Friday, June 19, 2009

Anonthology and Nemonymous

An interesting publication from Fourth Estate: Anonthology includes nine stories by nine of their authors, but readers are left to guess which story is by whom, and there is a competition to enter. Fourth Estate call it 'an experimental project to assess the importance placed on name and reputation over quality of writing'.

As some commenters have pointed out on Alison Flood's Guardian books blogs article, D F Lewis has been producing something similar - Nemonymous - since the late nineties *, with perhaps a little more prescience, since the cult of personality was only just then tightening its stranglehold on our literary culture,
but perhaps also with greater freedom as a small magazine** publisher. Lewis's has been the purer experiment: while Fourth Estate provides us with the clues of the names of the contributing authors, Lewis publishes his issues initially without identifying the authors at all, and so readers are more truly focussed on the work itself. (As far as I am aware, the identities of contributors to each issue are revealed in the next.) The Fourth Estate experiment is predicated on the assumption that we know the contributors' writing: it's a 'recognition' exercise, and this is where it gets fuzzy: since the writers do have a reputation, is the thing we are being invited to recognize after all the writer, in which case you could argue that the ultimate effect here is once again to focus on the personality rather than the writing? Anything that draws critical attention to the issue of the cult of personality is a good thing, I reckon, but it does seem a little weird (if inevitable and maybe even necessary) to rely on personality and reputation to do it...

Edited in: * DF Lewis points out in the comments below that his first annual issue appeared in 2001.
** He also points out that his latest issues are large book anthologies.
And he adds that for the early issues he read the stories 'blind', which indeed made his experiment purer still. However, the last three issues have, like the Fourth Estate anthology, carried the randomized names of the authors on the cover (on the back, rather than the front, though) (to be matched with stories in the subsequent issue a year later).
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