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The Psychological Motivations
of the Zine Publisher
by Fred Wright

Zine publishers create their publications because of the psychological need to produce and consolidate a sense of identity for themselves, an impulse that operates simultaneously in the Lacanian* registers of the Symbolic, Imaginary, and Real.

In the register of the Symbolic, the name of the zine may function as a master signifier for the zine publisher. The zine's name often becomes attached to the name of the zine publisher—as in the case of Aaron, publisher of Cometbus, who is known in the zine community as "Aaron Cometbus"—and, consequently, the zine publisher alters his or her place in the Symbolic order. By taking a pseudonym, many zine publishers, such as the Rev. Randall Tin-ear and G.K.M.S., more actively shift their positions in the Symbolic order as well, often creating entirely new identities for themselves in the pages of their zines. By creating a new identity in the Symbolic order, the zine publisher is able to achieve more—or perhaps merely different—recognition from the Symbolic Other and may feel more loved or powerful, or gain a sense that his or her life is invested with more meaning.
Furthermore, in contemporary American society, mainstream media often function as a literal Symbolic Other, bestowing recognition on individuals and determining meaning in the Symbolic order. By publishing a zine, the zine publisher not only achieves recognition from the media for his or her activity but also becomes part of the media, since zines, although low on the media food chain, are a mass medium. Thus zine publishers may feel less alienated from the realm of the Symbolic in that by publishing the zine they now have access to the voice of the Symbolic other, and consequently have more control of the production of meaning in the Symbolic order.

In the Imaginary register, zines may also serve as a method for the zine publisher to reconstruct or reinforce his or her identity, at the level of the body ego. Lying at the core of the Imaginary order, the body ego is based not only on internal bodily sensations but also on identifications with external images of the human body. Thus although it is internal, the body ego in many ways remains dependent upon external stimuli.
Examples of this dependency include a child claiming he or she has been struck after watching another child get struck, and spectators of sporting events mimicking the actions of the participants. Similarly, the discomfort or fascination felt upon observing one's image in a funhouse mirror is caused by the discordance between the image in the mirror and that of one's internal body ego.
Images of the human body in zines have similar effects for zine publishers. By shaping or distorting images of the human body, zine publishers can reinforce or alter their body egos. In Asshole Weekly, for example, the anonymous publisher illustrates the issue with numerous crude ink drawings of the human form. Barely evolved beyond stick figures, the images suggest body ego identifications of the most rudimentary kind, manifesting at the level of the body ego the nihilistic and irreverent attitude that pervades the zine as a whole.
The images of the human form in Asshole Weekly suggest a raw, almost unformed body ego, a body ego challenging all but the most basic contours of the human form. The presentation of such images in the zine enables the zine publisher to reinforce or alter his or her own body ego and to express and thus mitigate anxiety and vulnerability at the level of the body ego.
The appearance of the "body of the text" in zines often has a similar function. Text in zines may appear sloppy or messy, with crossouts, typos, and misspellings appearing unedited. Text and image often blur together. Parts of the text may be entirely unreadable or diverge significantly from conventional printing standards. Again, such textual appearance expresses and thus helps to assuage the publisher's body-ego desires or vulnerabilities.

In the register of the Real, the zine often operates as an object a for the zine publisher. First of all, the zine may serve as the embodiment of all the publisher desires, and the zine publisher may believe that publishing the zine will fulfill his or her ultimate desire. Therefore, the zine may be an achievement for the zine publisher of utmost, almost overpowering proportions.
In another aspect of the object a, the zine publisher may believe that the zine will not just fulfill the zine publisher's lack, but also (or instead) fulfill the lack of the Other. The zine publisher may believe his or her zine embodies a style or force that will fill the Other's lack. The zine publisher may also publish the zine to antagonize the Symbolic Other, in which case the zine may serve as an object a that escapes assimilation by the Symbolic Other.

Zine publisher Michael Diana, who was prosecuted for obscenity in Florida, seems to use his zine Boiled Angel in this manner, presenting extremely vivid and detailed illustrations of figures engaging in rape, murder, and mutilation. In such instances, the zine represents in the Real the sacred kernel of the publisher's personality that no outside force can ever hope to colonize, and the publication of the zine may be a testimony to this kernel.
By inter-articulating the Symbolic, Imaginary, and Real dimensions of the publisher s identity, the zine functions as an instance of the Lacanian Borromean knot through which human subjects experience a sense of substance and self-consistency—that is, identity. The heightened sense of identity produced by this function explains the great attraction of zine publishing for so many people—particularly during adolescence, when the need to consolidate Symbolic, Imaginary, and Real forces into a unified identity is felt most acutely.

Fred Wright is a doctoral student in English at Kent State University. He studied zines for his master's thesis, which he distributes as a zine called This Document Will Self-Destruct in 30 Seconds. He also plays guitar in a punk rock band called the Go-Go-Bots, reviews zines for Zine World and publishes a zine called drinkdrankdrunk.

French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan paid close attention to language as a determining force in the lives of human beings. His division of human subjectivity into the registers of the Symbolic, Imaginary, and Real are useful tools when exploring the complex relationship between human beings and language evidenced in zines.

Copyright 1996 Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture & Society. Posted with permission. For more information, write Mark Bracher of Kent State University.

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