|In "The Photocopied Self: Perzines, Self-Construction, and The Postmodern Identity Crisis," Steve Bailey and Anita Michel provide a detailed introduction to and thoughtful analysis of the "perzine" -- the independently published personal magazine. Drawing on the Stephen Duncombe's important contributions to the academic study of zines and postmodern theories of "the self," Bailey and Michel outline the potentials and liabilities of this underground biographical form. Rich with original research and primary sources, "The Photocopied Self" is an exciting exploration of personal identity in the information age.|
The Photocopied Self: Perzines, Self-Construction, and The Postmodern Identity Crisis
Steve Bailey and Anita Michel
<1> Mike Gunderloy, creator
of Factsheet 5, and co-author of The World of Zines, offers the
following definition of perzines:
A personal zine,
or perzine, is the most intimate kind of zine. It allows the editor/writer many
freedoms, not the least of which is spouting off about anything or nothing-in-particular
without worrying about editorial policies and other rules of regimented periodicals.
It's also a way of corresponding with any number of people simultaneously while
maintaining an aura of intimacy and friendship. And something else to remember
when you're reading (or writing) a perzine -- because this intimacy is conducted
through the mail, the editor/writer remains faceless. S/he can be whomever they
want, without any limit to his/her own unique form of expression. (28)
A more succinct definition of
the perzine appeared in a glossary published in Factsheet 5 in 1994: "Personal
zine: A zine written by one person with essays and comments typically dealing
with the publisher's daily life." (101)
<2> The following essay examines perzine culture and more specifically its proliferation and location in a contemporary social environment where identities are precarious, complex, and ever-shifting. Through application of theories proposed by George Herbert Mead and Kenneth Gergen, and an analysis of perzines for a variety of key characteristics central to forms of identity display, the essay will analyze the strategies and techniques used by zine authors in creating and performing a social self. The culture of perzines will then be placed within a broader milieu of the zine culture, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of this form of communication.
<3> Just as there are few hard and fast "rules" in the world of zines, there are even fewer in the perzine sub-genre. However, there are a few common characteristics that help define perzines, based on format, content, and creators. While there are a few very "polished" perzines in existence, most can be viewed as having a rather "lo-fi" format. Perzines are normally reproduced on a photocopier, since they do not have enough circulation to justify the expense of offset printing. They are small in size, with "digest" (5.5 x 8.5) and "quarter" (4.25 x 5.5) as two of the most common formats, and are often embellished with "handmade" touches such as potato-print covers, stickers, trading cards, or other "crafty" ornamentation. The interior page layout can range from "rough" design -- i.e., handwritten stories, photocopied photos -- to "clean" professional layout using an inexpensive desktop publishing or word processing programs. There is little or no advertising in perzines, and if ads do appear, they are usually "swapped" ads from other perzines -- no money is exchanged. Finally, most perzines (with a few notable exceptions) have microscopic circulation compared to mainstream magazines, and tend to be ephemeral, with titles disappearing and reappearing at irregular intervals.
<4> As expected, the content of a perzine is highly personal, and almost always authored by one person. The content is tied to the creator's life, as opposed to more structured publications such as music zines, or more offbeat zines about a specific topic, such as Loud Paper (architecture) or Mystery Date (entertainment and etiquette culture of the 1950s). Perzine content is often incredibly personal, about sexual abuse, weight issues, mental illness, family strife, or working in the sex industry. Often the content seems to be about "nothing" -- or just about everyday life. Perzines reflect a range of writing styles, from almost illiterate (misspelled words, typographic errors, cross-outs and handwritten corrections) to academically polished.
<5> Finally, an informal analysis of perzines reveals that the creators are largely female. For example, in the Pander Zine Distro catalog, of the 47 publications that could be classified as perzines, 44 were authored by girls or women. The Frida Loves Diego distro offers 28 perzines, 26 authored by girls or women. While no definitive count can be made of percentages of male vs. female helmed perzines, it is a safe assumption that the majority are female-authored.
<6> Unlike other zine genres, the origins of perzines cannot be specifically identified. While it is accepted that the first true science fiction fanzine was The Comet published by the Science Correspondence Club in 1930 (Duncombe 108), and music zines grew during the punk era of the 1970s and 1980s, it would be difficult to name the "first" perzine. However, perzines most likely became viewed as a specific genre of zines when Factsheet 5 changed editors in the early 1990s, and R. Seth Friedman took control with issue #46. One of the most radical changes he implemented was the division of zines into categories (e.g., music, film, sex) instead of printing the reviews in alphabetical order. "Perzines" was one of the new genre categories.
<7> Just as it is nearly impossible to assign a date to the first perzine, or the first perzine for that matter, it is also difficult to identify "celebrities" in the genre. However, as with other zine genres, there are publications and creators that have more name recognition than others, although any list is highly subjective. A short list may include Kelli Williams (nee Callis), creator of That Girl, one of the very first riot grrrl zines. (Riot Grrrl traditionally has three "r"s) Williams also did a one-shot zine entitled Kurt Cobain Was Lactose Intolerant that was very successful. Prior to becoming a novelist, Pagan Kennedy wrote Pagan's Head, a combination comic/narrative perzine from the early 90s that told the entire story of how she had to have her ovaries removed due to tumors. Arron Cometbus has been writing the punk rock zine Cometbus for nearly twenty years, and was booted into the mainstream spotlight when the zine was chosen as the late Sassy magazine's "Zine of the Month." A thick book, Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus, collecting over 600 pages from the zine's history was recently published and has sold out its first printing.
