A Vision Statement for Thinking, Writing, and Publishing Otherwise in the University without Condition

Detail from Hieronymous Bosch, Ship of Fools, 1490-1500, Louvre Museum

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

~ Audre Lorde, “A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer”

By their very nature, ideas cannot be property.

~ Aaron Swartz, “Information Wants to Be Free”

… it ought to be the role of the public research university—and by extension, of its platforms for disseminating research results—not to regulate and officiate thought, while also subjecting its potential publication to market and disciplinary conditions, but rather to create the hospitable open conditions for its creative emergence, beyond what we think we know, in whatever forms it might take.

~ Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy, “Not Self-Indulgence, but Self-Preservation: Open Access and the Ethics of Care”

As scholars, we are often locked up into our own disciplines, but sharing our research with the public, with colleagues, with other departments, and especially with non-academics, can only be enriching. The more we share our work, the better it becomes and the best way to share it is to make it available to everyone, to make it open access no matter where anyone lives or how much they earn. This seems self-evident, but we will have to fight for it every step along the way.

~ Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, “Publishing as Activism: punctum books, Aaron Swartz, and the Medieval Sudan”

Who We Are and What We Do

punctum books, founded in Brooklyn, New York in 2011, and now incorporated in Santa Barbara, California as a public benefit corporation co-directed by Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, is an independent queer- and scholar-led, community-formed, and peer-reviewed Sparkly Diamond open-access (OA) publisher devoted to academic and para-academic authors working in any field in the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and architecture & design who want to publish books that are genre-queer and genre-bending and which take experimental risks with the forms and styles of intellectual writing. Our authors understand that where they publish is just as important as the content of their work, and that sharing their work with the global commons is vital and necessary. Three primary concentrations for us are (1) books that shift the paradigm in established disciplines; (2) books that help to create emerging transdisciplinary fields; and (3) books that play in the fields of creatively speculative thought (Submission Guidelines). Following the contours sketched out above, we also welcome multi-authored essay volumes that are creatively conceptualized and expertly curated around specific themes, subjects, debates, approaches, and the like. We are also committed to supporting projects of translation and multilingualism across a wide variety of historical periods and languages. Our commitments to and care for diversity, equity, and inclusion are evidenced in our Directorship and staff, our catalog and also in or Editorial Advisory Board. Ultimately, punctum seeks and houses work that feels and thinks in the realm of “away from,” the grammar of the de-, that which deforms, decolonizes, deconstructs, defenestrates, demystifies, detoxifies, destabilizes, decenters, degentrifies, demythologizes, defers, detaches, defends, deletes, departs, decriminalizes, demobilizes, delocates, depolarizes, denationalizes, decalcifies, decommissions, delaminates, and delegitimizes. Maybe we should also think about the re-, returning, going back, doing things over, remembering, repeating ourselves, running backwards, relapsing, regrouping (etc.). Where are we going? This is an adventure story.

punctum is partnered with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library, and with them, and with other institutional libraries, we have developed an OA book publishing model that never charges fees to authors and that privileges cooperative expertise and knowledge sharing between librarians, knowledge managers, publishers, and scholar-researchers. UCSB Library helped us build community-owned infrastructures for our books and have helped us to design our digital catalog so that it follows all of the “best practices” for cross-referenced metadata, cataloguing, indexing, dissemination, discovery, aggregation, and preservation. For a long while now, university libraries have been on the front lines of protecting and fighting for the community-led commons against its takeover and privatization by obscenely rapacious commercial-conglomerate publishers. We stand with the librarians who work to care for and curate the catalogues of available and open knowledge, and who are using what little resources they have to support OA publishing. The majority of punctum’s funding comes from research libraries through our Supporting Library Membership Program. Every book we publish is a gift from university libraries.

