Mag Memories: D.M. Black

In our next inky recollection, D.M. Black looks back on a prodigious stack of poetry magazines and cultural reviews.

For more memories, and to share your own, please come along to our online event on 12 May.


Curious to look back over this great gulf of time to the 1960s-to-1980s when I was involved, sometimes very involved, with Scottish magazines. I remember above all Alan Riddell’s Lines Review, Duncan Glen’s Akros, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Poor. Old. Tired. Horse, Bob Tait’s Scottish International, Joy Hendry’s Chapman. Later of course it was Robin Fulton’s Lines Review.

Issues of Lines Review edited (L-R) by Sydney Goodsir Smith (1955),
Robin Fulton (1972), William Montgomerie (1978), Tessa Ransford (1996)

I myself (with the help of a friend with a talent for design, Patrick Taylor) briefly edited five issues of a quarterly magazine, Extra Verse, while I was a student at Edinburgh University. I had inherited it from someone in Birmingham, and passed it on to Barry Cole in London, so it makes little showing in the annals of Scotland. But it published some good poems by Robert Garioch, Edwin Morgan, George MacBeth, George Mackay Brown, Crae Ritchie, Robin Fulton and others, not to mention an entire issue devoted to a Festschrift for Ian Hamilton Finlay.

One thing that was very striking in those days was how unpretentious many of the best Scottish writers were! I am startled, as I write out that list, that such competent and ambitious poets were willing to publish in a more or less completely invisible magazine, and it suggests an informality and friendliness that, at the time, I took for granted, but in retrospect find deeply attractive.

My impression is that this blog is seeking precursors for Scottish nationalism, and of course we still had the tumultuous presence of Hugh MacDiarmid to steer us in that direction.  All the magazines I have mentioned were strongly biased toward “Scotland” in a cultural sense, and even I, an immigrant at the age of 8 from the British Empire, as I became acculturated in Scotland developed a prejudice against the south-east-of-England literary scene that it took many years to overcome (perhaps even now, after many years of living in London, it is still not wholly eroded). Scottish writers tended to look in every direction except England. Poor. Old. Tired. Horse, probably the most truly international of them all, published adventurous work from Austria, Iceland, France, the US… Ian Hamilton Finlay was too truly a rebel to submit to any orthodoxy, even that of Scottish nationalism; he feuded joyfully and comically with MacDiarmid, and finally established Little Sparta to celebrate his chronic war against the Athens of the North. For all that, he was profoundly Scottish and his magazine to my mind always had a lovely echo of his wonderful and insinuating accent.

I would say, impressionistically, that things changed in the late 1960s; prior to that time, the “nationalism” was mainly cultural. We were living the Dream, in Scott Hames’s term, and the Grind had not yet begun. (Winifred Ewing’s victory at the Hamilton by-election in 1967 changed all that.) The founding of Scottish International in 1968 was an important moment. I had known Bob Tait quite well as a student (he had edited a small magazine called Feedback – appropriately green, as he remarked), and was both surprised and pleased when he suddenly shot to prominence as one of the three editors, shortly to become the main editor, of this major new initiative by the Scottish Arts Council. I was by then away from Edinburgh, either in London or living at Findhorn, and could never make sense of the political hostilities around the magazine – MacDiarmid’s hostility to the project, in particular, and also Tom Scott’s. I assume now it was because the Dream was being taken over by the Grind, and the extravagance of some of MacDiarmid’s positions – his theatrical “Stalinism”, for example – was being marginalised by the attempt of others to think realistically about ordinary political concerns.

Bob, I think, was too young to be quite able to cope with the pressures he came under.  He had his own strong socialist views (he was less interested in the “Scottish tradition”, and more fascinated by the modern world – he had a great admiration for the Canadian pioneer of media studies, Marshall McLuhan), and he allowed these views increasingly to dominate the magazine, which really needed, if it was to justify its expensive Arts Council backing, to be able to stand back and give hospitality to a wider range of positions. It became more “political”, and less “literary”, and the roles of Bob’s nominal co-editors, Edwin Morgan and Robert Garioch – probably not roles in which either of those sensitive men could flourish – drifted into ineffective “adviser”-ships. In 1973 Bob was ousted, and his position was taken over briefly by Tom Buchan.

Lines, Akros, and Chapman, were all longer-lived and more clear in their focus. Lines and Akros were both predominantly literary: Lines was subsidised by the printer and publisher Callum Macdonald, and presented itself with his sobriety and simplicity (a shy, friendly man, he was also the printer of my own Extra Verse). I thought of Lines as Scotland’s “premier” poetry magazine, perhaps because it was so long-running (it had been founded in 1952) and appeared so reliably. While Robin Fulton (now Robin Fulton Macpherson) was editor, I published two collections in the Lines Review Editions series, but doubted my wisdom later as they received little publicity even within Scotland, and none at all outside it. This of course was the backside of Scottish amiability: the magazines were very hospitable to young writers, but poets who were a bit savvy about building a larger reputation, like Norman MacCaig, knew they had to find publication outside of Scotland.

I look back on Akros with particular pleasure. Duncan Glen was passionately committed to Scottish writing (and wrote well himself, in a lightly accented Scots); rather surprisingly, he lived in England, in Preston, and when I did an MA at Lancaster university I visited him there on several occasions: he was always extremely generous and supportive. I have a sense of owing him many debts, and he was willing to publish lengthy pieces, both of poetry and prose, that few magazines would have entertained. I once thanked him for publishing my very long poem ‘The Hands of Felicity’ with ‘almost miraculous accuracy’. He at once bowed out of the firing line and credited his wife, Margaret: she was Akros‘s meticulous proof-reader.  Lines (under Robin Fulton), and Akros too, both had a sense of responsibility with regard to publishing reviews, and keeping abreast of new writing. This is a most important function, especially in a small country like Scotland where criticism, as a serious activity, was often sidelined in favour of partisanship (MacDiarmid too often setting the example).

Chapman, founded in 1970 by Walter Perrie and others, but edited for most of its life by Joy Hendry, probably managed best of all the tension between literature and political issues. It was unmistakably “Scottish”, but was also able to address very directly matters to do with feminism and other social and cultural issues. One issue was entitled “Woven by Women”. An issue in 1983 was headlined “The state of Scotland: the predicament of the Scottish writer”, and asked very directly what it meant, for better or worse, for a writer to be Scottish: is it “a predicament or a blessing?” It was notable that by then the tone had changed: Scottish nationalism had moved on both from the simplicities of the Dream and the obsessionality of the Grind: most contributors were thinking practically and the intermediate notion of “devolution” had entered the discussion.

