Libidinal Economies…

Tayler_MainmiseI had the pleasure of organizing (and presenting) on a panel for the SHARP2017 conference at the University of Victoria, 9 – 12 June, 2017.

Libidinal Economies: Networks of Activist
and Countercultural Print Cultures in the Early 1970s
10 June 2017

Recent scholarship in literary studies, art history and history of the book has recognized print culture to be an essential communications technology linking diverse social movements and liberation struggles of the early 1970s. As the civil rights movements and radical nationalisms of the late 1960s adapted to demands for gay and women’s liberation, presses such as Third World Press (Chicago), Broadside Press (Detroit), TISH (Vancouver), Éditions Parti-Pris and Mainmise (Montréal) issued books and magazines which cited textual references and visual imagery drawn from transnational movements. Local content, neo-avant-garde aesthetics and utopian concerns were asserted in relation to these mutable texts and re-contextualized imagery. This panel will take a comparative approach to discussing the network of desires that drive the production of this radical print culture in Canada and the United States. How do aesthetic choices of book design, typography and para-textual elements make visible the conditions of production for these books? What economies of affective labour are (in)visible in this material culture? What modes of affective belonging take form and how does this create new transnational publics and geographies for radical futurities? This panel responds to the SHARP “Technologies of the Book” CFP themes: The role of the book in society and the social history of print and, print cultures and networks.

Chair: Maria Chappell, University of Georgia
Kinohi Nishikawa, Princeton University: “Reframing Blackness: The Installation Aesthetic of In Our Terribleness”
Deanna Fong, Simon Fraser University: ““Oh, that was a nice party”: Listening to Affective Labour in Literary Collectives”
Felicity Tayler, University of Toronto: “Mainmise: Countercultural Geographies in Reproduction”

This paper will propose a single issue of the Québécois countercultural magazine, Mainmise, as a case study of the aesthetics of cheap single-colour printing and remediation, typical of an early 1970s North American “alternative press.” I argue these aesthetics can be read as the material expression of an attempt to achieve cross-cultural solidarity. Issue no. 2, 1971, of Mainmise, features an image captioned, in French, “Tim Leary Alger, aprs son évasion avec Eldridge Cleaver, ministre de l’information des Black Panthers.” The AP Wirephotograph of the two fugitives from American justice is framed by a pattern denoting drug-induced hallucinations, and printed across a two-page spread that interrupts a French translation of Leary’s, The Politics of Ecstasy (G.P. Putnam, 1968). As Leslie Howsam has opined, print culture objects are good for “thinking in terms of materiality, mediation, and mutability,” three concepts which will be applied in order to understand the symbolic value of this image and text as they were reproduced across the North American network of the Underground Press Syndicate. Mainmise reflected the interests of the countercultures emerging from Québec’s Quiet Revolution. Combining Marshall McLuhan’s theories with the surrealism of psychedelia, the printed page was activated as a media counter-environment, or a space where Québécois cultural identity could be re-imagined according to the collage-like global dimensions of electronic signal transmission. The title of the magazine invokes the act of media appropriation as a means to seize control of contested territory, a poignant gesture following the mass arrest of intellectuals and artists in 1970, as the Canadian military reacted to a growing nationalist independence movement. However, at the very meeting depicted in the image, Cleaver declared that Leary’s politics of ecstasy produced “delusional allies” for the revolutionary goals of the Black Power movement. Furthermore, Cleaver’s image is the only representation of a person of colour in a visual field that appears to be devoted to the liberation of white bodies. Current scholarship takes a critical look at the transnational alliances formed between Qubécois cultural nationalism and the Black Power movement, with a focus upon issues of cultural appropriation. Following Roland Barthes, this case study considers print media, as a technology of reproduction that produces a “second-order semiological system.” As images are circulated through countercultural news networks, they initially anticipated new geographies and social imaginaries; however, through the passage of time these images become naturalized as signifiers of a national culture.

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