- Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and U.S. Modernism by Mary Chapman, and: Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance by Ellen Gruber Garvey
For the scholar of modern periodical studies, Making Noise, Making News and Writing with Scissors—both books that feature action and disruption in their very titles—show what can be done with print culture beyond the bounds of the periodical. Indeed, Mary Chapman and Ellen Gruber Garvey show us what could be done with print culture, not merely by contemporary media scholars, but by its contemporaneous readers who in turn became writers through their engagement with the text and the medium. Suffragists cut and pasted newspaper columns about their speaking engagements to trace their evolving public personae (Gruber Garvey); an African American janitor preserved a historical archive of urban newspapers that lawyers and journalists consulted for evidence (Gruber Garvey); suffragists mimicked the typographical strategies of “loud” newspapers in placards in [End Page 85] shop windows and banners held in front of the White House (Chapman). These two books depict, both in historical reclamation and in literary analysis, the way that particular publics repurpose print culture and make it a medium for their own urgent voices.
Both critics attend to the literary dimensions of this recirculation (genre, irony, ventriloquism, dialogue) as well as to the material idiom of cutting and pasting (Garvey’s archive of scrapbooks) or copying and displaying (Chapman’s suffragist performances). In Writing with Scissors, Garvey tackles the understudied archive of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century scrapbooks in order to interpret their strategies of juxtaposition and recirculation, seeing in them strong antecedents to our own technological and cultural moment of memes and social media. In Making Noise, Making News, Chapman studies a diverse archive of cultural forms—from silent suffrage tableaux to Stein’s modernist opera, The Mother of Us All—in order to unpack the ways in which modern print culture served as a tool as well as a symbolic medium for suffragist women trying to interpolate themselves into the public sphere and remap its coordinates. Chapman and Garvey share an enviable proficiency with the archive, balancing exhaustive investigation with illustrative examples, historical contextualization with formal nuance and theoretical range.
One of Garvey’s most evocative and politically probing chapters investigates the perishability of scrapbooks, the earlier critical-theoretical sense of their cultural irrelevance, and the resulting institutional protocols that made it less likely that these counter-archives (such as the amassments of black history that she describes in her Harlem Renaissance chapter) would survive. Garvey notes not only the scrapbook maker’s irreverence for previous hallmarks of literary or historical pertinence (titles, names, dates, original publication), but even messier matters—the gluey, folded forms of the scrapbook page, its tendency to spring back at the reader, to lose some of its texture and much of its significance when its pages are leveled for easier storage and neater sorting. As Garvey writes: “The vernacular, decentralized archives that scrapbook makers created in their homes are a far more democratic form than institutional archives, museums, or repositories. Few people can buy parts of old cloisters or collect rare books, but almost anyone can scissor the newspaper and make a scrapbook from clippings” (209); yet, “the gap between the power of the scrapbook maker to clip the newspaper and make an archive of those clippings, and the difficulties of seeing that unique collection preserved within the powerful, [End Page 86] three-dimensional archive that can offer preservation, access, and cataloging, is especially dramatic” for marginalized groups (213).
Garvey’s sense that the scrapbook tends to fall outside of institutional protocols of sorting and filing and that this very untidiness reflects its political importance and its formal flexibility parallels Chapman’s argument that suffragists broke through the supposedly rational discourse of the public sphere with the noisy—typographically and aurally—strategies...