- Little Magazines & Modernism: New Approaches by Suzanne W. Churchill and Adam McKible
A pleasantly erudite collection, Little Magazines & Modernism: New Approaches begins in well-traveled terrain—the centrality of little magazines to the formation and development of the modernist aesthetic—but quickly enters more intriguing territory. The book's eleven essays situate the little magazines of the early 20th century not as foundational texts for modernism's development, which they certainly also were, but rather as lively, frequently contested zones of interaction and dialogue—venues for debate, for the issuing of manifestos, for the tentative formulation of and experimentation with racial and sexual identity in the 1920s and 1930s, and for vigorous arguments over what art could, should, or emphatically could not, accomplish in public life. Canonical figures like Eliot, H.D., and William Carlos Williams do appear, Williams most fully in Bruce Clarke's "Suffragism, Imagism, and the 'Cosmic Poet': Science and Spirituality in The Freewoman and The Egoist," a study of Dora Marsden's editorial work and its influence on political and cosmological thought among modernist writers. But the collection's best essays use the better-known writers and publications of early modernism mainly as points of departure for deeper and more creative examinations. The collection often returns to appreciations of the under-examined artist, the short-run publication, the now forgotten but nonetheless instructive tensions between writers and audiences.
Any "new approaches to" volume inevitably sacrifices some degree of depth of inquiry for breadth of coverage. Particularly in a collection which examines the diverse but rather fully canonized modernist movement, that breadth can sometimes leave an impression of hurried discussion, even where succinctness is an argumentative necessity. That said, Churchill and McKible's introduction frames the history of the little magazines' importance to modernism's development comprehensively, but concisely. The book's three sections, "Negotiations," "Editorial Practices," and "Identities," thereafter collect essays by several reliable scholars in the fields of modernist studies and media studies, most notably Jayne Marek and Robert Scholes. Moreover, in a pattern which seems to reveal a careful editorial approach, each essay begins with a situating of little magazines within a unique social and historical context—race and identity, the economics of publishing, literary [End Page 211] debate and scandal, etc.—so that the book reads as a cohesive cultural history despite its broad coverage. In every case, what links the contributors' often divergent approaches is an emphasis on little magazines as made things, cultural productions created by individuals and communities who knew one another, who knew one another's work, and who frequently criticized or outright attacked one another in the very pages which carried modernist writers into the literary marketplace.
This last element of Churchill and McKible's book makes it a welcome entry in modernist scholarship, a lively examination driven by stories of people and personalities rather than a dryly academic study. Proceeding from Ezra Pound's often-quoted essay "Small Magazines" in a 1930 number of The English Journal, the editors direct our attention to the collective spirit that provided the context for such divergent writers as Williams, Pound, and Marianne Moore to emerge in like-minded periodicals: "Where there is not the binding force of some kind of agreement . . . between three or four writers, it seems [improbable] that the need of a periodical really exists" (4). Still, as subsequent essays illustrate, frequently the most common "binding force" among modernist writers was a desire for community coupled with a resistance to assimilation into aesthetic movements—a trait often forgotten or dismissed in studies of canonical writers and magazines such as The Dial and The Little Review. Here, it serves as the central theme of the collection, and the resulting tension serves as the collection's narrative through-line.
Among the best of the essays examining this tension between modernist writers and the literary and publication communities they both needed and resisted, Tom Lutz's "The Cosmopolitan Midland and the Academic Writer." This offers a brief history of the nation's pre...