- The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, Volume 1: Britain and Ireland, 1880-1955
Judging from Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker's impressive, comprehensive, and attractively produced Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, Volume 1: Britain and Ireland, 1880-1955, Oxford's three-volume series on modernist magazines should earn a place among the major achievements of recent scholarship in book history: North Carolina's five-volume History of the Book in America, the seven-volume Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, and the Oxford Companion to the Book. If the printed book is dying, these series indicate [End Page 195] that, in its death throes, it is reaching a self-reflexive pinnacle.
Brooker and Thacker's book is also a significant contribution to modernist studies. Since the 1940s, the standard reference work on modernist little magazines has been Hoffman, Allen, and Ulrich's The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography, which did much to establish academic opinion about modernism. While Eliot's footnotes to The Waste Land and Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's Ulysses: A Study had constructed modernist works as coded messages to be deciphered, Hoffman's book asserted that the most important contextual facts about modernist works were the magazines in which—and the elite groups among whom—they were circulated. Together, these works depict modernism as a hermetic movement aimed at a coterie. While this was broadly true, it oversimplified the actual dynamics of the time. Admirable later work (particularly Hugh Ford's Published in Paris, Houston Baker Jr.'s Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and Shari Benstock's Women of the Left Bank) expanded the picture of who was involved in producing and distributing modernism.
Brooker and Thacker's volume goes far beyond Hoffman's in its purview and theoretical approach, and it manifests particularly the influence of the "materialist turn" taken in modernist studies through the 1980s and 1990s. In works like Black Riders and The Textual Condition, Jerome McGann called readers' attention to the "bibliographic codes"—typography, layout, binding, paper—of modernist books, and George Bornstein, in Material Modernisms, insisted that "bibliographic and contextual codes change the meaning of [a] poem, even though the words remain the same." Excavating the economic and cultural context in which modernist publications circulated, Lawrence Rainey argued that modernism was not as anti-commercial or "counter-public" as many of its participants would have proclaimed, and in The Public Face of Modernism Mark Morrisson detailed such contexts for five different modernist magazines.
Collecting entries on almost one hundred little magazines by thirty-eight scholars, this Critical and Cultural History updates and augments the story of modernist magazines by employing this materialist approach. As such, it makes an argument about how to understand modernist magazines and, by extension, modernism as a whole: texts are not just texts, but utterances that gain as much meaning by their context and "periodical codes" as by the words themselves. This volume, and presumably the two to follow, will continue the materialist rewriting of the history of modernism that has been in progress for three decades.
Apart from applying a materialist lens to modernist journals, Brooker and Thacker's other major interpretive judgments come through the journals they choose to include and how they group the essays on those journals. Modernism is commonly understood to have proceeded [End Page 196] through a set of separate stages, from late-nineteenth-century radical avant-garde to 1930s establishment, and the present volume upholds that conclusion. For the most part, the book is chronological, beginning in 1849 and concluding with World War II-era magazines. By including a chapter on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood's magazine the Germ, a magazine whose contents were certainly not "modernist," Brooker and Thacker argue that the magazine prefigured modernism as it embodied "an altered situation where a magazine could serve the cause of art alone or, more precisely, the aesthetic taste and principles of a coterie" (31). Similarly...