Problems of production, of sales/distribution and of editorial policy seem intrinsic to the publication of any journal, whether mainstream or alternative; these problems have stood in the way of the emergence of new alternative journals especially of a theoretical and therefore a relatively non-popular kind. The consequence of this is that universities and professional-academic journals retain their fateful monopoly on the life of the mind. In a period of recession, with universities becoming more restrictive and bureaucratic and with (as a result) increasing numbers of people being driven away from universities, whether into unemployment or non-academic employment, this monopoly seems even more vicious than it was before. A non-university based theoretical journal has thus a sound political point.
In order to minimise the problems of production/distribution/editing, such a journal must be of a wholly novel type. In fact, these problems can almost entirely be avoided if journal-production is thought of in a fresh way.
Technology, (word processing, xeroxing, etc.) is increasingly on our side. Contributors to such a journal would submit their work in readable (which means: attractively readable) typescript, A4, single spaced, so that articles are not retyped but merely photocopied; the resulting bundle of different articles can then be stapled together and put between simple folded covers (a different colour for each issue, perhaps, but retain the same format each time in order to keep production-costs down). The only tasks confronting the production-group would then be photocopying, stapling and distributing. An editorial policy could virtually be dispensed with since there would be no fixed limit on the number of articles a given journal issue might contain; for the same reason, articles could be short or long. The journal could be published occasionally rather than regularly depending on material to hand. It would be sold more or less at cost price.
Initially, its circulation could be minimal: today, a readership of half a dozen and tomorrow the world . . . . Back-issues could be reproduced either as a whole or in part, depending on demand, simply by xeroxing a master-copy. Starting small would keep initial costs very low; we could build up a relationship by means of a ‘network’ of personal contacts depending solely on the quality of the material carried; there could also be some local sales. Thereby, problems of distribution could be avoided no less than the other problems mentioned above. Financial risks would be minimal, and we would need to aim only at producing a ‘readable-attractive’ as opposed to a ‘commercial-attractive’ publication since it would only be the quality and interest of our contents that was germane.
The attraction of the scheme is its anarchism: it ignores all problems, all commerce, all professional boundaries, all academic establishments, all editorial anxieties. We could publish matter which was esoteric, heterodox, inflammatory and beyond every pale. Articles on anarchist collectives would sit side by side with articles on aesthetic theory; medieval theology could be juxtaposed with venomous political attacks. There would be absolutely no need to write in a popular or accessible way, and yet there would be no need to write in an academically respectable fashion either. The only material to be anathematized would be material which was boring. Through a minimalist approach to journal-production, we solve all problems by ignoring them and circumvent all authority by attacking it, not head-on, but from behind its back.
This was the initial announcement of the idea underlying Common Sense, carried in Edinburgh Review No. 76 (1987)