Image: A detail of a Pedro Berruguete painting represents Saint Dominic of Guzman. The Saint’s books are said to have miraculously survived a fire.
The March issue of e-flux journal features Part II of Simon Sheikh’s essay on the themes of circulation and withdrawal in art magazine publishing. (Part I appeared in the February issue of e-flux journal.) Sheikh notes that as art criticism has lost ground to patrons and collectors in terms of influencing the kind of art that’s made, the roll of art magazines has changed:
Critical magazines today realize that … a specific type of criticism is purely historical, and its close relation to the places of power has forever shifted to other agents, such as art patrons, collectors, art advisors, and curators—roughly in that order. To the extent that the object of critical theory is the mode of governance, or the distribution of power, critical theory addresses this object through cultural forms or products, as manifestations and critiques of power relations. That is, on the one hand cultural productions are symptomatic of these relations, while on the other analytic of them—having the potential of intervention and critique, again with a specific placement and angle, or, if you will, method of intervention and mode of address. Critical writing is thus a sort of double or shadow, whose task is not only to trace the work, but also to respond to it and to separate the symptom and the analysis, as well as to unpack the overlaps, contrasts, mergers, and mutations of these two moments and movements. And this is a radically different task than that of art advising—or that of the aesthetic judgment of yore, for that matter!
Sheikh then suggests that music fanzines—in particular, Crawdaddy! and Bomp!—are prime examples of publications that both operate at a distance from power, and take a critical stance towards their objects of affection:
A form of publishing that has always been constituted, at best, by a kind of shadow world that is both withdrawn from and fully dedicated to its object of study is the so-called fanzine. As opposed to a magazine proper, it is irregular and has less visibility and circulation, and the fanzine is usually not published by a company and thus not professionalized. It retains an affirmative amateurism. The places from which fanzines speak are far removed from the places of power, and are usually from below, namely from the point of view of the recipient, but refusing to be a consumer, instead positioning him or herself as a coproducer of meaning. Fandom should here be read not as blindly idolizing, but rather as highly committed and critical of the object of affection, studied in minute, often obsessive, detail. As a labor of love, a fanzine is totally dedicated and committed to its objects of study, but crucially recognizes this object of desire as an ideal rather than reality, and thus to be held accountable for its ideality, ideals, and ideology, all.
Sheikh’s piece can be read in full at the e-flux journal website.