<8> Most perzines have a low-fidelity production process. There are notable exceptions, such as Cometbus, which prints about five thousand copies each issue. Just as it is difficult to define perzines and perzine celebrities, it is also impossible to outline a definitive perzine production process. Roughly, it would follow this form: The writer creates her content, such as essays, fiction, poetry, photography, comics, collages, and so forth, and then lays out the content onto pages either by handwriting it, cutting and pasting blocks of text from word processed documents, or by using desktop publishing software. There are unlimited methods of layout utilized in zines. Once the original documents have been created, they are reproduced, usually on a photocopier; this is often done, on the sly, at a place of employment. Binding and embellishing the perzine often involves stickers, glitter pens, colored staples, ribbon binding, and other crafty touches. The zine editor then makes her creation known through posting on message boards and sending copies to "zine review zines" such as Xerography Debt, Zine World, and The Free Press Death Ship. Distribution of the actual zine is through the mail on a one-to-one basis, or through selected "distros" -- short for distributors. Few zines are sold in retail stores, and even fewer perzines are sold in these stores. The web has become an important tool for distributing perzines with small press runs.
<9> Contrary to popular belief, the Web has not replaced print zines, especially in the perzine culture. Although many zine creators do keep Weblogs using such software as Blogger and Moveable Type, and many others keep more informal LiveJournals, DeadJournals, and PITAS, they continue to created printed zines. While the web has not replaced the production of perzines, it has changed how perzines are distributed.
<10> Prior to the advent of the web, zine knowledge was disseminated through zine review publications (e.g. the late Factsheet 5, Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, Flipside) and by zine review columns in individual zines. However, with the web, it has become much easier to make perzines known. For example, there are nearly two hundred individual zine forums on Yahoo Groups, the most popular being Zinegeeks, Zinesters, and Perzines. Usenet has long had an active alt.zines group, and many distros have their own message boards, such as Pander Zine Distro. Zine creators post when they have a new issue available, providing cost and contact information. Interested people can then send a few dollars to the zine editor for the new issue.
<11> Besides one-to-one distribution, from creator to reader, zines are also distributed through small outfits called "distros". Briefly, distros run in the following manner. The distro manager contacts the zine editor and makes arrangement to carry their zine. The zine editor then sends copies of the issue to the distro, usually on a 50/50 consignment split. The distro produces a web or paper catalog, listing zines they have available. People order directly from the distro.
<12> A large number of zine distros have set up shop on the web, many specializing in perzines. A casual search finds distros such as Five Minute Romance, StarFiend, Frida Loves Diego, Moon Rocket, Moon Potatoes, Smitten Kitten, Xerox Revolutionaries, Sassafras, Paper Explosion, Mad People, Adore, Scream Queen, Supernova, Yellow Cape Revolution, and Youth in Revolt. Each distro carries anywhere between fifteen and one hundred in their catalogs.
<13> While it is unknown how much business these zine distros receive, it is a reasonable assumption that none of the distro heads make a living off of their business. Running a distro -- much like doing a zine -- is done mainly for the enjoyment and creativity found in the zine culture. One of the most successful zine distros is Pander Zine Distro, run by Ericka Bailie. She has been running the distro in print and on the web since 1995, and currently stocks about fifty zines, the large majority perzines created by females. Bailie keeps a message board to track incoming and outgoing zine orders, as a courtesy to her customers. A casual check of this board indicates that she sends out about one hundred zine orders every month, however it is unknown if these are orders for one zine title or ten. While the Web has enhanced the perzine experience (discussion, distribution) there is still the strong belief that a perzine must exist in a physical form to actually be a legitimate zine project.
The Discursive Self and the Postmodern Identity Crisis
<14> One of the most important arguments emerging from recent scholarship in sociology, psychology, and philosophy, concerns the transformation of personal identity in the past few decades. A wide variety of scholars have come to the conclusion that the self, the individual's sense of her/his own personhood, has become increasingly unstable and, as a result, a social "identity crisis" has emerged in the developed world. In some variants of the argument, such as the one posed by social psychologist Kenneth Gergen, the self has become "saturated" with possible identities and competing demands for engagement. In the version favored by literary and cultural critic Fredric Jameson, the individual has become a kind of "social schizophrenic" (not to be confused with clinical schizophrenia), losing a sense of permanence and increasingly fragmented into fleeting moments of coherence. In the most extreme argument for this crisis, philosopher Jean Baudrillard argues that the self, in any conventional sense, has become practically extinct, overwhelmed by technological simulation and a kind of "profuse otherness" in which identities can be donned and discarded like clothing. Even if one wishes to reject claims for the complete annihilation of the self, a compelling case can be made for a profound instability of personal identity within contemporary western culture.
