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Archival Penumbra

From: American Book Review
Volume 34, Number 3, March/April 2013
p. 5 | 10.1353/abr.2013.0051

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine (1978–1981), from the first issue, was figured as a project in recovering “out-of-print books, magazines, and unpublished manuscripts.” This description should strike a note of dissonance in the chorus of common knowledge concerning this influential little magazine, which is known for shaping the emergent poetics of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing community. However, skimming along the surface of the issues today, the reader is struck by the density of bibliographic notes on access and availability. Among the contemporary reviews and short essays that characterize the bulk of the magazine, one finds offers from the “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Distributing Service,” a kind of door-to-door photocopy delivery mechanism for out-of-print works. A catalogue of books and magazines could be ordered for fifty cents from the home address of editor Charles Bernstein, who ran this reprint-on-demand service through a neighborhood Xerox machine.

In the first issue of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (1978), the reader notes that David Melnick’s Pcoet (1975), originally published by G.A.W.K. just three years prior, could be photocopied by the Distributing Service for $3.00. Similarly, out-of-print titles by Clark Coolidge, Ron Silliman, Bruce Andrews, and Lyn Hejinian, among others, were on offer in Xerox format. The full run of Silliman’s foundational Tottel’s poetry newsletter was announced in both L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E no. 4 and Tottel’s no. 17. Issues of magazines like This, Hundred Posters, and Toothpick were also listed in the inventory. The catalog included scores of such entries, most of which have never been “properly” republished. For those that follow the distributing services of Craig Dworkin, however, these titles should sound familiar. In fact, all of the above-mentioned works can be found on Dworkin’s online archive, Eclipse.

Or rather, they would be found if Eclipse were online. Like the solar event invoked in the site’s title, the archive flickered out of sight in December of 2012. When I began this review, the site was functioning regularly at http://english.utah.edu/eclipse. However, due to an oversight in the restructuring of university servers—as much a surprise to the editor as the site’s users—the full archive simply vanished. By the time this review goes to press, it will likely return to the internet at a new URL. In the meantime, umbraphiles might content themselves with captures of the site from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. They might content themselves, that is, if the Internet Archive crawler had uniformly captured the high-resolution facsimile images of the Eclipse archive while they were available. Sadly, that too is not the case.

In the shadow of this syzygy, we might pause, for a moment, to consider the de-publication of Eclipse from the Internet. As Bruno Latour might remind us, once a punctualized actor like Eclipse breaks down, its myriad components are on rare view to the user. Of course, there is little need to turn to the Internet Archive unless one needs access to a site no longer available online. On browsing the haphazard collection of captures, date by date, a whole network of automated and variable processes can be traced over time. From a bibliographic perspective, the reader may thus contend with the trickier aspects of digital publication: continually updated (or disappearing) content, changing forms and formats, and a host of contextual and intertextual modulations—all of which dramatically impact our understanding of the material conditions of a little database like Eclipse.

At the time the site went offline, it hosted 153 titles of rare and out-of-print works. The archive focuses on “digital facsimiles of the most radical small-press writing,” primarily originating in the 1970s and ’80s. From early 2002 until the spring of 2006, Eclipse ran on Princeton University servers. After a summer offline, the site returned in the fall of 2006 through the University of Utah’s English subdomain. Following the rhythms of academic semesters and charting Dworkin’s passage from one university...

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