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Friday, August 08, 2008

Anonymity

There's a call for submissions posted for a lit mag called The New Anonymous, "a print journal whose contributors and editors will remain forever nameless." The stated intention is to serve as a "safehouse" where writers can "question the creative process but also, ... 'play'."

Now I just don't get this pride in anonymity. Am I in deep space or totally out of the conversation or do any other writers also find this secretive measure questionable? How is secrecy a lure? Particularly to a writer who is established (has publishing credits)?

When the words "safe" and "anonymity" are paired, I get the distinct image of FEAR. If a writer is fearful of either her words or the reactions to her words, then isn't her poetic impulse stymied by that fear? Should that inhibition be encouraged among writers? If fearful writers speak the truth only under a mask of anonymity, then at what point will that fear disintegrate? Well, the answer is "Never." Fear will always be present. The best one can do is to acknowledge it, accept it, and keep on writing. Either that, or remain a closet writer, which is to say, remain an egocentric writer.

As far as anonymous editors, well that comes across as a meaningless gesture, some approach toward parity. What's the benefit? Do I want to submit my writing to a panel of unknowns? Do I want my writing judged by these unknowns? Would I feel satisfied if my submission was rejected by these unknown editors? How would I handle acceptance by unknown editors? Would I allow unknown editors to edit my work? No.

This is not about "play," this is about lack of responsibility. The submitting writer accedes to editors who may have no experience, no expertise, no integrity, etc etc. Who in the world would do that?

Play doesn't require secrecy. Experimenting with forms, subject matter, etc should be an exercise that either works or shows where more poetic deliberation may be needed. But it's certainly not an activity that must be shrouded in secrecy. More to the point, if I am experimenting, writing outside my "normal" range, then I do not want this work evaluated by a mystery editor who may or may not have an appreciation of poetic variety. What if I sent a new work steeped in Imagism and the mystery editor was fascinated with the Romantic model or judged successful poetry by rhyme schemes?

This is a reactionary post, and I may dwell on the subject a little longer and find some merit in anonymity. But I do not believe I can accept anonymous "editors." Submitting my work to an unknown arbiter is just foolish.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love how the guy with the big fat blog equates anonymity with egocentrism. Ha!

Well, in the name of egocentrism, I'm posting this anonymously!

Ann said...

Dear Anonymous -
Not sure what the logic of your comment is -- would you mind explaining yourself?

Anonymous said...

The word “fear” jumped out at me when I happened across this page. Probably because the word was written in BOLD letters. The blogger’s leap from “safehouse” to “fear” is an interesting one. Though “safehouse” implies harm, the assumption that it implies “fear” is entirely that of the blogger’s. I’ve seen a lot of old crime movies, and those bank robbers are always on the lookout for a safehouse, but it’s not because they are afraid of the stinking cops. I’d like to be “safe” from storms, but it’s not because I am “afraid” of bad weather. So I’ll leave it to the blogger here to figure out why he or she leapt to that CONCLUSION. It may be worth his or her while to investigate whatever psychical process led him (or her) there.

So that may leave us with the question, what are the editors of this magazine supposedly keeping us safe from? In my mind, it is not from each other, but from ourselves.

I remember when I was a kid and I was writing a bunch of crap in grade school. Man, I really liked writing days. There was no pressure to perform at a certain level and surely at that age my identity wasn’t based upon the success of that day’s work. (“Oh,no, Mom. My story “Insane Bee Attack” was rejected by my peers and now I am left to wonder if I indeed have any true purpose on this planet.”)

Perhaps this magazine (which I am willing to bet is going to fail faster than you can say “anonymous”) is an attempt to return us to that place. We tend to put so much pressure on ourselves and our “works,” that perhaps it is useful once in a while to “play,” in a place where nothing is on the line, and we can once again enjoy, if even for a short while, the pure experience of creation.

I'll play the role of "Anonymous" for a bit.

Ann said...

Dear Anonymous -
Thanks for your explanation. I certainly understand the need to play with our writing without the "fear" or pressure of criticism. I do it all the time. But I don't turn that raw stuff in for publication. I recognize work that is for myself and work that is for others.

And I agree with you -- the imagined safety of this anonymous journal is about cushioning the writer's ego. It also blurs the distinction between what is writing for self (play) and what is writing for others (polished work). My distinction of course.

But what makes this whole enterprise most "scary" to me is the lack of editorial identity. They might as well say: "submit your worst work, your midnight jottings, your depressive episodes, your adolescent angst - we'll take it all."

Because there are no boundaries set up here, nothing to guarantee at least that the publishers can recognize the pearls from the swine. That scares me. But it's inevitable. Anyone can buy a web site and become an overnight publisher. Does this promote the craft of writing? Maybe. Maybe just a little. But I think a greater possibility is that it opens the door to poseurs and dissipates the art and the appreciation of writing. So, call me a snob. But I believe that published work should be work prepared for readers, not something generated for the gratification of the writer.

I liked your analogy of bank robbers and writers -- there are some definite parallels. But I don't agree with your distinction. In most cases, safety and fear go hand-in-hand. It's not a wild leap to assume that writers will seek a "safehouse" because of fear. Doesn't a person seek refuge because he or she is motivated by some kind of fear or is anticipating some sort of harm?

For writers who choose to publish anonymously, that fear (and harm) is connected to revelation. So the question is: what loss occurs upon revelation? Or to look at this another way: what is the advantage of anonymity?

Ann

Anonymous said...

Ann...You're a snob!

No, just kidding. I agree with you, this part about the editors being anonymous makes it a complete toss-up. But it does get me thinking about "gate-keepers," and that is worth something. It makes me question how "art" is born, all the parties at play.

This business, however, about editors being able to recognize "pearls" from "swine," is a difficult one. I mean, who are writers writing for? For editors or their audience? Why not let the audience--that is to say, everyday readers--play the role of gatekeeper. Wouldn't that not only be more democratic, but also more accurate?

Then again, I don't know, maybe I don't agree with myself. What--I work my ass off to write something and then some truck driver from Indiana is the gatekeeper? Who is he to judge my work? What are his qualifications? At least an editor went to school (I presume) and has been taught/trained what separates real art from the rest.

But this whole process is crazy. I get all excited about sending a story to a magazine because it is "hot" and then if by some miracle it gets published...nobody reads it. I know one thing, after jumping through all those hoops, I at least want my name in there somewhere. I want some kind of credit. (Does this make me a snob?)

Anonymous