<15> The motivating factor behind this instability can be located in the collapse or at least significant weakening of many of the traditional sources of self-formation and identity development, a process described by philosopher Jurgen Habermas as the "de-traditionalization of the lifeworld." In this condition, many of the conventional, relatively stable sources of personal identity -- established religious institutions, the nuclear family household, nations and ethnic orientations, binary gender systems -- have been greatly eroded by a variety of social developments, from the increasing role of mass media in everyday life to social movements aimed at attacking racism and sexism to global economic reorganization. Increasingly, the stable modes of identity associated with earlier eras have been replaced by a new, more fluid form of personal identity, one with great advantages (flexibility and openness, for example) but also holding certain dangers (most notably identity anxiety and fundamentalist overreaction). In this new context, as Habermas notes, identity becomes a kind of achievement; rather than assuming an identity, one works to build one from a myriad of possibilities. Strategies of self-hood, ways of forming and performing an identity, become a fundamental part of social life, one evident in many arenas of contemporary culture, including the world of indie publishing, the subject of this essay.
<16> All of the above analyses, though, rely on an understanding of the self that pre-dates these more recent changes in the social world. Early in the century, the school of thought known as American pragmatism and associated with figures such as William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead developed a theory of self-formation that broke from any sense of an innate, intrinsically authentic self. In the pragmatists' view, the self develops socially through a process of incorporating the perspectives of others to form one's own self-consciousness. Mead argues that such a process is explicitly symbolic and that the development of an identity is facilitated through a kind of internal dialogue in which the individual takes and transforms the meaningful symbols around her/him, constantly reworking and reshaping a self in response to a discursive environment. As a result, a proliferation of symbolic forms available to an individual necessarily produces a more complex and multi-faceted self. In the contemporary context, as noted, this can be a particularly intense and sometimes daunting process.
<17> The notion of a discursive or symbolic self is crucial for our analysis because the form under examination -- the perzine -- is predicated upon the expression of an intensely personal form of communication; thus, it is important to briefly note some of the most important implications of the concept of the social-symbolic self. The first is that it assumes that "self" is always evolving, that it is, ultimately, a process without a final concluding instance, excepting of course the physical death of the individual. As noted, it assumes that all forms of social symbolic transmission -- from personal conversation to mass mediated communication to fashion, body modification and other less conventional symbolic practices -- serve as potential resources for self-construction and self-consciousness. Intrinsic to this understanding of the self, then, is the sense that identity necessarily involves a degree of choice, of the volitional acceptance and rejection of possibilities for self-formation that comes with the task of assembling a social identity. There are always varying degrees of compulsion in this process; certainly, often potent social pressures exist to adopt a given social identity, from the demands associated with traditional religious perspectives to those associated with various forms of mass consumption. However, both the range of possibilities and the social instability noted above also leave room for enormous variation and considerable opportunities for the individuation of identity. Finally, it is critical to remember that identities are not merely formed, they are also performed. The self is always in action, so to speak, always engaging a wider community of fellow selves, and always transmitting as well as receiving a set of socially significant symbols. This last point is obviously of particular importance in understanding one such venue for the display of self, the perzine, and comprehending its wider cultural importance.
<18> Before moving to a specific analysis of zine culture and the perzine in light of the theory of social self-construction described above, it might be useful to examine some wider forms of cultural identity that illustrate the struggle for self-construction formation in a complex and often chaotic social-symbolic environment. One example would be the classic "sub-culture," a category that would include such groups as metalheads, riot grrls, or rave kids. In these cultures, identity is posed explicitly against a perceived mainstream; the volitional element of self-construction described above is a particularly important aspect of participation. Similarly, all three utilize a variety of associated symbolic systems -- music, fashion, visual style, body modification, etc. -- in the construction of this identity, allowing for the integration of numerous cultural elements in the fashioning of a self. In this case, the intensity of self-commitment that tends to accompany participation in these cultures is a means of coping with the constant pressure to rework one's identity described above.
<19> A second example of cultural self-formation is evident in the myriad "fan cultures" evident today, from the ubiquitous "Trekkies" (fans of the television program Star Trek) to Deadheads (following the Grateful Dead) to the cult surrounding filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. In these cases, a stable cultural identity is derived through immersion in a symbolic world directly related to acts of consumption; the resources for an identity are consumer products, albeit often substantially reworked within the culture itself (as in "fan fiction," bootleg materials, and so forth). The fan -- derived, it should be noted, from the term "fanatic" -- is a particularly interesting social identity in that relies largely, sometimes even completely, on symbolic texts that have little or no direct social connection to the individual. They are mass produced goods, giving the identity a particularly depersonalized and de-territorialized character. Here, some coherence for the self is found in the quintessentially modern realm of the cultural marketplace.