We choose the name punctum, following the idioms of the Middle Ages and contemporary cultural theorist Roland Barthes, to evoke the moment (medieval theologian Augustine’s punctum: writing as always momentary in the now), as well as the pricks and punctures and perforations made by awls punching holes in medieval vellum (thus helping to create the blank and open book that makes writing possible, an opening-to-writing). And in Barthes’s terms, writing about photography, the punctum is the sensory, sudden intensity that the photograph has on the viewer, the pointed instrument that disturbs the studium: the “accident” which “pricks us,” the sting, the speck, and the cut, into and out of which anything might fall or emerge, and by which we feel ourselves pierced (writing as shock to the system, to the readers of our books, but also to systems of knowledge more largely). punctum is also the cast of the dice: we’re taking chances out here. It’s a form of play, but it’s also work, perhaps the best precarious job at present in the humanities at large.

With our readers, authors, and editorial board, we endeavor to adhere, always imperfectly, but with devotion, to the following values:

The Necessity of Open Access

… open-access publishing is a brilliant way around the failure of academic and trade publishers to fend off corporatization and the consequent loss of quality (such as the ever-intensifying limits on page-length and reference apparatus) and even corruption. Open-access publishing also helps us to resist growing administrative and corporate attempts to interfere with academic intellectual property rights (academics, unlike journalists, do not “work for hire,” and therefore legally retain the right to publish their own material as they choose)—unless, as so many scientists have done, we sign away said rights on behalf of the corporations funding our research. When taxpayer money is also used in such projects, the “public” university becomes yet another covert means of transferring wealth from taxpayers to private corporations. Openness cannot guarantee fairness (only because nothing can), but in these days of plummeting transparency, it seems both strategic and joyous to embrace it. Share what you know.

~ L.O. Aranye Fradenburg Joy, “Driving Education”

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

~ Aaron Swartz, “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto”

punctum is an OA press, which means we not only have a moral obligation to grant to all of our readers free access to our titles, but that we also have an obligation to grant to our readers and authors, in the words of the 2003 “Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities,” “a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly, and to make and distribute derivative works [remixes and mashups], in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship,” and with the further understanding that the remixed works not be produced for commercial gain in any form whatsoever. We are an OA press because we believe that if academic publishers, especially university presses, continue to insist on their copyrights as inviolable and to only publish books for specialized niche audiences, all claims to “advance knowledge” on behalf of a “public good” and wide “global” readerships, which they claim over and over again, then they are participating in a self-regarding system of the conferral of status upon authors whose work will likely never reach readers in the Global South who cannot afford the costs of buying these books and neither can their libraries. We do not believe this serves the “public good” and furthermore, humanistic and scientific knowledge is a human right. But punctum feels strongly that saying access to our books serves a wide global readership is not a robust enough definition of what OA should ideally mean, and we further believe that that the term “open access” should remain perpetually open for continual debate and ongoing re-definition, especially because the OA movement is now being thoroughly co-opted and marketized by behemoth for-profit publishers (e.g., RELX, Wiley Global, Taylor & Francis, Palgrave Macmillan, SpringerNature, etc.), and they have made the term Open Access not only hollow and ethically suspect, but also a deception, because authors and researchers, in many cases, have to pay very high fees for what these publishers call “Gold OA” publications. And many authors simply can’t pay, and those with more money in their research accounts don’t have to worry overmuch about their ability to publish in OA outlets. This means that inequity is built into the system of OA publishing. With some despair, we realize that Aaron Swartz’s and others’ idealistic belief that “information wants to be free” has gone largely unheeded in the neoliberal capture of everything as a commodity, even publicly-funded research. Which doesn’t mean that we can’t have an open commons free from neoliberalism, but rather, as Mackenzie Wark has written of the Situationists, we must imagine “a space of play in the interstitial spaces of the policing of the city via the dérive,” which means we “now have to imagine and experiment with emerging gaps and cracks in the gamespace that the commodity economy has become.” punctum works as much as it can within these gaps and cracks, and we also labor to heed Dave Ghamandi’s call, “Can scholarly publishing break from neoliberalism? We must find out through a collective struggle that fuses reflection and action.”

