Witchcraft – Publishing As A Magical Practice
A quick course in Publishing Magic
Presented at THE ARTS+ Micro-Conference II: Beyond the Cover. Exploring the Futures of Publishing on October 17, 2019 (#fbm19).
Magic books are not always books that contain concrete instructions, incantations and spells to turn a human being into a mouse or non-precious substances into gold. Very often magic books are works whose reading teaches you to see reality, "the world" differently. These teachings do not necessarily have to be formulated in concrete terms; they can also be conveyed performatively through the experiences one makes while reading. For me, therefore, the following is not about science and non-fiction books, but about fiction.
Very early at the beginning of my career as a publisher, I was described in a German newspaper as a "gravedigger of our beautiful old book culture," only because I published e-books. I found this fascinating because it sounded so powerful, so demonic. But it didn't surprise me. The philosopher Tommaso Campanella wrote in the early 17th century:
"Technology is always called magic before it is understood, and after a certain time it transforms into a normal science".
(Meine Übersetzung; C. F., zit. nach Peter Fiebag, Elmar Gruber, Rainer Holbe: Mystica – Die großen Rätsel der Menschheit, Weltbild: Augsburg 2007)
No wonder that women who work in spheres not understood by men are still quickly regarded as witches. Even in the 21st century. If people cannot see digitalisation as something neutral in itself, which opens up opportunities but also holds dangers, it must seem really scary: Such an unusually large number of women work in digital publishing...Such an unusually large number of women have founded their own digital publishing companies...Such an unusually large number of women are important voices on the Internet. The Digital–that's where you learn the creeps, no matter how many future conferences you hold and how bravely you keep your eyes open. Those who ignore the real social diversity and don't let it flow into their work as a matter of course won't notice all the positive magic of new publishing.
For all others: To be able to publish people, voices, looks, pictures, statements, texts, without having to ask for permission and relevance, to give them aesthetic and social reality, although the conventional cultural industry does not provide for it...
Women and otherwise marginalized people have simply done it, used the new accessible tools of production, while elsewhere people were still discussing whether e-books are bad digital copies of books and whether one can write literature on Twitter or not just communicate. (If you can't perceive correctly, you're always asking the wrong questions.)
The original author genius has been officially dead for so long, as has the sublime publisher, but industry zombies suggest to each other that everyone is still alive. The traditional glamour should please somehow continue to glow until one's own biological death. The zombies bite wildly when you tell them the truth: "As static as you are, you must have died a long time ago." The industry zombies also don't understand why "the e-book witches" have started making print books as well. (Because it sometimes fits better with the concept and the text.) They zombie-like keep calling female publishers e-book publishers because they don't like e-books and female publishers as a matter of principle. Female publishers make print books on demand? What a trash! Until the traditional publishers suddenly produce their backlist on demand, but of course that's something completely different. It's really something completely different. Many old Western publishers, like many old Western nation states, live ignorantly or deliberately from privileges created by violent exclusion. Women publishers often tend to think transnationally and usually avoid turning their trial and error expertise in dealing with digital tools of production and distribution into new privileges. They willingly share their resources with their successors.
It seems that women find it easier to publish new literature by new authors through new media and platforms. They often publish as if there were no feuilleton or canon. How can they do that? Who allowed them to do that? Who taught them that? Let's be honest, that's black magic. Black magic that goes so far that black people, People of Color, queer people, handicapped people, poor people are now also publishing and being published, more than the one exception that confirms the rule.
R.I.P., Harold Bloom. You taught me a lot about English-language poetry back then in seminars and personal conversations - today I would add: about English-language poetry by whites. But your insistence on a purely aesthetic reading awakened the essential contradiction in me 22 years ago, which today makes me more and more the one I want to become more and more.
Bloom would have called almost everything that I, what these people beyond the canon currently publish, ideology. But today I call it magic for the first time and the fact that I use this expression, apply it to my work, is for me personally revolutionary, because I am writing myself out of the Western Enlightenment, determined and open-eyed, not only because it is enough and simply nothing turns for the better, but because, as I now know, I have long since become part of something else, not the destructive, but the life-affirming.
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know!(Sapere aude.) ‚Have the courage to use your own understanding,‘ is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.
(Immanuel Kant, "What Is Enlightenment?" [Im Original: Immanuel Kant, "Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?", in: Berlinische Monatsschrift 4 (1784), 481–494]. Translated by Mary C. Smith.)
