Really psyched about The Third Rail, a new publication that involves a bunch of amazing folks. Produced here in in Minneapolis but available at a bunch of the best places internationally. I asked editor Jonathan Thomas some questions about the new project.
Matt Olson: It seems like first it would be good to have a little background about what The Third Rail is and how it came to be.
Jonathan Thomas: The Third Rail is a print-based quarterly publication devoted to a discussion of art, politics, philosophy, and culture, and I guess you could describe the first issue as a montage of various modes of address from across the disciplines. It was initiated in a conversation between artist Cameron Gainer and Phong Bui, publisher of The Brooklyn Rail, about a year and a half ago, shortly after the launch of The Miami Rail, and in that sense it’s part of a family of publications, united in spirit, but editorially independent of one another. Phong asked Cameron to be the publisher and to oversee and develop the project, after Cameron proposed that we launch a publication here in Minneapolis, and as someone with crossover experience as a writer and curator, I was brought on as the editor to commission work for the page and to organize the contents. We decided to title the publication The Third Rail as opposed to The Minneapolis Rail or The Twin Cities Rail, partly to mark our position within a sequence of Rail publications, partly to unhinge the identity of the project from its regional determinations. In other words, while we are, to be sure, committed to working with contributors from the region, our vision is to produce something more international in scope.
MO: How did the content come together? Was there an open call? Was there a curatorial premise? How did the finished issue become what it is?
JT: The goal from the start was to present work by critics and theoreticians alongside projects by artists, poets, musicians, and filmmakers—to bring together voices from various pursuits and various geographical locations and to collaborate with good graphic designers, like Dante Carlos and River Jukes-Hudson. At the same time, we didn’t want to organize the publication around particular themes, like fatigue, or acceleration, or whathaveyou; instead we wanted to embrace continuities and discontinuities simultaneously, to create a space for surprise. We also needed to ask ourselves: What does it mean to produce a publication that is only available in print, as opposed to one that is distributed over the internet? As a general rule, we wanted to get away from the tyranny of screens, to recover a different sense of time and materiality. Drew Burk does a good job of articulating some of these concerns in his “Letter to a wanderer through the city of the instant,” which is the piece that opens the first issue of The Third Rail. But yes, the work is primarily commissioned; the first few issues were booked off the bat. And we’re excited, for we have some real gems on the way!
MO: Ten or fifteen years ago people were predicting the death of print. But I feel like there’s such an amazing breadth of small publishing projects happening. For me, it’s a really important platform at the moment. Can you talk a little about producing something in print in an age where so much culture-related content is online?
JT: Pronouncements of the death of print, cinema, painting, or whatever, are usually premature, but they do at least draw our attention to a paradigm shift, which is what we’re dealing with here. In any case, I agree: there are some exciting small publishing projects happening today. In Minneapolis, for instance, we have Univocal, an independent publishing house which specializes in the translation of philosophy. Not only are they circulating exciting work by thinkers like Vilém Flusser, Michel Serres, and François Laruelle, but the handcrafted letterpress books that Jason Wagner designs are simply beautiful. You have to hold one to understand how a bootlegged scan in fact perpetrates a degraded reading experience. The difference is qualitative, and I think in a sense the same can be said for The Third Rail, whether considered from the standpoint of production, distribution, or reception. By committing to print, we are setting up a challenge, that much is clear: it takes more time and effort, and money. It takes more care, and we’re working hard. But we believe people still want to hold publications, and that reading printed matter as opposed to reading from a screen leads to different levels of retention—and enjoyment. That said, we haven’t rejected the internet entirely. Tiff Hockin is designing our website. We are not reproducing the issues online, but you can visit our website to see who’s contributing what, and to figure out where you can pick up a copy. We’re also working with selected contributors from each issue to present audio-based projects on the website. There are certain things we can do on the website that we can’t do on the printed page, and that’s something we want to explore as the project unfolds.
MO: Can you talk about it being free? Radical.
JT: Free is our favorite number! Wouldn’t it be nice if more things were free, like education and heath care? But seriously, while we are committed to the free circulation of knowledge and artistic experiments, it’s difficult right now, especially for a young non-profit organization. Hopefully friends of the publication who are in a position to support our endeavors with a tax-deductible gift of any amount, a little donation, will consider doing so on our website, to help keep us going. With the second issue approaching assembly, featuring contributors from Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, Glasgow, Bucharest, Brighton, and Warsaw, and with the third issue now in the works, I can promise good things are on the horizon at The Third Rail!
Please enjoy the time and space.