<20> A final example of the search for identity in a chaotic symbolic world would be the proliferation of so-called "identity politics" in the last thirty years or so. The term refers to political movements that are directly tied to the personal and physical status of participants (e.g., race, sexual orientation, disability). This is in contrast to ideologically-based movements such as "libertarianism," "Marxism," or "fascism," which may reflect deep personal commitment, of course, but are not directly or necessarily dependant upon demographic characteristics or lifestyle choices. The popularity of such movements can be at least partly explained by their offer of conjoining personal and political identities in an era when both are often in flux; they provide a kind of automatic authenticity by linking political credibility to individual circumstance. This is especially important in an era of great political cynicism, when more all-encompassing belief systems are regarded with great suspicion and the notion that "the personal is political" has been transformed from a recognition of the individualized nature of forms of political power into an often narcissistic emphasis on personal experience as the guarantor of political knowledge.
<21> The three modes of identity formation described above are particularly relevant to zine cutlure and especially the perzine, as all have made a substantial contribution to the culture. Even the briefest examination of the world of perzines reveals frequent overlap with numerous subcultural formations; punk rock and related movements (e.g., riot grrrl, straight edge) may be the most notable of these, but certainly many others are well represented. Likewise, many perzines include strong ties to fan culture, from direct reflection upon a specific object of one's fandom to more general ruminations on the personal impact of various cultural objects. Finally, among the more politically-inclined perzines, one finds numerous examples of the kind of identity-political positions described above; while this is not the only political format, it is certainly a dominant one, which is little surprise given the shared emphasis on personal feelings and the importance of individual experience. As shall be evident, though, there is a broad spectrum of socially-constructed identities on display within the culture of perzines; those mentioned above are joined by a vast array of others, often linked in unusual and fascinating hybrids. What they share, from the perspective of discursive selfhood elucidated above, is their demonstration of strategies of self-construction and self-display in a world in which the self is always in flux.
Self-Construction in the Perzine: Some Symptomatic Characteristics
<22> In analyzing the actual content of the perzine, one discovers a number of strategies deployed in the construction and performance of social identity. As the previous section notes, the process of symbolic self-construction in a contemporary context is a complex one and subject to a profound instability. In the following section, we will examine six thematic and formal characteristics evident in a vast range of perzines that reflect this diversity of strategies: personalized design, trauma narratives, social alienation as a theme, autobiographical genres, travel narratives, and everyday life themes. Within this set, one discovers some of the ways that this culture responds to the challenges to a coherent self-hood described above, and the means by which zine creators work to produce and perform a textual identity. In this sense, then, these strategies can be understood as a direct response to the challenges raised in the contemporary cultural climate.
<23> The first notable feature of many perzines is the use of design and production techniques that work to personalize, indeed to individuate, this cultural object. For example, perzines such as Swingset Girl and the aptly titled 28 Pages Lovingly Bound with Twine use hand-tied string bindings to attach the pages; pansy uses pink ribbon for the same purpose. Both Swingset Girl and pansy feature pink paper hearts glued to the cover of at least one issue (#2 and #3, respectively), suggesting handmade Valentine cards associated with grade-school craft projects. A large number of perzines use typewriters as opposed to computer technology to create the text, 28 Pages..., pansy, and what are you still sad about use this technique, with the latter two including crude overstrike correction of typographical errors to heighten the archaic effect. Dream whip extends this technique by using hand lettering for the text and binding the pages with a rubber band. For Crying Out Loud includes randomly salvaged snapshots with little or connection to the issue itself to make each copy unique, and Chechel Angel and merge disorder contain "hidden" envelopes with additional mini-zines within them. A number of zines use stickers, appliqués, and other such design features to individualize each copy of a given issue. Thus, there is a guarantee that no two issues of a given perzine using such techniques will be identical and thus provides the recipient/reader with a singular object.
<24> All of the above techniques work to accentuate the folkloric, handcrafted quality of the perzine genre, a kind of "certified organic" label for the independent publication. Thus, these perzines bear the strong traces of human production, giving them a closeness with their producers lacking in other forms of media, including most notably the website (another major area for forms of mediated self-display, of course). In a related fashion, the frequent use of childlike art techniques, such as aforementioned collages and stickers implies the stereotypical naïvete and honesty of the child and thus amplifies the impression of naturalness and lack of pretension. Such techniques also reflect an explicit rejection of the commodification of human expression as such production techniques are undesirable and often impossible in mass distributed periodicals and thus imply an escape from the inevitable anonymity that such systems of production require. The personalization of each individual issue also creates a connection with the reader -- increased through the tendency for producers to include a handwritten note with or on the pages of the zine -- that is impossible in other production systems. Through these techniques, then, the producers of perzines work at a formal level to create a claim for the uniquely self-expressive character of their product. The use of such labor-intensive techniques also highlights the claims of authenticity that are essential to the perzine genre -- the sheer work involved in creating a handcrafted object necessarily constructs an aura of aesthetic integrity not entirely dissimilar to that of the more conventional artistic object and both are presumed to reflect a keenly personal vision. This connection is made explicit in the case of Picaflor, which features a handwritten number (our issue is 88/100) at the bottom corner off the rear cover, mimicking a practice common to limited edition art prints. It should be noted that such techniques are common throughout the culture of zines and hardly limited to the perzine; however, the prevalence of these strategies within the latter is noteworthy, particularly when it is amplified in a variety of thematic strategies that work in concert with these formal features.
