A Generic Post (with images of some usual suspects)



Genre is something I do, so to speak, and have done for awhile.  Most of my colleagues specialize in a particular genre, and they (genres, not colleagues) are of course often used to shape ads for professorial employment.  My specialty, so to speak, genre is poetry in various forms, though there are as well novels I consider to be mine.*  But in addition I teach genre theory or genre studies** in various courses, and so it is extra shameful that I fall into a group of those shamed, so to speak, by periodical studies.


MM Bakhtin



Well, before shame, a detour that interests me.  A good chunk of my poetic genre studies have been on the vaunted and authoritative genre of the epic, and one of the things that I have mused about with this particular beast is that there is no such thing as a failed or bad epic.  If it is bad, then it is simply not an epic– that is to say, some concept of quality is built right into the working sense of the genre itself.  That’s not so of other literary genres: we have failed novels, bad lyrics, poorly wrought plays, really,  really lame short stories—well, so to speak.  But “epic” implies greatness, including in contemporary slang***.  I have been thinking about the fact that the same thing is basically true of the genre little magazine.  Vaunted.  Authoritative even as it sometimes eschews authority (I’m NOT looking at you, Wyndham Lewis).  Exactly



what makes something a little magazine**** and whether or not it should be seen as different than other periodicals that also included or reviewed literature and art is pretty hotly debated, but its quality or importance, or at least its epic, so to speak, reach, is assumed.  And this is (possibly) pertinent: it cannot be a failed little magazine because failure (of finances,of circulation, of endurance) is pretty much part of its definition.

Okay, to the shame, and I better ‘fess up immediately: I have been among the unenlightened who have mined periodicals for specific works and authors.



I’m not proud of it, but there it is.  And of course doing so, seeing the magazine “too often […] essentially as aggregations of otherwise autonomous works,” like an anthology (Brad Evans in Brooker and Thacker Volume II, 145: “a media venue for the collection and distribution of material, as we customarily think of magazines”) is not attending well to its own genre and to the bibliographic/periodical code.***** Funny (strange, laughable): I don’t really do this for contemporary periodicals.  I see articles in a context, even if digital: The Journal of International Women’s Studies; People (to name just a few elitist academic publications).  But when I poke around in the MJP, I have been more liable to search for specific authors or pieces.****** But reading cover to cover, in order, is not part of the expected generic behavior for a magazine.  Unlike the reading expectations for a novel, in which one is intended to move from beginning to end (which one may or may not always do, as long as one is



confessing), reading expectations for a magazine most likely presume skipping around or skipping altogether, reading just what is of interest, pausing on images or text that catch one’s attention but thumbing/clicking past other items.



But even so, obviously, once one thinks of it, the context matters– Scholes and Wulfman say that it is an “error” to think of a story that is published in both a magazine and a book as the same,  even if every word is consistent– what is around it (even if you skip it), its layout, etc.– these are inextricable from meaning (75).  A painting in a museum is not the same as a superior forgery of that painting or a high quality reproduction of that painting OR–here’s the clincher–that same painting in someone’s living room.

My echo, so to speak, for this post, but one that others note as well: sifting the modernist magazines to isolate specific chunks of gold (first published poem by H.D., an earlier version of a Stevens poem) has dangers (among them: “I got a rock”) that mimic the dangers of traditional Modernist studies: distinguishing, even cloistering,the artistic geniuses/genii from a rich, dialogic context.

*e.g., Mrs. Dalloway (step off, Lorentzen and Foss) or The Return of the Soldier.

** that link is to Wikipedia, and it’s a surprisingly rich page.



*** and that link is to the urban dictionary, and it’s a not-surprisingly profane page.  You have been warned.

**** a favorite, from Faith Binckes’s book Modernism, Magazines, and the British Avant-Garde: “the familiar representation [is] of little magazines as small, independent guerrilla units, who are subject to war and insurrection but are rarely open to diplomacy or trade” (40).     Now I AM looking at you, Wyndham Lewis.

Another favorite: “We must learn to stop talking, writing, and thinking as if the category of ‘little magazines’ represents something real in the textual world.  It is a dream category, an attempt to unite periodicals of which the uniter approves and exclude those lacking such approval” ( Scholes and Wulfman, Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction 60).  This gets at my point about the assumed excellence of this (apparently specious) genre.

*****Sean Latham and Robert Scholes, “The Rise of Periodical Studies,” PMLA 121.2 (March 2006),  521.  “Bibliographic code” is an idea usually traced to Jerome McGann, and in their massive Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker argue for a “periodical code” in the study of periodicals, as do some others.  One of the things at stake here is the preservation of ads in periodicals, which have frequently been preserved with such elements excised, thus further/falsely divorcing the intellectual/social/political content from its material circumstances and, as well, obliterating clues about intended audience and periodical networks.

“There are different genres of magazines,” says my eleven-year-old, looking over my shoulder, “but I don’t think a magazine is a genre.”  Generational shame.

