- Preface to "Contemporary Seriality: A Roundtable"
though seriality broadly defined is as old as the human capacity to experience a sequence, serialization had its first big bang in the nineteenth century with the advent of cheap paper and the arrival of such celebrity serialists as Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, and many others whose names we no longer remember. At the turn of the millennium, when groundbreaking HBO shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire triggered a new wave of critically acclaimed and commercially successful serials, a new consciousness of seriality was bound to emerge.
If, then, serialization is as old as the Victorians, while HBO's much-ballyhooed golden age is already at its ebb, what can possibly be new in seriality studies almost two decades into the twenty-first century? Sean O'Sullivan and I contemplated this question when, at the invitation of Eileen Gillooly, we convened a one-day symposium, "The New Seriality Studies," for Columbia University's Heyman Center for the Humanities, on September 23, 2016. There were, to be sure, any number of new dimensions fueling the ongoing explosion of serial forms: new streaming platforms vying with cable; podcasts injecting a new audio element both inside and beyond the conventional broadcasting of radio; the rampant colonization of the Hollywood blockbuster by recurring characters grafted from comics; and a new cult of bingeing countering the hebdomadal and seasonistic tempos of so-called quality television. Clearly technology and commerce were once again helping to redefine conditions of possibility as they had in the nineteenth century. [End Page 107]
Though it was clear to us that we neither could nor should anticipate our invited speakers in identifying the "new" in the "new seriality studies," we were equally certain that such invitees must not be academics alone. Scholars of the nineteenth century remind us that The Pickwick Papers began in 1836 as a series of sketches. By the end of its run, its success had not only transformed the young Charles Dickens into a new kind of literary superstar; it had also unveiled a delivery model for producing narrative art with mass appeal. Our vision from the start was to include a capstone panel featuring protagonists on the front lines of crafting and responding to serial material—creators and critics making, improvising, and encountering art on a fixed schedule, in the manner of Dickens's career-launching fiction. We were delighted to find that Lev Grossman, A. O. Scott, and Julie Snyder shared our interest in staging a conversation about their experiences, and we remain grateful to Sharon Marcus for helping them to pull it off with such dazzling aplomb. [End Page 108]
Lauren M. E. Goodlad is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Rutgers. Her recent publications include The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic: Realism, Sovereignty, and Transnational Experience (Oxford), Worlding Realisms (a special issue of Novel), and the co-edited Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, and Style in the 1960s (Duke). Her research on the long afterlives of nineteenth-century genres includes "Bigger Love" in the Fall 2017 issue of New Literary History.