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Read Write [Hand]: A multi-disciplinary Nick Cave reader

Read Write [Hand]: A multi-disciplinary Nick Cave reader

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Read Write [Hand]: A multi-disciplinary Nick Cave reader

245 pages
3 heures
Nov 27, 2011


“This is an exceptional anthology, a beautiful piece of art, a serious account of one man’s life work and a great example of the possibilities of new media in the 21st Century.”
– Dr Nathan Wiseman-Trowse, The University of Northampton

Read Write [Hand]: A multi-disciplinary Nick Cave reader is a provocative new e-collection of illustrated essays, accompanied by illustrative online mixtapes, which interrogates Nick Cave’s literary undertones and emphases, false-starts and fixations, achievements and overall credentials. Taking as its starting-point the notion that Cave’s work – as both songwriter and Writer – represents an extraordinarily rich nub of musical-literary intersection, this unique volume considers, amongst other things:

– Cave’s formative years;
– Cave’s bible;
– the cinematic Cave;
– Cave in Berlin;
– Cave and the ballad tradition;
– the hard-boiled Cave;
– Cave and poetic scrutiny;
– Cave’s video narratives;
– Cave as Englishman.

Taking in academia and journalism, polemic and poetry, not to mention photography, stop-motion animation, graphic art and collage, Read Write [Hand] represents an attempt to explore Nick Cave’s interdisciplinarity via its own multidisciplinarity. Utilising eBook functionality, as well as Spotify, YouTube and Silkworm Ink’s stunning new website, it features essays by Robert Brokenmouth and Prof. Nick Groom, poetry by Roddy Lumsden and John Clegg, cover artwork by Steve Wacksman and a new version of Cave’s ‘Bring It On’ by Cypress Grove & the Signifiers.

Sam Kinchin-Smith is Silkworms Ink’s music and non-fiction editor.

Nov 27, 2011

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Read Write [Hand] - Silkworms Ink Anthologies



First of all, thank you James, for publishing and design assistance. Gigantic thanks to all the contributors to this work who, throughout a speculative, intense and often rather ridiculous process, responded to my inadequate suggestions with extraordinary intelligence and generosity – but particularly to Cypress, and then Ashlee and Robert, whose assistance recruiting brilliant people over the summer was invaluable. Thanks to John for his excellent proofing, Nick for the research, Saphi and Laurent for their work on Merle’s essay, Cypress’ band, Bruce for the stories and photographs (which I do intend to use, somehow, somewhere), Mark for putting me in touch with Steve, Belen for putting me in touch with Irene, and Phil and Nic for getting me out of a tight spot. Thanks to at least three other people I’ve forgotten.


The new self-publishing

Sam Kinchin-Smith

My great uncle, the splendidly named Gladwyn Turbutt, is a historian. The pre-eminent authority on Derbyshire history in the UK (and presumably also the world, then) or so I’m told. Must confess I haven’t got round to reading any one of the four volumes of his History of Derbyshire, which takes in its stride over a thousand years of county history, but I daresay I’ll find a couple of minutes to spend skimming through a few centuries of fighting and farming soon. For the time being, though, I want to focus on the books he writes in between monumental local histories – for instance, he’s just had a work about religion published, which takes in both the personal and the objectively historical.

Haven’t read that either, yet. Neglectful great nephew that I am.

Had published: the point here is that, though Uncle Bobby (no, I don’t understand how Gladwyn shortens to Bobby either) publishes his histories through local academic houses, he self-publishes the hobby works, usually with the assistance of one of those quasi-presses one pays to produce a couple hundred flimsy, badly designed paperback copies of a manuscript. Which isn’t exactly surprising; as a multi-volume History of Derbyshire would suggest, Bobby’s interests are rather specific, and his word-counts considerable. Two characteristics commercial publishers run a mile from. In other words, the set-up is practical because it is inevitable.

But for some reason, it attracts a certain amount of derision – not in the least malicious, but derision nonetheless – from other members of my family. Whilst it would be an overstatement to say that the self-published work is tacitly regarded with the same disdain as, say, the mythical unfinished novel (most families have an aunt or cousin writing one at any given time, in my experience) it sometimes feels like self-publication counts against a completed manuscript in a way that non-publication doesn’t. I’d suggest that there are three main reasons for this bizarre state of affairs, and that none of them stand up to very much scrutiny.

First up, rejection: the perception that self-publication is a last resort after rejection by the proper platforms. Putting aside for one moment the fact that assuming this about a self-published text is extremely presumptuous, this attitude also hinges on the notion that those platforms’ criteria for publishing a work are qualitative. A hilariously naïve assessment of the agendas at work in commercial publishing houses defined by their owners’ and editors’ targets, predilections, whims, conservatism. Second, the lack of an incisive editorial eye: the idea that self-published works aren’t elegantly tempered by the interventions of an objectively rigorous editor. Heavens, if these people could see the flailing laissez faire of the editor at an academic publishing house confronted by a monograph about, I don’t know, the semiotics of temporality in Yiddish prose poetry…

Third: vanity. Fair enough, if you can tell me precisely which elements of the traditional publishing process aren’t pretty much entirely vanity-driven?

