nonchalance may have been (was) inappropriate. After all, this sort of thing had been happening — not happening — on and off for several months, and each time normal service had resumed of its own accord, as if by magic.

Although rare, server outages were undeniably on the rise, and downtime had gone from a couple of hours to a couple of days. This, of course, should have prompted a reassessment of my non-interventionist attitude, but there was little I could do, short of moving the entire website to a new company and server, which is precisely the kind of drastic measure I was eager to postpone for as long as possible. Attempting to make contact with our host — whether by phone, email, carrier pigeon or Ouija board — was a fruitless exercise I had long given up in favour of more fulfilling pursuits such as staring at empty web pages failing to load. Besides, these outages afforded me a few guilty pleasures, not least a little breathing space from the frenzy of online activity: they reminded me of the carnivalesque atmosphere brought about, in my childhood household, by the power cuts of the 1970s. And there was the frisson of flirting with disaster without going all the way — until that fated morning when I tried to check the website only to discover that there was no website to check. There was still no website when I came home from work that evening, nor the following day, nor the day after that. When the expected resurrection had failed, Godot-like, to materialise for almost a week, we were forced to contemplate the nightmare scenario of having lost 12 years’ worth of archives.

The web is a Library of Babel that could go the way of the Library of Alexandria. It is the last word in the quest for a book in which everything would be said — a tradition that extends from epic poetry to Joyce’s Ulysses through the Bible, the Summa Theologica, Coleridge‘s omnium-gatherum and the great encyclopedias, as well as Mallarmé‘s “Grand Oeuvre”. It is the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk — “the catalog of catalogs”, the “total” library conjured up by Borges — but it also marks the triumph of the ephemeral.

In order to mimic the instant gratification provided by the web, Argentinian publisher Eterna Cadencia recently published an anthology of short stories using disappearing ink. Once you open the volume, the ink begins to fade in contact with light and air, vanishing completely within two months. In recent years, I have received a growing number of requests from early contributors to 3:AM Magazine, asking me to delete a poem or story of theirs. These people are usually applying for a new job, and find themselves haunted online by youthful incarnations of themselves that may jeopardise their futures. Yet it only took an instant for someone to switch off 3:AM‘s server and solve this problem. The past does not pass on the web; it lingers or resurfaces — unless, of course, it is wiped away. In our case, most of the material was retrievable via the Internet Archive, but as Sam Jordison pointed out in a recent email, how can we be sure that this site, or a similar one, will always be around? At least, in the old days of dead trees, you could safeguard copies of your journal in libraries or universities. When 3:AM was launched, I used to print out every new article we posted, but stopped when the site started running to thousands of pages. I had never imagined that the company I was paying to host, and indeed back up, our webzine would vanish without a word of warning, like disappearing ink.

3:AM‘s servers (located in Dallas, Texas) were owned by a company (based in Saint Joseph, Missouri) whose website was down. Emails bounced back and the phone had been disconnected. We naturally assumed that the owner — whose main claim to fame was his contribution to the penis-enlargement business — had done a runner. But as soon as the word was out, we were inundated with heart-warming messages of support and offers of help via social media, and within a few hours, Twitter had located the owner’s whereabouts. 3:AM readers informed us that he was now the landlord of — or an employee in (there were conflicting reports) — a tattoo parlour. Someone even kindly mailed me an overexposed picture of the aforementioned establishment.

American novelist Steve Himmer spotted that he and the alleged fugitive had a friend in common on Facebook, who was able to send a direct message. London-based author Susana Medina friended him and striked up a conversation. His mobile phone number and personal email addresses were soon unearthed and passed on by amateur sleuths. Blogger Edward Champion conducted a phone interview with the errant entrepreneur in which the latter claimed that he had wound up his web hosting business in 2008 and had no idea that he was still hosting us. He mentioned a “server admin in Bucharest” — name of Florin — who had been handling the company’s “lingering details”. If this is all true, and it could well be, 3:AM had been running on some unattended phantom server. I also wonder whom I have been paying all these years.

Thanks to our readers’ support, and to Champion’s fine detective work, the server has been switched back on (possibly by Florin) … until we migrate elsewhere.

Italian Blackout

Serena Danna, “Black out spaventa la rivista online: spariti nella Rete 12 anni di lavoro,” Corriere della Sera 11 July 2012: 29.

A larger version of this newspaper cutting can be found here.

A few selected extracts:
“[…] il sito letterario 3:AM, simbolo della controcultura londinese degli anni Zero […] il direttore della rivista Andrew Gallix, definisce il “bloco del blogger: la versione tecnologica e meno eroica dell’angoisse de la page blanche, la paralisi dello scrittore davanti alla pagina bianca”. […] La squadra di Gallix — responsabile del primo blog letterario di Internet, “Buzzwords” […] La storia del magazine che ha lanciato la nuova generazione di talenti londinesi (da Tom McCarthy a Lee Rourke) e che omaggia nel nome il piacere del lavoro notturno di molti scrittori, è emblematica dei rischi legati alla produzione “immateriale” del web. […] “Per tre anni siamo stati ospiti in una casa di cui non conoscevamo il padrone”, ironizza Gallix, docente di letteratura inglese all’Università Sorbona di Parigi. Eccesso di superficialità? Il direttore si difende: “3:AM è un sito senza scopo di lucro e nessuno si intende di informatica: se avessimo avuto profitti dal nostro lavoro letterario, li avremmo usati per pagare un tecnico”. […] Quando Gallix ha visto il promo-video della collana non poteva imaginare che sarebbe successo a lui: “Dobbiamo lavorare per salvaguardare la letteratura che si produce online — avverte —. Le generazioni passate potevano fare affidamento su documenti, libri e lettere degli autori: che fine farano le mail dei grandi scrittori di oggi?”. Il rischio è “che la biblioteca di Babele che è il web si transformi nella biblioteca di Alessandria”, chiosa Gallix, citando il più importante centro di libri del mondo antico andato distrutto […]”