Pensaré: Publishing Cardboard Books as a Political Practice



The content of publications is paramount and Pensaré’s numerous anti-colonial and feminist books’ contents certainly confirms this. Yet, the Mexico and Spain-based publishing collective also argues for a political practice of the material (in their case, cardboard) and craft used to print and bind books.

Pensaré Cartoneras is an autonomous publishing collective located between southern Mexico and the Kingdom of Spain’s eastern coast. Beyond publishing, we partake in a web of collectives and people; that’s our struggle. As an answer to the Zapatista question, “what about you?” Placing ourselves in the activist-editorial system, we walk forward by bothering others (and ourselves) with texts about feminisms, anti-racism, anti-colonialism or autonomous and land struggles.

These are some work notes for the how and why we do the things we do. Just those two, how and what for, are the questions that pierce our stomachs and makes our hearts beat. When talking about us — a small transnational, publishing collective that makes books — we can also talk about life, autonomous politics, colonialism, and many other things. Because we can speak about ourselves in a self-critical way, we do not always need people to speak for us.

When Facing New Enclosures, Break the Expected Shape of the Book ///

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Fabrication process of the cartonera binding.

We started as a group of people who extended politics from content to form. Tension and exploration of form has always been part of our path. These first tentative steps resulted in making cardboard books: cardboard pieces of garbage that, when recycled, becomes book covers. We were interested in using a way of making small books, with time and labor attached to their covers.

Being a publishing collective, one would think that the content is the most important; the cerebral, the rational. But cardboard allows the distribution of weight towards the material itself and the corporal. Thus the collective is not only built from a theoretical position, but also from a material dynamic that assumes another form of knowledge, another position of the body. There are other interests that cannot be expressed only with discourse. And although sometimes it is not so easy to separate the hegemonic from the theoretical-rational-masculinizing part (and the individuals who exercise it), at least it is a battle that has been and is taking place in Pensaré because of this work with cardboard; it means that the cardboard is not only the format in which the text is placed. We have realized how important it is to learn from what we cannot do and to value the knowledge that there is in our own fragility.

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Fabrication process of the cartonera binding.

Also with the experience and ongoing meetings, our position on “cardboarding” has been growing and situating itself: Making cardboard in a rural region like Los Altos de Chiapas (Mexico) is not the same as making them in an urban European region like Valencia (Spain). It is not the same if bodies collecting the cardboard are white/mestizo, while university graduates being cartoneros have to make their living by collecting cardboard in the street. For our path, it has been crucial to understand corporally what situated knowledge means for us, and also in relation to the cardboard. One experience we had was the text

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A few of the existing Pensaré publications.

Ayotzinapa Desaparición política, we coined the term “books on the march” as a way of mixing journalism, publishing and activism: we made a blank-page cardboard book, went to marches and got demonstrators to write it. We also edited, rewrote and selected some contextual excerpts to explain the situation after the Mexican state made 43 students disappear. We thought of editing as a literature genre and publishing too, as a social movement.

Fanzines Come from the North, Cartoneras Come from the South ///

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A few of the existing Pensaré publications.

Tracing the history of printing and publishing is to look at roads, paths and colonial devices that go beyond knowledge and culture — here we refer to the work of the Mixe comrade, Yásnaya Aguilar Gil, “Every Act of Reading is Immersed in a Network of Colonialism.” In publishing, we find mechanisms for the scaffolding constituting the coloniality of knowledge, involving cultural appropriation, whitewashing, creation of colonial and patriarchal subjectivities and imaginaries. The edition is a process to sanitize knowledge from struggles. It is also an economical space, where neoliberal and colonial capitalism seeks to recreate its riches. It hosts existing flows and exchanges between workforces from the Global South and the selection-ordering-curating of knowledge from the Global North (or from the white/mestizo elite of the Global South); the accumulation of wealth is precisely because of how distribution and the creation of “valid” knowledge nerve centers remain in the North.

However, not only do these connections exist, there are links of horizontality. For us, to think about the edition and the book is an act of inescapable responsibility. We feel that it is always easier to follow inertia, and not doing so implies a meaningful reflection — feeling where we stand, where we come from, and what lasting memories we carry. Knowing that the world of printing in Mexico arose at the time of the Spanish colony, and thinking about the first printing houses that were daughters of European capital who had more interest in and links with extractivism and mining, exposes the designs that are precisely those we want to fight. The world of publishing is part of the fabric that maintains relations of power and inequality from, in, and beyond reading. These observations commit us to open cracks and furrows, and fight for editorial worlds that build from the autonomous edition: contextual, anti-systemic, one that also challenges its political economy to go beyond being independent, or being part of an ecosystem. A political edition.

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A few of the existing Pensaré publications.

We say cartoneras come from the South. They come to question the forms of production, to do without having the means of production, to feel, to create dialogue from the touch, to re-appropriate what was already ours: the word, the sharing, the complicity, the diffusion nearby, and the circuits from the social fabric. For us, reading it from the autonomous view as digested from Zapatista teaching: the cardboard is a bet to destabilize that colonial-patriarchal-capitalist structure. However, and we know this well, the cardboard does not save us from anything, it is a form that gives possibilities and emanates from other stories, from a genealogy. The cartonera was born as an organic-contextual-political and local alternative, that we translate to being uncomfortable, questioning. For us, an example of this has been the collection,

Hemos Decidido Dejar de Ignorar este Hecho (“We have decided to stop ignoring this fact,” a quote from Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth). A collection of rebellious fanzines in a cardboard box that desires to be put into circulation as translations and urgencies, and classic texts buried under the Eurocentric canon. With this, we stop ignoring the fact that books were also built on the corpses, the sweat, and the blood of the Indigenous, Black, and Brown people.

Our proposal is to bring texts to the body, and with that, from there, to be one more fight.