We are an OA press, not just because we make our titles broadly available to the public without paywalls or complex digital protocols, but because we are dedicated to opening up access to the means and modes of publication for authors who otherwise might not find a publisher, either because their work does not fit within a readily recognizable current disciplinary paradigm, because they want to experiment with the forms and styles of academic writing, because their work engages in disciplinary mashups that would make marketing their work overly difficult, because they don’t have secure institutional status, and so on. To put it more bluntly, our authors often come to us because traditional university presses find their work illegible or simply don’t welcome its experimentation or simply don’t believe it is “marketable.” It’s a matter of making space for and curating personal freedoms — what Ivan Illich once memorably advocated for as “the protection, the maximum use, and the enjoyment of the one resource that is almost equally distributed among all people: personal energy under personal control.” As publishers, we want to be an agent of sustenance for our authors and of their right to self-invent, self-preserve, and change, and as Audre Lorde has taught us, this involves political struggle and warfare. We have learned, partly from Thomas Kuhn and his work on scientific revolutions, that we need to serve as the lighthouse and lookout station for disciplinary anomalies, which are also glitches in the system whereby new knowledge paradigms emerge into being and change the rules of the game. As Robin R.D. Kelley has argued, this means we also have to be on the lookout, not just for the turbulent counter-shifts of academic disciplines, but also for social movements that “generate new knowledge, new theories, new questions” and whose “most radical ideas often grow out of a concrete intellectual engagement with the problems of aggrieved populations confronting systems of oppression.”

The Right to Publish Everything

If a radically innovative and public cultural-intellectual milieu is to flourish, then what we need now is more and not less of everything. We need print books as well as e-books, yellow legal pads as well as the mystic writing pads of our Evernote apps and Remarkable tablets, baroquely lengthy multivolume works as well as manifestos, minigraphs, and memorandums. And we need close and affectionate and even codependent editorial curatorship of others’ work, and so on. We need to multiply and also invent new trade routes and modes of exchange for disseminating intellectual work—going for baroque, or broke—and we also need the courage (or wise foolishness) to depart to extraterritorialities not bathed in the harsh fluorescent lighting of the Academy proper. This means we will also have need of what Stefano Harney and Fred Moten have described as “fugitive planning” and the “preservation of upheaval.” That means living and working “always in an unsafe neighborhood,” to cite Harney and Moten again. We accept the challenge.

We are not interested in the maintenance of specific genres or disciplines (is it literary theory? poetry? philosophy? art history? memoir? sociology? cybernetics? speculative fiction? code? who can tell?), and thus we take seriously Jacques Derrida’s belief in a university “without condition” which would “remain an ultimate place of critical resistance—and more than critical—to all the powers of dogmatic and unjust appropriation,” and which has the task, especially by way of the Humanities, of ensuring “the principal right to say everything, whether it be under the heading of fiction and the experimentation of knowledge, and the right to say it publicly, to publish it.” We want a radical open of thought. This is thus also about freedom, and about desire, something in very short supply in the University these days, and which also has something to do with individual and communitarian well-being, with eudaimonia (in the Greek, the “good demon, or spirit, inside”), which must be cultivated in the singular on its way to the plural and back again. So this is also about flourishing — what Aranye Fradenburg Joy has argued for as environmentally enriched forms of “thriving” over and against the depredations of only “surviving.”

Academic Freedom & The Refusal of Prestige

What does academic freedom cost those who are said to enjoy it? This is a question that is … corollary and secondary to the question concerning the cost of academic freedom that is meted out upon the ones whose oppression brings it into existence and relief.

