Navigating the LIES and the ISLE
LIES/ISLE was an online journal that ran from 2008 to 2015, publishing eight issues, each with a different theme. The first three issues were edited by Jenny Tian and M Kitchell; from the fourth issue onward Kitchell ran the journal alone. LIES/ISLE always had a clear aesthetic, Kitchell’s clean, architectural design left plenty space for the haunting texts to vibrate their way directly into your skull. These texts were often made up of more than just letters, often incorporating geometric designs, photos, gifs, and/or video. I assume this is at least partly what the site’s About page was referring to when it said the journal was ‘dedicated to expanding the domain of experimental literature’.
Here are some of the contributors recollections of the journal:
As soon as I came across it I knew LIES/ISLE would contain the stain, contaminate, effusion, effluence, and effulgence of my filmtexts. So glad we found each other.
I first became aware of Kitchell’s online journal LIES/ISLE sometime in 2010/2011. It had been in operation for some time, and I remember being struck by the homepage of the Horror-themed issue: an empty room in grayscale, an occasional flashing white light, a quote from Bataille hovering in the lower corner. When I submitted a poem to the Desert issue, I knew I was way out of my league. However I was pleasantly surprised hearing back from Kitchell, and it was requested of me to provide a new title to my poem. I remember just sending a long list of twenty or so potential replacement titles, and Kitchell chose from this list (wish I still had this list…). I found Kitchell to be quite generous in this regard, while still maintaining the specific LIES/ISLE aesthetic. It was one of my first publications, and whereas my style has changed dramatically over the past five or so years, it still remains one of my proudest. History will remember LIES/ISLE, of this I am sure.
I decide who to submit my work to based on tone. I liked the tone of LIES/ISLE. LIES/ISLE, much like REALITY HANDS, does work that normal people would called experimental, and what the people doing the experimental work, would just describe as a normal way of life. LIES/ISLE just seemed like a good fit, a suitable tone; subsequently I had a few pieces published in LIES/ISLE.
I feel that Kitchell ran LIES/ISLE based on this tone. It was all-matter-of-fact. No BS, no flotsam, just an email detailing acceptance of the piece, and a slight request for a short bio, that was it. It was brief, but there was genuine warmth that has remained (perpetual) to this day.
I initially met M.Kitchell through the digital world (aka “Livejournal”) sometime in 2007 (or thereabouts). At that point, I hadn’t published anything, and I’d only written maybe one or two things that could be considered publishable. More importantly, I’d barely begun to explore contemporary writing, texts constructed through their deconstruction. Though I’d always felt a significant lack in the literature and writing-related discourses I’d been exposed to, I’d never really known what I wanted/where to look for it until I started taking to Kitchell. This is all to say, Lies/Isle was the much needed explosion of the traditional reading practices and writing processes I’d felt immured in.
Reading Lies/Isle not only introduced me to a number of great writers (Reynard Seifert, Paul Curran, Leif Haven, Ken Bauman, Molly Brodak, Jac Jemc, and Pierre Abidi, to name just a few), it affirmed the possibility of writing around an atmosphere (Landscape & Architecture, Mazes & Labyrinths, Silence, The Desert) rather than a plot-driven narrative. It inspired me to seek out other similarly atmospheric texts, including the works of Sollers, Barthes, Blanchot, Kristeva, Duras, and Robbe-Grillet. It also inspired me to read through the gaps—the emptiness—of “low” cultural forms (especially Euro trash and horror), to carve a space for language play and disassemblage within those airy pockets. Above all, in Lies/Isle, I saw a publication that was beyond the usual formal compromises one observes in “literary fiction”. Every issue was its own resoundingly confident entity, an entirely *new* construction, and it never asked for permission to be what it was.
On a final but crucial note: design-wise, the magazine was just aesthetically on par…it always looked soooooo fucking good…and this was at a time when even a lot of otherwise fairly high quality online magazines looked like total bullshit. And because the magazine was so invested in atmosphere and *experimentation* (for whatever that means/is worth), it provided a home for weirdly formatted textual, audio, video, and performance work that was difficult to place in other online magazines.
