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  • On the Uses of Seriality for Modern Periodical Studies:An Introduction
  • Matthew Levay (bio)

I should acknowledge, at the outset of this special issue, the irony of devoting an entire installment of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies to seriality. Like "covers," "pages," or "words," the concept of "seriality" would seem to be at stake in nearly every article published in the journal, an absolutely fundamental aspect of periodicals that touches upon any work that one could consider within the JMPS's purview. With the exception of those little magazines that folded after a single issue, we might consider seriality the defining feature of all periodicals; signaling in its name a temporal pattern of production and consumption, the periodical is a material object born from the logic of seriality. It is constituted by the regular (and occasionally irregular) appearance of successive installments, the links and gaps that emerge between the form and content of those installments, and the ability of readers to devote the time necessary for repeated, continuous reading in order to possess a coherent sense of a periodical's identity or ethos. Even those periodicals that disappeared before producing a second issue tell us something about seriality, and about the promise of futurity and continuation upon which some periodicals can never deliver, but to which they almost always aspire. The periodical, as a form, is designed to occur and recur, developing through the serial accumulation of its component parts, and gathering force through repeated production and consumption.

Yet, as the essays collected in this issue powerfully attest, to say that modern periodicals operate according to the logic of seriality is not at all [End Page v] to state the obvious. Whether we refer to annual or daily publications, to periodicals whose contents openly reference their own serial appearance or present indirect evidence of it, seriality marks the periodical as a continually evolving form, paradoxically repeating itself while at the same time becoming something new. What this means in practice is that seriality does not, and indeed cannot operate transparently, or equally, within all periodical forms, or within the minds of readers. Readers can consume individual issues of periodicals out of sequence or ignore some installments altogether, while writers, editors, and designers can either highlight or disregard the precedents set in previous issues. Formats can be revamped, regular features discontinued, and printers fired or hired, in ways that shake the continuity of the periodical as a serial object. Moreover, seriality need not be defined wholly within the material terms of production and consumption, and in that sense might offer an explicitly theoretical complement to the historical and archival imperatives of current scholarship in modern periodical studies. If, for Sartre, seriality referenced the alienated social collective, loosely organized around a passive receptivity to everyday conditions—as he puts it in his Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), a series "is a mode of being for individuals both in relation to one another and in relation to their common being"—then how can periodical studies, with its emphasis on the recurrent interactions between individuals and periodical texts, chart new paths for understanding modern social formations and the routines that define them?1 How can periodicals help us productively revisit the "bound" and "unbound" serialities that Benedict Anderson posited as constitutive features of nationalism, ethnicity, and governmental praxis?2 These queries and others point to an even more fundamental question, which lies at the core of this special issue: how exactly does seriality inflect a periodical, and how can that inflection reverberate beyond its pages?

What these questions suggest is, first, that it is far easier to generate questions than answers when it comes to seriality, and, second, that this fact is probably more productive to the field of periodical studies than its alternative. Given the myriad manifestations of seriality within and around periodicals, this state of affairs is likely inevitable. If seriality as a concept connotes multiple meanings—much in the way that Raymond Williams understood a critical keyword as simultaneously denoting a standard definition while also suggesting a set of connotations in the process of being used outside of a specialized discourse—then critics should set as their first task the...


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