~ Fred Moten, “Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions”

How do you measure the value of work in the Humanities and Social Sciences that often has small, highly specialized audiences and whose influence grows slowly over long stretches of time? You can’t measure the “impact” of work whose influence ignites in the future. Which is why the present goal of the Humanities should be to create the conditions that would enable all sorts of freedoms, available to all, that are so necessary for maximizing thought, for making it smolder, sending smoke signals and ciphers to the avant-garde of the next generation of post/humanists.

~ Eileen A. Fradenburg Joy, “‘An Instrument for Adoration’: A Mini-Manifesto Against Metrics for the Humanities (To Be Elaborated Upon at a Further Date)”

There is perhaps no concept that is seen as less debatable among academics than academic freedom, which is supposedly “guaranteed” by tenure. But even if all faculty at all universities had tenure automatically, there would still be very little academic freedom, not just because tenured faculty can be fired at will, regardless, for the things they say and write (we see examples of this all of the time, in quite frightening ways), but because of all the myriad ways in which academic researchers are coerced (both forcefully and more subtly) to think alike, or to follow certain methodologies of thought, outside of which it is believed only bad or nonsensical scholarship could result. Not to mention that the current process by which faculty and administrators collectively judge their colleagues’ scholarship and teaching is tied to protocols and computations for advancement that are specifically designed to “catch out” and thus instantiate failure as well as to affirm and reward, according to calculations made out in advance, the pursuit and supposed achievement of “excellence,” a suspect and empty term masking a calibrated commodity of higher education often paired with impact factors and prestige. If we care so much about prestige, we might remind ourselves that the word derives from the Latin praestigium (“illusion” or “trick”) and only later came to mean “glamor” and, eventually, something that is worthy of “admiration.” With the advent of impact factors, tracked and calculated by for-profit companies, the gamification of prestige has come full circle. In the vein of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s Undercommons, as articulated by Jack Halberstam, we reserve the right to refuse that which has been refused to us.

This is why punctum believes that academic freedom is neither a natural right nor a right to be granted to and possessed, supposedly without impediment, by those with secure institutional status, but rather, as Angela Davis has taught us, it is an endless, always unfinished, yet necessary collective struggle. For us, that means clearing and securing, against structures and systems of academic privilege, the open spaces of radical hospitality within which individual researchers might have more freedom to experiment, to take risks, and most importantly, to pursue in their work their (and not our) desires, unencumbered by professional anxieties over whether or not those desires are legitimized in advance by what particular fields, or tenure and promotion committees, have already deemed as proper. punctum feels it is worth repeating: academic freedom, and freedom of speech more broadly, is not a right to be granted to just a few who have supposedly earned it (which is obscene in the extreme), and also is not some sort of “natural” right already possessed by everyone, an ontological “ground” on which everyone has a sure footing, but is rather an everyday practice, an ongoing struggle, that we must work at collectively on behalf of others, especially including Others who, although they may desire it, have no secure foothold whatsoever in the University proper. With the poet Lisa Robertson, we say that we want “an intelligence that’s tall and silver, oblique and black, purring and amplifying its décor; a thin thing, a long thing, a hundred videos, a boutique.” And for this, we also “need dignity and texture and fountains.” And we have to fight for this.

Publics, Public/ations, and the Para-Academy

… it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of — this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.

~ Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study

The University (and, more especially … the ‘Humanities’) have a responsibility to foster events of thought that cannot fail to unsettle the University in its Idea of itself. For this to happen, the special institution that the University is must open itself up to the possibility of unpredictable events … in a way that always might seem to threaten the very institution that it is. On this account, the University is in principle the institution that ‘lives’ the precarious chance and ruin of the institution as its very institutionality.

