A revaluation of university presses.

Manifesting as a blog, a book, and a business plan, np: represents a viewpoint in the corporatized landscape of the university press.

In a recent issue of Artforum, Michael Hardt, in speaking of his book (with Antonio Negri) Assembly, references the central importance of both “protest” and “thinking” as we work toward “lasting alternatives” through “activism, anti-fascism, and change.” Hardt’s recommendation is for an “entrepreneurship of the multitude” where entrepreneurship “fundamentally means creating new forms of social cooperation,” “new social and economic combinations,” “forms of self-management and mutualistic experiments.” Finally he writes:

Some of the most important work of social movements today, in addition to protesting and resisting the injustices of the ruling powers, is to imagine that a new world is possible. Without losing sight of the urgency of protest, we need to be thinking with an equal sense of urgency about ways to transform those visions into reality.

Dedicated to the formation of the “social and economic combinations” of new presses, np:, a nonprofit imprint of Counterpath, functions within the context of Hardt’s argument as it addresses the question “what does contemporary innovation look like in the publishing context?” Its answer—as it assists in the formation of new institutionally-based publishing units—paradoxically involves a certain refusal to answer that question at all, since it is only when np: discovers new projects at any given institution that it facilitates the collective formation of a business plan and in fact a new press. NP: then deliberately moves on to another institution, to the building of yet another new press, since internal to NP: is the idea that innovation arrives only in the starting anew, with different people, with different projects, within different institutions, in different locations.

The question of how innovation comes about is crucial, given the speed of technological change and the quickly modified forms by which knowledge is in fact generated and presents itself. Many if not all existing publishers and publications rely on outmoded forms, such as the book or journal, whose time frames for acquisition, marketing, and production are tied to anachronistic if not oppressive communication technologies and assumptions about what content is and how it is generated. np: is designed specifically to circumvent the problematic nature of publication as we know it, including not simply the way current practices shape scholarship but also the tendency toward reproducing inequality and exclusion.

One of the major components of np: is an attention to the innovation of thinking itself, one that resides as an ongoing and contrapuntal “plan of study” behind the scenes, as it were, of its active institutional engagement (an engagement more directly related to its own central business plan). This plan of study invites collective participation on all levels as it works out a non-institutional blueprint for NP. The plan of study currently takes the form of a blog that opens thinking onto a number of different definitional pathways related to np:, but will also manifest in a variety of other formats, such as exhibitions, printed publications, performances, and community events, handled at least initially through Counterpath’s exhibition and publication space. The plan of study is in some ways a rhetorical solution to preventing the internal structure of np: from solidifying and to maintain the urgency of thinking of “ways to transform visions . . . into reality.” Again as Hardt writes, “a crucial aspect not only of political theory but also of political practice is to struggle over concepts.” The plan of study is where that struggle takes place.

np: joins other publication projects in seeking strategies for more representative content in the realm of publication. Witness any number of projects in the digital humanities, of some university press projects, such as the University of Minnesota Press’s Manifold, and then a large number of small press initiatives, such as those of Radical Open Access or Publication Studio, which has multiple offices and an open format for editorial decision-making. While these efforts are models for activist publication, np: differs in treating the same challenges by keeping a sharper focus on the institutional nature of publication, on building separate presses, and on building an ongoing program of study that constantly (re)informs the thinking behind its own publication decisions. np: also allows its projects and the institutional contexts out of which they arise to themselves be the arbiters of innovation, forming new presses that are based within the context of where that press takes root.

np: also works to build presses that actively produce forms of legitimation such as peer review and to thereby qualify new presses for membership, where appropriate, in organizations such as the Association of University Presses.

Thus np: functions as a nomadic office that approaches and takes queries from existing institutions with the idea that publishing innovation arises from what is already going on at these institutions. It does not publish work itself but only through the establishment of institutionally-based publishing organizations that form around the projects it helps to select. By bringing projects, individuals, and institutions together in this way, as persistently new formations of the “multitude,” np: develops new iterations of the social that circulate non-institutionally and hence mitigate against oppressive communication technologies and their associated injustices.