This all sounds like such basic shit, now, as I sit here, trying to describe the magazine’s impact on me…but moreover, this shit was elemental, some of the first stirrings toward who I wanted to become as a reader and a writer. I owe so much of that to Lies/Isle. I don’t even know if I’d be writing, now, if it weren’t for Lies/Isle.
I asked M Kitchell a few things about LIES/ISLE:
How did LIES/ISLE begin? Why did you want to run an online journal?
Lies/Isle was borne of a late-night conversation predicated upon the misguided notion that there weren’t enough Online Lit journals, and that those that were available were not catering to the sort of experimental lit that I was interested in. Jenny Tian and I brainstormed the project over gchat at 2am & by 3am I had purchased the domain.
How did you decide on the theme for each issue?
The themes are mostly just things that I’m personally interested in (which should come as literally zero surprise to anyone familiar at all with my own work, haha)–I figured, if I’m reading for publication, it’d be interesting to guide what I was reading! If I remember correctly, most of the themes were my invention, with the exception of The Double (Issue 3), which was Jenny’s suggestion (a suggestion of which I was very enthusiastic about).
However, at times it was almost shocking how tangential the submitted work would be to the theme. As if people weren’t really paying attention at all, or as if they had a piece that they had already written that hadn’t yet been published and they thought “well, this kiiiiiiinda fits, why not!” It’s interesting to me, because writers are supposed to like writing, right? I always thought the theme would inspire a new piece written specifically for the issue, but 90% of the time it was clearly writers getting something they had already written & edited, etc.
You often published your own work in the journal. Did you have any qualms about this?
Nope! In fact, the primary reason I did this was to demonstrate the presence of work wildly different than what people were getting submissions. In the final issue’s “Editorial Preface”, I bemoan the fact that I rarely recieved submissions that were all-that formally experimental, etc. The thought in publishing my own work was to say, “look, there are some things happening in this lit journal that are not happening anywhere else–you have the freedom to experiment and submit here!” I think, maybe, and this goes back to my second note in the last question, there was a fear that “what if I put the work into creating something new for this and it gets rejected?” My response to that would be: well, you put effort into making something new and interesting and now you have made this new and interesting thing. Who cares if I ended up not liking it!
How long did it take to put together an issue? Can you walk us through the process?
The duration varied from issue to issue, but the longer the journal was around, the longer it took for the issue to come together (I think the final issue took almost 2 years?). Generally we would have the theme for the next issue set before we put up the current issue, so we more or less always had open submissions.
When the work would arrive in the inbox I would either read it right away (if it were a short piece) or move it to the issue specific gmail folder to peruse later. Sometimes I would go in and read and respond periodically throughout the time we had open submissions, but most often I would just read everything at once when I was ready to do the issue & it felt like I had enough of a pool to read from. The process changed from issue to issue, and was, ultimately, mostly dependent upon my whims.
How did the journal change over the 8 years it ran for?
I should state that in my naivity, the journal was created out of a desire to discover & promote a certain vein of literature. It seems far more commonplace, at least since the rise (& subsequent fall) of the so-called “Alt Lit,” to fin da journal that was rather created out of a desire to showcase literature from an already existent vein of literature, which is to say of a certain pre-existing community. Unfortunately, I never really received submissions that matched what I imagined when conceptualizing the journal, when coming up with themes. This is not to say what I received was bad (obviously I would have never put a journal together if I didn’t receive submissions that I enjoyed & wanted to champion!), but, at the most literal level as I stated, I never received what I had in mind.
With time I became disillusioned of the importance of lit journals. With a few exceptions, journals stopped being interesting to me around 2010/11, when each and every one started to seem the same. Whether it was an “alt lit” journal or an “indie lit” journal there was a general homogeneity & nothing to get that excited about.