I look back on all these magazines with great gratitude, for the hospitality they offered me, and also with considerable admiration, for the genuine seriousness and the high aspirations of their editors and backers. They represented both a community and a context in which excellent and characterful writers could develop, and the larger topics, to do with “Scotland” and its characteristics, could be debated. And I notice I haven’t even mentioned that witty and admirable poet, Alan Jackson, whose sardonic essay on “The Knitted Claymore” (Lines Review, 1971) introduced some welcome comedy into the conversation. The word community is what I would now emphasise: these magazines were the vehicles of a very warm and idiosyncratic community – quite a coherent national “culture”, but with no sense, to my feeling, of the gravitational pull of a political party-line.


D.M. Black is a Scottish writer and psychoanalyst based in London. He has published seven collections of poetry, several pamphlets, and has written extensively on poets of the Scottish Renaissance. More recently he has written about Dante in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and Los Angeles Review of Books. His translation and commentary on Dante’s Purgatorio will appear later this year in the New York Review of Books Classics series.

Mag Memories: The Day I Received a Death Threat

Ahead of our public launch event on 5 May, we’ll be running a number of blogs and podcasts sharing the memories of magazinists.  To start us off, Prof Alistair McCleery offers a behind-the-scenes tour of how many Scottish magazines have been funded.


Is this thing on? Will I start?

The Scottish Arts Council, which had been established in 1967, in an early example of devolution from the overarching Arts Council of Great Britain, had a clear mission to promote cultural creation and reception across the nation. When I first became involved with it in 1988, the Literature Department was headed by the erudite and humane Walter Cairns and its Literature Committee was chaired by the energetic and diplomatic Deirdre Keaney. New projects flowed from their passion: the Edinburgh Book Festival, the Canongate Classics series, and the Scottish Poetry Library. Walter and Deirdre were both primarily responsible for the commissioning of the 1989 readership survey that in turn led to a number of key initiatives such as ‘Now Read On’ and ‘Readiscovery’.


And magazines?

I was coming to that. But you need to understand the culture Walter and Deirdre, and later (from 1996) Gavin Wallace and Derry Jeffares, created at the SAC and specifically how decision-making took place. In particular, the committee structure allowed for a great deal of transparency in decisions on the distribution of tax-payers’ money. The decisions were made by committee members who were representative of, and circulated within the wider groups of, writers, editors, and publishers as well as academics like me. Derry Jeffares, who had come to Stirling University from Leeds with enormous, entrepreneurial experience of academic publishing, built on the work of Deirdre when he took over as Chair of the Literature Committee, and further encouraged the development of writers and readers, both directly and indirectly through the support of book and magazine publishers. Derry acted as a mentor to me at this time, as he did for so many others; he constantly reminded me of my roots in the ‘Black North’ [of Ireland] as he persisted in calling it from his sophisticated TCD upbringing – even when I was enjoying his hospitality at Fife Ness, a long way from Derry and Dublin for both of us. Anyway, I also served on two sub-committees of the Literature Committee, the Mixed Arts and the Magazines, where it was a very positive experience to work alongside the likes of James Robertson.

Can you tell me more about the Magazines sub-committee?

We were all committed to the importance of small literary magazines. We valued them highly as an outlet for new writers, not only in terms of seeing their work in print but also as an opportunity for editorial advice and support to shape and encourage their careers; as a place for more experienced writers to experiment without losing either their usual publisher or a readership accustomed to a certain style or subject-matter; and as a print venue where writers with similar views and/or styles could coalesce to form more influential groupings to contribute to the constant regeneration of Scottish literary culture. These might seem rather high-minded views but they were the guiding principles behind our decision-making.

 

To be honest, we really only encountered one persistent difficulty: staleness. Let me explain. Sometimes, editors who had typically founded a magazine, and poured a great of their own time (and occasionally money) into it, found it difficult to comprehend that they and the magazine needed to change and adapt from what it had been at its beginnings. For example, Gairm had been founded by Derick Thomson in 1951 and he was to act as its editor for fifty years. It published all the great Gaelic writers of the twentieth century from Sorley MacLean through George Campbell Hay to Iain Crichton Smith. And Derick was an absolute giant in both the literary and the academic spheres. (I also served alongside him on the Council of the ASLS at one time.) But after nearly forty years, the magazine no longer seemed as – what’s the right word – as exciting, innovative, leading-edge as it once was. It seemed to be only going through the motions. We felt that a change of editor would likely reinvigorate it but Derick, when approached informally, was very resistant to abandoning the role, even to take up an honorary editorship. You can understand why. However, in the end, we continued to support it financially because there was no sign of any other Gaelic literary magazine on the horizon.

Did you have any other criteria for funding magazines?

I think it would be fair to say that we enjoyed idiosyncrasy and encouraged diversity – of authors, topics and so on, to encourage as many readers as possible.  However, there were two key principles that we insisted on: a professionalism in design and production (these being the far-off days of print); and the payment of contributors.  The first was intended again to encourage readers – although I have to admit that most sales of these magazines were through subscriptions, individual and institutional, and only a few bookshops handled copies for the impulse buyer.

James Thin’s on North Bridge was an honourable exception, offering a wide range for what may have been a largely student market. The second criterion was more readily understood: we offered funding not only to support the production of the magazine but also to support the authors; you cannot create a healthy literary culture on the back of volunteer or amateur – I mean in the sense of unpaid – writers. We never used circulation figures as a funding criterion, as compared to content and presentation, but we did expect proper accounts, even of a rudimentary kind. On the other hand, with the benefit of hindsight, we perhaps should have been proactive in creating some form of central distribution system, perhaps with an existing firm, to strengthen circulation here and elsewhere.

You had a later involvement with the SAC and magazines, I believe?

A minor one. Sometime after I left the SAC committees, in 2004 in fact, Gavin Wallace commissioned Marion Sinclair, who had also previously served on the Literature Committee and is now, of course, Chief Executive of Publishing Scotland, to write a Review of Scottish Publishing. One of our key recommendations was the establishment of a new magazine to promote Scottish writing and publishing along the lines of the very successful Books Ireland that had been going from 1976. That had acted as a very successful ambassador for Irish literary culture, particularly in its overseas distribution through the country’s consulates and embassies. Unfortunately, the British Council was less enthusiastic about a Scottish iteration. Anyway, that was the origin of the Scottish Review of Books in 2004.

