In the mail

Category : art, pamphlets


The first batch of new pamphlets are in the mail. Action at a Distance, the Fall 2012 Brain Washing from Phone Towers Informational Pamphlet, is an exploration of Isaac Newton, the Principia, and the beginnings of the Royal Society in London. Math! Plague! Mean Anonymous Pamphlets! Kids, the seventeenth century had it all.

I upped my edition size and increased the size of the recipient list this time around. So, if you’re new around here, welcome. Do you have some questions? I’ll try to answer them as follows:

What is this?

Clearly, it’s a free informational pamphlet. Like this one:

I got a new camera. I’m pretty excited about it.

Why did you send this to me?

Why not? I have a strictly whim-based distribution system.

Less evasively, I like to share the surprise. Printmakers like printmaking partly because it comes with a surprise inside; we spend lots of time making a plate, but we’re never quite sure how it’s going to look when we pull a print off of it, so when we do, bam, it’s a surprise. But people looking at the print later don’t get to have that experience, they just see a piece of paper. Anonymously mailing pamphlets to people is one way to spread the surprise around.

I have a list of people I send these things to, which changes for each pamphlet. Some people are always on the list, some people are sometimes on the list, some people just get one copy. It changes. Usually they are people that I’ve met or worked with over the last year or so, but sometimes they are strangers, or almost-strangers.

Why is it about Isaac Newton?

The real question is, why aren’t all of my pamphlets about Isaac Newton? He didn’t make friends until he was 45. He argued with almost everyone he met. He invented calculus and didn’t tell anyone. Cranky loners, that’s my favorite kind of people. Did I tell you about how, when he worked for the mint, he used to hunt down forgers and have them drawn and quartered?

Why does it look different from the rest of my mail?

It’s printed letterpress, that’s why. From genuine metal type and woodblocks, just like the original edition of the Principia. Like this:

There’s more information here and here and here about how it was made.

Also, the rest of your mail is just bills and credit card offers. So it’s way better than that.

Why pamphlets?

I’ve posted this before, but I just love it:

“The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious and ‘high-brow’ than is ever possible in a newspaper or in most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is always short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book, and in principle, at any rate, can reach a bigger public. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of ‘reportage.’ All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.”

-George Orwell, in an introduction to the British Pamphleteer

Also, this.

Brainwashing from Phone Towers? What’s that all about?

Well, generally it has something to do with the distribution of information in a paranoid context. Less generally, but more tangentially, it has to do with this seminar I had to go to.

As a Professional Arts Administrator, I often get sent to Professional Development Workshops, because funders don’t just want to give us free money, they want us to do something called Capacity Building, which in my case usually means sitting through an hour long presentation about Why Your Organization Needs to Use Twitter. The last one I had to go to stuck out for me because the presenter was this guy with a headset on, like a drive-thru window headset, and he just kept walking back and forth and back and forth on the stage really really quickly, and shouting at the top of his lungs about his smart phone and about his twitter feed and his social media fan base and on and on and on and he just kept on yelling about how we all needed to be doing this because this is the most important thing that we all have to be doing, because this is all that matters, because this is the future.

And honestly, I have nothing against social media. I spend a lot of time with social media. Here I am, writing on the internet! But I have a lot against being bullied into using social media.

Also, you know all those studies on cell phones and brain cancer? The ones that say there’s not a link are all funded by the telecommunications industry. Just so you know.

Why don’t you just blog? Why bother printing something at all? Don’t you know it’s the future?

Because if I just blogged no one would read it. My mom’s the only person who reads this blog. And if you did accidentally stumble upon this blog for some reason, you’d get halfway through one post, then think to yourself, all of those words, all in a row, and then get distracted and go watch a cat video.

If you send someone something in the mail, hand addressed to them, printed letterpress so it’s all nice and special, people read that. That’s the truth. And most of the people I send these pamphlets to later reach out and say, hey, thank you for sending me that pamphlet. That was nice. And so for a brief moment in time I get to live in a civilized society. I enjoy that, I really do.

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