<25> One very common narratological feature of the perzine is the deployment of trauma narratives within its contents. For example, comic perzine The Assassin and the Whiner #13 deals with the author's alcoholism, and Out of the Vacuum deals with the author's struggles with abortion, bulimia, and sexual assault. Fly paper, fly deals with life in a severely dysfunctional family, Ass First details struggles with mental illness and the psychiatric industry, and document one describes the author's battles with self-mutilation and drug abuse. Rejected Band Names #7: Big Wheel offers a particularly moving story of the death of a sister and brother-in-law in a small plane crash, and the deep effect this tragedy had for the author and her family. In a less typically "traumatic" mode, Confessions of a Former High School Cheerleader presents a number of reflections on being the victim of personal and institutional racism by a bi-racial author that nonetheless fit within this framework in that they articulate the emotional pain and anger associated with these experiences. Perhaps most remarkable in this vein is bizarreassociations, which includes the following self-description: "This is the story of a perfectly generic poor Asian-American sex worker & rape survivor with a dual diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and polydrug addiction (with various comorbid conditions). Is that what made you want to read this? I do have a novel identity" (4). Bizarreassociations goes on to deal with these issues through a variety of short narratives chronicling important events in the author's life. In these and a number of other perzines, the thematic emphasis is on stories of survival in the face of a variety of often horrific circumstances. It is important to note that the range of "traumas" referenced within perzine culture cover an enormous range of experiences. These would include personal tragedies such as the death of a family member or the collapse of a romantic relationship, physical and medical hardships, and more conventional forms of social oppression, such as racism and homophobia.
<26> In a Freudian sense, such trauma narratives serve as a means for "naming the loss," for converting the natural melancholy that accompanies a trauma into the more restorative process of mourning. In Freud's view, the act of identifying and even analyzing a lost object was key to avoiding the neurosis and "anaesthetic melancholy" associated with an inadequate understanding of a loss. In this sense, the trauma-centered perzine operates as a kind of informal therapy, presumably offering a cathartic release from at least some of the negative psychological consequences associated with such events through a process of externalization and analysis. The connection with issues of self-construction and self-display is evident in the use of trauma as a form of self-definition itself; note the above description of mental illness, drug addiction, and rape survival as a form of identity. However, the connection is not limited to the claims of a given author to membership in a victim/survivor community. There is also the sense of self-reconstruction inherent in the survivor process, with the author/individual claiming a new selfhood in the act of cathartic objectification through the process of externalizing and narrativizing a painful event or personal struggle, a kind of implicit shedding of the very same victim (whether of one's own body and actions or those of others) identity and the possibility for new forms of self-hood and new possibilities for identity. This interplay of connection -- with others that have shared or can otherwise relate to the traumatic experience -- and distanciation -- from an older self that is to be transcended -- serves as a nice parallel for a wider dynamic within the world of perzines, which is marked by the simultaneous construction of like-minded communities with the rejection of many pre-existent forms of social-symbolic affiliation. This will be particularly evident in the section that follows, which deals with more generalized themes of social alienation within the perzine.
<27> The perzines that focus on a broader personal alienation tend to take on a variety of less concentrated elucidations of the author's status as outsider, rather than on specific events. Girl Swirl #8, for example, describes a gamut of forms of social alienation, including vocational, familial, and sexual varieties, that have marked the recent life of author Taryn Hipp. Celia C. Perez, creator of the aforementioned Picaflor, is also responsible for gringolandia, a zine dealing with the author's feelings of social estrangement related to her Hispanic identity; this is also a notable feature of i dreamed i was assertive, yet another zine authored by Perez. In these publications, the theme is more focused than with Girl Swirl, but it shares an elucidation of a long-term process of social alienation rather than a singular event or set of significant traumatic occurrences. The making of a femme*devon's zine attempt #2 displays a very similar strategy, although in this case the narrative concerns the author's engagement with a femme lesbian identity in the face of a variety of social pressures. Indulgence #7, similarly, describes a developing leftist political consciousness and the author's increasing distance from a received social identity; she writes, "I need to evaluate my class background (upper middle class), my race (white), my gender and how it is perceived (female) and my sexuality (queer) and understand how these contribute to my approach to radicalism" (n.pag.). In all of the above, there is a particular attention to the importance of a broad spectrum of experiences -- childhood, education, jobs, consumption, artistic/cultural practices -- that have worked to produce the effect of alienation, whether it is related to a specific ethnic, racial, or political identity or, as in the first example, to a less unified set of autobiographical factors.