(Books in Scotland had already existed up to 1998. It had been founded by Norman Wilson of the Ramsay Head Press in 1976. On his death, his widow Christine took over as editor with the support of his son Conrad. Christine was very generous to a young academic with a large family in both employing me as a reviewer and providing my daughter and sons with lots of mint children’s books – a genre that Books in Scotland did not cover.) Where was I?

The ‘Scottish Review of Books’.

Yes. The magazine was eventually stabilised through its link with the Herald newspaper which distributed it as a supplement to its standard Saturday edition. This was due, I think, to the then links with the Herald of its Editor, the dynamic Alan Taylor. However, it still needed support from the SAC, now Creative Scotland, particularly after the link with the Herald was broken. In 2019, Creative Scotland stopped funding it and it survives now online only. Coincidentally, Books Ireland became online only in 2019 as well but it continues to be supported by the Irish Arts Council. You know, if Scotland were an independent nation like Ireland, then it might lose its…


We’d better stop there. But what about the title you’ve given to this interview?

Oh, the death threat, you ask. I noted earlier that a key criterion for funding was that the magazine had to pay its contributors. We didn’t set the rate but they had to be paid. One of the editors steadfastly refused to do this and we had to withdraw support for his magazine. He then wrote to the sub-committee threatening to kill each of us next time he ran across us. It was a less litigious time and we just ignored him. And of course, it was not the first extreme reaction I’d ever received. In the 1980s, I undertook a review of small poetry presses (basically everyone except Faber and Chatto) for the ACGB [Arts Council of Great Britain] and I had to make some negative recommendations. Well, you’ve never seen vicious vituperation like that of vitriolic versifiers. But that’s for another day…

Thanks. We’ll leave it there then.

(Alistair McCleery interviewed by Alistair McCleery, St Patrick’s Day, 2021)


Alistair McCleery has published much work on the history of the publishing trade as well as on its contemporary prospects. He is the author of over 120 refereed articles and book chapters as well as some 15 books. He has written on Scottish authors from John Buchan to Neil M. Gunn, and on Scottish literary magazines from the 1920s to the 1990s.

Modern Scottish Magazines – A Long View

The focus of this network begins in the 1960s, but there is a much deeper history of Scottish magazines. Charlotte Lauder takes a longer view.

Modern Scottish magazines have a long history. We can start with the Scots Magazine, established in 1739 and still published today.[1] Yet, beneath this remarkable longevity lies a fractured history which makes the Scots Magazine a convincing simile for the development of modern Scottish magazines in general. In fact, the Scots Magazine has been out of print for much of its life – between 1826 and 1887, and from 1893 to 1922. Its most stable period of publication has only been since 1927. Similarly, the magazine has flip-flopped between a variety of proprietors and political allegiances, including the Free Kirk of Scotland (Liberal), the St Andrew’s Society of Glasgow (Unionist-nationalist), and D. C. Thomson & Co. (Unionist).

 

Although prominent during the time period covered by this research network, the Scots Magazine is not a title I’d consider to be within its lens of inquiry. But it is still a magazine produced in Scotland and it emphasises many of the issues under evaluation by this network: how do magazines construct or express Scottish national identity? How does politics influence a magazine (and vice versa)? How important are the people behind the press? Ultimately, what do magazines do (and not do)?

These questions have been somewhat neglected, particularly outwith the 1920-40 period. While studies of these magazines remain important, and the work of Margery Palmer McCulloch, Alistair McCleery, Cairns Craig, and David Finkelstein is extremely relevant, our view of Scottish magazines has been thwarted by insularity and a tendency to arrange good marriages between the major movements of that era: Scottish nationalism, Scottish Literary Revival, and Scottish modernism. If we take a step back, what can a longer and broader view of Scottish magazines tell us?

Firstly, Scottish magazines are ‘connecters’. Most of the best-studied Scottish titles are ‘little magazines’ like Patrick Geddes’ Evergreen (1895-96), Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scottish Chapbook (1922-23) and Northern Review (1924), and J. H. Whyte’s Modern Scot (1930-35), whose contributors and associated literati are also well-known. Research on these magazines, and their European counterparts, has provided a rich body of theoretical and methodological approaches, the most interesting of which is probably ‘periodical encounters’, focused on the social, economic, intellectual, cultural and material relations that make up connections between magazines, which Nathan Hensley has described as ‘a chain of visible or material connections’.[2] How magazines establish connections with other magazines (and also how they don’t) is just as interesting as what they publish. Materiality is a trusted entry point into these encounters – what is the format of the magazine? How many pages? What colours are used? Are these the same across the board? Assessing changes in form and layout also reveal ‘hidden’ aspects of magazines – is an increase in the number of pages the result of more funding? Does a change in format reflect a change in staff or printing premises? Can a change in font be political, or is it merely typographical?

 

As great at connecting as Scottish magazines were, they often published the same contributors, and increasingly those contributors ended up being the magazine’s readership. A long view of Scottish magazines therefore teaches us that they are also insular, and what a magazine sets out to do – for example, reaching an audience of like-minded intellectuals, writers, or creatives – is not always what it achieves. Hugh MacDiarmid, that omnipresent figure in the history of the modern Scottish press, lamented the lack of reach in Scottish magazines of the 1920s when he wrote that “None of these significant little periodicals – crude, absurd, enthusiastic, vital – have yet appeared in Auchtermuchty or Ardnamurchan […] It is discouraging to reflect that this is not the way the Dadaists go about the business!”.[3] Any study of postwar Scottish magazines should bear this in mind, and give attention to the ‘periodical encounters’ that immediately preceded those under examination here; or, at least, the encounters that magazines of the 1960s-90s said that they were responding to. Titles like The Voice of Scotland: a quarterly magazine of Scottish arts and affairs (1938-1961), The Galliard. An illustrated review of Scottish life and venture (1948-49), and Scottish art and letters (1944-50) are part of this precursory landscape and are as under-researched as those that form the body of this network.

