- Modernism Bound and Unbound
In Paradoxy of Modernism (2006) Robert Scholes argues for greater "immersion in the texts of the times" to produce a more nuanced understanding of what modernism was and why it emerged when and as it did. Among those texts that warrant closer examination are the magazines wherein modernism took shape, sought out its audiences, and found its many often conflicting assumptions to be espoused and debated. Modernism in the Magazines is therefore a logical extension and exemplification of Scholes's recent work; as he and his coauthor, Clifford Wulfman, explain: "the three decades leading up to 1922 constitute a period of intense experimentation and debate about the proper mode of artistic response to modernity. The debate was conducted mainly in periodicals." It is the intent of Modernism in the Magazines to make the reader feel the force and fruitfulness of that contention as well as of Ezra Pound's insistence that "you can't know an era merely by knowing its best." The book is not exactly what one might expect, however, for its agenda extends beyond modernism and modernist periodicals.
Scholes and Wulfman (the latter coordinates Princeton's Library Digital Initiatives and serves as technical advisor to the Modernist Journals Project) hope "to open up the way into modernist periodical studies" by demonstrating its usefulness and by outlining what needs to be done to assemble a searchable digital database in portable document format (PDF) of as many modern and specifically modernist periodicals in their entirety as possible, complete with indexing, introductions, and annotations. (How complete? Well, the first issue of Wyndham Lewis's Blast, available at www.modjourn. org, includes a PDF of the inside front cover, which is blank.) Modernism in the Magazines is, then, propaedeutic: meant to encourage participation in the building and use of this database, to suggest the avenues of research it will open, and to describe some of the materials waiting to be found. A fair amount of space is therefore devoted to technical matters and problems in need of solution.
Locating complete runs of periodicals is one of those problems, a difficulty exacerbated by the fact that many early twentieth-century magazines ran advertisements in the front and back of each issue, advertisements librarians routinely stripped before volumes were bound. This is a [End Page lxxxiii] problem because Scholes and Wulfman find the advertisements meaningful in several ways: they compete rhetorically with modernism's definition of itself while often mirroring a modernist aesthetic, and they highlight the ways in which modernist manifestos were themselves a form of advertising. Furthermore advertisements reveal much about the perceived audience of any given magazine, provide help in classifying periodicals (a task not nearly as simple as it might seem, as the authors are at pains to demonstrate), and do much to teach us "about the feel of a moment in our cultural history."
If advertisements are important to an understanding of cultural context, the visual art appearing in periodicals must be available as well if scholars can properly understand a magazine's aesthetic as it is articulated verbally. "Modernism," the authors observe, "can almost be defined as those visual and verbal texts that need manifestos and exegeses"; consequently ready access to the visual art is necessary to appreciate exactly what each periodical was supporting, for the defense of the visual arts in, say, La Revue blanche was not necessarily championing the same artists being boosted in Ford Madox Ford's English Review.
Because Modernism in the Magazines is meant less as an extended redefinition of modernism than as a suggestive introduction to the possibilities of periodical studies, Scholes and Wulfman develop their argument in several ways—not only devoting chapters to advertisements and visual art but also examining sample issues and sketching the careers of several influential editors whose tastes shaped both their magazines' contents and modernism itself. Scholes and Wulfman have selected Ezra Pound as "a thread that runs through all of these efforts" because, as editor, agitator, and essayist, "he had more to do with our present...