****** Conflict?  Attend to periodical publications in their entirety, as a genre– but also, as called for strongly by Scholes and Wulfman in Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction, to digitize them with sophisticated search engines that avert the need to browse and to visualize works and authors in full context.

A Few Don’ts by a Periodical Student

Scholars of Modernism have long noted the period’s propensity for…. well, ism(s): Surrealism, Fauvism, Imagism(e), Vorticisim, Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, (Post-)Impressionism, Symbolism…  While most dictionaries still discuss “ism” according to its lowly history as a noun suffix, “ism” (noun) is understood as an informal term meaning a distinctive (often derogatory or oppressive) ideology or practice.  Even without the implications of derogation, an ism certainly has strictures, rules– at a minimum firmly articulated best practices.  As a noun, “ism” is a word that punctuates the discussion of the modernist periodicals; one of the ways in which each is characterized is whether it does, or does not, act as a mouthpiece for a particular ism, something traceable in editorial statements, manifestos, aesthetic philosophies, or simply the creative work gathered within the covers. The term is present even in the periodicals themselves, as when Jane Heap wrote in 1926 in The Little Review that it has “unostentatiously presented all the new systems of art to America . . . about twenty Isms, in the last few years.”*

Of course, isms can be proactive and exhortative, and they can, as well, be exclusionary and prescriptive.  One of the things that has surprised me about my reading in periodical studies as a discipline (a punishment to correct disobedience; a branch of knowledge) is the extent to which it is also an ism of sorts, with more explicitly expressed rules for best practice than perhaps any other field I’ve encountered in my scholarship.

The most obvious (easily perceived; lacking in subtlety) example so far is from the foundational text by Robert Scholes and Clifford Wulfman called Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction (Yale UP, 2010).  Foundational architects of the MJP, Scholes and Wulfman use their book in part to give suggestions and set guidelines for teaching and scholarship with modernist periodicals.  [Sidenote: the emphasis on teaching is exemplary (model, rather than cautionary) in the MJP and its offshoots.]  In this particular book, I find phrases such as “reading any magazine from the past must start by taking up a single issue of that magazine” (ideally in one’s hands, with digital access as a lesser but acceptable substitute); or, “The best way to begin reading a magazine like this is simply to read it–to read every page.”  Though Scholes and Wulfman are explicitly directive, it is only their tone, rather than their intent, that distinguishes statements like this from some of my other readings in the field.

Perhaps the sense that one is being given directions (a course to follow; supervision or control), even step-by-step ones, is intensified by the language of/attention to data.  It’s not a word we encounter a lot in literary studies, but it appears rather frequently in the Scholes and Wulfman text as they set out the primary (early; of chief importance) goal of the painstaking (diligent or assiduous; plodding or dogged) task of collecting, listing, graphing information about the modernist periodicals such as price (and changes thereof), editors (and changes thereof), years of publication, size and length (and changes thereof), place of publication (and etc.), and more. I have also been working through the massive, rich (heavy or full-flavored; plentiful; fertile) volumes of The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, and I note formulaic qualities to the essays there as well, which, in addition to their more varied and discursive histories of the personalities, finances, and purposes that shape a given periodical, tend to catalogue information about cover design, paper, major authors published . . .that is to say, data.

Undoubtedly, timelines, lists, tables, and graphs of this information will be invaluable to scholars of the magazines–in no way do I mean to question that.  Rather, I am noting the discourse and collection of data, of clearly articulated or even prescribed best practice, that distinguishes some of the work in this field.  Because my thinking tends to find echoes, I see some interesting parallels to the period of Modernism itself, a time not only of isms and manifestos but also of the increasing professionalization (first known use of “professionalize”: 1856) of literary studies and criticism, motivated partly by the increasing social reliance on skilled scientific interpretation of data as a fundamental way of understanding our world.

* quoted on page 82 of Alan Golding’s “The Little Review (1914-29).”  The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines Vol. II: North American 1894-1960.  Eds. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker.  Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012.  61-84.


On (Im)personality

The materiality of periodicals is something I intend to focus more on, because terms like bibliographic or periodical codes are newish to me, even if the characteristics they refer tomjp pdf view are not.  And an interest in the artifact is part of what brought me to my current course of study– even if it is only the thrill of seeing it digitized rather than holding or smelling it.