Sounds great, it really does. But unfortunately the representatives of the Western Enlightenment have used their privilege much more often than their mind to exclude others structurally from it. And what happens when a marginalized person has the "courage to make use of his or her own understanding" can be seen many times a day on Twitter: one is immediately verbally incapacitated and often threatened with violence. Or even in real life, when an official representative of an African state reclaims–with very reasonable arguments–cultural treasures stolen from Europeans in colonial times. The reaction shows structure-imposed nonage. NO, WE ARE REALLY SORRY, BUT... So as a female Kantian with privilege deficits, you don't get far. And as a female Hegelian you are unfortunately unintentionally in the team of Žižek, who cares more about the vulva than the mind of women. Lose-lose.
The fact that somehow one would have to clean up with the Western Enlightenment had been suspected for quite some time, but that it could just happen to one like that was a nice surprise for me personally.
I owe this to a book, no, three books, The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, which deals with creative and destructive powers, including magic. The reading of these books offers, as I would claim, in today's world more ethical orientation and also ideas on how to become capable of action again than an average study of the humanities.
For me, magic used to be an esoteric fair, a glass ball, mentally unstable women who would be better off in therapy. Magic, that was not my thing, magic, that was what I certainly was not. I, my image of myself, that was reason, I firmly stood on the ground of facts. I was the one who didn't believe in signs of the zodiac. I was the one who was not superstitious. I was the one who studied philosophy. But I was also the one who had already lost faith in God as a child through philosophical questions, unlike the philosophers of the Christian Enlightenment. Because some statements in Catholic doctrine are simply unbearable nonsense. Unfair nonsense. Structural injustice already made me furious as a child. And structural injustice later came across me in all spheres closely connected with the Western Enlightenment: at university, in the media, in publishing. It sometimes took a very long time before I noticed these injustices, because I did not suspect them there and at that time there was not yet such a broad social discourse about them. Younger women now often tell me that they have lived, read, studied, written, published feminist as a matter of course. I envy this because I have spent many years of my life not feeling excluded only because I did not recognize the exclusion. Not being able to feel, of course, did not protect me from the consequences of exclusion that I have to deal with today. Back then, as a young woman in the old patriarchate, it seemed enough to me to be considered smart and cool, today I know it was just "smart and cool for a woman". I've long since become indifferent to evaluations of my intellectual capacities and coolness, as well as to the associated exclusionary concepts.
Fantasy, that wasn't my thing back then either. Fantasy, that was what I certainly wasn't. No, not quite, if fantasy literature had already been old enough to be considered high literature, so it wasn't even called Fantasy, it passed with me. Then I even liked to read it, but thanks to patriarchal brainwashing I still didn't get the idea to read more contemporary fantasy. Genre, yuck. I was the one studying literature. So I didn't read a lot of very good books for just one reason: because I had internalized the prejudice that something that many whose voice counts for nothing read could only be trash. Today I am happy to read books that mean something to many.
Women who identified themselves as witches were even less my thing. A witch was what I certainly wasn't. I made a distinction between the historical people who had been wrongly persecuted as witches and now living women who had placed themselves in this tradition. The latter I found embarrassing without any knowledge about them, they appeared to me as hippie posers, because I unreflectedly reproduced again a patriarchal gaze. I was the one who didn't disguise herself. Today I wouldn't know how to avoid being a witch.
I am now consciously outside. With my work and impact, I am outside where I have always been, without noticing it, outside where all the others are who I am learning more and more to see, to read, to publish.
Whoever is outside and learns to perceive magic finds the exclusion less relevant at some point. Finding the relevance defenders no longer relevant is the key. Not intentionally, but simply because it happens. No longer having to wait for representation because you create it yourself. When you're out, start tracking down, using, and amplifying the magic. It is everywhere. My hope: If enough excluded people work together, there might magically emerge a system-independent or system-replacing outside. (Which is rationally impossible, I know that.)
N.K. Jemisin, a black science fiction/fantasy author who, according to her own description, is "spiritual but not religious", enlightened me performatively. I am a Jemisinian. I am a witch. I practice magic reasonably, because I have the courage to use my own mind. In interaction with new techniques, media, platforms, networks, authors.
Magic books don't necessarily have to be books or e-books. Tweets, posts, blog articles, chat conversations can also work like magic books. It's not always about changing the world, very often it's enough to de- and re-program your own view of it: learn to see differently.
Start seeing publishing as an inclusive coven and you will instantanously set free its present and future.
It's not witchcraft. It's not the work of a particular witch. It's witches crafting.
Publishing magic is the shared "room of one's own".
I owe the fact that I found Jemisin's magic books to the digital flow in the form of two people and a platform: the platform is called mojoreads, and the witch names of the two people there are @geistesgift and @doncish. Thank you very much.