|Country of origin||United States|
|Headquarters location||Los Angeles|
|Key people||Hedi El Kholti, Chris Kraus, Sylvère Lotringer|
|Publication types||Books, Magazines, Pamphlets|
|Imprints||Active Agents, Foreign Agents, Intervention Series, Native Agents and Animal Shelter|
Semiotext(e) is an independent publisher of critical theory, fiction, philosophy, art criticism, activist texts and non-fiction.
Founded in 1974, Semiotext(e) began as a journal that emerged from a semiotics reading group led by Sylvère Lotringer at Columbia University. Initially, the magazine was devoted to readings of seminal thinkers like Nietzsche and Saussure. In 1978, Lotringer and his collaborators published a special issue, Schizo-Culture, in the wake of a conference of the same name he had organized two years before at Columbia University. The magazine brought together artists and thinkers as diverse as Gilles Deleuze, Kathy Acker, John Cage, Michel Foucault, Jack Smith, Martine Barrat and Lee Breuer. Schizo-Culture brilliantly brought out connections between high theory and underground culture that had not yet been made, and forged the “high/low” aesthetic that remains central to the Semiotext(e) project.
As the group dispersed over time, issues appeared less frequently. In 1980, Lotringer began to assemble the Foreign Agents series, a group of "little black books", often culled from longer texts, to polemically debut the work of French theorists to US readers. He was aided in this by Jim Fleming, whose collective press Autonomedia would be Semiotext(e)'s distributor for the next twenty-one years. Jean Baudrillard’s Simulations was the first of these books to appear, followed by titles by Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Paul Virilio, Jean-François Lyotard and Michel Foucault, among others. Spin magazine cited the little black books as "Objects of Desire" in a 19XX design feature.
In 1990, Chris Kraus proposed a new series of fiction books by American writers that would become Native Agents. Kraus worked at the St. Marks Poetry Project and saw an overlap between the theories of subjectivity advanced in the Foreign Agents books and the radical subjectivity practiced by female first-person fiction writers. Designed to promote an anti-memoiristic, "public I", the series published Kathy Acker, Barbara Barg, Cookie Mueller, Eileen Myles, David Rattray, Ann Rower and Lynne Tillman and many others.
A third series, Active Agents, began in 1993 with the publication of Still Black Still Strong by Dhoruba Bin Wahad, Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal, with the goal of presenting explicitly political, topical material. It has also published texts by Kate Zambreno, Bruce Hainley, and Eileen Myles.
In 2001, Semiotext(e) changed its base of operations from New York to Los Angeles, concomitantly ceasing its involvement with Autonomedia in order to begin an ongoing distribution arrangement with MIT Press. Hedi El Kholti, the Moroccan-born artist and writer who co-founded the now-defunct Dilettante Press, became Semiotext(e)’s art director.
As the decade progressed, El Kholti saw a need to re-imagine the Semiotext(e) project beyond the small-format books of the series. Earlier titles would be republished as large format books within the new “History of the Present” imprint.
In 2004, El Kholti became managing editor of the press. He, Kraus and Lotringer became joint, list-wide co-editors. Semiotext(e)'s new goal was to advance its original conflation of literature and theory, and to expand the anti-bourgeois queer theory presented in early issues of the Semiotext(e) journal.
The purview of Native Agents expanded to include science fiction books by Maurice Dantec and Mark Von Schlegell and works by writers like Tony Duvert, Pierre Guyotat, Grisélidis Real and Abdellah Taïa. Aware that the theorists he introduced in the 1980s had by now been absorbed into the academic mainstream, Sylvère Lotringer turned his attention to Italy’s post-Autonomia critical theory, commissioning and publishing works by Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, Paolo Virno, Antonio Negri, Christian Marazzi, Maurizo Lazzarato and others. Semiotext(e) also became the English-language publisher for Peter Sloterdijk’s enormously influential Spheres trilogy. Re-visioning New York’s ‘last avant-garde’ of the 1980s, Semiotext(e) published archival works by or about some of that era’s most important artists, including Penny Arcade, Gary Indiana and David Wojnarowicz.
In 2009, Semiotext(e) returned to small-format books with the Interventions series, launched by the publishing of the Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection, denounced by Glenn Beck on Fox News as “the most evil book in America.”
Animal Shelter is a new occasional magazine edited by El Kholti with the participation of Semiotext(e) collaborators Bruce Benderson, Robert Dewhurst, Paul Gellman, Ariana Reines, Sarah Wang, Noura Wedell, and others. Informed by a longing and melancholy, Animal Shelter acts as a subtle manifesto for desires and tendencies present among a fluid group of people.
- “It’s Very Sad, Really: Art Writing, Orphaning, Migration of the Humanities and (No) Information - Conversation with Chris Kraus,” Mousse Magazine 39, December 2013.
- “Under the Sign of Semiotext(e): The Story According to Sylvere Lotringer and Chris Kraus” (with Anne Balsamo) Critique 37.3 (Spring 1996): 205-221.
- "Semiotext at the Biennial: An Interview with Hedi el Kholti." Hyperallergic. May 17, 2014.
- "A Book Attacking Capitalism Gets Sales Help From a Fox Host", By Noam Cohen, NY Times, March 15, 2010.
- ”Hedi El Kholti,” by Meagan Day, Full Stop, September 20, 2012
- ”The 2014 Whitney Biennial Is Taking Shape,” by Carol Vogel, NY Times, November 14, 2014.
- Sylvère Lotringer, “My 80s: Better Than Life,” Artforum, April 2003
- Hedi El Kholti Chris Kraus Sylvère Lotringer: “SOMEWHERE IN THE UNFINISHED: The History of Semiotext(e) Part 2, Los Angeles,” Whitney Biennial Catalogue, Whitney Museum of Art, New York: 2014