~ Geoffrey Bennington, “Foundations”

We distinguish, as Paul Boshears has urged, between “publishing” — “making stuff knowable” — and “publication” as “public-making,” which is a “process … of saturating,” of instantiating and also drenching with writings many publics. Public/ation would thus be focused on creating tools and platforms and holding areas (some call these books, journals, zines, serials, weblogs, podcasts, databases, editions, reading groups, etc.), around which certain activist-intellectual communities might coalesce, and be sustained. More than just publics, these spaces would be counter-publics, in the sense given to them by Michael Warner as “spaces of circulation in which it is hoped that the poesis of scene making will be transformative, not merely replicative.” And a press would be that which, following the word’s Old French etymology, serves as the imprinting device and imprimatur (the early modern print shop, which could be broken into at any moment by the Authorities), but also as the pressing crush of the crowd into and out of the (under)commons. The university — and the presses associated with it — will hopefully continue to serve as one important site for the cultivation of thought and cultural studies and critical resistance more broadly, but increasingly their spaces are so striated by so many checkpoints, watchtowers, administrative procedures, and forms of corporatization, that truly radical modes of publishing are difficult to pursue and develop. And this state of affairs is not conducive to opening up the important question of what counts as scholarship, such that we might build more durable avenues of access to outstitutional modes of thought and writing. This is important because over and over again we see how radical presses become, over time, bloated corporate-like, capitalist-like competitive establishments (Verso Books comes to mind). Radical political presses who stay true to their roots often have short lives because of a lack of compensation and respect from the Establishment for such work, not to mention the difficulties of maintaining one’s stamina over time under such conditions. We are reminded here of Barbara Smith and Audre Lorde’s Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, founded in 1980 but ultimately inactive after Lorde’s death in 1992. Their books had and still have an enormous impact, but the press was born out of daily struggle and resistance and how long they could last and the personal energies required was always a question. We owe a debt we can’t pay to them and other short-lived radical presses.

puntum books is ultimately an outstitutional press that is both within, alongside, and outside of the University proper. For us, the term “para-academic” is best suited to describe this situation. “Para-academic” captures the multivalent sense of something that fulfills and/or frustrates the academic from a position of intimate exteriority. Para-academia is that which is beside academia, a place whose logic encompasses many reasons and no reason at all (“para-,” meaning “alongside, beyond, altered, contrary,” from Greek para-, “beside, near, from, against, contrary to”). The para- is the domain of shadow, paradigm, daemon, parasite, supplement, amateur, elite. The para-academic embodies an unofficial excess or extension of the academy that helps, threatens, supports, mocks (par-ody), perfects and/or calls it into question simply by existing next to it. We believe that the university’s classrooms (and especially its activist reading groups, as Robin D.J. Kelley has shown) will continue to be important sites for keeping open the productive question(s) of thought and for fostering important modes of ideological and political struggle, but we also think it is time, with Harney and Moten, for a subter-fugitive, vagabond, rogue para-academy that takes what it can from inside the university and brings it elsewhere.

Chance, Contingency, and Itinerancy

To be full of hap is to make happen. A politics of the hap is about opening up possibilities for being in other ways, of being perhaps. If opening up possibility causes unhappiness, then a politics of hap will be thought of as unhappy. But it is not just that. A politics of the hap might embrace what happens, but it also works toward a world in which things can happen in alternative ways. To make hap is to make a world.

~ Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness

To wager on a poetics of the conceptual swerve is to believe in the constancy of the unexpected—source of terror, humor, hope. I’ve attempted to use the energy that comes from that triad in all the forms my writing takes, to develop a poetics that keeps mind in motion amidst chaos. This motion on the page is analogous to that of the swimmer who takes pleasure in the act that also saves her from drowning.

~ Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager

punctum does not publish books that will serve the needs of some worn-out (and yet still oppressive) methodological paradigm that has run out of steam but continues to dig its claws into its academic “real estate,” refusing to open the door to teratological thought. The sign above punctum’s door says, “HERE BE DRAGONS.” Our books are powered by the winds of chance and bodies of thinking otherwise, for we know, along with Michel Foucault, that “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality. In a society such as our own, we all know the rules of exclusion. The most obvious and familiar of these concerns what is prohibited [to be published].” punctum opens the door to chance — to fruitful wandering and surprise encounters, and we seek to publish what has been prohibited to be published in as many creative forms as possible. We call this the ethics of academic publishing.

