Wising Up the Marks

Do you want your mimeo publications to be a clean rap sheet or to have a record?  For me it is no contest, I prefer my mimeos to be dirty. Take my issue of Floating Bear #9. It happens to be LA Poet John Thomas’s copy, with his mailing label. I have already described here and at RealityStudio the bibliographic value of mailing labels in Floating Bear, along with the franking stamps, the different quality papers etc etc.

But what about that huge dampstain that seemingly disfigures my copy of Number 9. I bought the item knowing its condition and it is something of a badge of courage on my part to have taken a chance on it. I am glad I did, because that dampstain tells quite a story. It is a mark of provenance connecting the issue to John Thomas, if the mailing label was not proof enough. Thomas kept his literary archive in cardboard boxes, including his sizable collection of material dealing with Charles Bukowski. In Echo Park, the boxes were housed next to a sewer pipe that burst flooding the floor with shit. In Silver Lake, a hillside flooded into the garage in which the boxes were stored, once again damaging the archive. The boxes lived in a hole, communed with mice and cockroaches, and even survived a fire.

The stain on Thomas’s issue #9 proves its authenticity, testifies to the fact that it was present at the disaster. It also comments the other disaster of Thomas’s life, his stained reputation at the end of his life from a 2002 charge of unlawful sexual contact with his teen-aged daughter from back in the 1970s. Thomas would die of heart failure before his 120 day prison sentence was completed. Issue #9, which included Burroughs’s Roosevelt After Inauguration and LeRoi Jones’s The System of Dante’s Hell, was likewise charged with obscenity in 1961 after a copy was mailed to Harold Carrington in Rahway Prison in New Jersery. Issue #9 as always been dubious, tainted, and stained. My issue especially so.

My possibly shit-stained copy of Floating Bear also testifies to the durability of print, to its survival instinct, to its role in preservation, its fixity, its durability. Yet the current of meanings can shift quickly. My issue’s dampstain can also highlight the fluidity of print, its slippery, shifting nature. It’s lack of precision, its chameleon-like qualities. Not to mention mimeo’s transience, its tendency to disappear, to scatter into the winds of time. Floating Bear is also a fluid state of exchange. In the 1960s, issues flowed through the postal system, passed from hand to hand and traveled from mouth to mouth. It was a newsletter that disseminated information. It is an information system, a network, a circuit, a relay. It is a conduit of flow and flux.

In recent years, Floating Bear has become liquid. Issues with distinguishing marks, like a signature or a famous address labels, have broken the $500 barrier. Floating Bear is currency and commodity, aggressively speculated upon and exchanged.

Is it time that we no longer considered mint copies of mimeo a blank check to be drawn on an overflowing bank account? Maybe clean mimeos are bankrupt, cleaned out, broke. They have little character and thus less value. What makes mimeo interesting is its imperfections, its poor printing, its tattoos, its unkempt appearance. Mimeo as hipster.  As product of hipsters.  As a collector I am a sucker for these bad boy and the fallen angels of print.  Maybe it is time to wise up to the rest of the marks?



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