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Gatekeepers

The degree to which small, independent media—student journals, underground newspapers, tiny FM radio stations, mimeographed poetry magazines, and self-published chapbooks—created a mulch that formed writers in the 1960s has been heavily underlined in this study. Creativity in that era was not a solitary endeavor; it was produced amid a fickle and changing cohort of idealists, like Garcia Marquez’ colleagues at El Espectador, like the “hippies” in Los Angeles who sold the ads and typeset the copy for Open City, like Paul Auster’s friends David Lehman and Paul Spike at the Columbia Review. These media were a special blend of impermanence (they were weekly, and there would be another issue in seven days, so minor inconsistencies and political defeats were forgotten) and the physicality of permanent writing (archives of 1960s alternative papers are now a valuable commodity). In a highly political era, this writing didn’t have to be fine writing, yet it did have to be committed to some ideals and to paper. Papers and libraries kept back issues, like the ones Douglas Messerli scoured for useful ideas and addresses in the Library of Congress basement, and one could be sued for libel, or at least threatened with expensive lawsuits, as John Bryan was. Unlike something published on the Internet, writing had a tangibility and enduring nature.

Often writers and their friends were involved in the typesetting, production, make-up, and printing of the final product. Even typesetting by Compugraphic entailed the physical alignment and pasting of columns of type, slicing with razor blades, and positioning of half-toned photos. The mimeograph or the Compugraphic had to be reloaded with paper and ink and other chemicals, and the darkroom was even more complicated. The use habit of this technology was communal. Garcia Marquez interviewed, worked with photographers, and was edited. The editors of Outsider made Bukowski show up in New Orleans, and they gave him a daily routine. The campus poet was expected to appear at the literary magazine on production night to assume a position on the assembly line, after which there would be a party with Gallo jug wine. Diane di Prima made such assistance a de facto part of friendship.

The distance from that world to Haruki Murakami’s word processor is not just technological but also social, moving from a context in which colleagues were in different degrees helpers, to one in which the writer sits in front of a screen messaging distant specialized agents and translators. What was produced in the first situation was more “final” and less fungible, hence Bukowski’s strikeouts, which sometimes cover entire lines or entail corrective clauses and sentences leading in unexpected new directions. We will never see the first drafts of Murakami, though, and as I explain below that changes gatekeeping.

 
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