Phenomenology

Phenomenology arose when Edmund Husserl attacked the traditional problems of philosophy. Husserl didn't interrogate conscious perceptions in order to determine their truth or falsity, but rather took them as everyday facts. From these facts he attempted to derive the nature of... [more]

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Curator's Corner: Semiotext(e)

Semiotext(e) has been so crucial to public intellectual discourse over the past three decades that there hardly seems any reason to "highlight" it: the publisher has achieved a level of sustained – and seemingly sustainable –success that other, more commercial publishers must envy, particularly during this crisis in print publishing.  This is no doubt due to the integrity of its founders' mission and their uncommon success in pursuing this mission, of providing discrete access to many of the most provocative and challenging – and often quite fun – theoretical texts of the contemporary period.

Because of Semiotext(e)'s near-ubiquity – even though it may be primarily a near-ubiquity of brand, and not necessarily of individual titles or contributions – I will only highlight several books that have particularly appealed to or otherwise affected me.  The first book I ever read that was published by Semiotext(e) – one wonders how truly necessary it is to maintain this parenthesied e, but I have no desire to unintentionally committ some gravely indecorous act of expunction and shall therefore follow their model; perhaps it is an awkward attempt to suggest the potential "femininity" of a text?  Should anyone know or have a guess, I would very much appreciate hearing it; their Wikipedia entry suggests that it is to acknowledge the "bi-lingual nature" of the publisher, although I don't quite understand what is meant by this – is perhaps their most famous: Forget Foucault.  I adore Foucault and approached Baudrillard's text as a means of challenging what I feared was becoming an unthinking deferral to his thought; unfortunately, I do not think that Baudrillard is the most adept thinker at providing such a challenge – Foucault's response to it was something to the effect of, "I'd have a much harder time remembering Baudrillard" – but it is provocative and novel and fun to argue with.  Essentially, I think, this is what Semiotext(e)'s strongest contribution to contemporary publishing has been: providing texts that are intended to create a discourse, that demand argumentation.  This is something gravely missing in much contemporary intellectual publications: most such works read, as with much of Baudrillard's texts, like a succession of equivocatingly cryptic slogans than as any substantive contribution to wider public thought and discourse; and while Semiotext(e) does, on occassion, publish works that I find to fall under this unfortunately trendy category, I do not believe this is their intention: rather, their intention is to thoughtfully and inclusively provoke, and, for the most part, this is what their works do.

I am currently reading Overexposed: Perverting Perversions; it is by Sylvère Lotringer, one of the founders of Semiotext(e), and it is simply remarkable: a truly terrifying look at the perversity behind "treatments" of sexual perversions, from which a grander statement on the current state of sexuality in contemporary – presumably "Western" – society is then made.

When reading a work published by Semiotext(e), I am usually able to somehow put aside my natural skepticism in coming across intentionally provocative works, works that wear their provocation on their sleeve as if it were some kind of entry badge into the world of "higher thought," even while the work itself only occassionally rises to the level of its ambitions.  Something like Hannibal Lecter, My Father, a collection of the early writings of Kathy Acker, is a fairly good example of this: it has the tone of a nearly articulate teenager attempting to rise to the challenge of expressing one's disgust with the more disgusting elements of contemporary society; the prose is often embarassingly purple and overwrought, but it has an expected staying power.  One thing Semiotext(e) proves again and again is that one remains a child longer in philosophy than any other intellectual pursuit, and this can be alternately invigorating, infuriating, and annoying.

Fanny Howe's novel Indivisible seems to address this directly, and I find it to be one of their best titles.  It's a witty and sympathetic and entirely winning take on the search for enlightenment, spiritual and intellectual.  It in many ways seems the most distilled expressive creation of Semiotext(e)'s mission; this was in all likelihood not the intention – and it by no means has to have been in order to take anything from the work – but it is uncannily attuned to the world that the publisher most directly serves and addresses.  It is, at least at this moment's consideration, the most fulfilling and considered book I have read to have been published by Semiotext(e), certainly among their more literary, as opposed to academic, intellectual, or political – although these all blend –, output.

I've also tremendously enjoyed The Accident of Art, an illuminating discussion between Lotringer and Paul Virilio –many of whose works are published by Semiotext(e) – about what Virilio views as the failure of art to adapt to the technological innovations that now surround and often create it.  And next on my list of things to read by the publisher is The Importance of Being Iceland, Eileen Myles' enticingly labelled "travel essays on art."

Semiotext(e) has a tremendous list of artists associated with them – among those not already mentioned: Catherine Breillat, William Burroughs, Michel Foucault, Félix Guattari, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, Jean-François Lyotard, Cookie Müeller; the list goes on unfairly long – and I would love to hear whose and which works they have published that have variously excited, bored, frustrated, or in any other manner provoked you; similarly, if you have found their work entirely unprovocative – and no more offensive consideration could be flung at them –, please say so.