Nicolas Bourriaud opposes the “radicant” (a vegetative figure, like ivy, that adapts its growth to whatever terrain it finds itself in) to the “radical,” a chief (and sometimes bogus) figure of modernity and post-modernity who supposedly cuts all roots and ties with the past (which, on some level, says we can get away from history somehow, which of course we cannot do, ever). The radicant doesn’t cut her roots—she both sets them down and takes them with her elsewhere, engaging in an endless series of re-enrootings and re-translations. Thus there is attachment as well as a transitive mobility within a frame of openness to contingency. For us, this means that, wherever we go, we take the university we’ve left behind, in whatever pieces and scraps we have, and we keep everything in motion as best we can, even when we’re stuck. We embrace itinerancy, neither rejecting the past nor always inclining towards some projected future. The future, of necessity, needs to remain always open to the unforeseen (even if it is a catastrophe or disaster, the final act), but there is no reason to defer everything. Certain decisions can be made (every day, in fact) that keep the future productively open, which also keeps the presencing of the now in place, even when it’s a mess, in ways that are sustaining of the self (if only for a short time, or from time to time). punctum operates the holding area “in the middle,” and also builds makeshift shelters and escape pods for intellectual vagabonds and their treasures.

Jouissance, Optimism, Self-Care, and Community

And if the accusation is that we are mixing the personal with the professional, our passion with our labor, then yes: we are guilty as charged. At punctum books, we strive not to alienate ourselves from our work to such an extent that any possibly different way of producing scholarly books can only be imagined by assuming deception and deceit, or by following the deadening routines of the status quo publishers.

~ Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, “Here’s What You Can Do with Your Overhead”

I think that this is an era where we have to encourage that sense of community particularly at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms and not in collective terms. It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.

~ Angela Y. Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement

In an era where neoliberal capital turns our dreams and other forms of resistance into commodities in the space of a nanosecond, and where our every move is surveyed, digitized, and sold as data to whoever wants to purchase the information necessary to plot our moves in advance of our arrival at desires we didn’t know we had and which we cannot own, should the academy of thought not be, on some level, a haven for resistance to such techno-capture of every aspect of our lives, even if, as Mark Fisher argued, we are way beyond an “alternative” culture because all “subversive potentials” have been “precorporated” by capitalism’s “pre-emptive formatting and shaping of desires, aspirations, and hopes”? We don’t disagree but we insist nevertheless on creating makeshift tents built on aquifers where like-minded seekers who value unsettlement, even when painful and traumatic, can gather (if only “for the time being”). We have to be willing, if necessary, to “drop everything” when it’s time to run, or stay stuck together on a flying island headed toward an eventual crash, perhaps with another flying island. Whatever the outcome, with Michel Foucault, we ultimately believe that “the connection of desire to reality” still “possesses revolutionary force.” And thus we ask ourselves, if even ridiculously, as Foucault asked, “How does one introduce desire into thought, into discourse, into action? How can and must desire deploy its forces within the political domain and grow more intense in the process of overturning the established order?”

With Aranye Fradenburg Joy’s urging, we want to take up “the question of the jouissance of the academy, rather than assuming it is our task to discipline jouissance out of the academy. For one thing, we cannot discipline jouissance out of the academy, because discipline is always permeated with enjoyment. So why give ground on our enjoyment?” punctum does not want to discipline jouissance out of scholarly work, but rather, we want to keep desire, enjoyment, and jouissance in our work, as a vital part of its disciplinarity, and not its antithesis, even when those things steer us in the wrong direction or temporarily disable us. And we believe this will give to us the (not always cruel) optimism, that in Lauren Berlant’s terms, can be “a social relation involving attachments that organize the present. It is an orientation toward the pleasure that is bound up in the activity of world-making, which may be hooked on futures, or not.” punctum believes that this “world-making” is best secured when we realize that, in addition to attending to the business of publishing books, we are attending to the self-care of ourselves and also our authors — we are taking care, which we see as more important than performing according to so-called professional standards and protocols.