<28> These zines are interesting in that they describe a kind of twist on the Habermasian notion of "individuation through socialization," the neo-Meadian process of developing a unique social identity through forms of social affiliation. Rather than the individual developing forms of self-hood through social connections, in this case identity formation occurs through a process of rejection and separation; of course, in a contemporary context, there is a practical need to refuse at least some self-identifications (given the myriad of possibilities), but emphasis is placed in these zines on the more willful refusal of a path of least resistance in this process. Such an orientation also reflects a kind of nostalgic attachment to singularity in the face of a relentless demand to assume a more conventional form of identity. In a sense, this might be understood as a romantic reaction to the challenges raised by the aforementioned process of "social saturation" described by Gergen. Alienation, after all, must be alienation from something and in the zines mentioned above, and even in the description of the development of a queer or Latina identity, for instance, greater emphasis tends to be placed on the vying affiliations that are rejected in the assumption of this identity. This necessarily intensifies the aura of authenticity associated with the discourse of self-assertion; the new identity, even if it is in some sense conventional, is presented as an accomplishment rather than a legacy, as the result of learning and struggle rather than as a kind of social default setting. Rather than serving an at least partially therapeutic purpose, as in the previous, trauma-related zines, these writings tend to reflect a more assertive spirit, although there is an almost inevitable air of esteem-boosting inherent in the tales of social estrangement and an attempt to provide encouragement to those who may share the experiences of the author. While they reflect a certain anxiety regarding the struggle for self-hood in an often inhospitable world, they also suggest that "change is good, necessary, & inevitable," which appears as kind of motto on the cover of Girl Swirl #8.
<29> Proceeding from the traumatic to the alienating, one finds an even greater expansion of the domain of the narrative of self-formation in the many perzines that take an explicitly autobiographical focus. In this case, the narratives tend to have a less univocally negative or agonistic flavor and reflect both the triumphs and tribulations of an individual's life experiences. For Crying Out Loud #3, for example, describes the narrator's relocations, experiences with drugs, variety of jobs, and childhood experiences in a set of vignettes that do not bear an explicitly cathartic or even explanatory character. Browsing Room offers a more focused but still quite wide-ranging set of reflections on the author's career in public library work, including a description of a typical day at work, amusing commentaries on sex and libraries and the author's fashion choices as a librarian, along with less directly vocational autobiographical tales. Chatty Pig #4 covers similar material related to the author's career as a paralegal, again mixing other autobiographical elements into the writing. I Began Smoking Because of a Boy does not focus on a given career but instead on a vice, smoking, as a means for offering a wider set of life stories and to articulate a self-description. Cross my heart #3 takes a more fragmented approach to the autobiography, consisting of several loosely connected episodes from the life of the author that take the form of rambling, stream-of-consciousness reflections separated through the use of ellipses.
<30> In these examples, the self-display is less centered upon a rejection of socially-sanctioned identities or the reconstruction of self following a trauma or traumas but instead takes the form of a more balanced meta-narrative of life experience. Here the singularity and coherence of the individual is claimed through the aesthetic act of narration; this mirrors the strategies used in the previous two modes of perzining, but the act of claiming an identity, even a socially pre-existent one such as "smoker" or "librarian," is less a willful act than a fluid process of practical action. The deployment of narrative or narratives here is particularly important, then, as it serves as the mechanism for individuation in a context lacking the more defiant or spectacular dimensions of the trauma and alienation perzines.
<31> The trauma, alienation, and life narrative modes are important aspects of the culture of perzines, serving both as themes and as formal strategies. Two other foci for perzines, the travel narrative and the emphasis on everyday life, are more conventionally thematic with fewer formal implications but are nonetheless important to understanding the relationship of this culture to issues of identity and selfhood. The travel narrative is an extremely common part of many perzines, and there is a tendency toward economical, archaic and/or "colorful" modes of transit such as passenger trains, freight hopping, and interstate buses. This may parallel the aforementioned use of archaic technologies such as the typewriter, as well as the fiscal reality of many zine publishers. Holiday in other people's misery (greyhound diary #1), for instance, chronicles a cross-country journey on the titular vehicle, while that girl #10 describes a similar trip on an Amtrak train. Leeking Ink #22 provides a travelogue of the author's vacation in the British Isles, while PBTH! #8 and #9 examines a more desperate journey from Pensacola, Florida to Seattle motivated by the author's desire to begin a new life with his girlfriend. The most intriguing travel-related perzine might be Out of Order, one dedicated to "exploring the mysteries and romance of the rails, stretching out into unlimited possibilities" (1). This publication examines a variety or rail technologies and train lines, with an aesthetic and practical appreciation of this form of mass transportation; #15, for example, explores the New York City subway system and a number of other city and suburban rail systems on the east coast. The author interweaves cultural reflection and autobiographical details into the description of a given rail system, giving the zine a very distinct focus without surrendering an eclecticism typical of the perzine.
<32> The travel perzines are intriguing to the issues at hand as they reflect a conscious reflection on one of the central premises of the neo-Meadian theory of the social self-described in the previous section -- the connection between self-development and spatial location. The sense of a new self emerging from the process of physical relocation, one evident in the diaristic style displayed, for example, in That Girl and PBTH!, becomes the very subject matter of the perzine. The effect, then, is similar to the aforementioned alienation genre in the sense of a conscious shedding or refusal of a previous identity, although the use of a travelogue gives this phenomenon a concreteness and a descriptive vividness that is noteworthy. Additionally, the travel perzines also display a clear connection with an earlier genre of beatnik fiction, and its frequent evocation of the wanderer or nomad as a cultural archetype. An important distinction is that this earlier tradition was male dominated, and indeed often hyper-masculine, and perzines have a much greater diversity in terms of gendered perspective. In this aspect, the journey serves as a kind of metaphor for the author's identity; as Zygmunt Bauman has argued recently, "the nomad" may be an increasingly dominant form of identity in the postmodern world so in this sense the perzine may serve as a reflection on this developing tendency. Ultimately, it seems, the travel perzine may serve as a unique means of self-display, a way of recognizing the unstable, fluid, and evolving character of one's identity with a rather traditional literary device.