In other words, sneering at self-publishing – and self-publishers – misses the point on a variety of levels. And them’s just the negatives. Turn to the positives and the case against the critics appears even more potent. Because it seems to me that self-publishing a work can potentially be regarded as a decidedly noble thing to do. It involves taking on a fair amount of commercial risk in order to distribute a project with few, if any, commercial expectations. A project that is often an extremely personal attempt, drawing on a considerable investment of experience and energy, to address a very specific problem with the ultimate aim of making a few people feel or think a bit differently about something. Is that really less admirable than trying to construct a publishable novel? Is it not rather generous, regardless of the vanity involved?

One might argue, of course, that this is a conversation that has been made irrelevant by the internet and, increasingly, eBooks. Frame self-publication in terms of blogging and folk will fall over themselves to say how wonderful it is that people are willing to spend their time spraying around their knowledge about stuff for no tangible reward. And so much has been written (inevitably, on blogs) about the rise and rise of publisher-sidestepping Kindle Store bestsellers – Amanda Hocking, say, and J.A. Konrath – that one could be forgiven for assuming that publishing models have already changed for good. That a centuries-old literary establishment has already been torn down by self-made writer millionaires (for predictably, it is Hocking’s earnings that the commentators commentate on) and we are already living in the age of the self-publisher – whether my extended family realise it or not.

Thinking that way is only possible, though, if one ignores the walls of snobbery that still line the traditional avenues of quality publishing – literary fiction, contemplative non-fiction, biography, criticism, edited essay collections, poetry – in a manner that they frankly never did with Hocking’s and Konrath’s genre pulp. There is a literary caste system that those working within these forms accept, without question, and the self-publisher remains at the foot of it. And I don’t believe that either of the aforementioned digital models are capable of breaking down those walls any time soon. Why? Because bricked up within them (and indeed within the very concept of snobbery: accepting that some art is objectively better than other art) are a number of undeniably good things that serious readers are unwilling to discard. As they are with blogs and e-thrillers because of the force of the former’s polemic and the latter’s thrillingness. Imaginative commissioning, say, or clear-sighted editorial intelligence; strong design, high production values, selectivity. Rigour.

But the dignified, thoughtful writer that I introduced via my opening image of the self-publisher – not to mention more controversial, experimental, political, wilfully obscure authors – remain left behind by the establishment. Serious publishing refuses to open itself up, democratise itself, in positive ways, for fear of the public genres’ slack editing, sinking standards, grotesque cover designs. But does one automatically result in the other? Is there not another way?

This book represents my first attempt to find one – by reasserting the possibilities of self-publishing by focussing, with equal attention and equal energy, on both writing/editing and publishing. And I use the latter word in (in many ways) its most traditional sense: the art of presentation, framing, distribution and so forth. Read Write [Hand] is an attempt to be carefully and intelligently innovative with both the writing and publication of a book, with an equal emphasis on each. Neatly dodging the self-evident shortcomings of imaginatively published bad writing (to which the traditional, serious publisher counters, why should we change what we do when New Methods result in a decline in quality?) or badly published imaginative writing (to which the retort goes, our way might not be perfect, but it’s better than this).

An attempt to assault traditional, serious publishing on two fronts, then, in order to show that the good can be preserved and the bad bettered.

Ridiculously ambitious, no doubt. But neither can there be much doubt that my (and Silkworms Ink’s) willingness to focus on both things, and work extremely hard doing so, is notable. I work in publishing and, while the cliché that the industry depends on an army of would-be novelists, closet poets and failed journalists is undoubtedly true, I’m continually bewildered by everybody’s unwillingness to combine the creativity of their day-job with the artistry of their extracurricular pursuits. Are you not fascinated, I have to stop myself from asking, by the notion of combining your eye for copy-editing with your interest in writing and referencing reviews? Think of the cohesively bespoke collection of work you could assemble and realise! And you, I point, in my head, at a colleague, aren’t you even a little bit interested in what might happen if you took a couple of your more interesting contacts, and your ability to successfully cold-call commission, and put them to work on a project you were, like, totally into?

And everyone, surely, surely you’d still want to design your own covers, even if you did find an interested external publisher?

