- Intimate Ephemera: Reading Young Lives in Australian Zine Culture
In her 2005 essay in Biography, "Self-Publishing in the Global and Local: Situating Life Writing in Zines," Anna Poletti offered life writing researchers an introduction to the complex autobiographical genre of the self-published personal zine or "perzine," arguing that this widespread mode of young people's self-expression and community-building constitutes "one of the few life writing subcultures," and as such "presents a dynamic set of challenges to scholars of autobiography" (191). Intimate Ephemera: Reading Young Lives in Australian Zine Culture broadens and complicates the analysis of zine subculture Poletti outlined in that essay, and the book proves that its author is more than equal to the interpretive, methodological, and ethical challenges inherent in her subject matter. In the course of six well-conceived chapters, Poletti stakes out new territory for the field of life writing studies, showing how the zine form complicates our assumptions about what it means to write a life and to share that written—and, in the case of zine authors, photographed, photocopied, cut'n'pasted, collected, composited, folded, and stapled—life with others.
In her first chapter, which provides a theoretical overview of her project, Poletti finds herself essentially in the position of having to invent a subdiscipline of "zine studies," and, like all good inventors (and all good zinesters and DIY artists), she scavenges useful materials from a wide range of sources. Situating her project amidst recent studies of zine culture from the perspectives of cultural studies, communication studies, urban anthropology, and feminist sociology, Poletti judiciously assesses these various approaches in terms of their capacity to account for the status of zines as material and, moreover, textual objects that organize their creators' self-presentation in dynamic, provisional, and self-reflexive ways. More often than not, she observes, critics [End Page 544] have followed "resistance models" that celebrate zines as authentic expressions of the counterhegemonic ideologies of particular subcultural groups, overlooking the material processes of production and dissemination that play an indispensible role in elaborating whatever identities the zines purport to represent. In her effort to move her own study of zines "from ideology to narrative," Poletti turns to the resources of literary criticism and, in particular, life writing research to support her account of "how perzines operate as instances of self-publishing which perform highly specific and thematized narratives of identity, and which are also characterized by developed practices of self-reflexive consideration of how one publishes 'the self '" (34). The interplay of these two aspects of the zine—its discursive performance of identity and its material production as a textual artifact—constitutes Intimate Ephemera's central problematic and provides an effective rationale for the organization of the book.
Poletti's second and third chapters, "Zines Making Zinesters" and "Narrating and (Re)Figuring the Bedroom" examine, respectively, the processes of zine production and the social spaces—sometimes the workplace but most often the private space of the home and especially the bedroom—in which that production occurs. True to the dialectic she seeks to keep in motion, Poletti moves deftly between descriptions of how and where zines are created and analyses of how these concrete conditions of possibility are reflexively taken up as topics in the texts of the zines themselves. While she is critical of the essentialism and reflectionism that impair many politically oriented treatments of zines, Poletti gives ample attention to the complicated articulation of zine sters' strategies of self-expression, collaboration, and community formation with the ideological and repressive state apparatuses of contemporary Australian society. For example, she gives a perceptive account of how the application requirements and procedures of Centrelink, the Australian government agency that oversees employment assistance and a range of other social services, puts pressure on the self-concept and self-representation of young Australians.
In her fourth and fifth chapters, Poletti turns her attention to two prevalent themes in young people's perzines: consumer culture and depression. This thematic approach allows her to deepen her...