<33> While a wide variety of perzines, including many of those described above, offer detailed descriptions of the day-to-day life of the authors, there are also a number of perzines that focus singularly or predominantly on mundane, everyday experiences. M@b (pronounced "Matt B") and Clutch use a comic book format to offer vignettes regarding the life of their respective authors; the former is more humorous in emphasis, while the latter covers a wider variety of moods in its description of a variety of daily experiences. Daybook, a compilation zine, consists entirely of entries from individuals that provide an hour-by-hour account of a given day in her/his life. Daybook #2 for example, includes entries from college and high school students, office workers, an American teaching English in China, a free lance editor, a woman throwing a bridal shower, and even Baltimore "zine queen" Davida Gypsy Breier. Naturally, the entries vary widely in subject matter and tone, but there is a considerable amount of attention to routine activities such as shopping, commuting, bathing and dressing, and meal preparation (most of the entries do not involve particularly significant days for the author).
<34> In many ways, the "everyday life" perzines reverse some of the emphases evident in the trauma, alienation, and travel modes by focusing largely on more mundane aspects of social and personal life. Rather than the traumatic event or significant journey, these zines capture the "other part," the seemingly insignificant movement through daily life that usually comprises the majority of anyone's existence. Interestingly, in highlighting this element, these publications are reminiscent of some recent trends in academic studies of culture, in which "everyday life" has become an increasingly important topic for analysis; this trend appeared a bit earlier in feminism, with a call for attention to aspects of social life -- significantly, those associated with women or "the feminine" -- previously ignored by researchers. For the topic at hand, this emphasis is important because it focuses the act of self-definition by the zinester/author not on the exceptional or the explicitly unique but on the routine. Preserving the importance of this domain works in concert with necessarily small scale of the perzine (note the modesty reflected in the frequent use of lower case lettering for titles) by suggesting that even the trivial moments in the lives of average individuals deserve attention and understanding. Mattering, in this line of thought, is not a question of presenting a notable and charismatic singularity but instead in the act of just being a human in an often challenging world. This is a final strategy, of course, in the desire to avert the kind of self-evaporation described in the nightmare vision of contemporary selfhood described in the previous section.
Perzine Culture in the Wider Cultural Frame: Some Conclusions
<35> In this final section, we examine some of the ramifications of the more specific analysis conducted above, particularly as they intersect with issues of identity and self-construction. These include: the inevitable paradox of self and community intrinsic to a cultural formation such as the zine world; the ways that perzines exemplify a set of traits associated with this larger scene and secondly illustrate the limits and possibilities cultural and political, of the same; and the connection of these limits with issues of identity politics.
<36> One of the obvious paradoxes of the perzine is that it is predicated upon, as noted, a particularly intense form of self-expression and the creation of a uniquely personal textual object while at the same time requiring a community of (relatively) like-minded zinesters for readership and distribution. This is compounded, of course, by the emphasis on non-conformity and social alienation within the perzine; a "community" of highly individual, alienated non-conformists may seem like an amusing proposition indeed. However, by returning to the socio-symbolic theory of the self described in the second section of this essay, this paradoxical character may seem less so. If one understands the perzine as the creative re-articulation of a set of symbolic forms -- narrative modes, formal design features, thematic genres -- as a form of self-construction and self-display, then the issue of individual singularity vs. communal sociality seems like a false one. The German neo-Meadian philosopher Ernst Tugendhat describes the trajectory of identity as kind of search for a symbolic home -- a "higher community" in Mead's term -- that can best meet the demands of the "I" or implusive, individual side of the human subject (against the more conventional "me") (253). In this sense, the world of perzines serves participants as this kind of higher community in which their self-expression can be validated and in which their aesthetic approach to this expression is worthy of recognition and, ultimately, respect. The conventional nature of a good deal of the perzines being published today, the consistency with which they follow many of characteristics noted above, is certainly evidence of at least some communal expressive norms; this is not a critique of the originality of the perzine as such, of course, but rather a reaffirmation of the inevitable fact that such cultural "originality" is socially derived. The twist here is that the process of social derivation occurs against a still wider imperilment of identity, adding a degree of defiance and even struggle to the act of self-expression.
<37> Of course, much of the above is applicable to the larger world of the fanzine, and it is in this and other areas that the perzine offers a nice microcosm of many of the cultural traits associated with the zine scene. Indeed it might be tempting to see the vast majority of zines as "perzines" of a sort as the perzine reflects many of the formal and thematic strategies associated with the wider culture. For example, the individualized design strategies described above are also evident across a variety of zine genres; X-Ray, an art zine, is produced in a limited run of 226 issues, with no issue precisely the same as another, while 8-Track Mind, a zine directed at aficionados of the outdated audio format, features cut corners to imitate the shape of the titular object. There are thematic parallels as well -- travel narratives, for instance, are an important part of a variety of zines, including the legendary music zine Maximum Rock n Roll, and the specifically travel-themed Out Your Backdoor and Book Your Own Fuckin' Life.
