Is the Magazine a Hard Drive?

Over at Mimeo/Mimeo, there’s an interesting post arguing that if our aim is to understand the magazine as a medium we make a mistake when we focus too much on the single page or article.  Drawing on Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms:  New Media and the Forensic Imagination, Jed Birmingham argues that we can make an analogy in which screen:hard dive as page:magazine, or as he puts it:

The little magazine is first and foremost a storage technology.  The focus is not the individual page but the totality of its contents.  Thus the little magazine is not just a single screenshot or an isolated moment in space and time but a library, museum, or archive of poems, stories, essays, paintings, photographs documenting a multitude of spaces and times, which in turn alter depending on when, where and how they are read.

I’m in accord with much of the argument here–particularly with the need to go beyond the page and close reading–but am not sure that hard drive is quite right, since the hard drive records in a digital format that is importantly not readable by humans, and I don’t think that magazines are first and foremost storage technologies.  That they can become such technologies certainly matters, but I think that it’s their dedication to the present rather than to posterity that marks one of the differences between magazines and books.

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3 responses to “Is the Magazine a Hard Drive?

  1. Good comment. I understand the where the idea of the magazine as a hard drive comes from, as I also understand your comment regarding the magazine’s dedication to the present. And in many ways, magazines, through their particular form, offer valuable diachronic perspectives. But what’s still missing from both those descriptions is an acknowledgment of the magazine’s ability to sustain dialogues and dynamics with similar, contemporaneous publications. The “conversations” that take place among publications, at least in the heyday of modernism, also set the magazine apart from other forms, like the novel.

    • Thanks, Rosvita. I couldn’t agree more about the capacity for magazines to open up and sustain dialogues, dynamics, and disagreements among contributions to a single issue, those published across the run of a magazine, and, as you point out, those published in contemporaneous magazines. That’s why I think we need network analysis as a way to get our heads around the ways magazines work and the work they do. I should have some more on this topic next week in a piece or two on The Freewoman, The New Freewoman, and The Egoist.

  2. Yes, James, you’re absolutely right, and that’s what I’m striving for, too. I’m currently working on an article that speaks to the need to track debates through and across the little magazines and for developing a technology to do so. Anything has to be more efficient than my growing collection of mappings on One NoteI I look forward to reading your upcoming work and will keep an eye out for it.

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