Sublevel Issue 2: The Speculative


Sublevel is an online literary magazine devoted to the nexus of literature, poetics, art, criticism, philosophy, culture, and politics.  Sublevel both inherits and reflects the dynamism of contemporary Los Angeles as a hub of literature, art, and activism, while also stretching beyond this locality. Based in the CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program, an innovative and interdisciplinary environment dedicated to the experimental impulse in writing and thinking, Sublevel is a literary publication immersed in the world of art without being in service to it. We make no hard distinctions between creative and critical enterprise.  Instead, we celebrate writing of any kind that we find stimulating, timely, or otherwise compelling. We publish original essays, interviews, roundtables and other features online. There is also an annual print component, called Sublevel B-Sides, which consists of the eight original pieces featured online with additional art, commentary, poetry, essay, and quotation. Each issue has a particular theme that loosely joins the work gathered together, the most recent being Contagion.  

Sublevel is edited by Lauren Mackler. Maggie Nelson and Janice Lee are the founding editors.  

Students in the CalArts MFA program in Creative Writing serve as editorial assistants for the journal. 

Past contributors include Hilton Als writing on Butt magazine, a roundtable on contagion by Candice Lin, Mel Y. Chen, and Jih-Fei Cheng, a conversation between Solmaz Sharif and Rickey Laurentiis and new writing but Asiya Wadud, Muriel Leung and others. 

Sublevel is published online in February of each year, with the annual print component, Sublevel B-Sides, released a few months later in the spring.

Funding for Sublevel is generously provided by the Creative Writing department of The School of Critical Studies at CalArts.


Sublevel #4: Edge

Sublevel Issue #4: EDGE explores what constitutes the pornographic today. Taking into consideration the inherent difficulty of defining its perimeters, we have invited artists, writers and sex workers to contemplate pornography’s various appearances and expressions within visual and literary cultures. The issue includes a roundtable on the politics of  labor and pleasure featuring Johanna Fateman, Lorelei Lee, and Tiana Reid; a conversation on the role of the pornographic in writing by Brontez Purnell and Sandra Simonds; a study on the pornographic gaze within advertising by Alec Recinos; new poetry by Precious Okoyomon and Ariana Reines; a trip to the mall by Melissa Broder; submissions by Nicholas Barone, Charles Leggett and Nora Treatbaby and visual contributions by Missy Banger, Lizzi Bougatsos, Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., Eileen Myles, Laura Parnes, Clunie Reid, and Claude Wampler

Editorial Team
Lauren Mackler (Managing Editor)
Sabrina Tarasoff (Assistant ME)
Rose B Sheela, Allison Smith, Daniel Spielberger, Sarah Stockton, Misael J. Oquendo, Jayne Pugh, Sofia Benitez Villanueva


Sublevel #3: Stamina (2019)

Stamina might be too big an idea to hold in one hand. No matter how hard we, as editors, have tried, it keeps seeping out of grasp. In other words, it takes stamina to think about stamina; a steadfast attention span, some prowess, and a sense of determination is required to wrap one's head around what this mysterious ability to withstand prolonged efforts is all about. Where does it come from? Who does it belong to, who performs it, and where does its performance begin and end? On first read, ‘stamina’ declares itself as an essential condition; look to its etymology and you will find its root in ‘the stamen,’ which in its own course comes from the Latin for ‘Threads Spun By the Fates.’ What seems to be implied is some supernatural predetermination, ‘stamina’ as stellar kismet, kick-ass genes, or (in a more au courant iteration) privilege. Obviously, stamina is more complicated than that.

Stamina sustains and extends its own definition. Contradicts itself. If to begin with, this issue arose from concerns about how stamina, under all these conditions related to agency, bodies in charged spaces, the sexual, socio-political and cultural, with sports, sex and sculpture as the obvious targets—it has since appeared to us as more of a meta-language for production. Throughout the making of this issue, stamina became an issue: too many emails, too many thoughts, too many mixed messages. Too many scheduling conflicts, communication problems, cancelled meetings. Certainly, as a conceptual problem stamina presents itself as a gaze, fantasy, and an internalised idea about how to exist in the world as a subject seeking joy. As a quotidian struggle, however, it is the break that happens when we lose, fail, lapse. It’s the elusive component underlying every plan made, rain-checked and forgotten. Or, more brightly, stamina is a measure of exertion, and we’re still learning our limits.