Since I keep using terms like “alt lit” and “indie lit” I feel like I should define how I’m using them. At some point there was a split from the early form of what we consider today’s ‘online lit community’ where what was known colloquially as “indie lit” split into an “indie lit” camp and an “alt lit” camp. I honestly feel like the split resulted in “indie lit” becoming very academic in the sense that it felt very much like literature out of MFA programs (which I was never interested in), and while “alt lit” was extremely exciting to me at first (because of how radical it seemed, how punk [in a very ‘fuck you’ sort of way]), it very quickly dissolved into a genre as formulaic, if not more so than the MFA writing. I never cared about the brutal honesty, “I’m depressed and these are my feelings” part of Alt Lit (for brutal honesty & gossip I’ll forever prefer the New Narrative), I cared about the radical experimentation and the refusal to accept the importance of the hegemonic literary canon dominated by heterosexual white dudes. Unfortunately, that’s that part of alt-lit that mostly deteriorated (it was also the “harder” part I guess). The further I engaged with contemporary writing by people my own age the less interested I ended up feeling. A homogeneity was growing out of what clearly began as an actual alternative.
Of course, because I “dropped out” I have no idea if this is still the case. Hopefully not!
Another major change was the medium itself–as I’ve noted elsewhere, the fact that no one gave a shit making hypertext literature (including myself, ultimately), made me throw myself into the medium of the book. The form of the book can offer what I wanted out of hypertext literature–something more akin to an experience than mimesis. I’ve spoken at length about my ideas on the book other places so I won’t drone on about it here, but basically I began to care less about the medium of the internet than I did about the form of the book and, as such, the form of the lit journal itself felt somewhat futile to me.
Are there any pieces you’re especially proud to have published through LIES/ISLE?
For the sake of brevity I’ll just go through each issue and mention which piece(s) is/are most exciting to me right now, on March 24th of 2016:
Issue 01 – “Pretty Boys Make Bottoms” – Antonio Urdiales
“Untitled” – Noel Ruiz
Issue 02 – “La Defiled” – Mitch Patrick
“System of Interrelated Styles” – M Kitchell
Issue 03 – “Excerpt, Kala Pani” – Monica Mody
Issue 04 – “Class Notes” – Richard Jay Goldstein
Issue 05 – “Two Poems” – Chris Moran
Issue 06 – “ Monster” – Clayton T. Michaels
“The Little Book of Fascism” – Mike Buffalo
Issue 07 – All of this — this is probably my favorite issue in both layout & content.
Issue 08 – “A Goat-Fucked Casuality” – George Michael Taylor
Though with that said, Issues 06, 07 & 08 are definitely the strongest issues.
Why did LIES/ISLE come to an end? Was it a long time coming or was it a more sudden decision?
It was sort of a combination. The short version of “why” is that I stopped caring about the project. The long version I go into in the editorial introduction of the final issue.
Looking back on the journal, would you change how you approached anything?
Well, this is contradictory, but in many ways it would have been better for my mental health to have stopped after issue 5– I say this because I state above that issues 6-8 feel strongest to me! I think this is because by issue 6 I was officially disenchanted by lit journals and small press publishing in general, so it felt completely futile to be doing the journal. But, perhaps because of this inherent futility, there was also a total freedom.
The journal was, in many ways, an exercise in naïve futility, so it’s a wonder it ever existed at all!
All the issues of LIES/ISLE are still available online. Do you intend to keep them up indefinitely?
Yes! They exist & I have a place to keep them without having to spend more money/effort than I’d have to otherwise, so the idea is that they’ll be online SOMEWHERE as long as I myself am ‘online’ (though they may end up moving around a bit).
You still run the small press Solar Luxuriance. How is running that project different from running LIES/ISLE? Did the two overlap in any ways? Can you tell us about any upcoming publications you’re working on?
As I love to yap on about, I’m infinitely more interested in the form of the book than I am a single work that can exist in whatever convenient medium is desired. The two overlapped occasionally, as there were a couple early SL releases (Leif Haven’s TRANSLATOR’S NOTE, David Peak’s THE DESTRUCTION LOOPS, Chris Moran’s POISON VAPORS) that were solicited based on submission to LIES/ISLE. In certain ways LIES/ISLE opened the path for me into publishing physical objects.
[That concludes my conversation with Kitchell, but if you’re still hungry for more, here’s a great recent interview with him about Solar Luxuriance]