Friday, September 17, 2010

"Outsider" Writing

In a recent e-mail John Bloomberg-Rissman told me about being invited by a prominent anthologist to co-edit an anthology of "outsider writing." Then John asked me:

" you know of any outsider writing from your part of the world? By your part I really mean your part, Ohio et environs etc etc--or maybe I don't mean your part, please cast your net as widely as you like - it could be anything: I'm thinking working class writing, dialect writing, local immigrant writing, crazy woman from downtown who tacks xeroxed schizoid rants to telephone poles writing, local psychic (Sister Bertha)'s newspaper ads, etc etc etc. Or something from your library that normally doesn't get canonized. Anything:...."

I posted earlier about this in the vaguest of ways because it is a tenative project. But it is extremely interesting as a possible nexus because of the ways in which it might now be possible to investigate notions of what passes for inside/outside, central and peripheral.

It is, I know, a fraught area of concern. One mustn't exoticize, tread on, etc. But one must learn to speak our whatness, our itness, our thrownness and try,try, try, to make some sense of the beauty and terror of difference (no?).


  1. bringing outsider writers in..... I think of real estate developers hungry for pristine land to carve into plots connected by genericly winding streets, regulation trees equidistant from the margins... subdue anything wild, make it conform to the page! bring it here into the fold instead of venturing out there, alone, to find it, alone - without ads, without gps, if that's where you think you think 'it' might be. bringing outsider poets in - to analyze as specimens? as 'something different' to assuage boredom? this tune is way too familiar.

  2. rappel,

    I think the people involved in thinking through this project are sensitive to the risks involved and won't follow through with it if they come to feel they're replicating the scenario you describe. I assure you that is not their intention. But enough of this from me. If their project proceeds you'll hear more of it from others over time.

    Best wishes.

  3. rappel, you are touching on exactly the vexed crux of this project, for both of the editors. Let's assume for a second that we're talking about starving people instead of people who have left written traces of themselves. It's a question of power. We have some. Do we let them starve, or do we feed them, or provide means for them to feed themselves, even tho everything but letting them starve can be seen as sucking them into the ambit of capital? Right now the co-editors of this project are wrestling this question by gathering texts, by asking others if they know of such texts and hoping they'll point us towards them, and then trying to see if something other than the scenario you describe can be done with them. As I've written elsewhere, the last thing I want to be involved with is a freak show. But, on the other hand, if I can facilitate getting some folks heard that don't normally get to be heard, and if I don't ...

    Take as an example the English 1640s, when the crown lost power and the censorship came off and suddenly there were publications galore, by Levelers, Ranters, Diggers, Millenials, and dare I say, even women ...

    All your thoughts are welcome.

  4. Provenance remains murky.

    OK... J B-R is one, who is the other ?
    is the other co-editor the same person as the "prominent anthologist" ?? assuming the prom-anth & J B-R are indeed the two co-guys, that still leaves one of 'em unidentified.

    As for J B-R not wanting to be involved in a freak show, but wanting to somehow make some power available to some of the powerless -- well, we ARE still talking about a discernment process here, a process of identification wherein a select sampling will be valorized by virtue of editorial fiat.

    To keep the blameless gathering of the texts out of the realm of any unintended spotlighting of the freaks, a clear modicum of palpable trust mustneeds be extended to the editorial shepherds. Ergo: we the lambs need to know who BOTH & ALL the shearing power brokers in this project ARE.

  5. I'll talk to the other editor and ask if he minds being identified ..

    And yes, "a select sampling will be valorized by virtue of editorial fiat". And no, the gathering will not be "blameless". And yes, I am a power broker.

    But there's blame, and there's blame. And I'm hoping/aiming for the blame that's less blame than the other blame.

  6. "blameless" refers more to anonymity than to intention -- perhaps it would have been more accurate for me to have said the "as-yet unblameable (for the most part)," but I opted for the more economical rendering of one word rather than those seven, thinking that context would illuminate the limited word choice for close readers. If your companero does indeed mind being identified, let "half-blameless" be the new order of the aforementioned sentence.

  7. John B-R: many troubling insinuations here. a question of power? having a poem published in an anthology is power? (many 'inside' writers are in anthologies and do they actually feel power?) why assume that an outsider writer yearns for or requires power? is the desire for power perhaps part of the 'inside' mentality? to equate outsider writers with starving people makes no sense: if you are searching for these outsider writers, you imply that you don't know who they are yet, so to make assumptions about what they want/ need doesn't hold water.vas for myself, I would only want to read outsider writers for the strategies of expression they have found that are outside the inside - the 'freak' part, the difference.