Dynamics of the Printed Page: Representing the Nation in the Illustrated London News by Peter W. Sinnema (review)
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Reviews Peter W. Sinnema. Dynamics of the PrintedPage: Representing theNation in the IllustratedLondon News (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 219, $76.25. At the very beginning of Dynamics of thePrintedPage, Peter Sinnema informs his readers that many of his "presuppositions fall broadly into the field of Marxist or ideological criticism" so he will "follow a particular thread in an ongoing materialist discourse that is of value to an astute engagement with a specific illustrated periodical" (e.g., the IllustratedUndon News, or ILN) (3). Readers should take this information quite seriously. The book is heavily dosed with ideological approaches; readers who have litde patience with the critical apparatus of Marxism, materialism, deconstruction, and the French fragments of the 80s and 90s will spend much of their time arguing aloud with Sinnema. On the other hand, readers who do ascribe to those theoretical approaches will find Dynamics to be a valuable window on the ILN and certain aspects of mid-century Victorian society. Sinnema announces in his introduction that he is attempting to "break with the bibliographic tradition by apprehending Victorian periodicals as discursive and ideological entities" (2). Thus, instead of treating the ILN as a secondary source to support some kind of primary argument (the public reception of a writer, say, or the quasiliberal , newspaper-reading public's position in relation to prisons or paupers), he treats the ILN as discourse itself. The task he sets himself requires extended discussion of three questions: • "How is the IEN vitally productive of, as well as constituted in, ideology?" • "How does its innovative format aid in this production?" 116volume 27 number 1 Reviews • "How does publication on a mass scale subordinate the individual and his or her 'art' or writing to time constraints (the deadline) and the prerogatives of capital?" (2) While variations on those three questions have been posed and answered by scholars for the last several years, Sinnema's is the first attempt that I am aware of to pose and answer the questions ideologically. That he does so successfully is more a tribute to his ability to break out of his highly technical rhetoric and, especially in the last three chapters, address his three issues in light of the context in which the ILN appeared rather than exclusively through ideology. His key concern is, of course, the illustrations; who does them? How? Under whose orders? Why do the illustrations include some matter and exclude others? Why are certain points of view selected? How do the illustrations interact with the text? Ultimately, how do the illustrations contribute to what he calls "the Newspaper's underlying urge to fabricate a national identity?" (8) In his Introduction and first three chapters, he poses and answers these questions in an ideological rather than a historical or bibliographic context. In his last three chapters and his Epilogue, he continues to examine the questions ideologically, but this time adds a cultural context. The general reader will find this last half of the book to be considerably more helpful than the first half, if for no other reason than that Sinnema's ideological structure in the first half prods him into making simple questions far too complex, and theorizing answers to his questions that bear litde relationship to context (see his answers to such questions as: Why were foreign artists used? Why was a particular point of view chosen for the illustrations of Pentonville Prison? Why the consistent point of view for train accidents?) The strength of this book is its close examination of the ILN, a periodical that would become a central artifact of the Victorian era. Sinnema examines the fictions and poetry as well as the news articles, the paper's self-aggrandizing advertisements for itself, the effect of illustration on text (and vice versa). He examines the ZLJVs treatment of central cultural events of the day (The Duke of Wellington's Victorian Review117 Reviews Funeral, railway accidents) and discusses their larger message about Victorian assumptions. The weaknesses include the occasions that he allows his theory to construct some rather obscure statements ("As a category of facticity, for example, 'news' might be troubled, scrutinized and put into play" [9]), and as noted above, the occasions when his...


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