Interview with Ramsey Kanaan
March 20, 2011
Founded in 2007, PM Press has been churning out radical titles at a fairly remarkable rate the past few years. PM Press was started by a small group of experienced individuals who, according to their website, claim that they’re “old enough to know what we’re doing and young enough to know what’s at stake.” Autonomy and Solidarity Quarterly corresponded with one collective member, Ramsey Kanaan, about the origins and direction of the business, as well as the changing nature of media consumption.
How and why did PM Press form? More specifically, why did you and your cohorts leave AK Press to start a new publishing house?
Ramsey: The briefest of answers would be both that it was time, and that the more folks engaged in radical publishing endeavors, the better. We could, and we did. Three of us left AK Press (which I founded – named after my mother’s initials – three decades or so ago as a young kid) to form the initial nucleus of PM Press. Not for political/ideological reasons, but more because of the mundanities of both how we internally organize/make decisions/are accountable to each other, and because of differences of opinion on how to rise to the challenges (as publishers, and disseminators of ideas) of the changing media landscape/world that we live in. And with the one person, one vote structure at AK, there’s only so long one can remain the outvoted minority before it’s time to move on. Not a matter of right, or wrong, necessarily. But definitely time…
Is PM Press organized as a workers’ cooperative?
Ramsey: No, formally, we are a California corporation (as is AK Press). Partly, of course, it depends on the definitions of a workers cooperative. In terms of ownership structure, PM is co-owned by Craig and myself. In terms of pay, we are all paid the same, dependent on hours worked, and time served. There is a great deal of autonomy for folks involved in PM, in terms of the decisions that need to be taken – for example with the different editorial decisions associated with each imprint. From the start, PM Press has placed a particular emphasis on non-theoretical titles (i.e. radical fiction, music, etc.). Is this avenue of propaganda something you felt was underutilized at AK Press? Ramsey: My philosophy, and interest, as a propagandist has always been to get useful ideas, of whatever nature, out there, in as many different ways/formats as might connect with the widest number of folks. Whether that be non-book formats (such as CDs, DVDs, pamphlets and the like), different genres of book (fiction, art et al), or dealing with the effects of new technology on the book. For what it’s worth, all of our books (and DVDs and CDs) have been available in all of the different digital formats,from the get go. Questions of formats/genres and different avenues of distribution and institution building were all definitely thorny issues at AK Press. I’m also really into theory, and the theoretical. They are all pieces of the bigger picture, and all equally vital. Fortunately, some of the diverse group of paid and volunteer staff at PM Press emphasize the fiction, or gender issues, or food issues, while others are stuck deep in the past uncovering hidden histories of radical art, music, and movements…
Talk about some of the more recent PM titles. I’m personally very excited about the new Jerry Cornelius novel, Modern Times 2.0, incidentally.
Ramsey: Putting out four to five titles a month, it’s difficult even for us to keep up at times! Certainly, the new Michael Moorcock book is exciting. Anything by this literary genius is cause for celebration – and over the next year, we’ll be reissuing unexpurgated editions of his Pyat Quartet, and a weighty collection of his non-fiction titles. In the same “Outspoken Author” series as Modem Times, we’ll have a new Ursula K Le Guin novella in a couple of months, and new books by Cory Doctorow and and Rudy Rucker later this year. The political economy imprint Spectre I think is doing fantastic work in actually providing theoretical work which can help us understand the world we live in, and then, y’know, change it! David McNally’s Global Slump is probably the finest exposition of what neoliberalism actually is (and hence how to understand it, and dismantle it), ever! And Sasha Lilley’s Capital & Its Discontents serves as a wonderful introduction to understanding capitalism in crisis, how we got into this mess, and how we might get out. The Liberty Tree double CD is both a wonderful exposition of the life and times (and relevance today) of Thomas Paine, all in the words of the man himself (and his contemporaries and detractors), along with twenty-one songs of social significance from the two greatest living singer/songwriters – Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson…
Overall, would you say
the shift from non-digital formats (books, magazines, newspapers,
etc.) to Internet based formats (blogs, podcasts, downloads, etc.) has
negatively affected the ability of the general public to gain
knowledge and insight into important issues? How has this change in
media consumption affected the ability of AK/PM Press to stay
Ramsey: A many layered question! But ultimately, the problem isn’t a shift in format(s). The problem is the lack of a “movement” that can sustain, and nurture, and promulgate, and enact upon ideas, and secondly, that folks are not reading. Arguably, the way we interact with ideas affect our abilities to both understand, and act upon them. Reading a blog (or a magazine article) is
very different from reading a book. Doing either in a distracted fashion won’t help. And a culture which pushes atomized isolation and consumption (internet commerce, social networking) over community and folks coming together (bookstores, libraries, meetings) is going to produce very different social movements, in both form and content. Financially, the “new media” has pretty miserable for the producers -whether that is writers or publishers – and the disseminators. Nothing in this world is free, or is free to produce. But the internet currently has that ‘race to the bottom’ mentality, where folks expect it to be cheap, or free. Allied to the fact that modern technology means that stuff can be produced even easier/cheaper (on many levels), the end result is that there is more crap out there than ever before, and even less intellectual ability to wade through it all. Increasingly, the job of us propagandists is both a quality issue, and a curatorial one. How can we produce well edited, good looking, accessible material, and how can we get that stuff out there, amidst the ocean of garbage fighting for folks’ attention. Definitely tricky times ahead!
Thanks so much for your time. Any final remarks?
Ramsey: Always a pleasure, and thanks for your support, interest and good works. Folks can always check out our website (www.pmpress.org) for the latest, request paper catalogs, sign up for our email list, join the Friends of PM subscription scheme (get everything we publish, mailed straight to your door, for as little as $25.00 a month), contact us and read a good blog or two by our authors. And then of course, there’s that perennial problem of overthrowing Capital and the State…
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