 

Nationality is both helped and hindered by ‘periodical encounters’. Is a magazine produced in Scotland the only pre-requisite to being a ‘Scottish magazine’? What about magazines created for Scots abroad, like The Fiery Cross: a magazine for Scottish Canadians (1895-96) or The Australasian Highlander (1970-). There were magazines produced in Scotland by non-Scots, like those created by internationalist-socialist Guy A. Aldred’s Bakunin Press, including The Commune (1923-29), Regeneracion!! (1936-37), and Word (1938-64). And what about magazines that originated in Scotland, but which migrated elsewhere? James Leatham (1865-1945), the influential Aberdonian socialist and publisher of Scotland’s first socialist newspaper The Worker’s Herald (1891-92), after moving from Aberdeen to Yorkshire, established the Cottingham Press and published The Gateway (1912-45), ‘a monthly magazine aimed at Scots at home and abroad’, across these locations. Might there be a politically or editorially pithy magazine in London, Dublin, or New York with an eye towards Scotland and a viewpoint on devolution, arts funding, or contemporary literature? Most likely, no. But the outward looking and internationalist attitude of Scottish International (Review) (1968-74) and The Dark Horse (1995-) makes it not impossible.

Feminist magazines, of which Scotland was a prodigious producer, offer us a way into transnational encounters. As Rachael Alexander has demonstrated,[4] magazines such as Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (1977-78), Ms Print (1978-81), Harpies and Quines (1992-94), and NESSIE: A Radical and Revolutionary Feminist Newsletter in Scotland (1979-?), were concurrent with Spare Rib (1972-93), A Woman’s Place (1977), and Ms. (1971-), and studies into the ‘periodical encounters’ of feminist magazines at local, regional, national and international levels are certainly ripe for further research.[5]

The obvious conclusion that a long view of Scottish magazines suggests is that, at some point or another, there has always been a need to represent and codify some aspect of Scottish life. Sometimes this is obvious: regionality, feminism, language, literature, politics, history, and religion. At other times, not so much – for example, what is within the pages of the sole issue of The Scot-free magazine, published in Glasgow in 1989? A long view reiterates a phrase I often use, that magazines have a porous boundary between consumption and contribution. By considering a longer history of Scottish magazines, we see this relationship at work, and that the ‘outside’ of magazines are just as important as the ‘inside’ of them.


Charlotte Lauder is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde and National Library of Scotland. She focuses on popular literary magazines published in Scotland between 1870 and 1920. Her work on Scottish women’s magazines has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Scotland News.

[1] https://www.dctmedia.co.uk/brands/the-scots-magazine/.

[2] Nathan K. Hensley, ‘Network: Andrew Lang and the Distributed Agencies of Literary Production’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 48, 3, (2015), 360.

[3] Alan Riach (ed.), Selected Poetry (Manchester: Carcanet, 1992), 7.

[4] https://www.genderequalmedia.scot/news/blog/harpies-and-quines-and-feminist-magazines-in-scotland/.

[5] Sarah Browne, “A Veritable Hotbed of Feminism”: Women’s Liberation in St Andrews, Scotland, c.1968-c.1979’, Twentieth Century British History, 23, 1, (2012), 100-123; Bec Wonders, ‘Mapping second wave feminist periodicals: Networks of conflict and counterpublics, 1970-1990’, Art Libraries Journal, 45, 3, (2020), 106-113.

Some Scottish Magazine Sources

Inspired by Patrick Collier’s opening blog and talk, which offered us a guided tour of key theoretical sources in periodical studies, we thought it might be useful to assemble  a short bibliography of Scotland-specific sources on our magazines and their contexts.

It is, of course, only a starting point.


Rachael Alexander, Harpies and Quines and feminist magazines in Scotland’, Gender Equal Media Scotland Blog, 28 February 2020.

Rachael Alexander, ‘”Alive, practical and different”: Harpies & Quines and Scottish Feminist Print in the 1990s’ in Laurel Forster and  Joanne Hollows (eds), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1940s-2000s: The Postwar and Contemporary Period (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 307-22.

Eleanor Bell, ‘Rejecting the Knitted Claymore: the challenge to cultural nationalism in Scottish literary magazines of the 1960s and 1970s’, in British Literature in Transition, 1960-1980: Flower Power, ed. by Kate McLoughlin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 263-74.

Eleanor Bell, ‘”Leaps and Bounds”: Feminist Interventions in Scottish Literary Magazine Culture’ in Laurel Forster and  Joanne Hollows (eds), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1940s-2000s: The Postwar and Contemporary Period (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 215-28.

Ross Birrell and Alec Finlay (eds), Justified Sinners: An Archaeology of Scottish Counter-Culture (1960-2000) (Edinburgh: Pocketbooks, 2002)

Neil Blain and David Hutchison (eds), The Media in Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).

David  Finkelstein, Margery Palmer McCulloch and Duncan Glen, Scottish Literary Periodicals: Three Essays (Edinburgh: Merchiston, 1998).

Susan Galloway and Huw David Jones, ‘The Scottish dimension of British arts government: a historical perspective’, Cultural Trends 19:1-2 (2010): 27-40.

Duncan Glen, ‘Scottish periodicals of the 1960s and 1970s’ in Selected Scottish and Other Essays (Kirkcaldy: Akros, 1999), pp. x-y. [also collected in Finkelstein et al 1998]

Linda Gunn and Alistair McCleery, ‘Wasps in a jam jar: Scottish literary magazines and political culture 1979–1999’ in Further From The Frontiers: Cross-currents in Irish and Scottish Studies, ed. by Aimee McNair and Jacqueline Ryder (Aberdeen: AHRC Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, 2009), pp. 41–52.

Scott Hames, The Literary Politics of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).

Christopher Harvie, ‘Nationalism, Journalism and Cultural Politics’ in Nationalism in the Nineties, ed. by Tom Gallagher (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1991), pp. 29-45.

John Herdman, Another Country: An Era in Scottish Politics and Letters (Edinburgh: Thirsty, 2013).
[previous edition published as Poets, Pubs, Polls and Pillar Boxes: Memoirs of an Era in Scottish Politics and Letters (Akros, 1999)]

David Hutchison, ‘The Alternative Press’ in Headlines: The Media in Scotland, ed. by David Hutchison (Edinburgh: EUSPB, 1978), pp. 39-50.

Ben Jackson, The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020)
[draws extensively on political and cultural magazines in charting the development of nationalist/devolutionist thought]

Stephen Kendrick, ‘Scotland, Social Change and Politics’ in The Making of Scotland: Nation, Culture and Social Change, ed. by David McCrone, Stephen Kendrick and Pat Straw (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989), pp. 71-90.

