MagMods Questionnaire 3

The Magazine Modernisms Questionnaire is reviving a fascinating but largely neglected feature of modern and modernists magazines (see Lori Cole’s post).  Every few months we will feature a prominent scholar in periodical studies and pose the same three questions to them.

1.  How did periodicals become a part of your research and/or teaching?
2.  Why is it important to study and/or teach periodicals?
3.  What is the next step in periodical studies?

The first respondent to the questionnaire was Robert Scholes.  Our second respondent was Adam McKible.  It’s a real honor to have as our third subject, Sean Latham, Pauline Walter Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Tulsa, Editor of the James Joyce Quarterly and co-editor of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, and Director of the Modernist Journals Project.  He is the author or editor of five books and numerous articles on topics in modernism, cultural history, law, media, and the digital humanities. His books include The Art of Scandal: Modernism, Libel Law, and the Roman a Clef (2009) and Am I a Snob? Modernism and the Novel (2003).

1.  How did magazines become a part of your research and/or teaching?

Largely thanks to Bob Scholes.  Before the MJP took shape, I was vaguely interested in technology and modernism—and particularly the ways in which then still quite primitive digital tools could be used to move our understanding of modernism beyond the relatively small handful of texts that then largely constituted the canon.  While a graduate student at Modern Culture and Media, I began working—at Bob’s suggestion and on his dime—on what now seems an impossible project: the creation of an annotated index of all websites related to modernism in the arts.  This index was eventually overwhelmed, but it first got me involved with Bob, with digital technology, and ultimately the MJP.  When Bob proposed scanning some copies of the New Age, I was eager to begin the task and to design the repository that would hold this material.  The arduous process of scanning and correcting each page of the magazine was at once agonizing and astonishing. It required that I read the magazine carefully while thinking hard about its form and structure. It became apparent that the New Age was more than a repository of individual texts; it was instead a complex textual machine that had the potential to transform the way we understood modernism’s deep engagement with politics, the arts, economics, and the diverse array of other materials the magazine essayed each week.  It many ways, I found it a more compelling, more complex, and more generative object than great works like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake that had first drawn me to modernist studies.

2.  Why is it important to study and/or teach magazines?

In the early twentieth century, magazines were something like the internet of the age: a rapidly expanding new media that integrated text with image, created ever-shifting communities of readers, and offered a space to experiment with a material and cultural form that could move beyond the serial constraints of both books and film.  Thus, in addition to providing new resources for studying the history and culture of modernism, I think magazines also offer a largely overlooked prehistory of digital culture.  In my own work at the moment, I’m exploring the ways in which magazines act as what Espen Aarseth calls cybertexts: recursive and ergodic collections of text that depend for their meaning on an interactive engagement with readers.  New media, in other words, might not be so new as we think and thus modernism itself—an aesthetic movement rooted in the modern magazine—can still deeply inform and unsettle our own digital modernity.

3.  What is the next step in magazine studies?

There are, I think, two parallel tracks that need to be pursued.  The first is archival and it has been the mission of the MJP to try to recover magazines from the (sometimes literal) dustbin of the archive.  These things need to be properly cataloged, preserved, described, and digitized.  This means preserving the advertisements, learning what libraries actually hold (that is separating reprints or mutilated copies from genuine runs), and creating robust metadata and mark-up standards.  The second thing we need to do is recognize that magazines are not books—despite the fact that they often pass themselves off as such in bound codex form. If, as Jerome McGann argues in Radiant Textuality, “even now we hardly understand the complexity of that great social artifice we call ‘the book,’” then how much less we must know about magazines?  We are just now beginning to acquire the archival resources to answer such a question and it will have deep implications for our understanding not just of magazines but of textuality and digital culture more generally.

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