But what is striking about my first few weeks of reading deeply in (twentieth-century, so far mostly British) periodical studies is how much the field is biographical as much or more than bibliographic.  Of course,  the Eliotic Modernism that came to be canonical espoused rather an escape from personality, and to some degree the professed approach of contemporary critics has also foregrounded the material-historical, not the social-biographical (or frequently even the literary), so this makes for a strange conundrum.  I suppose it’s obvious that, even for the publications that were not specific iterations of an artistic manifesto, the editors’ politics, finances, religion will shape what is sought and accepted for print.  But a common sense of a journal is that it has an inherent integrity or being, that it exists as it is, and its contents and the trajectory of its run are somehow determined by the identity of (“direct treatment of”) the thing itself. Even without being blind to the fingerprints or quotation marks of all those who produce the text, I am surprised to find my readings framed coolly by timelines, price comparisons, advertisement info, and then burrowing into a warren of personalities: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield, Ford Madox Ford, Dora Marsden, Harriet Monroe, Harold Monro, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound (They Who Need Not Be Linked), A.R. Orage, Wyndham Lewis and more…plus myriad contributors, patrons, assistants, advisers.  They were introduced at parties and lectures, went to Oxford together, quarreled, broke up marriages, gave each other paid work, switched allegiances, jockeyed for leadership of, or to speak for, a new literature, new society, new woman, new financial system, new theory.

What I mean is that it’s striking how much the inspiration for, founding and funding of, work on and of, and eventual success or failure of the modernist magazines is personal, even intimate, and the research on them reflects that, giving ample space to biographical, or private, information that underlies these brave forays into the public sphere.  How will this affect the direction of my interest in specific titles, and how will it affect my reading of literary works or essays withing the covers?

Some faces:

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On Tentativeness and Permanence

Fingers above keys. Well, two fingers, the middle ones. . .in my high school back in the day, only those NOT going to college were taught to type.  Somehow I missed the part where going to college was going to get me a secretary.  Though I am reasonably fast and accurate all things considered, this fact seems worth mentioning as I begin a blog that will, in part, reflect on changing technologies and their relationship to reading, research, writing.

Hesitance to commit words to a medium that carries those words to others is something I have been thinking about (struggling with) this week.  This blog is rooted in my sabbatical project for Spring 2014 (thank you, UMW).  The project has a rather brave abstract:

This project focuses on four of my primary areas of research and teaching: poetry, women’s writing, literary Modernism, and digital humanities.  It centers on the digital archive of periodicals called the Modernist Journals Project.  I anticipate producing a scholarly article on the presence of “the poetesses” in these journals; maintaining a professional blog on my reading/research; designing a new course for the English major called Modernism in the Magazines; and contributing pedagogical materials to the MJP site.

More specifically, my proposal said:

I understand the last major element of my proposal as a hybrid of process and product.   My past and proposed work in the MJP archive grows directly out of my vibrant interest in digital humanities.  I do find, however, that the work in literary studies on digital scholarship and teaching lags well behind that in, say, history.  The research I do in the MJP archive will obviously make use of the primary resources available only through digitalization, but I propose to use meaningful technologies also in disseminating that research.  Specifically, I plan to use an active, specialized blog to record, cultivate, and share my ongoing pedagogical and professional work in the archive.  The “Looking for Whitman” project vaulted me from being a blog facilitator to a literary blogger, but with a voice largely distributed across my teaching blogs on UMWBlogs, so it is a job (identity?) that I hope to refine more intentionally in the next few years.

My reading thus far has focused on the field of periodical studies, especially in the Modernist period.  Some of the lead writers and editors of the little magazines churned out thousands of words of copy a week–reviews, manifestos, retorts, editorials, poems, stories.  Without the benefit of hyperlinks, periodicals engaged in elaborate cross-reference and dialogue. Was it less anxiety-producing to write for those modernist periodical writers, producing  language and ideas at such a tremendous rate that, even when undistracted by tweets, kiks, messages, alerts, vines, snapchats, it must have been nearly impossible to refine them, to feel secure about and committed to them?  (Okay, at least for everyone but Ezra, the Evil Godfather of Modernism.)

By nature the periodical challenges the sense of permanence that characterizes our widespread understanding of literature; it’s not just the bunk about timeless universality, but also the physicality of books. (Remember them?  That thing made of paper that the e-book is supposed to make extinct?  As one who festishes my books and also owns an e-reader, I frequently find that I download the books I don’t care if I “have forever”–see what I mean?)  Periodicals are to be read and recycled, replaced in quick succession by the next issue.  They are in waiting rooms, newsstands, mail boxes, art classes where they get cut up for collages.  Even literary periodicals like Poetry, begun by the bad ass Harriet Monroe, are focused on the contents of one issue and maybe give a tease about what to expect in the next issue.  The periodical is also a forward-looking genre, then, pitching itself through weeks or months, trying to keep its subscribers hooked for the next round.

crossroads of past and futureEven those with the funds to produce on thick paper or with stronger covers couldn’t have imagined that, a century later, the issues would be digitized cover to cover and made available to millions of potential readers– and furthermore, that the genre defined by impermanence and expectancy would be thereby transformed into an artifact, impervious to rot, ripe for study.  Permanent.

Like the little magazine, a blog follows a logic of periodicity and therefore of replacement.  People subscribe to blogs in anticipation of what is still to come.  Although blogs have archives, it is timeliness rather than timelessness that characterizes the genre.  And yet one never knows how the copy produced, how the language and ideas thus published and disseminated, will travel and live.  But the journey begins.

montblanc fountain pen