Myra Macdonald, ‘The Press in Scotland’, in Headlines: The Media in Scotland, ed. by David Hutchison (Edinburgh: EUSPB, 1978), pp. 8-21

Margery Palmer McCulloch, ‘Continuing the Renaissance: Little Magazines and a Late Phase of Scottish Modernism in the 1940s’, Études écossaises 15 (2012): 59-73.

Peter Meech and Richard Kilborn, ‘Media and identity in a stateless nation: the case of Scotland’, Media, Culture and Society 14 (1992): 245-259.

Jane Potter, ‘Literary Publishing 1945-2000’ in The Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, Volume 4: Professionalism and Diversity 1880-2000, ed. by David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 250-76.
[includes short case studies of Akros and Cencrastus by Zsuzsanna Varga, and discussion of other literary periodicals – Lines Review, Lallans, Chapman, Verse, New Writing Scotland, etc – mainly in the context of SAC funding]

Richard Price, ‘Little Magazines and Scottish Modernism’ [first published as ‘Little’], Northwords (Winter 2002/3): 33-35.

Richard Price, ‘Some Questions about Literary Infrastructure in the 1960s’ in The Scottish Sixties: Reading, Rebellion, Revolution, ed. by Eleanor Bell and Linda Gunn (Amsterdam: Brill, 2013), pp. 93-114.

Tessa Ransford, ‘Independent Pamphlet Publishing‘, Scottish Affairs 70 (Winter 2010): 104-13.

Philip Schlesinger, ‘Scottish Devolution and the Media’, Political Quarterly 69 (1998): 55-74.

Rory Scothorne, ‘The “Radical Current”: Nationalism and the Radical Left in Scotland, 1967-1979’, H-Nationalism(2018)

Bob Tait, ‘Scottish International: A Brief Account’, in Scottish Poetry Index: An Index to Poetry and Poetry-Related Material in Scottish Magazines, 1952- (Edinburgh: Scottish Poetry Library), vol. 6 (1997), pp. 63-65.

Roderick Watson, ‘Scottish Poetry: The Scene and the Sixties’ in The Scottish Sixties: Reading, Rebellion, Revolution, ed. by Eleanor Bell and Linda Gunn (Amsterdam: Brill, 2013), pp. 69-92.

 

Back Issues: Event 1 Digest

The launch issue of a magazine tends to flaunt its novelty, but the much-delayed  start to this project was focused more on backstory.

The network’s first meeting (24 February 2021) began with a short talk by Patrick Collier, developing the themes of his blog post ‘Six or Seven (or so) Ways to Read a Magazine’. This was a rich tour d’horizon of the magazine in theory, unpacking the multi-voicedness, seriality and objecthood that make these artefacts what they are. What sort of critical – or uncritical – gaze is appropriate to the magazine, Collier asked, linking several milestones in periodical studies to recent ‘method wars’ in literary studies. Exploring the value of close, distant and ‘just’ reading, alongside questions of genre and materiality, this was a highly stimulating introduction to the field.

One of its pioneers, Margaret Beetham, emphasised ‘how the formal qualities of the periodical are shaped by its particular relationship to time’.[1] And the cultural work that magazines do, Collier argued, is caught up with their iterative nature. In examining specific titles we should attend to their ‘open’ and ‘closed’ qualities from issue to issue (rather than tethering a single article firmly to its date of publication). A cultural review might respond to unfolding events from a variety of perspectives, inviting readers to participate (via letters pages) and to navigate the mixed-genre text in their own way (open), but it will also construct a consistent persona, publishing schedule and implied reader across time (closed).

Commercial magazines may have a mission statement of sorts, but we take it with a pinch of salt, knowing that advertising and circulation are the foremost considerations. Non-commercial magazines, Collier noted, are in some ways easier objects for cultural historians to handle: even if they include a wide range of material and voices, they are usually led by a small group committed to ‘making its meanings stick’ rather than generating profits.

For the Scottish magazines at the centre of our interest, their typical smallness (of circulation, of dramatis personae), uncommercial aims and strength of editorial mission (often activist or avant-garde) will often lean toward the ‘closed’ pole of Beetham’s helpful rubric. At the same time, the majority of these titles are passionately engaged in ‘opening the doors’ of cultural and political change in Scotland, focused on generating new ideas, publics and connections.

And here, perhaps, is a notable feature of periodicals linked (in varying degrees) to a wider nation-building project. For many of our target titles, the implied subject and audience is ‘Scotland’, so that journals and reviews focused on Scottish poetry, Scottish feminism or Scottish constitutional change have a stable structuring interest and ‘field’ (closed) which they are actively shaping, expanding and contesting (open); all in ways that tend to naturalise the national frame they treat both as a cultural given and a prompt to action and critique.

We might say that periodicals such as Question Magazineprofiled here by Ben Jackson – ‘cover’ a domain of Scottish cultural and political life they also help to ‘constitute’ and solidify, its fortnightly reports helping to make this world both discursively and materially real, available to purchase in newsagents and bookshops. One of the interesting features of these magazines is how their formally ‘closed’ features – including the notable absence of women contributors – sit alongside their more ideologically ‘open’ aims and qualities, generating fresh national possibility, community and identity.

Questions of audience are of special interest for periodicals directly engaged in politics, alliance-making and mobilisation. Rory Scothorne noted the history of revolutionary newspapers as surrogate political organisations, an often ‘closed’ and hierarchical locus of debate sharing features with the vanguardist party (and often providing a source of income for party activity). The recent work of Lucy Delap (on the print-culture of British feminism) was noted for its relevance in studying magazines as modern political and rhetorical forms, and Patrick Collier noted the broader importance of periodicals in constructing ‘counter-public spheres’.

In these ‘parallel discursive arenas’, Nancy Fraser argued, ‘members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses, which in turn permit them to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs’.[2] We can readily see how this description fits many of our Scottish titles, but might also observe the paradox of conceiving the national public (real or potential) as a subaltern counter-public – a paradox much easier to glimpse after two decades of devolution and the rapid consolidation of a Scottish democratic system.

Speaking from the archivist’s point of view, Graeme Hawley highlighted the practical and classificatory challenges that accompany the definitional conundrums outlined in Collier’s introduction: what exactly is a magazine, viewed in terms of its physical dimensions, publishing schedule, balance of visual and textual material, and so on? How can the dizzying variety of their content, and the embedded knowledge they ‘accidentally’ capture (e.g. the way a demolished building looked in a photograph from 1960), be tagged or catalogued for disaggregation and research, using digital finding aids? These reflections recall Beetham’s point (cited by Collier) that the magazine is ‘not so much a form in its own right as an enabling space for readers traversing the items they encounter’. How can this ‘enabling space’ be mapped for others, and made accessible to readers physically remote from archival collections? At the encouragement of the group, Hawley agreed to write a separate SMN blog developing these thoughts. The network will return to the question of digitisation later in the year.

