Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
Recently I was flipping through the latest copy of Fine Books & Collections as I am wont to do. I generally spend as much time looking at the advertisements as I do reading the articles. The piece on the Gotham Book Mart was a fun read with a closing quote by friend of the Bunker Brian Cassidy, which reminded me that I should have made the trek up to Penn in order to catch the conference honoring the historic bookshop. Cassidy gave a presentation on the Gotham Book Mart “Howl” that is fascinating book porn for Beat collectors, bibliographic nerds, and fans of mimeography. Hopefully Cassidy’s recent work on mimeography will be more widely available soon and get an audience of outside of academia and library science.
Back to the ads. I came across Cardozo Fine Arts’ The Complete Reference Edition of Edward Curtis’ The North America Indian, which reproduces Curtis’ masterwork word for word (all 2.5 million of them), in its entirety. “At less than 1% of the cost of the original set, The Complete Reference Edition is an exceptional value and offers greatly improved accessibility and readability with fine workmanship and materials throughout.”
I found this the most interesting ad in the entire magazine and I promptly forgot all about it until a friend of mine brought to my attention that The North American Indian of the Mimeograph Revolution was getting the same treatment. Yes, that over-the-top publication by that other Edward. Edward Sanders’ magnum opus, Fuck You, a Magazine of the Arts, is now available complete in a single leather-bound edition for $500 published by Optics Press. That is roughly 2.5% of the cost of an original set. If anyone needed further proof that Fuck You is the most iconic mimeo mag of them all, the King, the Curtis of mimeo, this seals the deal. The volume is available on eBay and there is a great YouTube video that flips through the edition and really lets you get a good look at the contents and workmanship.
Now I have to admit that I chuckled when I read the ad for the Cardozo Curtis. If you are really into The North American Indian, there is absolutely no hope of getting a set unless your name is Jeff Bezos. Even the Reference Edition is $6,500 which is hefty in itself. It is not for me, but I can understand it I guess. But I was really conflicted by the Optics Fuck You. A few years ago someone at the NY Book Art Fair was selling a collection of Fuck You reproductions printed by a risograph for $25. I think it was five or so of the original 13 issues. Without hesitation I bought one. I have a complete set of originals but I thought this project was cool given how it was published.
The Optics with the fine press trappings really gets my goat. Unlike the Curtis American Indian, Fuck You is not a fine press publication. Putting the mag in leather bindings and custom boxes kills the spirit of the thing. It is described as a passion project, but this is more of a eulogy than anything else. This edition entombs Fuck You. The publisher as mortician. As a collector I would much rather pay $500 for a single issue of the original mag than $500 for a dressed up corpse. Fuck You is lo-fi and DIY. The mag should be reproduced that way. The complete run is available on RealityStudio and elsewhere, so why not create your own xeroxed set and devise your own binding and paratextual framework. Why pay for something you can do for yourself and present in a much more personal, intimate, and interesting manner. It would be cool to have an entire exhibition of DIY reproductions of Fuck You and what a fitting tribute to the ethos of the magazine. Fuck You should not make you dependent on fine printers but inspire you to become a publisher and printer yourself.
That said, I just might buy the Optics Press edition. It goes against everything I believe in but it is a new edition of Fuck You and I do not have it. Am I a Fuck You obsessive or not? The Optics Press Fuck You is the true test of my commitment. Speaking of commitment if this edition was a true passion project it would be distributed for free. I do not care if it is being sold at cost. Passion, like love, hurts. The Optics Press edition should be a gift distributed free like Floating Bear or Semina to friends through the mail. Publication as potlatch. Who knows what Optics Press might get in return? Maybe nothing. That is the true eroticism of publishing. Money can’t buy you love.