Lit Mag History

Reissuing: How Jacket2 Is Saving Literary Magazine History

by Posted on October 15th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Reissues Screen Shot

Danny Snelson and company have the most exciting ongoing digital archive project for literary magazines going on at Jacket2—titled, appropriately, Reissues. Reissues directly tackles the biggest problem in contemporary literary magazine readership and scholarship: historical access.

A big problem with 20th century (read: pre-internet) literary magazines is access. Literary magazines reasonably strive to be both timely and timeless—so that then, unlike novels, new issues are constantly eclipsing previous issues, which then disappear from public bookstores and many private bookshelves. Literary magazines are by definition in a constant state of self-replacement. And this “vanishing” problem is no doubt more dire in the independent, avant-garde periodical world, where magazines—and so their archives—lack the longevity offered from institutional support. And of course before literary publishing was common on the internet, there was almost certainly no digital life for these publications accessible online.

Enter the archivists. Literary magazine archiving of older publications is happening, though most of the work is being done by companies like JSTOR and Project Muse, which, perhaps understandably, keep their lit mag archives locked tightly behind a paywall. And the great open-access people at MJP, Pulp Mags, and elsewhere can only do so much, and—more importantly in the context of Reissues—work only with public domain publications, most if not all published before 1923.

All of which is why the Reissues project is so exciting: Reissues is creating an open-access digital archive of what seem to be all independent and avant-garde poetry periodicals from throughout the 20th century. (Only a tiny portion of one archive so far is obviously public domain material.) In other words, periodicals that might otherwise have been lost to the limited accessibility of print material and the cannibalizing nature of the periodical marketplace are finding a new readership.

Here’s Reissues’s own statement on the project:

Jacket2 Reissues is an archival platform for magazines committed to poetry and poetics. We publish fully searchable facsimile PDF editions, scanned in high resolution and organized with bookmarked content. Reissues places a stable collection of complete magazines in dialogue with the ongoing publication patterns of the website.

And here’s project leader Snelson putting the Reissues project into context with similar archival projects in existance:

Reissues is inspired by archival platforms ranging from Eclipse and UbuWeb to The Modernist Journals Project and The International Dada Archive. Just as Jacket2 is built upon the preservation of forty issues of John Tranter’s Jacket magazine, Reissues seeks to re-present periodicals in conversation with contemporary issues in poetics.

Not only has Reissues already made available digital copies of such timeless, hallmark literary publications such as Gorham Munson’s Seccession and Osman & Spahr’s Chain, with many more publications on the way (Antennae, Crayon, Vanishing Cab, and more), but they have added a platform alongside these digital publishing events with selected notes, interviews, and other commentary in order to demonstrate the complications inherent in “re-present[ing]” such works:

This commentary considers broader currents in the practice of transcoding—generally understood as the processes of translation operating between analog artifacts and networked objects. Turning to online archives like Eclipse and The Modernist Journals Project, it reflects on the means and modes of understanding periodical culture from a database perspective. At the same time, these transcoded periodicals are investigated for what they might tell us about contemporary poetics and networked practices.

Snelson and the staff at Reissues are not just exposing moments in the historical conversation of literature, but instead critically assessing how the re-coding of this conversation onto a new hyper-networked medium necessarily alters and informs the presentation and interpretation of it. How literature speaks and how we hear it. And I’ll certainly be listening.