This was a rich and dynamic conversation I can’t fully summarise, but here are a few points and observations that lodged in my memory:

        • Ben Jackson was the first of several (including the author of this blogpost) to confess having used magazine articles as ‘disaggregated’ historical fodder, rather than (as Collier suggested) ‘reading magazines closely as magazines’. Collier noted the inevitability of selectivity in using magazines for teaching or research, and offered generous absolution.

       

        • Reflecting on her own time with the Cencrastus editorial collective, Glenda Norquay complicated the image of politically driven magazines as ‘closed’ organisations. Although there may be an agreed editorial agenda, the nature of such magazines demands unpaid work at different levels and also a turnover of editorial staff, which can produce a degree of instability. An unchanging masthead can also conceal multiple perspective and evolving internal views.

       

        • Charlotte Lauder pointed out that mass-circulation commercial magazines can also have strong viewpoints, and directed our attention to publishers and proprietors (not only editors and contributors) in studying these agendas. Charlotte’s own work on The People’s Friend, owned and published by the Liberal MP for Dundee John Leng prior to its sale to DC Thomson, is a fascinating example.

       

        • Alex Thomson noted the importance of state patronage and public subsidy, especially via the Scottish Arts Council. In addition to their own strong agendas, most of our Scottish magazines would also face the imperative of satisfying the funding body (within a distinctive ‘double arm’s length’ regime prior to devolution, enjoying greater autonomy from government). This support was often premised on the publication of original literary content (poetry and short stories), effectively cross-subsidising these magazines’ more contentious offerings (for which the SAC was not paying and was not strictly answerable).

       

        • Malcolm Petrie noted the ‘interlinked’ nature of these Scottish magazines, and the many lines of affiliation (and occasional discord) by which they were knitted together. How might we approach them as a collection of titles, instead of separate entities? Patrick Collier observed that magazines always exist in dialogue with each other, and suggested framing our research agenda in a way that spotlights the threads of debate between magazines, thus foregrounding the broader ‘ecology’ in which they interact.

       

        • Nikki Simpson noted some of the practical challenges and potential of archiving magazines, and outlined her own plans to establish an International Magazines Centre in Edinburgh. The special challenges of copyright for digitisation will be a key focus of the network in later events.

       

      We rounded off the meeting with some planning discussion relating to upcoming activity (events, podcasts, interviews), and further details of the edited book project in development. The editors will be commissioning chapters later this year, with a preference for cross-disciplinary perspectives and co-authorship of chapters. Further details and a call for papers will follow soon.

      This much-delayed start to the network’s activity was truly heartening, and we look forward to our next meeting.  Prompted by Patrick Collier’s short bibliographic tour of periodical studies, we thought it might be helpful to compile a mini-bibliography on the Scottish contexts of our target magazines.


    • [1] Margaret Beetham, ‘Open and Closed: The Periodical as a Publishing Genre’, Victorian Periodicals Review 22.3 (Fall, 1989): 96-100 (p. 97).

      [2] Nancy Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’, Social Text 25/26 (1990): 56-80 (p. 67).

       

Profile: Question Magazine

A key aim of the network is recovering lost or forgotten magazines. Ben Jackson revisits Question Magazine, ‘the independent political review for Scotland’

On 6 September 1977 Neal Ascherson, at that time political correspondent of the Scotsman, confided to his diary some gloomy observations about the publishing scene in Scotland: ‘As Tom Nairn predicted to me a few days ago, the publication of Q magazine is stopped. The figures are sickening. The circulation was down to about a thousand (max. 1500 a few months ago), and only five out of 2000 libraries in Scotland, and only two universities out of eight subscribed.’ Ascherson was struck by the incongruity of this failure taking place at the very moment that Scottish politics and culture had never seemed more dynamic: ‘It’s unbelievable that in the most important decade of its recent history, at the moment when the country should be alive with fateful debates, Scotland can’t support one serious political review.’[1]

Q magazine – or, to give the publication’s full title, Question – has not subsequently acquired the cult status now enjoyed by publications such as Radical Scotland or Scottish International, nor has it been subject to the same level of academic attention. It was fated to have a shorter lifespan – running from October 1975 to August 1977, a total of 34 issues. Crucially, it did not embody an obvious political or cultural agenda that would enable it to be easily slotted into subsequent historical narratives. Nonetheless, the magazine was an audacious presence in Scottish public life that deserves to be more widely discussed. Q was an attempt to produce a regular magazine of political and cultural commentary in Scotland in the same vein as the New Statesman, the Spectator, or even the Economist. It was not intended to be a small-scale publication circulated among the cognoscenti but rather an influential public forum sold in newsagents while a new Scotland confidently awaited its devolved destiny. The first issue announced the magazine’s mission: ‘Q is an independent political review for Scotland, not tied to any political party. It is the editorial policy of Q that the review is open to interesting contributions, whether they agree with Q’s opinion or not. With the coming of the Assembly there is clearly a great need for a review such as Q.’[2]

It was certainly true that the pages of Q published contributions from all sides of the political debate in Scotland. But there was also some artifice in this description since the team behind the magazine had a discernible leaning towards the SNP. The founder and editor of the magazine was Peter Chiene, a lawyer and supporter of the SNP. He produced the magazine with a small editorial board: Alfie Donaldson, a law lecturer originally from Northern Ireland but based in Edinburgh; Michael Grieve, the prominent journalist and former Vice-President Publicity of the SNP (and of course son of Christopher Grieve/Hugh MacDiarmid); and, perhaps most intriguing of all, Alexander ‘Sandy’ McCall Smith, at that time a legal academic but later of course the world-famous novelist who authored The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series (McCall Smith officially became Q’s deputy editor later in its run). Michael Spens, the architect and critic (and SNP parliamentary candidate), was also added later to the editorial board.

