Joe Galván (1984-) is an anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, writer, composer, calligrapher, printmaker and zinester. He is the author of the zines The Book of Harmonies, Itinerary, For the Boys, Fugue States, the 'biannual" Frontera Magazine, the novel Karen et al.: A parable and most recently, the zine series Galván in Portland. Inspired by the composers of the New York School, Galván's work draws on aleatoric and experimental traditions, but also evokes the desolation and social isolation of the author's native South Texas. Andrew Parker of Portland Writers Club zine says of Galván:
"Galván himself is even more cryptic and sometimes comes off as the bitter, jaded and hermetic author that America loves. This is a man who punishes himself by two-hour sessions in the gym, he tells us, followed by late-night binges on ‘ginger ale and tortilla chips’. He believes that tourism, for better or for worse, is the natural extension of colonialism, that thinking badly about your mother will give her cancer, that shopping for items at garage sales or at Goodwill invites misfortune, that people who put wasabi in breakfast tacos ruin ‘the cultural component’ of Mexican food. And as if that isn’t apocalyptic enough, his thoughts on the way to work are about earthquakes swallowing the city of Portland, Oregon whole ‘in a fresh wave down the Willamette that will restore the mouth of the river to a prehistoric cleanliness’. Galván doesn’t so much hate the world he lives in, the world moves on and he refuses to be captive to its illusions, preferring the cold clarity of the simple cultures he loves, and even letting himself feel emotions, like crying to Mexican rancheras or the songs of Amália Rodrigues.”
Working on a low-budget and often taking months or years to complete a single zine, Galván's work spans most of the 2000s. He has appeared in the Canadian zine Stationaery, in the academic literary journal Harbinger and most recently in Portland Writers Club with excerpts of Galván in Portland. Galván mixes ethnographic "thick description" with absurd humor and frequent literary and pop culture references to create a quirky, often profane style that mimics the style of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This is especially true in Joe's last two zines, both of which are written like reportage more than a personal zine. Above all, Galván's work stresses individual isolation, confusion or noncooperation with the outside world, and a sense of dread often permeates his fiction works, especially his novel Karen et al.: A parable, which draws both on Galván's individual experiences and as "a casual observer of American culture."
Early work and influences
Galván began writing at a young age. His first complete short story, The Inheritance, written at age 13, dealt with secret treasure under a 19th century mansion in a fictional city in the Southwest Galván conceptualized. The first publication of The Inheritance contained a copy of a hand-drawn map of the fictional city Galván created for the story, the city of St. Floriansville. Most of Galván's work draws heavily on Roman Catholicism and the Hispanic culture of the border, a region he returns to in almost every work. After Galván graduated from high school, he spent a year living in New York City, right after 9/11, and spent two years developing what would become his first zine, The Book of Harmonies. Galván wrote about that time in Galván in Portland:
I remember how the world seemed to us kids, all of us young and confused and angry, all of us sad. We saw our own futures spelled out for us in the smoke from the World Trade Center. What sufficed for an education in the way things 'ought to be,' as we were told, was actually more of a prophecy about what we had become, about what we were about to become: we couldn't help but feel, in some way, that the world that our parents promised us had somehow fallen apart in our hands.
Gay themes come up frequently in much of Galván's work: The Book of Harmonies deals with topics like breakups and first crushes, For the Boys is about a gay hustler returning home on a bus ride from a stint in a recovery center, and Karen et al. has as one of its main characters a steroid-abusing gay porn actor who has a conflicted and deceptive relationship with his boyfriend. His work also speaks on "liminality", the sense that "our culture lies at the threshold of many other cultures", and this is apparent in pieces like Bodybuilding, which talked about body image and gay culture and, ultimately, "the larger obsession with self that pervades American experience". Even as a young writer, Galván never identified with the punk ethos of zining, and said in Galván in Portland:
I wasn't like them at all. I was not a skinny white punk with a pair of scissors and a glue stick and Johnny Rotten on a Walkman. I wasn't walking back to a punk house in the evening twilight. I owned no flannel shirts. My body was immaculate except for scars from attempting to ride a bike or the occasional pimple. I had a problem with authority, but I was too timid to say anything. I listened to the easy listening radio station and I liked flowers and almanacs. I was politically agnostic, not really on the right but not really on the left either, having been raised in a house where you didn't treat politicians with the amount of hyperreactive blind optimism to which they are treated to today. Even now, I can't really identify as a hipster, even though I was more hipster than most hipsters, because I never really have had the money to afford hipster swag like keffiyeh scarves and skinny jeans.
In 2008 Galván began corresponding with the composer Peter Garland, whose work Gone Walkabout: Essays 1991- "changed him".
Itinerary, Experimentation, and La Frontera
In 2005 Galván wrote An Autobiographical Statement, meant more as a tongue-in-cheek account of his life after the The Book of Harmonies. He heard a piece by sound-poet Read Miller entitled Mile Zero Hotel. Galván drafted the first version of Itinerary, inspired by Miller's readings of postcards he found at garage sales in the Pacific Northwest. Itinerary drew on Galván's knowledge of West Texas geography and on the culture of the Southwest to provide the framework for a short story about a man and a woman who "send each other letters and postcards while one or the other is on the road". Itinerary's spare, evocative language and fragmented structure was the first in a series of zines which capitalized on this new style, and included the For the Boys (2009) and Fugue States (2009-10). In each of these zines, plot takes second footing to pure narrative, in a stream of constantly shifting ideas and images, many of them interrelated or drawn on esoteric themes.
Some found Galván's style confusing and jumbled. Joe Biel wrote in Xerography Debt:
If you like the crazy world Joe creates for you in telling you about his very personal stories (gay sex, morning coffee breaks on the side of the road in shitty diners, hot dogs) then this zine is for you. Personally, though, I found it hard to read through and ended up tossing this zine in the FAIL pile. He had me at like the first paragraph but after the second page I lost track of whom was talking to whom.
A recurring image in Galván's work is that of the border, which to Galván represented "not just a political demarcation, but rather a highly sensitive area of cultural exchange and impervious to time and circumstance". In 2007, Galván helped to curate the litzine Frontera Magazine which presented short works from writers on both sides of the US-Mexico border. This zine sold in Tijuana, El Paso and Los Angeles before prior commitments ended its biannual publication. In all of his works, the US-Mexico border is "the thread into which people are born and are connected to, containing in that thread more knowledge about the way the world works than any suburbanite."