by Daniel Maluka
The project that I did for this assignment is a chapbook titled Blackout. The chapbook is a collection of art and poetry that I created over the past year. My research question is how does the chapbook an artifact that combines text and images, created outside the publishing industry, draw attention to issues of racial representation and scriptotherapy? My deeply personal chapbook uses content and medium to answer this question. In this paper, I will explain the process of making the book, how the form of my chapbook offers a critical argument, and the cultural context that informs my work.
I have been both writing and drawing since I was young as a hobby and a way of expressing myself. During my initial undergraduate experience, I was at Laurier University, and I had lost sight of both passions. I had transferred from Laurier to Ryerson for my third year of university because I wanted to focus more on school. When I transferred, I relinquished these bad habits and pursued more constructive activities like drawing and writing. I had a hard time during this period because I was trying to better myself. Drawing and writing became my main outlets that I put my all into. I had attributed these parts of my life with my childhood and had lost track of these interests as I matured.
I knew wanted to be published but the idea of making my own book never crossed my mind. I put myself out there and sent some writing to publishers and magazines and was rejected almost 99 percent of the time. I began to think I just wasn’t very good. I thought about this a lot and I realized all mainstream industries have gatekeepers. My writing style and art style didn’t fit in with the sensibilities of those who held the keys; therefore, I was consistently passed over. After further thought I realized that if I am making something that has meaning to me it would eventually it would carry value to someone else. I had an epiphany and understood that I didn’t need approval from any establishment to put something out, and that value comes first and foremost from myself. It was at this point that assembling my passion in its entirety into a book came to my mind.
The critical argument that responds to my research question is implicit in the presentation of the chapbook and its content. I wanted to address and critique certain hegemonic attitudes towards writing and publishing and books themselves. I use hegemony in this instance to refer to the methods those in positions of influence use to have their ideas accepted without violent coercion (Buchanan).
I find most publishers want what I call ‘quiet’ poems, essentially poems that are delicate and flowery, I write the opposite of this. In terms of content, my chapbook is critiquing mainstream publishing in terms of what they deem is appropriate to publish. The aesthetic look of my chapbook also critiques hegemonic attitudes towards books as objects. My chapbook inverts the common sense idea of books having white pages and black font. My chapbook uses black pages and white font. In making this choice I am engaging the reader critically before they even read a page (Image 1). By doing so I hope to have them see from an alternative perspective that does not acknowledge white as neutral.
The contents of the chapbook also operate in the same critical manner. Some of the poems deal with issue that face those of African descent. The front cover (Image 2) is a stylized self-portrait that contains visual references to my own culture. In doing this, I am inverting the Occident. Inverting the Occident is under erasure, because the words are inaccurate but are necessary in this instance. I don’t have the word to describe black as neutral and I don’t want to use the Occident as a reference point. This technique is used by post-structuralists like Derrida. Creating an artifact that does this is important to me because everywhere I look white is being presented as neutral. This is my attempt to chip away at the Occident and present the African as being neutral and being a worthy subject to view.
My artifact is rooted firmly in the medium of modern chapbooks. The choice of presenting this project as a chapbook engages in the medium’s reputation for being outside of the mainstream. According to Alisa Craig, chapbooks have value beyond what is printed on their page, material aspects of the presentation also create meaning (Craig 48). This relates to the visual presentation of my chapbook. This chapbook was assembled during a tumultuous time in my life thus, it is my hope that it may inspire others to follow their own passions, no matter how different it is from the norm. Reading Craig’s article was enlightening because she mentions this exact phenomenon. She says that chapbooks by their nature are community forming in the sense that they become a part of ongoing poetic conversations (Craig 52). This is an interesting way to consider my project. In this view, it moves to being an artifact one can draw meaning from rather than just a collection of writing and drawing.
My chapbook also engages in scriptotherapy. The word is derived from Latin and means to nurse the written. In his article titled “Scriptotherapy: Therapeutic writing as a Counseling Adjunct” Riordan defines the practice as writing for therapeutic purposes (Riordan 1). This is true for my project. I did not realize it at the time but, writing and drawing was my way of coming to terms with what I was dealing with. It was a cathartic experience for me and I hope any potential readers can find it helpful.
In creating my object of visual culture I was engaged in many genres and traditions without even realizing. My project had to be done this way to make my message of challenging hegemonic attitudes more blatant and more powerful. Through the form and the content of the chapbook, I believe I have effectively answered my research question. I have done this by presenting my critical argument, acknowledging the cultural context in order to situate my artifact. Blackout challenges the ideas of the publishing industry and concept of the Occident, directing its readers to see differently.
Link to the digital chapbook: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8fZIdrPYmFrVE41d09yaDBjR1U/view?usp=sharing
Buchanan, Ian. “Hegemony.” A Dictionaryof Critical Theory. : Oxford University Press, 2010. Oxford Reference. 2010. Date Accessed 21 Mar. 2017 <http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199532919.001.0001/acref-9780199532919-e-316>.
Craig, Ailsa. “When a Book Is Not a Book: Objects as â˜Playersâ™ in Identity and Community Formation.” Journal of Material Culture, vol. 16, no. 1, 2011, pp. 47–63., doi:10.1177/1359183510394943.
Riordan, Richard J. “Scriptotherapy: Therapeutic Writing as a Counseling Adjunct.”Journal of Counseling & Development, vol. 74, no. 3, Feb. 1996, pp. 263–269., doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.1996.tb01863.x.
Shepard, Leslie. The History of Street Literature: the Story of Broadside Ballads, Chapbooks, Proclamations, News-Sheets, Election Bills, Tracts, Pamphlets, Cocks, Catchpennies, and Other Ephemera. Detroit, Singing Tree P., 1973.