The Gauss interview

Chris Alexander talks to J. Gordon Faylor

J. Gordon Faylor : bookshelf :: Chris Alexander : cat

I was planning to ask J. Gordon Faylor why he recently expanded Gauss PDF, historically an online-only press, to also making works avalable in print on demand (POD). When someone asked me at a poetry event (who was it?) what else I had on the docket for this column, and I listed Gauss, Chris Alexander informed me he was in the midst of an email exchange with Faylor about the very same question I had. Who knew?!? So I asked them if I could reproduce their conversation as an interview and, of course, they said yes. So here it is. If you’ve ever wondered what the enigmatic writer/producer/editor J. Gordon Faylor is up to (haven't we all?) here's a nice start at finding out.

CA: Poking around the web, I see Gauss PDF described as “a website which publishes ‘digitally based works’ in pdf format (2010),” “an experiment in multimedia publication, having hosted everything from digital video and zip files to YouTube playlists and image collections” (2011), and a “poetry/non-poetry resource” (2012). When I look at the catalog, I see that your first two publications are PDFs, but already the third publication is an MP3 — followed by a ZIP file, and then a flurry of different formats: M4V, MOV, JPG, embeds from your Vimeo channel, and so forth. What was your vision for Gauss PDF when you started out in 2010? Did you see yourself as a PDF publisher primarily, or did you aim from the beginning to explode poetry's print/ebook orthodoxy?

JGF: Strangely, I originally envisioned GPDF as a publisher of audiobooks. Influenced by PennSound, I thought I might go about recording and publishing long-form ‘studio’ readings by friends who weren't receiving much attention at the time. Shortly thereafter, while researching dither, I came across Gaussian PDFs, a type of density function in which randomized measurements are arranged in a bell curve. It amused me to think of a site bearing what is better known as an Adobe brand name while constantly evading that particular extension; it would be like calling a label “Gussy CDs” and only issuing pamphlets. At some point, I removed the “ian” suffix and abandoned the idea in lieu of a more open and inviting project (as well as something I hadn’t seen elsewhere): a publication suited to any type of media file. This decision was inspired by others who were increasingly interested in the digital casings that encompassed, flattened, or enhanced various art forms. This is not a site for ‘poetry’ alone, and I don’t feel as though I’m threatening an orthodoxy. It is crudely analogous to François Laruelle’s concept of non-philosophy: not to oppose poetry, but to use its materials and models toward broader purposes. Of course, because I come from a poetry background, most of GPDF’s publications come from poets and writers.

Since its first release, GPDF has maintained only two parameters for publication: that a work be complete (i.e. not a fragment of a larger work) and that it not be published elsewhere. In this way, I aim to avoid the trappings of the literary journal, allowing the work to exist in its entirety. This is the form of publication I'm most drawn to, as it can be frustrating to enjoy a work in a journal/e-zine knowing that it has been stripped of its other components, consequently giving no sense of breadth, concision, etc.

CA: It’s interesting that you attribute the shift in GPDF's format to an exchange of ideas with your early contributors, making this something of a collaborative platform — though it seems like there's an obvious relationship to your own work too. I'm thinking of recent pieces like Privation F Dec Release and Marginal Contribution Twin, but also the look and feel of your Lulu books going back to 2010. How has GPDF intersected with and transformed your work?

JGF: That's a curious question because — aside from a collection of bass duets made in collaboration with Eddie Hopely last year — none of my own work has appeared on GPDF (yet). However, I think you’re apt in noting a certain collaborative spirit, though that may have emerged more as a result of deference than discourse. As ‘editor,’ I try not to insert myself too much, opting instead to let the contributors have their way. Occasionally I'll suggest an approach, but I'd like to think my purpose is more about ushering in the work. As such, I’m open to someone like Tonya St. Clair subverting and obfuscating the GPDF catalog sequence. I'm no purist, and this sort of technology allows for emendation, subversion, reification, and decay in ways others can't or don't.

My own projects and performances similarly operate on something of a site-specific/site-critical basis. When I read at a poetry event, I'll typically deliver a piece I've written specifically for that event (as opposed something from a book or collection). When I submit a work — like Privation, for instance — to an editor, I'll first attempt to locate the template/media utilized by that publication. In this case, I knew Eric Laska would be hosting the audio files on SoundCloud, so I started with the idea of somehow rendering audio that preempted and reciprocally acknowledged the comments any SC user can post along a waveform.

