- Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction
Because of their key roles in the Modernist Journals Project (among many other accomplishments), Robert Scholes and Clifford Wulfman loom large over periodical studies, and Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction is a signal moment in the development of this field. Scholes and Wulfman pursue an ambitious agenda. They frame their text with a chapter arguing for Ezra Pound's centrality to periodical studies and an appendix that reprints a series of essays about magazines Pound wrote for the New Age in 1917-18. The heart of the book explores a number of issues important to modernist periodical studies: the relationship of modernism to modernity during an era dominated by print; the current status of the periodicals archive, with special attention to the "hole" created by the excision of magazine advertising sections; and the evolving role—and practical advice about—the uses of digitization. In sum, they show us how to read, study, and categorize magazines with greater care and specificity.
Valuable insights abound. "Modernity and the Rise of Modernism" offers a pellucid discussion of the intertwined development of modernity, print culture, and modernism, which should prove extremely useful in the classroom. The authors also establish helpful criteria for studying magazines, supplying guidelines on how to collect, organize, and write about periodicals. Their discussions of visual modernism provide excellent demonstrations of how to read magazine advertisements and explain why we must learn to read modernist art in conjunction with print culture. And, of course, Scholes and Wulfman illustrate the utility of digitization to periodical studies through sustained readings of a variety of magazines. Particularly strong is the chapter drawing from the MJP's collection of magazine issues published right around the time Virginia Woolf declared that modernity began "on or about December 1910."
Modernism in the Magazines will undoubtedly become required reading in modernist periodical studies, but the book also makes claims requiring further scrutiny. First, because of copyright laws, the MJP only offers magazines published before 1923, and so Scholes and Wulfman "must make a virtue of a necessity and recognize 1922 as an important landmark in modernism." Their assertion that this date "did not mark the end of modernism, of course, but [End Page 107] it may be said to mark the beginning of the end" is troublesome (209). If periodical scholarship drops off after 1922, definitions of modernism cannot accommodate, for example, much of William Faulkner or the Harlem Renaissance—and these are only two examples. Digitization could very well lead to a generation of research limited to exploring online resources at the expense of both archival work and a chronologically expansive (and more historically accurate) understanding of modernism. There is simply no virtue to claiming 1922 as an endpoint for anything.
Scholes and Wulfman also insist on a top-down model for future projects. Asserting that digitization "doesn't have to be a tightly coordinated effort," they claim that it will nonetheless "benefit enormously from a common set of standards and practices." They write: "Scholars should resist the temptation to engage in amateur digitization practices. They may put a lot of work into producing something that will not be very useful to the scholarly community as a whole. But there are many other tasks besides producing actual digital reproductions that can contribute to the enterprise" (220). This argument is highly problematic. It denigrates the valuable contributions made online by scores of amateurs and enthusiasts, and it makes the authors' subsequent claim—that, "like much scholarship, these digital editions can grow organically" (221)—sound hollow, indeed.
Modernism in the Magazines also argues that digitization undoes previous categorizations of periodicals, most particularly little magazines: "[We] must learn to stop talking, writing, and thinking as if the category of 'little magazines' represented something real in the textual world. It is a dream category" (60). This assertion would be more convincing if the authors did not continue to use these words in exactly the same terms as the ones they dismiss or if a hasty search of the New...