The Slush Pile and the World

NB: Paper Cut Flophouse was a group blog that ran in the late aughts. Most posts were written by two contributors: me, using the pseudonym Roman Briton, and my friend Pompeston, the mastermind of the endeavor. This is a cross-posting of a post I originally wrote for PCFH; here’s a link to the original.

I recommend Sven Birkerts’s introductory essay, “Finding Traction,” in the new issue of AGNI, issue #63. He starts with the daily tackling of submissions to the magazine:

When I sit down with a huge stack of envelopes, each one containing some hard-won, deliberated expression, I am not the tabula rasa—the fantasied clean slate—that I perhaps ought to be. No, I am a man of my time, a besieged reader, creating a specific occasion within what is, day in and day out, for me as for most everyone, a near-constant agitation of stimuli, an enfolding environment of aggressively competing signs and meanings. And my attitude, when I remove a clump of print-covered pages from their envelope, is not “Send me more and more new information” but “Reach me, convince me that this news is different, that this is the news I need.”

And he somehow works his way from there, from the speed with which he’s able to make his way through the slush pile each morning, to a consideration of the enormous changes that have taken place in the culture in the past ten years, in which, if I understand him correctly, we have all become robots. Or maybe it’s that we’re all still human, but our flesh and blood has been mold-injected into the invisible husks of robots. No wait, it’s like we all now have little tiny microscopic robots that squat in our frontal lobes, dug in like a first assault, like a world-wide brain tissue Oklahoma land rush. Or maybe it’s just that AGNI refuses to publish stories and poems written by robots, even though robots pretending to be humans are submitting to the journal all the time, but they give themselves away, because robots always use Tyvek envelopes, and their manuscripts are covered in little metal shavings, the residue of their tears.