Can we talk about cultural anthropology outside the academic walls? The (affirmative) answer to this question comes from those, a successful editorial experiment that adapts the language of anthropology to that of independent journals.
Those and compete with the nuanced and complex rhythms of the contemporary, through a polyphonic story that refers to anthropology and then intertwines with other disciplines, demonstrating once again, if anything were needed, how much the magazine is a powerful means to marry, convey and dissect contemporaneity, declined in all its forms. 
On the occasion of the release of its third issue, we asked Francesco Danesi, Editorial Director of Alea, to tell us something about this new Italian magazine.

Who are you and what is Alea? 
Alea is an independent journal of cultural anthropology… But we know well that this definition is not immediate or clear for most people. The reason is soon said - and basically it is the reason why we created the magazine: cultural anthropology constitutes knowledge that, even in its most "simplified" (or trivialized, alas) forms, has lost contact with the public sphere . The reasons are varied, but the result is that, in most cases, the work of anthropologists and anthropologists remains confined to academic scientific publications. Here comes Alea, who in her small way wants to try to enhance anthropological research, her ability to explore “other” cultural contexts, capturing their deepest peculiarities, and its relevance in the contemporary world. We believe that anthropology is the most current and the most provocative of knowledge: the magazine tries to trace a highly experimental editorial path through which to dialogue with a non-specialized audience, bringing it closer to the themes of the present through the sensitivity of ethnography, of research on the field and critical observation. We define our path as experimental and dialogical because, in fact, we make the principle of contamination our own: the starting point is anthropology, of course, but the magazine welcomes within its pages a great interdisciplinarity - fundamental today. There is the Ballads section, the actual anthropological one, but then followed by the interdisciplinary Arabesques, the artistic / photographic fantasy, the Suite of short speculative writings and finally the Literary Entertainment.

alea magazine

What is the purpose of your magazine?
The intent is to tell the contemporary world through a careful look at the nuances, the interstices, the shaded areas; we are concerned, fundamentally, with everything that the great global narratives leave on the sidelines. The starting point is a very evident paradox: the globalization of economic and political systems has certainly not produced a more uniform and linear world, quite the contrary. Social and cultural heterogeneity has been further pulverized and the idea of a unitary world is now contrasted by an extremely random plurality of unique and irreducible worlds. Is it possible to describe this configuration of the present? Alea tries to make this question her own, not to exhaust it, on the contrary: to feed it. And it is precisely the sensitivity of cultural anthropology that guides the editorial direction of the magazine: a sensitivity that problematizes the global starting from the local and that questions the cultural complexity of the present by reading it in localized contexts. The enigma becomes an obligatory stylistic and narrative figure: each issue is oriented by a thematic frame, but the interpretation of the same in fact undergoes an explosion of representations, words, visions, perspectives. The solution of this enigma is aleatory, in the sense that it is entrusted solely to the spirit and critical curiosity of readers.

Doesn't a paper-based cultural anthropology magazine seem a bit anachronistic to you? What is the meaning of a paper magazine today?
More than anachronistic, I believe that ours is an unexpected project. For insiders, because in fact we represent an absolute novelty in terms of approach and editorial direction, in a landscape that unfortunately suffers from the excesses of self-referencing. For those who discover us and decide to read us, because - trivially - when had we ever seen an independent anthropology magazine printed on paper ?! For us, the sense of printing and "letting ourselves be touched" came a little from this element of surprise, from the desire to amaze both in the matter of the project and in the contents. It is also true that we have a limited edition, therefore certain arguments and problems typical of mass publishing, in fact, lose some sense compared to independent publishing, which, indeed, lives and is constantly renewed precisely as a "fetish material ".
So what is the meaning of a paper magazine today… Impossible to answer univocally. Of course, there are fashions and the return to the material supports of the past is there for all to see, but there are also cultural reasons and you know it better than we do. For Alea, the magazine-object is the tangible "gift" through which we build reciprocity with the public: a relationship that is born in the small universes of each issue, created by the authors we welcome in our pages, and which we gradually expand. in moments of encounter and dialogue. What we are doing, in fact, would not make sense without the magazine object, both for the cultural value and for the economic value which obviously must support the publication and, above all, the remuneration of the authorial work.

alea magazine

Alea is a very special product also from the design point of view, to date three issues plus a special have been released, all very different from each other in format, header, which in the case of the special even disappears, paper, binding. Aren't you afraid that the reader may feel disoriented?
How can I blame you! In fact, we are quite reckless from this point of view… The graphic design of the magazine derives from the vision underlying the project. Alea's identity is itself the object of a continuous evolution: the aesthetics are in constant relationship with the thematic development of the magazine and lend themselves to a polymorphism devoid of any preconception or constraint. There are two factors that should not be overlooked in this regard: the first is that we had no precedents, and in the absence of references, the range of possibilities extends almost indefinitely; the second is that none of us joined the project with a background of specific skills in the editorial field, and this also applies to the design and graphic design aspect. With a cautious "amateurism" we tried to develop an aesthetic that was not pure tinsel, but that managed to amplify the fundamental features of the project. Hence the idea of a very banal asterisk as a logo, for example - a symbol par excellence of what is considered secondary and therefore must be placed in the margin, at the foot of the page, far away. But above all the desire to play with the graphic medium itself, which is certainly much more than a support for the content, and which for the magazine constitutes an additional communicative level. In this sense Alea also tries to be very ironic, avoiding taking herself too seriously and at the same time launching subtle provocations hidden here and there.