Q initially appeared monthly, in a compact 24-page format, before moving to a fortnightly publication schedule from October 1976 (No. 13). The fortnightly magazine increased its size to tabloid and reduced the page count to 12. In design terms, Q was an orthodox, even rather dry, publication: print was laid out across several columns with the odd pull quote to break up the text. Initially, there were few images beyond the cover, a cartoon or two, and the occasional photo. The use of images increased markedly when the magazine shifted to its new tabloid format and by the end of its run Q’s design had become much slicker. Editorially, the magazine followed analogous publications edited from London in providing a powerful blend of serious political commentary; in-depth coverage of business and science; and a strong culture section that afforded plenty of space to the high arts and book reviews. Longer features were mixed with regular fixtures such as a diary-style set of short observations on the news, ‘Flyter’; a short editorial column expressing Q’s official view; a letters page; and a crossword. What set Q apart from, say, the New Statesman or Spectator, obviously, was that it viewed the world through a distinctive Scottish lens.

Reading Q now is to be reminded of the vibrancy of Scottish political culture in the 1970s – a time of high hopes and trenchant debates, populated by a cast of fascinating characters, many of whom would continue to play a significant role in Scottish and British public life well into the twenty-first century. Q’s contributors included an eclectic list of luminaries such as Neal Ascherson, Alan Bold, Gordon Brown, Henry Drucker, Owen Dudley Edwards, Duncan Glen, Christopher Harvie, James Hunter, Neil MacCormick, Stephen Maxwell, Edwin Morgan, Tom Nairn, Jim Naughtie, George Reid, Malcolm Rifkind, David Steel, Jim Sillars, Teddy Taylor, Brian Wilson and many others. As this list suggests, a major deficiency of Q was that it printed almost no articles by women and provided only the most meagre coverage of the women’s movement (in this it was representative of the deficiencies of Scotland’s 1970s political culture more generally). As best I can tell (some articles were written anonymously and some writers used initials rather than full first names), only three female authors ever wrote feature-length articles for the magazine: the author Naomi Mitchison (twice); the then director of the Edinburgh Film Festival, Lynda Myles; and Alison Bruce, a researcher at Glasgow University. There was also a strong public and voluntary sector representation among Q authors: many of the pieces in a given issue were written by academics, politicians, and employees of pressure groups and charities, with journalists making a respectable showing as the principal representatives of the private sector.

Despite these limits, the pages of Q provide a fascinating window into a period in which the structure of contemporary Scottish politics was taking shape. Looming over everything was the question of devolution. When would it happen? What would it look like? But hovering behind those questions were the rise of the SNP and the possibility of independence. Q hosted animated debates about each of the four main parties and Jim Sillars’s new Scottish Labour Party (SLP); European integration; the implications of North Sea oil; land-ownership and the Highlands; the Scottish universities and their relationship to devolution; the Scottish cultural scene; Irish nationalism; the rise of nationalism in Quebec; and many other topics. Q also prepared for devolution by investigating the delivery of Scottish public services and the scope for their improvement when a new assembly took charge. Health, education, housing, local government, the legal system, and policing were all treated in depth.

The quality of the writing was usually high. Tom Nairn contributed several scintillating articles that are essential to understanding his level of practical engagement with Scottish politics in this period (as a member of Sillars’s SLP), as opposed to his more Olympian pronouncements in his contributions to New Left Review.[3] The SNP theorist Stephen Maxwell was also a regular contributor, penning an important review of Nairn’s book, The Break-up of Britain (1977). Maxwell also engaged the Labour MP John Mackintosh in a fascinating exchange that illuminated the emerging fault-line between Labour devolutionists and independence supporters that was in the event delayed by twenty years because of the failure of devolution to launch in the 1970s.[4] Q hosted a lively debate about the politics of the 7:84 theatre company and their seminal play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil.[5] Neil MacCormick used Q to challenge the SNP orthodoxy that it would secure a mandate for independence by winning a majority of Scotland’s parliamentary seats. MacCormick argued that a majority of votes rather than seats would be necessary to secure democratic legitimacy for a new Scottish state.[6] This is just a flavour of the range of analysis aired in Q, though it does underline that the magazine’s most influential work tended to be penned by supporters of independence. Some intriguing names and juxtapositions were also to be found among the book reviews, such as David Trimble reviewing Robert Fisk’s book on the recent Ulster Workers’ strike; Ted Cowan reviewing Christopher Harvie’s Scotland and Nationalism; and Donald Campbell reviewing William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw (‘a kind of Glasgow Kojak’).[7] Appropriately, the final issue included a cover feature by Peter Chiene celebrating the 85th birthday of Hugh MacDiarmid. Chiene argued that MacDiarmid’s great achievements in poetry had yet to be matched by Scots in other fields, notably fiction and political theory. But he was optimistic that the rise of the SNP at least indicated that new Scottish political thinking was underway, even if it had yet to attain the heights exemplified by MacDiarmid’s work.[8]

Q was sadly not to play any further role in fostering this novel political thought. Neal Ascherson, for one, felt the loss of the magazine keenly and vented to his diary about the failures he thought it revealed in Scotland’s intellectual infrastructure:

For journalists, Q was quite indispensable, the only place where really free and intellectual argument, as well as many very practical suggestions, took place in print. If Hibernia has a circulation of 20,000 in a smaller country, why could Q not have reached a miserable six or seven? Too ‘Edinburgh’, too identified with the SNP? The real trouble is the extreme weakness and stuntedness of the political intellectual here, and reluctance to commit money and time. Can there only be 1500 people who want to speculate on their country’s future and understand its present, when so many hundreds of thousand vote for a new future?[9]

Ascherson’s lament remains a resonant one for anyone interested in publishing serious analysis about Scotland, even (or perhaps especially) today.


Ben Jackson is Associate Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. He is the author of The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland (CUP, 2020).

[1] Neal Ascherson, ‘Devolution Diary’, Cencrastus, No. 22, 1986, p. 51.

[2] ‘What is Q’, Q, No. 1, October 1975, p. 24.

[3] For example, Tom Nairn, ‘The Radical Approach’, Q, No. 10, July 1976; ‘Scotland the Misfit’, Q, No. 13, 8 October 1976; ‘1931 – A Repeat Performance?’, Q, No. 14, 22 October 1976; ‘Revolutionaries Versus Parliamentarists’, Q, No. 16, 19 November 1976.

[4] Stephen Maxwell, ‘Review: The Break-Up of Britain’, Q, No. 31, 24 June 1977; ‘The Trouble with John P. Mackintosh’, Q, No. 24, 18 March 1977; John Mackintosh, ‘The Trouble with Stephen Maxwell’, Q, No. 26, 15 April 1977.

