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A History of Modern Love (as told by Constance DeJong)
The publication of Modern Love began as a serial. On completing the writing of a volume in the serial I rented an IBM Selectric from an office equipment shop near NYU: the Selectric was a typewriter and then some. All the letters were on a ball that turned as one typed each letter key, somehow placing the type exactly in the sentence sequence of letters. The machine’s most important feature for me was that letters were individuated; that is the m is larger than the i; not the singular space of letters that gives typewriting its distinctive look. I wanted the language to look like type.
At my kitchen table many hours bent over the Selectric: achieving (not) no typos, typing pages in the proper order left, right, front, back such that the printing produced a proper codex of pages (such a puzzle for a novice), playing around with line length and line leading/spacing so that page turns occurred precisely where I wanted.
A commercial print shop on Greene Street, gave me access to a “professional stapler” and paper cutter and flat table space for assembling each volume in the serial. The access was free in the after midnight hours. Glossy blue cover, an Yves Klein salute.
I distributed this serial publication of Modern Love, one volume at a time, through the USPS to a 500 person mailing list. Mimi Johnson at ArtServices allowed me to send the serial installments from her office, using her business bulk mailing stamp, money saving. P.O. required bulk mailings to arrive in boxes, the envelopes in order by zip code. I didn’t mind the schlepping. I liked seeing the production all the way through.
A couple “conceptual” elements: I called the original serial “The Complete Works of Constance Dejong Book One,” “Book Two,” etc. thinking I would continue that way forever, each new text/project becoming a numbered book in a series. Book One has blurbs on the first page — appropriations of blurbs published for other writers.
I began performing the material as the serial progressed. Early on, these performances included pre-recorded material—music and the voice of David Warrilow (Mabou Mines Theatre). The first performance of Modern Love at The Kitchen: a double bill with Kathy Acker. I discovered while rehearsing that I wasn’t looking at the pages of text—that I could deliver the text from memory, an epiphany about performing vs. reading.
Around that time, I went to Paris, because all American writers get published there! Bumped into Mimi Johnson. She invites me to a party at Dorothea Tanning’s (Mimi’s aunt). Mimi had given her a copy of “The Complete Works I-V.” The day after the party, Dorothea invites me over to her Rue de Lille apartment/studio… “You’re smart, I have some money,” she says, and suggests we do some publishing. So we start “Standard Editions” with Modern Love in a red cover and Dorothea’s fiction, Abyss, in a cover of an un-nameable color that Dorothea chose, a pale orange gone paler over time.
Jill Kroesen assists hugely. We hired her to get the Modern Love text layout prepared for printing. Again the “cheating” on leading and spaces between words, so that the page turns are correct (by me).
Standard Editions. The name was chosen in an environment of too many fancy baroque names. Also I’d fallen for French publishers’ uniform series of books and imagined Standard Editions all having the same cover design, font, etc, but each one a different color.
Nancy Linn, a photographer and Printed Matter’s director at the time, took this picture of Mike Glier’s dog, John, holding Modern Love in its mouth to be used as a Printed Matter publicity shot/poster.
Nancy recently jogs her memory: “After weeks of work, Nan Becker, Mike Glier and I were finishing up the 1981 Printed Matter Catalog, but we still needed photographs for the inside covers. Feeling light of heart with the job nearly complete, we took this photo of Mike’s dog, John, who was a regular presence in the store in the early 80’s. We chose Modern Love because we liked the title, the book and the author, but we were afraid it might be interpreted as disrespectful of books and to Modern Love in particular. Instead of using the photo in the catalog, we enlarged it and hung it over Nan’s desk.”
I took Standard Editions books around to NYC booksellers, wearing the salesperson hat. Also took copies with me when I toured other cities. Eventually, Reese Williams of Tanam press took on the distribution of Modern Love.
Sometime in 1977, made a one hour radio version of Modern Love—scripted for four voices, sound effects, music—made during a residency at ZBS [Zero Bull Shit Foundation, a small non profit radio production company started by Thomas Lopez in 1970 on an island in the Hudson River upstate], where I worked with the genius Bob Bielecki. Philip Glass, who had written thematic music, came up to ZBS to record “The Modern Love Waltz” on a Farfisa. Bob mixed the multiple keyboard tracks. I performed a version live at The Kitchen in 1978.
In the early 1980s, the distributor went into bankruptcy, and the inventory disappeared. Soon after, Tony Oursler, was shopping at Fifth Ave Barnes and Noble, came upon the store’s remaindered books table. One dollar copies of Modern Love! He buys them all, knowing I’ve no copies of my own.
[The 30th anniversary republication of Modern Love, a co-production between Ugly Duckling Presse and Primary Information, will be launched at The Kitchen on April 4th, 2017 at 7PM, and distributed to the trade by D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers) this Spring. For more information and to order the book click here & for more information about the event at the Kitchen click here.]