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Zines don’t need philosophy

By Matthew Firth

The idea of zine “philosophy” strikes me as an oxymoron. Zines, for me, are about doing, about jumping in headfirst without stopping to check the water’s depth. Philosophy, on the other hand, is about standing around ruminating, scratching your arse, thinking whether an action should or shouldn’t be taken and why. Zines are based on instinct, philosophy in rational thought.

I’m not convinced zines are tied to community or reflect a community in any particular way. Zines are far too diverse and personal to characterize a community. There ain’t no such thing as a typical Vancouver, Winnipeg or St. John’s zine-they are what they are because of their creators and their contributors and all that went into shaping the headspace of said creators and contributors. I lived in the UK for a while a few years back. I was writing a lot of short fiction, sending it out to the British zines and small mags. I also wrote reviews for Zene, which later became The Fix, published by TTA Press. And I published my own litmag-Front&Centre-while living in Scotland, with the Canadian wing run by a friend in Hamilton. Based on that experience, I’d argue there’s nothing that differentiates a British from a Canadian zine-they’re just too damned diverse to pigeonhole.

And, I have to admit as well, the idea of an “indie city” makes me uneasy. To me, it buys into clichés about downtown hipsterism as the place where zines reside. But that’s not so: zines can just as easily come from from small-town stoners as smart-assed urban hipster. Zines are one of the last great democratizing forces we have. They can be made by anyone, from anywhere, and can be about any damn thing under the sun. So, again, philosophizing about them seems futile-not that a little futility ever stopped a headstrong zinester.

I sometimes think zines are a great way to distance yourself from your community, to reach outside of it or to burrow into your own mad headspace, shunning, countering or rejecting what goes on immediately around you. It’s sorta what I’ve always done with my litzines, mags and chapbooks. I’ve never been tied to the local literary scene where I have lived. I hate readings and lit schmoozing; I stay away at all costs. I’ve published writers from Italy, Finland, Australia, Israel and elsewhere; disparate people with nothing in common but the ability to write and the genitalia to send it out in the world. These folks rub shoulders with writers in Front&Centre who turn out to be from my hometown (though I don’t know them) or someone from B.C., California, etc. It’s a mishmash, a casserole without a recipe.

Similarly, zines can completely contrast the perceived or pervading image of a place, shattering stereotypes in the process. So you can get angry, queer zines coming out of sleepy suburbs, arty poetry zines from hard-assed mining towns, deeply philosophical perzines from farming communities, and so on. Or my own Front&Centre, a fairly ballsy publication that belies the quiet residential street on which I now live. The possibilities for subversion and surprise are endless.

One thing I’ve always tried to learn and teach is that things aren’t always as squeaky clean and predictable as we might think; that, for example, there could be mad zinester in your neighbourhood disguised as an office lackey, Brownie leader, bus driver, waitress, or what have you. Which makes zines a lot like sex: everybody’s got their own little or big kink, their own particular twist or turn that you really can’t know until you get down to it and do it. And it’s all about doing it, about getting down to it. Which brings me back to philosophy: I say fuck philosophy and focus on taking whatever action strikes your fancy instead-because it feels way better to do it than to think it about it, sisters and brothers.

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