<38> In a larger sense, the relentless emphasis on hyper-subjectivity and personal experience -- "perzines," after all -- as well as the tendency to focus on strange and traumatic experiences appears consistently throughout a number of zine genres. Two particularly well-known zines, Thrift Score and Beer Frame, are illustrative in this respect. The former deals with thrift store shopping and the latter with unusual products that the author has found in various retailers, topics that are not intrinsically "personal," but the approach in both cases mirrors many aspects of the more traditional perzine. Autobiographical anecdotes, intensely individual reactions to products, and an intimate connection with the subject matter are crucial features of both, paralleling the formal characteristics of so many perzines. The connection, though, can be drawn at more than the formal level. In both Thrift Score and Beer Frame, the authors use consumer products, albeit non-traditional ones, as a means for defining and displaying an identity, in reaction perhaps to more conventional forms of consumer culture. As in the perzines described above, they reflect strategies of self-definition in a challenging symbolic climate.
<39> If perzines reflect an exemplification of some crucial discursive traits of zine culture as a whole, they also reflect some of the socio-political strengths and limits of this culture. Certainly, perzines offer perspectives and formal strategies that are largely absent in more conventional (e.g., commercial, academic) forms of writing. They also tend to cover subject matter -- everyday life and the mundane, participation in marginal and fringe cultures, and other neglected areas of existence -- that are overlooked in those formats, although there is increasing overlap, particulary with academic writing. In the manner described above, they indeed work to create a kind of symbolic home for forms of self-expression often unwelcome or impossible in the larger social world.
<40> At the same time, though, this world risks a narrowness that inevitably accompanies any subculture and in the worst cases can produce a kind of self-ratifying circle of individuals that lacks any opening for self-criticism, a kind of "preaching to the choir" that inevitably places strong limits on the effectivity of these expressions. An example of this is evident, for instance, in the limitations on discussion imposed on the Message Board for the Pander Zine Distro, an interactive web forum designed to facilitate discussion among perzinesters. Topics such as body size, sexual abuse, and gender identity are forbidden as a precaution against "triggering" responses or memories that might violate the "safe space" of the forum. Preventing a break in the symbolic bubble of the perzine world, it seems, demands a rigidity of thinking and indeed of self-definition that can appear ridiculously draconian, and marked by a kind of conventional self-esteem psychobabble that works against the more positive, open characteristics of the genre.
<41> Indeed, such limits can be closely connected to those associated with the still broader field of identity politics. The perzine, with its display of unique and innovative responses to the crisis of selfhood characteristic of postmodern culture, parallels a similar and wider interest in the importance of forms of self-definition and self-assertion evident in variety of forms of political thinking and action traditionally understood as "identity politics." Whether the focus is on ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation, or lifestyle, such political formations betray similar strengths and weaknesses, providing opportunities for unique forms of political activism and risking a kind of self-congratulatory and essentialist obsession with "the personal." As with the perzine, such ideological orientations are particularly tempting and particularly prevalent in a cultural atmosphere marked by an instability of identity and an rapidly changing symbolic environment. The possibilities of the perzine, like the possibilities of identity politics, may be formidable, but so too are the ways that the culture can turn in on itself and stifle its own potential.
Baudrillard, Jean. Paroxysm. Trans. C. Turner. London: Verso, 1998.
Bauman, Zygmunt. "From Pilgrim to Tourist -- or a Short History of Identity." Questions of Cultural Identity. Eds. Hall & DuGay. London: Sage, 1996.
Duncombe, Stephen. Notes From the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. London: Verso, 1997.
Friedman, R. Seth. "Zine Glossary." Factsheet 5 #52, 1994.
Gergen, Kenneth. The Saturated Self. New York: Basic, 1991.
Gundelroy, Mike and Cari Goldberg Janice (eds.). The World of Zines: A Guide to the Independent Magazine Revolution. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Habermas, Jurgen. "Individuation through Socialization: On Mead's Theory of Subjectivity." Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophic Essays. Trans. W.M. Hohengarten. Cambridge: MIT P, 1992.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.
Mead, George Herbert. Mind, Self, and Society From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Ed. C. Morris. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1934.
Tugendhat, Ernst. Self-Consciousness and Self-Determination. Trans. P. Stern. Cambridge: MIT P, 1986.
28 Pages Lovingly Bound with Twine
The Assassin and the Whiner
Book Your Own Fuckin' Life
Confessions of a Former High School Cheerleader
Cross my heart
Fly paper, fly
For Crying Out Loud
The Free Press Death Ship
Holiday in other people's misery (greyhound diary #1)
I Began Smoking Because of a Boy
i dreamed i was assertive
Kurt Cobain Was Lactose Intolerant
The making of a femme*devon's zine attempt
Maximum Rock 'n' Roll
Mystery Date Out of Order
Out of the Vacuum
Out Your Backdoor
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