The new issue of Alea is dedicated to the theme of Symbiosis. Why did you choose this theme?
There has been a lot of talk lately about the concept of interdependence. The war in Ukraine has in a certain sense awakened public opinion regarding the complexity of relations in the globalized world. For some time now, cultural anthropology has drawn attention to the critical issues of such a deeply interconnected world, showing above all our difficulty in reading the "local" reflections of the great contemporary phenomena. The truth is that we had already established the themes of 2022 last December, and the "symbiosis" had emerged strongly as a dimension of the present that we had to explore at all costs: the outbreak of the conflict in February has, unfortunately, further confirmed the urgency of this issue. The anthropologist Roberta Raffaetà, who contributed to the issue, writes that we have to face the "with-living" of our time, as much as the "dying-with": this is exactly the reciprocity we wanted to face, the ambivalence of our daily life interconnected.

alea magazine

Each issue of Alea is born thanks to an open call. How do you select the contributions to be published and how did you select the ones that we can read in this issue?
That's right, the Open Call is essential for us: only in this way can we create a real laboratory of voices, experiences and visions. However, we must admit that the selection is not simple, the basic idea is to dial a number that "enhances" the editorial identity of Alea, its enigmatic character. We try to have varied, pungent, exciting, unsettling contexts and situations. The question is always: what does this issue of Alea say about the present? If the vision that emerges is too homogeneous or coherent it means that we are betraying our intentions, so let's take a step back. And this reasoning is not limited to the single issue: we always keep in mind the editorial “history” of Alea, thinking about what came before and what will come after. Symbiosis followed the same path.

In addition to the three main publications, you have also given the press a special issue, a sort of spin off of the magazine you called Issue B1, a hybrid product, neither magazine nor book, but the faithful reproduction of an archive folder. Can you tell us?
Of course, also because the story is at least absurd! The premise is this: every year Alea intends to publish 2 thematic issues plus a special one (Alea's B-sides). Last year our editor Pasquale Menditto, then engaged in some archive research in Rome, wrote to us on WhatsApp: "I found something crazy", leaving us on our toes for hours and hours. In short: in a deposit with various archival materials never cataloged and destined for pulping (which happens more often than we think in Italy), Pasquale had found a box with an old folder signed "I.C. 99". He was actually looking for ethnographic records for his thesis; inside that folder there were actually ethnographic diaries (not the ones he was looking for), but not only: scattered files, floppy disks, audio cassettes. The problem is that it was all chaotic and incomprehensible, in short, it seemed assembled for private use. But even more surprising was the exploration of the content in the editorial office: there were documents of a scientific foundation called Marienbad that we had never heard of; newspaper clippings about murders and deaths; photocopies of ethnographic diaries; documents of a laboratory; patent micro-film; drafts of scientific articles; the report of an investigation.
We said to ourselves: is it someone's joke or fantasy. We have asked for help from some contacts, between historians and archivists, without much success. However, all confirmed our doubts: the folder had certainly been organized for personal purposes and if it ended up in a deposit, it is because perhaps someone was trying to study it. We did not yet know what to publish as a special issue, so the fulminating idea was: why don't we give this folder an editorial look, perhaps facilitating its study? We did all the necessary checks and without thinking twice we started scanning everything, thus arriving at the publication of Alea B1 - which we also entrusted to some researchers and researchers for further information.

You have not left compasses to guide your readers who, in fact, find themselves in front of pure archive material, perhaps without knowing what to do with it. For example, reading Alea B1, I felt a bit like the protagonist of a crime series intent on solving a case by putting together the various pieces of a puzzle. Was this the result you wanted to elicit?
You are definitely right. Taking the reproduction of the folder in hand, nothing suggests the editorial framework of Alea. It was an intentional choice that, in fact, goes against "commercial" common sense: we wanted Alea to be hidden in the shadow of this editorial reproduction - the dust jacket of the issue in fact hides the editorial and the title of the magazine itself. After all, as editorial staff, we had limited ourselves to recomposing a "visual" and documentary order of the source material, to facilitate consultation. But we also wanted to convey the sense of surprise and fascination that the folder itself had exercised on us, thus avoiding the inclusion of our hypotheses, captions or other. There is also another aspect: we obviously have some ideas ... The materials have more or less explicit links between them and the role of the Marienbad scientific foundation seems to be decisive. You are right, there is a puzzle and we all inevitably tried to solve it. The main problem is that a disproportionate amount of references to facts and people seem irrecoverable, if not for small hints. For example: there is a diary of an Italian researcher engaged in the observation of some experiments in a genetic laboratory. We did not find anything about it, yet one of the many post-its (written by no one knows who) in the margin of a page of his diary refers to the American company "Clonaid", which in those years seems to have been experimenting with some technologies related to human cloning - and this is verifiable with a simple Google search. It is a real labyrinth and it is incredible to notice how anyone who takes the B1 in their hands cannot help but try to reveal its meaning. In addition, it is surprising how certain fragments, despite dating back more than fifty years ago, still "resonate" with today's concerns on various issues, from energy to the role of genetics, to political and lobbying infiltrations in research activity. scientific. So this is a bit of the idea: maybe someone knows more than us, which is not difficult in all honesty. We have already received several messages and we keep open the possibility for the future to explore the various tracks in public.

You have just launched the call for the fourth issue of the magazine. Any anticipation?
The next issue will be dedicated to the theme "Hate". It is a strong and deeply rooted theme in our daily life. As always, however, our thematic provocation intends to explore its margins and ambiguities. The anticipation that we can give you is actually a wish: we will try to amaze readers on a theme that inevitably lends itself to flat and negative readings. And we will try to do it Alea style.


May 25, 2022 — Frab's Magazines & More

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