Bookslut recently posted a piece by Greer Mansfield praising the Modernist Journals Project and modernist little magazines. “We Will Convert the King if Possible: The Greatness of Little Magazines” is an interesting read. It’s more evidence of the reach of little magazines and the MJP beyond academia and the uses to which they can be put. Mansfield (a nice name for someone writing about modernist magazines!) uses the discussion as an occasion to blast the parochialism and homogeneity of what he calls “American book-chat culture.”
What is striking in these old Modernist magazines, aside from the roll call of their famous contributors? Mainly that they have very little in common with prominent literary magazines in today’s English-speaking world. There is no gee-whiz tweeness (surely you can find your own examples without too much trouble), no senile genteelism (ditto), no forced jokiness, no desperation on the part of the authors to prove that they’re good guys and gals who aren’t necessarily smarter than anyone else and maybe want to be your best friend.
I wonder if the “niceness” of contemporary literary magazine/blog culture is any less desperate than or even all that different from the combativeness of modernism, since both can be diagnosed as simply playing the rules of the game in the struggle for cultural and symbolic capital, etc. But that isn’t the subject of this post.
What interests me is the reference to the “famous contributors” above and below: Continue reading