Same goes for my Lulu and TROLL THREAD publications. TT has, of course, exploited Lulu's bookmaking technology in more diversely insidious ways, but I think we're both drawn in some way to its excrescent potential, not to mention its utter convenience. More recently I've published some books under a pseudonym, Carton Trebe, who serves as a sort of authorial container for spam texts.

Perhaps this could all be traced to an ongoing engagement with various media and art theories.

CA: “Emendation, subversion, reification, and decay” — that's an interesting list. It occurs to me that these are operations rather than aesthetic values, not unlike Richard Serra’s famous verb lists of the late 60s and early 70s. Your description of your own work as “template/media”-specific suggests a similar emphasis on action in a material context. Does aesthetics play a role at GPDF, however non-traditional?

JGF: “Aesthetics” is a problematic word, and lately one that evokes in me a good deal of skepticism. Like “style,” it can become an excuse for suspending criticality with respect to a certain work, or for masking self-reflexive tendencies. I want to avoid this trap. I have my tastes — so does everyone — but part of what makes GPDF an unusual platform for publication is the way in which it both fosters and flattens resistance. For instance, how does one reconcile John Paetsch’s Crista's Severance Package xxx and Kyle Page’s 10.10.5,  with James Whitehead's Manifesto of Haecceitics and Christine Jones’s The Vision of Love.  These are not complementary, and in some cases may be diametrically or confusedly at odds. That resistance generates a friction between "my tastes" and GPDF as a publication, ideally making individual aesthetic sensibilities more palpable and amenable to analysis.

However, like I said, there is also a leveling process happening here. Archives are a subject of great fascination to me, and GPDF fortuitously gives me the opportunity to explore the contrast between label and repository. If anything can feasibly be a GPDF publication, why am I only hosting works by artists/writers and not, say, dozens of anonymous zip files containing hundreds of images or videos downloaded from YouTube?

I will say that of enormous importance to me are the transitions between catalog entries. These are the points at which my own subjectivity is most apparent, where something like "style" might take place. The projects should be bracketed quietly; to post two projects completely different in spirit side by side would seem to distract/detract from their individual forms/contents, and more readily enforce a certain reading of them. Conflict is crucial, but it shouldn't suffocate.

CA: With the recent publication of Andy Sterling’s Supergroup, you've launched Gauss PDF Editions — a Lulu-based book press, I take it. How much does the press overlap with GPDF as a digital platform? How do you see the relationship between books, or on-demand printing, and the other formats you distribute? Why books?

JGF: Well, GPDF Editions is not specifically a Lulu press. In the interest of openness, I've described it elsewhere as a means of releasing 'materials'. So if someone would want to release some sort of non-book object, I could feasibly accommodate that. However, the next several Editions will indeed be Lulu books.

The overlap is more or less tangential — the only indicators of its relation to GPDF are a ‘logo’ contained within/on each release, and a catalog number (GPDF###) along the spine or wherever. It's curious how POD services like Lulu can read as somehow a priori digitized; the books all have that same look and feel. It's as though the publishing wizard is somehow inscribed behind the text, like a watermark. Another similarity between the sort of digital publications you’d find on GPDF and Lulu books are their fragility. Certainly, I want to in some way ‘secure’ GPDF entries by hosting them, publicizing them, backing them up, etc. But I'm wary of the Internet, the cloud. These are mediums that are not infallible, and can be censored or taken down. On Lulu, the only thing standing between a book’s existence and inexistence is its author. I want to get a copy of this Michael Taylor book, but who knows how long it will be available? Once it's gone, it's gone. Perhaps by materializing certain things, I can go a bit further in ensuring or contesting their preservation. Not that preservation is my foremost goal or obsession (see earlier re: possible processes of decay). I also like what Tan Lin has to say about the technology of books in his interview with Angela Genusa, and I mostly concur with him. I like that one has to trash or burn a book in order to destroy it.

CA: Any last thoughts?

JGF: Works by Alejandro Crawford, Astrid Lorange, Tim Leonido, Anna Vitale, Mark Johnson, Andy Martrich and others are forthcoming. Yes. It would be good to see challenges to the GPDF model emerge, but I would hope they not become too immured by the vagaries of the art or poetry worlds. We shouldn't neglect the fact that these works may be larger or more subtly critical than they seem. Obviously, technology has the capacity for subversion; it can inform, create, disable. Shout outs to Jargon, Leaving Records, Non-Musicology, bas-books, Lateral Addition, Lil’ Norton, Truck Books, Something Else Press, other labels and publications, and Patrick Lovelace.