Editorial Team: Lauren Mackler (Managing Editor)
Maryam Kazeem, Elena Murphy, Perwana Nazif, Beatrice Robinson, Sabrina Tarasoff, Sarah Yanni

Sublevel Issue #3: Stamina includes contributions by Dodie Bellamy, CAConrad, Samara Davis, Gina Stella dell’Assunta, Renee Gladman, Dana Johnson, Marrion Johnson, Kate Kendell, MPA, Okwui Okpokwasili, Christina Sharpe, Max Wheeler and Ellen O’Connell Whittet. 

Sublevel Issue 2: The Speculative (2018)

As we see it, to speculate is to call into question not only what could be, but: what is, might be, or might have been. Within the eight features of our magazine, we will explore: the defamiliarizing of the familiar as a crucial tactic for investigating reality; how science fiction, fantasy, and horror not only pervade media but influence collective political and social efforts; the ways in which new technologies are pushing us toward a slippage of communication, dislodging language from reality; the space that the speculative and speculation provide for an intersection of academics and autodidacts alike; how speculation has shaped, and continues to shape, the current economic climate, specifically in relation to Los Angeles.

Myths, folktales, “what ifs,” and ideas of the unreal have informed our understandings of ourselves throughout our history. The vastness of speculation draws us in, causes confusion that feels intoxicating and creates a space for hyperbole and fantasy that feel less and less unfamiliar. It is through this very interrogation—of the impossible—that we continue to discover what is, in fact, possible. In this issue, we are not offering solutions, or at least not solutions that make sense. We are observing the impact, use, and character of the imagination on culture and, as a result, on our own psyches. When we think of the speculative, not only are we thinking about what could be—we’re questioning the validity of what’s happening now. We create new shapes, imagine hidden doors. Its potency is in its relevance.

The issue includes a roundtable with Kelly Akashi, FICTILIS, Margaret Killjoy, & Ann VanderMeer; a review of wall-text by Aria Dean; a letter from Ultra Red;  a conversation between Martine Syms & Jenna Wortham; a new piece by Will Alexander; a script by Charles Yu; 'recommendations' by adrienne maree brown as well as artworks by 57C, Sascha Braunig, Loretta Fahrenholz, Kiki Kogelnik, Nicole Miller, Christina Quarles & Tiger Tateishi 

The Speculative issue student editors are Thomas Aguila, Ian Kappos, Noah Lemelson, Hannah Rubin and Jessica Wolford.  

Read The Speculative Issue Online

Sublevel Issue 1: Contagion (2017)

Contagion is most commonly associated with the spread of disease, poison, corruption, harmful practices or ideas, but its Latin root — con- (together) + tangere (touch) — opens the term in a slightly different direction: co-touching, touching together. Thus: emotional contagion, behavioral contagion, financial contagion, sacred contagion, hysterical contagion, “contagion theory” (the hypnotic effects of crowds), contagion of ideas, contagion of identity.

We are thinking about xenophobic fears re: contagion, we are thinking about contagious political sentiment, of both the brutal and hopeful variety. We are thinking about Édouard Glissant’s theories of contamination and hybridity. We are thinking about proximity and intimacy. We are thinking about how contagion defies borders, about the virtual and physical aspects of “going viral,” about how aesthetic, political, cultural, and spiritual ideas spread, about shared mind and body.

The Contagion issue student editors are Thomas Aguila, Giovan Alonzi, Vanessa Baish, Rosa Boshier, Leann Lo, Alyssa Manansala, Rose Servis and Jesse VanDenKooy.

Read the Contagion Issue Online