The perfectly contemporary journal has just been launched: It’s called the Journal of Universal Rejection (universalrejection.org). It solicits articles on every subject, plus poetry, prose and visual art. It is perfectly cross-disciplinary. And it promises to reject all submissions, regardless of quality.
What are the advantages for the hopeful artist or writer? Well, the journal explains, “You can send your manuscript here without suffering waves of anxiety regarding the eventual fate of your submission. You know with 100-per-cent certainty that it will not be accepted for publication.” Furthermore, “You retain complete rights to your work, and are free to resubmit to other journals even before our review process is complete.”
The site is a joke, of course, for jaded academics enduring the misery of trying to garner some official publications in their endless quest for a non-contract teaching job. It speaks to the defeatism currently infecting the ranks of graduate students, particularly in the humanities, their sense of having been sold a false bill of goods about their role in the world. The Journal’s mission statement puts it poetically: “… Your manuscript may be sent to anonymous referees. Unless they are the Editor-in-Chief’s wife or graduate-school buddies, it is unlikely that the referees will even understand what is going on. Rejection will follow as swiftly as a bird dropping from a great height after being struck by a stone. At other times, rejection may languish like your e-mail buried in the Editor-in-Chief’s inbox. But it will come, swift or slow, as surely as death.”
I have heard similar predictions from quite established novelists about the fate of their next book.
The murmuring about inevitable failure reached a higher pitch this week, when the filmmaker David Lynch made some alarming comments in an interview published in the U.K. newspaper The Independent. He quite casually said he didn’t have any high hopes for making another feature film. “It’s a very depressing picture,” he said. “With alternative cinema – any sort of cinema that isn’t mainstream – you're fresh out of luck in terms of getting theatre space and having people come to see it ... Unfortunately, my ideas are not what you’d call commercial, and money really drives the boat these days.”
This led to a number of despairing comments from fans and aspiring directors. Lynch isn’t commercial? After Twin Peaks? If a guy who has directed movies with Hollywood stars in them can’t make it, what’s the prognosis for a Canadian indie? And hey, people said, whatever happened to the brave independence that we expect from great artists, the defiant carrying-on-against-all-odds, damn-the-Man statement that we expect from true visionaries? You’re going to stop making movies because you don’t think a major studio would fund them? Are you really that kind of guy?
In fact, Lynch said a number of other things in that interview that show his attitude is hardly defeatist. The point of the profile was that he is about to launch a new album of his own alt-rock music, music that he writes and records in his Los Angeles house. He has an exhibition of paintings and drawings coming up in the fall. He is fascinated by the new television, particularly Mad Men and Breaking Bad – underlining the ascendancy of long-form television as most admired art form of the cognoscenti – and hints that he might try to do another series.
This in itself, this flexibility, this ambidextrous skill, is possibly threatening to artists in traditional disciplines who are already feeling unwelcome pressure to be just basically cooler, to look around for different vehicles for their talent. It’s hard to be constantly hearing that your old funding sources – grants, public galleries, paying magazines, publishers with “mid-lists” – have dried up, that you must make it in the new world by learning to do something else with your talent, learn how to code or brand or tweet when actually you’re still perfecting the art of silk-screening or sonnets.
I think what Lynch’s example shows us is that we don’t have to follow the marketing guys’ plan of becoming tech entrepreneurs and advertisers in order to be productive and popular artists, we just have to be open to other purely artistic disciplines. One form may wither and die, another will open and bloom. I would love to be as untethered as Lynch, to be able to see music as an extension of dialogue as an extension of meditation as an extension of painting, so that I am ready, whenever faced with that unshakeable expectation of rejection, to change angles, to open another door, one entirely of my making.