Notable, but hardly unique. This is only a fledgling version of the practice perfected by a chain of literary auteurs (like the cinematic auteur, controlling every aspect of a work with the force of a cohesive creative vision) that stretches from Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound, presenting their cultural manifesto via BLAST’s stunningly inventive typography, to Dave Eggers. For Eggers is as crucial a reference-point in conversations about magazine publication, editorial vision, independent publishing and the minutiae of fonts (he likes Garamond best of all) as he is in terms of semi-autobiographical fiction.

I would suggest, though, that the baton hasn’t been picked up for a while – that the current moment of literary production we’re all trying to understand, with its unprecedented challenges, doesn’t yet have any kind of defining writer-publisher. That the baton, indeed, is still really in the hands of Eggers et al which, considering McSweeney’s still largely classical, non-electronic model, says it all really.

And neither has it been picked up within two other fields: serious music writing, the revolutionary leaders of which are still reckoned to be conventional (and yes, brilliant) websites like Pitchfork and The Quietus. And essay publication, the more accessible side of which is still defined by venerable journals (The LRB, New Yorker, Paris Review – I don’t need to list these) and start-up copycats like The White Review, so desperate to emulate these big city papers (possibly that should read paper cities) they end up looking like they’re parodying them. And as for the scholarly end of the spectrum, while George Monbiot’s recent essay in The Guardian stating that academic publishers make Murdoch look like a Socialist was characteristically over-egged, an industry that continues to depend on selling prohibitively expensive journal subscriptions and monographs to the few, rather than opening up critical discourse to the many, is self-evidently problematically outdated. And just generally problematic.

As much as it is a book about Nick Cave, then, Read Write [Hand] is also a product of (and hopefully, alternative to) what these trends and energies collectively represent. This probably sounds like a rather pretentious way of describing an approach that, as I’ve already acknowledged, is by no means unprecedented. But it’s also the most accurate way of representing how the book’s intent and significance has evolved as it has come together. For its response to much of what I’ve mentioned in the preceding paragraphs has emerged spontaneously and organically, rather than as a result of some kind of manifesto that myself and the other Silkworms editors came up with before I started commissioning. It is worth briefly discussing this evolutionary process, because it makes sense of what the book now is – and isn’t.

My original idea was to commission some strangers whose work on Cave I’ve admired, along with various Cave-literate friends and acquaintances I’ve picked up in the course of my journalistic writing and so forth, to write ten short and conventional essays accompanied by illustrative online mixtapes exploring a niche I’d been blogging about for 18 months: the intersections between (mostly, popular) music and literature. Focussing specifically on a musician of letters who had, rather inevitably, become my most recurring reference-point. In order to indicate and interrogate Nick Cave’s literary credentials via the key angles – by looking at bible, ballad, the American Gothic and so forth. And turn around, in three months, a short eBook with an accompanying microsite hosting the tapes, pitched halfway between Karen Wellberry and Tanya Dalziell’s Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave (but costing a tiny fraction of what that work costs) and the sort of Spotify-powered interactive musical commentary that Drowned in Sound does so well.

During the initial discussions I had with potential contributors, though, two things quickly became apparent: that writing creatively and analytically about Nick Cave is an inherently literary act, requiring an engagement with the writerly energies at the heart of his work, regardless of whether the specific focus of a study is trained on actual literature, an author, a genre and so on. And that asking people to come at Cave from a cross-disciplinary, multimedia perspective, while only allowing them to write a thousand words of standardised analysis, was pretty perverse.

The immediacy of these realisations meant I was able to assemble fourteen original and wildly divergent pieces of writing (ranging from biography to phenomenological analysis, from an open letter to a very long list) and as many original illustrations (including poems) within two and a half months. And then as I turned to the pressing problem of how to publish such a scatter of new work within a couple of weeks, in order to keep to my original time-limit, another revelation. Namely, that doing the presentational stuff really really quickly would inevitably involve rushing and/or ignoring the all-important fundamentals that the work’s credibility depended on my getting right – intelligent guidance of revisions, professional copy-editing and proofing, responsible fact-checking, adherence to a style-guide etc. Not to mention running out of time for finding spaces for the silly little personal flourishes that are the publisher’s prerogative. Like only ever using the word Cave, and never Nick, in titles and captions; like writing the odd postscript here and there; like drawing attention to the fact that there are fewer mixtapes than essays, rather than hiding it; like calling the mixtapes Nicktapes (sorry); like including an early draft of the cover image as an internal image; like writing a self-indulgent introduction.

(For this book, because of the range of genres and forms, I thought it less important to dedicate huge amounts of time to making footnoting and referencing consistent. Another publisher’s prerogative: arbitrary prioritisation.)

There are, however, other aspects of this book that are very much a product of an original vision, on the part of both Silkworms Ink and myself. A desire to skim the line between academia and journalism, for example, and in doing so bring together people from as many fields of discourse as possible (so bloggers and animators and poets, then, as well as musicians and critics). To use new technologies to supplement certain traditional principles of publishing, rather

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