Letter from the Editor

August

By Naomi Riddle

3 August, 2018

‘I thought
Well I’ll be a poet.
What could be more
foolish and obscure.’
Eileen Myles, An American Poem (1991)

 

To say you’re a writer today is like admitting you were a painter ten years ago—before it had found its post-conceptual groove and the banners had been held up declaring it to be dead. As writers, we are the ghosts of a form that is repeatedly accused of being, if not dead, then at least in the grim reaper’s sight. Every time I upload a new article to Running Dog, the WordPress widget tells me that it is code red on the readability score, that it is too long with too many long sentences. I should consider adding subheadings, more images, more usable search-filter-buzz-words. But maintaining a publication predicated on a foolish pursuit gives me something else: a belief in the value of doing necessary superfluous work, in taking on tasks that have been deemed incidental or unnecessary. Still, I am not content.

One of the lasting effects of participating in Triple Canopy’s ‘Publication Intensive’ in Los Angeles this past January has been an understanding that the principles driving a publication do not begin and end with the work that is being produced. If you are, as RD is, committed to moving away from the underlying structures and conventions that dictate arts writing, and the hierarchies of the ‘art world’ more broadly, then of equal concern are: your sources of funding / the methods you choose for sharing articles and engaging with your readership / the care with which you approach deadlines when contributors are working multiple jobs or studying / the speed with which you pay contributors / whether you can (or should) continue to pay contributors when you are self-funded / and how much should this be? / when it is acceptable (if ever) to ask for work to be done voluntarily &/c &/c.

A more direct example: what does it mean to claim that your publication is not-for-profit, and independent, when you also have to decide how much to pay Facebook in order to develop any sort of readership in the first place? Never mind that you are beholden to an algorithm that is inscrutable. Never mind that you are contributing to the profits of a corporation whose survival is dependent on harvesting the data of that readership, and never mind that you are aiding a company directly responsible for hastening the demise of an industry you are committed to working in. I am, as yet, unable to find my way out of this bind.

A publication’s ethos is just this—a disposition, a description of character, in short, a framework for being in the world, and as such it cannot be divided or partitioned. I am interested in this larger project of care, in the labour that remains concealed behind a publication, in who this labour is for and to what end (another quote I have written in my notebook from Los Angeles: ‘remember who your audience is not’).  

I am interested in whether it is possible to create a sense of community around an independent publication that solely exists online. (Mostly this process feels like speaking into a void, but much of the task at hand, it seems to me, is partly about making friends with the void.)

In his seven-point manifesto, In Praise of Small (2016), David Joselit makes the claim that institutions—and I would argue contemporary publications—must think of themselves as a proposition, as a suggested scheme or plan of action rather than a fixed entity. Joselit goes further, reclaiming the term ‘speculate’ from the hedge fund managers, and returning it to its Latin roots: ‘to spy out, watch, examine, observe.’ [1] ‘While speculation is based on engagement,’ writes Joselit, ‘it refuses to engage with the conditions of the present as they are, but rather projects an array of possible futures.’ [2] Such an approach finds strength in instability, even fragility. It is a position of movement governed, not by the present tense, but by the future, in the ‘we will’ rather than the ‘we do’.

Eileen Myles believes that ‘a poem says ‘I want’’, and if this letter is also a proposition, it is a proposition of wanting. I want to create a platform for critique that doesn’t then have to rely on social media to sustain it. As an editor, I want to think less about developing a ‘brand market strategy’, and more about creating opportunities for writing about art—ones that do not require a particular style or turn of phrase.

I am less interested in the flattening and reductive traits of ‘online content’ (‘be briefer, and with pictures’ says the WordPress widget) than in carving out more space, because such flattening necessitates adopting a position that is of equal uninterest to this project: the presentation of a false dichotomy between so-called ‘political’ and ‘non-political’ art and, in turn, ‘political’ and ‘non-political’ response (whatever that means).

Running Dog is seeking, and asking for your help in sustaining, a space for pluralised engagement—one which situates the writing of poets, critics, fiction writers, academics, thinkers and artists, next to one another, one which leaps from baroque opera to textiles to installation, and which doesn’t need to justify this meandering approach. I am seeking, using Joselit’s terms, ‘to make information malleable and mobile again in unexpected ways’, to ‘resist its enclosure by elites and its reification into dominant narratives.’ [3] It is a type of engagement that is built on assemblage, on multiplicity rather than singular focus, and it is one which requires unseen labour and care—not just in the development of its content, but in the construction of its entire proposition.

 

[1] David Joselit, ‘In Praise of Small’, Common Practice NY (2016), p. 15
[2] Joselit, p. 16
[3] Joselit, p. 19