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).

6 comments:

Weirdmonger said...

Thanks.

Each of the first five annual issues (2001-2005 inclusive) of Nemonymous was what I called a ‘megazanthus’: i.e. a cross between a magazine (or, rather, a literary journal) and a book anthology. The authors of the stories were not named at all in the actual issue in which they appeared but in the subsequent one.

The latest three issues (2007-2009 inclusive) have been large book-shaped anthologies. Each has its authors’ names randomised on the back cover and a year later assigned to the correct story in the subsequent issue.

The first three issues contained stories that were contracted for publication *before* I knew the authors’ identities myself! The later issues gave a choice to the author submitting a story to submit it anonymously to me or not.

From 2001, inspired by my study of 'The Intentional Fallacy' since the sixties as well as by an original experiment in the neutralising of author name-prejudice, Nemonymous is arguably the world’s first uncredited anthology of fiction stories. And the effect of reading a multi-authored group of non-by-lined stories has been said by many to lend itself to a ground-breaking 'gestalt' effect. And more...!

Forgive the pretentiousness, but I thought I should clarify the above points.
df lewis

Elizabeth Baines said...

Thanks very much for this clarification, DF. I did almost mention the fact that you initially read the stories blind, but wasn't sure if I was remembering correctly.

And I wasn't quite sure what to call your issues, since they are both serial and like anthologies in character, so thanks for that too.

Yes, I think Nemonymous is an important and admirable project which flies in the face of some regrettable literary trends.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I can speak only for myself. I feel honored to have a story in the new Nemonymous anthology Cern Zoo. This series is an exceptional literary experiment. I read Cone Zero, the previous Nemonymous anthology, from cover to cover, impressed by the unique stories which I will describe as literary fantasy. Independent publishers get very little publicity and many deserve it. I know I was happily surprised when a short story I wrote for the fantasy anthology Touched by Wonder received a Nebula nomination for 2008. I hope to see Cern Zoo receive similar honors.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Congratulations, Jacqueline.

Weirdmonger said...

I hope it is appropriate to record on this page that I have carried out one of my detailed real-time book reviews of 'ANONthology' here: http://weirdmonger.blog-city.com/anonthology.htm

Weirdmonger said...

An article has now appeared on the HarperCollins site about ANONthology and Nemonymous: HERE