I never knew Silver Lothringer, although I admired him. By the time I began wandering the outskirts of the New York world of art and writing, he had already retired from active participation in Semiotext (e) magazine, which he founded at Columbia University in 1974. , which began with a conference on schizo culture organized by Lothringer in 1975, bringing together French semiotics and Manhattan artists: Michel Foucault and William S. Burroughs, Gilles Deleuze and John Cage. Two years later, this event – a chaotic cultural public display – was featured in a special issue of “Semiotext (e)”. After all this time, it remains an exhilarating reminder of the kind of fermentation a publication can spark.
Semiotext (e) was devoted to provocations of this nature, whether it was a periodical (which continued to appear from time to time in the 1990s) or when it became an independent publisher. By the time Lothringer died on November 8 in Mexico at the age of 83, he saw his anarchist project suddenly turn into an institution: innovative, confrontational, enthusiastically anti-commercial. “Never give people what they want,” he once remarked, “otherwise they will hate you for it.” It could be a mission statement or a manifesto, as it perfectly reflected the flavor of his work.
This work included writing — Lothringer was the author of books and monographs on Antonin Artaud, Nancy Spero and David Voinarovich, among others — as well as editing; in 1983 he published the book Semiotext (e) Foreign Agents. The incentive was twofold: to introduce American readers to French theorists (first named by Jean Baudrillard), and to get rid of the critical apparatuses that surrounded – or tamed – incendiary ideas.
“There were clearly no footnotes or other academic commentary,” Lothringer later recalled. “Their place was both in the pockets of studded leather jackets and on the shelves.” This edition, in the words of the Scottish writer Alexander Trokka, was “the invisible rebellion of a million minds.”
I was one of those leather jacket readers who had little interest in academy mechanics. These small and subtle Foreign Agents titles astounded me with the power of secret messages written in a language I was desperately trying to understand. My favorites coincided with my passions: Derek Pell’s Murder Rhapsody, the absurd deconstruction of The Warren Report; and Behold Metatron Recording Angel by Saul Eurek, best known for his novel Warriors, which depicts a phantasmagoric New York City surrounded by cult gangs.
Published in 1985, Behold Metatron was more a book of meditation than a narrative, a popular science work that offered a prophetic vision of a world transformed by data. “The old philosopher’s stone,” he wrote, “could turn base metals into gold. Now people, real estate, public relations are turning into electronic signs, carried in electronic plasma. The dream of magical control has never been banished. “
Like Eurek, Lothringer was smart enough to remain a mobile target. In 1990, he expanded Semiotext (e) again with the Native Agents series, which he edited with his then-wife, writer Chris Kraus. Titles he submitted included A Walk on Clear Water in a Painted Black Pond by Cookie Mueller and Anne Rower’s gorgeous If You’re a Girl. They remain some of the most transcendent and transgressive pieces of personal storytelling I know.
“It seems strange how all the embarrassing stories about the female type seemed to cross my mind and then my writing,” Rower admits on the first page of his book. “… I want to put together a collection of them and call it” If you are a girl. ” This is a meta moment, or it would be, except that the Rower is not interested in these kinds of games. When a friend asks if her book will be about the pre-puberty period, she “immediately takes a defensive position”:
“No, I said … it’s, you know, a state of mind.”
With this casual yet poignant voice, Rower underscores the impulse behind Native Agents, which Kraus would describe as “a new form of female subjectivity.” That it echoed – or was a mirror image – of the work of the postmodernists was part of an idea, a strategy to bring their radical notions of subjectivity outside of academia. Perhaps the apotheosis of this aesthetic is Kraus’s 1997 epistolary auto-fantasy I Love Dick, originally published as a Native Agents title and later adapted for Amazon TV. The irony of this transition from Semiotext (e) to Amazon, edge to center, only confirmed the sensitivity of the print, its intention not only to blur, but also to actively erase lines. Theory, personal storytelling, television – they were all part of the cultural landscape, available to use, mix, mix and match.
Lothringer understood this. He viewed art making as a collective practice in which collaboration could produce unexpected results. This meant that others were allowed to edit the magazine: Jim Fleming, whose Autonomedia had been distributing Semiotext (e) books for over two decades; Peter Lambourne Wilson, who, in his 1991 TAZ exegesis, developed the idea of a temporary autonomous zone, a liberated area (Burning Man is one example), which allows us to, in any case, momentarily oppose hierarchies of control. … The problems they helped to solve, in particular “Semi-text (e) USA” (1987) and “Semi-text (e) SF” (1989), continue to delight in their resistance to convention, their intention to ignite. Kraus became the co-editor of Semiotext (e) in a partnership that lasted longer than their marriage, and in 2001 she and Lothringer moved to Los Angeles, where they reopened.
I subsequently lost sight of Lothringer, although many of the books he edited still occupy my shelves. Lynn Tillman, David Rattray, Eileen Miles – these writers and others have changed the way I think about storytelling and publishing, and how an artist navigates the world. Something similar could be said of Lothringer, who had a vast enough imagination and vision to encompass them all. “At this point,” he said in 2015, “the art world is almost the same as any other corporation, except that it is more directly related to finance. He created for himself a world of glamor and luxury that has no equal. ” However, instead of despair, he saw it as an opportunity: “Resistance,” he concluded, “begins at home.”
Ulin is a former editor and book critic for The Times.