Under continual assault and threat by protocols and checkpoints for tenure, for promotion, and for professional affirmation and advancement in general, we have lost sight in the humanities and social sciences of the important meaningfulness of singularity and self-expression, in our work and in our relationships, and this is an issue that raises ethical questions regarding how we care for others’ ability to self-express. And the business-as-usual of academic publishing plays no little part in hampering our capabilities for such. Which is why we begin with the caveat that we are existentially obligated to others in their singularity, and that publishing—as a vital mode of disseminating research findings, and thus also of “seeding” publics and counter-publics—is a form of care for our authors’ work and their singular desires for such work, whose economic limits could never be set in advance, and which requires, instead, what Jan Verwoert calls a “community committed to the politics of dedication,” a sort of “mutual admiration society,” but also a “convalescent ward,” in which we choose to “recuperate” together, which itself means “to take back”—to take back ourselves to ourselves, to take back our humanities, our university, and our commons “away from here,” and to have some room to conspire, which is to say, to “breathe together.”

But we also always understand that any community we form with our authors and readers is always “inoperative.” With Jean-Luc Nancy, we understand that “it can no longer be a matter of figuring or modeling a communitarian essence in order to present it to ourselves and to celebrate it, but that it is a matter rather of thinking community, that is, of thinking its insistent and possibly still unheard demand, beyond communitarian models or remodelings. … we must expose ourselves to what has gone unheard in community.” This means we need be open to being upended by what Sara Ahmed has called, following the work of Audre Lorde and bell hooks, the “killjoys” who serve as “blockage points” that threaten the group’s social bond, and who “get in the way” of any group’s “enjoyment and solidarity.” The killjoy is a “willful” figure who might never “get over it,” who importantly enacts a critical “style of politics: a refusal to look away from what has already been looked over.” We need the killjoys, whether they arrive from the inside or outside of our community, to unsettle our so-called “successes” and “happiness” and to break the ground on which we think we stand, however disorienting. So we work, as best we can, to embrace community and groupification, in Berlant’s words, as “the collaborative risk of a shared disorganization,” an “emotional time of being-with, time where it is possible to value floundering around with others whose attention-paying to what’s happening is generous and makes liveness possible as a good, not a threat.” Because of this, we also embrace the failure suggested in floundering as integral to what we do without giving up on each other, our work, or our desires, wherever they lead, and even if they fail to ever arrive at a destination mapped out in advance. And although failure may lead to feeling as if we are stuck in some sort of impasse, we can also see this, as Berlant writes, as a “holding station,” “a singular place that’s a cluster of noncoherent but proximate attachments.” We could do worse than to be stuck together in the impasse which is also a holding station, which we call a publishing house.

We Really Like Cats


Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010).

Sara Ahmed, Willfull Subjects (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981).

Geoffrey Bennington, “Foundations,” in Not Half No End: Militantly Melancholic Essays in Honor of Jacques Derrida (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 19–34.

Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).

Lauren Berlant, “Starved,” in After Sex? On Writing Since Queer Theory, eds. Janet Halley and Andrew Parker (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 79–90.

“Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities,” October 22, 2003, https://openaccess.mpg.de/Berlin-Declaration.

Paul Boshears, “Para-Academic Publishing as Public-Making,” in The Para-Academic Handbook: A Toolkit for Making-Learning-Creating-Acting, eds. Alex Waldrop and Deborah Withers (Bristol: HammerOn Press, 2014), 175–88.

Nicolas Bourriaud, The Radicant (New York: Lukas & Sternberg, 2009).

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