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 to 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?