I recently finished reading Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media and it got me thinking about the language of the Mimeo Revolution. What came immediately to mind were Dan Saxon’s Poets of Le Metro and Deux Megots mimeos. If the language of new media builds upon the foundations of the media and media theory that came before it, maybe it is not crazy of me to always think of Freud’s Notes on the Mystic Writing Pad from 1925 whenever I see an issue of Saxon’s mimeo publications.
The Mystic Writing Pad was Freud’s attempt to conceptualize a model of memory. The Wunderblock is a children’s toy, which is comprised of a plastic sheet layered over a wax tablet. The pressure of the stylus makes the sheet stick to the wax and produce a drawing, some writing or whatever. This writing then disappears by lifting the sheet, but the wax tablet retains the markings. For Freud this toy re-enacted the constant influx of new impressions and persistent traces that comprise one’s memory.
The mimeo stencil is not a true Wunderblock but with a mimeo like Saxon’s Freud’s notes and the legions of theorists who have riffed off of it come in handy. Unlike any mimeo that I know of Le Metro and Deux Megots are mimeos as memory devices. Before poetry readings, Saxon brought blank stencils for the reading poets to document their evening’s performance. Some poets handwrote their stencil right there in Le Metro and others would take the stencil home and type them up. In any case the idea was that the mag would preserve the reading. With Freud and company in mind, some interesting issues immediately arise, such as the contrast between performance and writing, speech and text and their levels of permanence or ability to be retained in memory. Also I am sure some of the readings archived in Saxon’s mimeos were recorded. I am unaware that anyone has compared the poems as they appear in the mimeo with the sound recordings of the readings. I would bet they do not match up highlighting issues of improvisation and spontaneity as well as the imperfect nature of Saxon’s project as faithful archives, to say nothing of all the elements of the Le Metro/Deux Megots experience that Saxon’s magazine fails to record, like audience response or the general bustle of a filled or half-empty coffeehouse. That said the materiality of a mag like Le Metro or Deux Megots suggests memory’s ephemeral nature as well as its stubborn persistence in a way that a sound recording just does not, to say nothing of the used stencils themselves. (We can also discuss the same concepts in terms of digital reproduction as these poor resolution images attest.).
All this is a rather inarticulate attempt to suggest that there needs to be developed some conceptualizations of the language of the Mimeo Revolution along the lines that Manovich attempted for new media. Do the publications of the Mimeo Revolution speak the same language and how does the publishing technology dictate just what is being said? For example, the 1960s saw a revolution in poetry and prose as evidenced by the New American Anthologies edited by Donald Allen and Robert Creeley, but the Mimeo Revolution is largely one dealing with poetry. How much of that is due to the limitations of the mimeograph and the difficulty of creating prose stencils? The Mimeo Revolution, as Len Fulton as documented, is also a hotbed for Concrete Poetry. Is that because Concrete Poetry is easy to type up on a stencil? Does the supposed speed of mimeograph publishing create a shortness of breath in the Olsonian sense in terms of the poetry being published? How does the preparation of a stencil affect an editor’s impulse to make corrections or changes to the work given that editing a stencil is difficult and time consuming? Or does the transfer to a stencil encourage the mag editor to insert his or her own hand into the working manuscript?
Like the Wunderblock, these ideas are fun to play with and anything but child’s play.