Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Repurposing and the Literary Magazine

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Repurposing and the Literary Magazine

Article excerpt

WILLIAM MAGINN, WRITING AS ENSIGN O'DOHERTY IN ONE OF THE FINEST of the Noctes Ambrosianae, offers this assessment of the success of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine:

People have learnt the great lesson, that Reviews, and indeed all
periodicals, merely qua such, are nothing. They take in his book not as
a Review, to pick up opinions of new books from it, nor as a
periodical, to read themselves asleep upon, but as a classical work,
which happens to be continued from month to month. (1)

The implication here--that literary magazines such as Blackwood's should be objects of study in their own right, and that they constitute something of a genre in themselves--is a suggestive one. (2) In this essay I would like to extend this argument by examining the relation between literary magazines and the literary work they consider. More specifically I will take up the question of how such magazines refashion the novel, poetry, drama, and the essay. (3)

Put another way, I argue that Blackwood's continual (and admittedly self-serving) assertions of primacy in the literary world are worth serious consideration, and that more neutral and conventional claims about the relation of the magazine to literature--such as those articulated (but, as we shall see, not always followed) in the London Magazine by its editor John Scott--are inadequate. Scott's careful insistence on tracing in his magazine what he calls, quoting Hamlet, the "form and pressure" of the time does not do justice to the force and influence of literary magazines on literary production. (4) In fact, the overstatement characteristic of Blackwood's points to a deeper truth: that the relation between the magazine and other literary forms is dialectical, not simply mimetic. Magazines like Blackwood's, to borrow a phrase from media studies, remediate material from these genres. (5)

In their cogent account of new media, Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin define remediation as "the representation of one medium in another. " (6) Although their focus is on the relation of digital media to earlier forms, they note their debt to the intense interest of literary critics in the refashioning of material within literature--to what we might now term "old-fashioned" studies of influence. In adapting their terminology and analysis to the borderline case of literature and the literary magazine, we can recognize some of our "rejected thoughts" returning to us with the "alienated majesty" that Emerson speaks of in "Self-Reliance." For in considering periodicals as a medium distinct from novels or collections of poems, we need only consider their differing cultural, social, and economic relationships, and especially the relations they cultivate with their audience. As Bolter and Grusin put it: "A medium is that which remediates. It is that which appropriates the techniques, forms and social significance of other media and attempts to rival them or refashion them in the name of the real"--the "real" here being the rapidly growing middle-class reading public of the first quarter of the nineteenth century in Britain and the concomitant expansion of the market for books. (7)

There are, to Bolter and Grusin, two modes of remediation. A newer medium might make its bid for attention and an audience by emphasizing its transparency, that is, by denying its status as medium in delivering the content of another medium. But it might also work by emphasizing its newness and difference, through the rhetoric of hypermedia, and by making us aware of the medium itself. The end of each appeal is immediacy, although admittedly of very different kinds. But whatever the nature of the address, the relation is ultimately dialectical: the newer medium always puts pressure on existing media, ultimately forcing them to change. According to Bolter and Grusin, "we understand media through the ways in which they challenge and reform other media." (8)


The December 1819 review of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe in Blackwood's exemplifies the transparent mode of remediation. …

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