Action Books and Alchemy

For the next few weeks, I am delving into an investigation of the small press Action Books and the work of writer María Negroni. Action Books’ about page contains only staff names and a manifesto, beginning with “Action Books is transnational,” and ending with “Action Books: Art and Other Fluids.” (Go read the whole thing!)

For more mundane information, such as the age of the press and the genre of the work it publishes, we must look to a 2013 article by Blake Butler at Vice Magazine. From Butler’s article I can glean that Action Books is about 15 years old and that it publishes translated avant-garde works. From the inside of Dark Museum by María Negroni (trans. by Michelle Gil-Montero) I can see that Action Books is supported by the University of Notre Dame, and from there it is a quick Google search to find that the editors of Action Books, Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson teach English at that same university. So much for all that banality. There is a reason those details are missing from the publisher’s website.

The lack of historical information about the press speaks to its mission stated elsewhere in the manifesto: “Action Books is Futurist. Action Books is No Future.” The dichotomy between future and nonfuture illustrates the timelessness of the work of Action Books; publications stand within time, but they are also for all time.

Three of María Negroni’s books, published by Action Books. Photo © Julia Snyder, 2019

María Negroni’s work fits this mission especially well. An Argentinian poet, writer, translator, and essayist, Negroni was born in 1951 and has published twelve books of poetry, two novels, and five collections of essays. Her work is critical of history, but also philosophical and imaginative. According to Lucas De Lima, Negroni presents a “transnational theory of politics and aesthetics” in Dark Museum. Negroni’s work is very much a study in hybridity, as she writes novels in verse, lyrical critical essays, and prose poetry. “In an emergency, break forms,” is Action Books’ tagline, and Negroni does just that in response to the emergencies of our time.

“A body dreams in the miniature of its night,” Negroni writes at the very beginning of Dark Museum (4). Page four, topped by the word “Prologue” followed by a quote from Emily Dickinson, contains the beginning of the text of the book—and text is what it looks like. Upon reading, the text becomes poetry, but until that essential moment, the contents of the book look like prose. In conclusion, I have one word for you, from page four of Dark Museum: “Alchemists.”

Work Cited

Negroni, María. Dark Museum. Translated by Michelle Gil-Montero. Action Books, 2015.

2 thoughts on “Action Books and Alchemy”

  1. I really like the appearance and names of some of Negroni’s books. I really like it when an author has a strong style or theme between multiple books. Authors A.S. King and Carl Hiaasen come to mind as books from these authors look the same to varying extents.


  2. These molten, fluid forms – and their contradictions, anachronism, the contretemps…I think of how, in an emergency, we are “out of time.” Is the hybrid a discourse of dissociation, in an emergency? Again, you’ve got me thinking, Julia!!


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