Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

First thoughts

I’m doing a PhD on McSweeney’s and need a way to get ideas out of my head without the pressure of it being ‘proper’ writing.

Hence this!

Today, I’ve been thinking about the viability of periodicals, specifically magazines. Inspired partly by this post, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about since even before starting my research (curiousity: when did my ‘research’ start? When I submitted my proposal to Goldsmiths? When I officially registered to start my MPhil? When I opened my first Scrivener document and set up folders for ‘Periodicals’, ‘Short Story Theory’, ‘The New Yorker’, etc? Or some less-definite date/time period when somewhere in my head I started thinking about why people buy McSweeney’s? All of the above really, but it makes my statement ‘before starting my research’ seem a bit redundant. Leaving it in, as a trace of my thought process.)

So, Orli Sharaby says:

Magazines – lumbering machines that move at a snails pace – are just not equipped to remain relevant in a world that moves at lightning pace.

Immediately there’s a difference in definition here, because I discuss periodicals more generally and Orli is specifically concerned with magazines. I discuss McSweeney’s in a tradition of literary periodicals, which in my account includes things like Harper’s and The New Yorker. The New Yorker in particular has become central to my work, because of the massive influence it had over a certain branch of American literature in the latter half of the twentieth century. The New Yorker has become phenomenally successful in recent years, after a dip from approx. 1980 through 1998. It has one million readers right now. But they don’t focus on literature as much. This has shifted elsewhere, to the small presses, from online magazines to university reviews. The audience for which is mostly self-contained, with little possibility of breaking outside of this and growing into new markets (careful of conflation of reading/consumption here!). McSweeney’s is interesting because it has broken out of this cycle, largely through innovation and a clever use of the internet. And through better content? This isn’t as clear, simply because I don’t yet have enough experience/familiarity with their ‘competitors’ to make that kind of qualitative judgement, if such a judgement should even be allowed (but seems appropriate to be able to make a subjective assessment of ‘quality’ and content if one uses criteria from existing criticism [though defining what criticism to use is also proving tricky, but more work in finding journals etc will help here])?

Actual in-depth consideration of all of this in my thesis proper, obv. This is just a note for me to come back to, and a reminder that I need to get a knowledge of things like n+1 that challenge the representation of American literature that McSweeney’s offers.

[For a later post: interrogating my personification of The New Yorker, and the problem of definition when discussing periodicals in criticism. What is a periodical?]

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