Books

Appreciation: Sylvère Lotringer’s Semiotext(e) changed books – Los Angeles Times

Summary

I never knew Sylvère Lotringer, although I admired him. By the time I started hanging around the fringes of the New York art and writing world, he had already removed himself from active involvement in the journal Semiotext(e), which he founded at Columbia University in 1974. I was aware of the basic narrative, which began with the Schizo-Culture conference Lotringer had organized in 1975, bringing together French semioticians with Manhattan scenesters: Michel Foucault and William S. Burroug…….

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I never knew Sylvère Lotringer, although I admired him. By the time I started hanging around the fringes of the New York art and writing world, he had already removed himself from active involvement in the journal Semiotext(e), which he founded at Columbia University in 1974. I was aware of the basic narrative, which began with the Schizo-Culture conference Lotringer had organized in 1975, bringing together French semioticians with Manhattan scenesters: Michel Foucault and William S. Burroughs, Gilles Deleuze and John Cage. Two years later, the event—a chaotic cultural free-for-all—was commemorated in a special issue of “Semiotext(e).” After all this time, it remains an exhilarating reminder of the kind of ferment a publication can provoke.

Semiotext(e) was all about those sorts of provocations, whether as a periodical — issues continued to appear sporadically into the 1990s — or as the independent publisher it became. By the time Lotringer died on Nov. 8 in Mexico at age 83, he had seen his anarchic project evolve, unexpectedly, into an institution: innovative, confrontational, gleefully anti-commercial. “Never give people what they want,” he once observed, “or they’ll hate you for it.” That might have been a mission statement or a manifesto, so perfectly did it evoke the flavor of his work.

That work included writing — Lotringer was the author of books and monographs about Antonin Artaud, Nancy Spero and David Wojnarowicz, among others — and also editing; he launched Semiotext(e)’s Foreign Agents book imprint in 1983. The impetus was twofold: to introduce French theorists to American readers (the first title was by Jean Baudrillard) while also stripping away the critical apparatuses that fenced in — or tamed — incendiary ideas.

“Footnotes or other academic commentary were conspicuously absent,” Lotringer would later recall. “Their place was in the pockets of spiked leather jackets as much as on shelves.” This was publishing, to borrow a phrase from the Scottish novelist Alexander Trocchi, as “the invisible insurrection of a million minds.”

A flyer for the 1975 Columbia University colloquium organized by Sylvère Lotringer. Schizo-Culture helped forge a connection between post-’68 French philosophers and New York’s downtown scene.

(Semiotext(e))

I was one of those leather-jacketed readers, with little interest in the mechanics of the academy. Those small and slender Foreign Agents titles struck me with the force of secret messages, inscribed in a language I was desperate to understand. My favorites overlapped my fascinations: Derek Pell’s “Assassination Rhapsody,” an absurdist deconstruction of the Warren Report; and “Behold Metatron, The Recording Angel,” by Sol Yurick, best known for his novel “The Warriors,” which portrayed a phantasmagorical New York beset by cultish gangs.

Published in 1985, “Behold Metatron” was more a book of reflection than of narrative, a nonfiction work that offered a prescient vision of a world transformed by data. “The old philosopher’s stone,” he wrote, “could convert base metals into gold. Now humans, real estate, social relations are converted into electronic signs carried in …….

Source: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2021-11-18/appreciation-sylvere-lotringer-made-book-publishing-safe-for-dangerous-ideas