The Point of Publishing

The Anonymity of the Centre

Category: limen


There are points on the edge where breakthroughs happen.  Wily old contemptibles identify them by walking the front line, preparing for frontal attacks, knowing how to stop the gaps. In attack, being flexible and mobile counts, and knowing where to find the weakest place, the flimsiest defence, the most dispirited garrison.

Publishing probes the no-man’s-land between writer and reader and advances judiciously, supports those who propose believable plans of attack, and is there to cover a retreat or recovery after a rout.

Digging in is digging down, and digging down is for diamonds or death.


The physicality of published work means it can move past a sell-by, due to expire, out of date and out of time, defunct, archaic, old-fashioned, and historic. But this is acknowledged in the scheme of things, and items not first wanted by many will lie dormant, ready to be rediscovered and revalued when their sell-buy time comes.

When everything is always on both sides of the line that says it’s published, the threshold of rediscovery may have no meaning: impossible to see over the edge that’s not an edge; round the corner that’s flattened out; into the future that contains all of the past.

Future proof is needed for any future-proofing. No going back, so don’t look forward.


Judging the boundaries of good taste, propriety, standards in private and public life are intrinsic to the publishing risk.  What can and cannot be said is more than an issue of the words that are used and when they are used. Words change as they move from mouth to mouth, page to page, and screen to screen.

Taboos broken by publishing are briefly thought shocking, and then rapidly adopted in humour and familiar settings.

New uses of the once forbidden become commonplace, but some words remain particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden, with new ones banned from time to time.  But words are good at jailbreaks and disguise.


Ink can fade or be made to disappear, adding urgency to reading. Digital text and images can be erased and altered giving lie to memory and reminiscence: counterfactual.

Changing states of readability are built into the technology of publishing.  Paper turns brittle, yellow, crumbles, becomes dust.  Bindings and glue decompose, are consumed by animal and vegetable parasites.

Orthography and spelling changed by habit or decree is accurate like carbon dating. Words lose meaning, change use, shift to other registers of respectability and acceptance, going over the top, a bit too far, beyond the pale, out of order.


Up, up and away, then, after feeling gingerly, stepping over, keeping a horizon in view. Heads-up displays needed.  The orientation and angle that affect what hits the back of the eye are not bias but reflected humanity, concern and independence; at worst another’s echo.

Defensive lines drawn in the sand, spiriting volunteers: you, you and you.  Pens look mightier than Bowie knives.

Pushing an envelope.  Forcing communication.  Keeping lines open.  Synchronizing watches.  Counting what sits on the point of a needle.


The limen can be a springboard or trampoline that adds momentum to the athletic endeavour. Taking the plunge, leaving one vantage point to gain another, exchanging static clarity for dynamic blur.

At all points of the compass new thresholds, new staging posts, new orientations are needed for perfect navigation.  New limits, new edges reached, new boundaries encountered, broached, bridged, breeched.  Publishing bravado and dead reckoning drive on through the liminal spaces.

An edgy cousin of time-bound writ remains on the periphery, while courage passes through or over the limits, not hovering or strutting stuff; venturing out, veering not backing.


The limenarch allots the moorings and polices the comings and goings. Then laden, battened down, it’s out and away, breasting the waves, course determined by weather and tides, captained and crewed with skill and intent, ignoring the terror that comes when a small thing knows it cannot react decisively against tsunami or becalming.

Swashbuckling, fully rigged or proceeding under their own steam, all are still subject to climate, weather, mechanical delays, economic cycles, political exigencies and pirates.

Broken bottles at the launch of boats and books, and cracked glass when they fail.


Manuscripts in London may still arrive at the publisher’s office ‘over the threshold’ or ‘over the transom’ in New York and enter such a liminal space, a slush pile. Over this threshold the private becomes public, evaluated first by one reader, then several, then many. Ordered processes towards publication keep measured time, counting down to final revelations, borders crossed: points of no return.

Reaching and passing the limen, work assumes another state: solid text, open to criticism or praise, it lazes on the dusty library shelf or bounds unbound from hand to hand. Clear here which is chicken and which egg, books living in time, with new physicalities, a transhumance rather than the maelstrom of digital mash-up.


Liminal space, place of ritual, place of intensity, psychological threshold, the ‘where’ of new beginnings.

If on the water still, the liminal’s added surfaces and depths are governed by a limenarch, the warden or governor of a port. Gatekeepers, publishers with a permanent yes-no interlude: doubling money and taking it away, a still point of decision.

There’s no open door policy on the land. Publishing is mostly controlled there too, like a horse taking the fences at a point-to-point, leaping to a bidding but sometimes bolting or refusing to jump.