[5] Ian Bayne, ‘Ideology and 7:84’, Q, No. 3, December 1975; John Forsyth, ‘7:84 Replies’, Q, No. 4, January 1976.

[6] Neil MacCormick, ‘The Mandate Question’, Q, No. 12, September 1976.

[7] David Trimble, review, Q, No. 3, December 1975; Ted Cowan, ‘The Reds and the Blacks’, Q, No. 29, 27 May 1977; Duncan Campbell, ‘MacLaverty and McIlvanney’, Q, No. 29, 27 May 1977 (quote at p. 10).

[8] Peter Chiene, ‘Poets versus Philosophers’, Q, No. 34, 26 August 1977.

[9] Ascherson, ‘Devolution Diary’, p. 51.

 

Six or Seven (or so) Ways to Read a Magazine

How should we read and study the magazine, viewed as text, artefact or cultural form? Patrick Collier offers a stimulating crash-course in theorising magazine culture.

 

Congratulations to the organizers  for persevering through the pandemic and getting together the first virtual meeting of the network. In advance of our discussion, I offer the following précis, distilled from a draft book chapter entitled “The Magazine In Theory.” Rather than address the many questions begged in that title, I’ll bring the précis down to earth by calling it “Six or Seven (or so) Ways to Read a Magazine.”

I choose multiplicity to avoid prescription. While there have been efforts, in periodical studies, to establish firm critical protocols for the study of magazines, heterogeneity and multiplicity have been the hallmarks of the culture of magazines since the middle of the nineteenth century, when they became a central cultural form in the West. So, multiplicity and heterogeneity should also, I think, characterize our engagement with magazines as scholars. As you will see, some of these ways of reading will exist in tension or even in conflict with one another, but that too is all to the good in the study of a cultural form that, singly and across the broader field, plays host to a huge range of voices, genres, postures, and disciplines.

            Read magazines closely (1).

In surveying theoretical/methodological writing about periodicals dating back to the late 1980s, I am struck that there was a time, no so long ago, when the close reading of magazines needed to be defended. In separate chapters in Investigating Victorian Journalism (1990), Lyn Pykett and Margaret Beetham articulated foundational methodological questions and provisional answers that remain generative today. These include Pykett’s suggestion that periodicals (and their contents) be read both for their formal properties and as participants in broader cultural discourses. Writing at the high-water mark of High Theory, Pykett borrows Barthes’s sense of the “text as methodological field” to foreground, effectively, two styles of close reading: deconstructive and New Historicist close reading—the one to register and analyze the deep structures of signification in periodicals and the second to foreground “discourse and discursive communities.” All this would build up periodical studies (though she does not use the term) as “a new interdisciplinary formation” that “[reinstates] history, economics, and sociology” in humanities scholarship.

            Read magazines closely (2)—as magazines.

The invitation to read magazines closely foregrounds the question of how magazines signify distinctly from other cultural forms—in other words, the status of magazines as aesthetic objects in their own right, artifacts that produce distinct meanings not identical with or reducible to the plain text of their contents. As Sean Latham and others have noted, magazines require “a new kind of formalist reading practice” that can make visible “the specific formal constraints and affordances of magazines themselves.” Jerome McGann and the late George Bornstein enabled this sort of reading by articulating the concept of the “bibliographic code”—the meaning-effects of such physical, textual features as layout, typography, paper quality, arrangement, etc.—and applying it to the complexes created when literary works appeared in specific magazine contexts. Most broadly, reading magazines as magazines means treating them as primary texts rather than neutral containers of textual evidence to be “disaggregated,” as Latham and Robert Scholes put it in their 2006 program piece, “The Rise of Periodical Studies.” But I don’t need to lecture on the importance of treating magazines as magazines before a group called the Scottish Magazines Network, so on to greater specifics.

            Read magazines as serials.

Perhaps the two defining elements of the magazine as an artifact are the heterogeneity of its content—the word “magazine” enters the language, in its contemporary usage, to signify textual objects that gather together multiple texts by multiple authors—and its serial periodicity. A large majority of magazines appear serially at regular intervals, and most others aspire to this condition without meeting it, folding after a few issues or struggling to maintain a regular publication schedule. But seriality and periodicity are not merely flat facts about magazine form—they are also critical frames through which magazines and their contents can be and are being read, with increasing frequency and sophistication, by critics. Focusing on seriality allows us to raise question about how magazines interact and seek to interact with readers (think of the use of serial fiction or recurring features to capture and hold readers), what cultural work specific magazines and magazine genres do (reiterating cultural values and norms, constructing and reiterating such subject positions as reader, citizen, consumer, housewife, etc.), even how some magazines achieve something like a consistent voice. To read a magazine as a serial means not just to read across issues and years but to foreground the effects of seriality on a magazine’s aesthetic and economic work. To read a magazine as a casual reader is to know that you are entering into a text that predates the instance you hold in your hands and promises to extend forward to future encounters. To read seriality as a scholar is to look for particular effects, patterns, and agendas enabled, hindered, or spontaneously produced by this seriality.

            Read the magazine both as and against genre.

To speak of genre in magazines is at once inescapable and insufficient. As an artifact whose rise to prominence fuelled and participated in the growth of the first mass-media and mass-entertainment industry (late nineteenth-century print culture), magazines helped to establish mass media as at once relentlessly genre-driven and profligate in generating new and hybrid genres. (Compare the magazine and newspaper markets of the 1890s with Hollywood film in the classical era or TV in the current streaming age: in all these settings everything falls into a genre, and new genres keep appearing). Historical readers, magazine contributors, editors, and publishers all viewed their products as situated within an available generic framework. But it is crucial to distinguish between genres as historical participants understood them and genres devised retrospectively by critics to organize the field of objects. Think of the terms “little magazine” and “literary magazine”—useful if treated as provisional heuristics, and sometimes evoked by historical figures, but also anything but stable and consistent facts in the world. As Donal Harris recently suggested in constructing “Big Magazines” as his own provisional category, terms such as “little” and “literary” probably more accurately and consistently denote “attitudes towards readership” than they do “size or content.”

            Read the magazine as an object in the world.

Beetham noted in 1990 that periodicals have an economic and a signifying function, with most being born out of mixed motives, combining a desire to make money or forge a career with aims that are expressive, aesthetic, or political—the desire to “make one’s meanings stick.” Most people who study periodicals intently are drawn to their significance—the roles they played in fuelling literary careers, or in the cultural contestation over meaning, value, and power. As suggested above, a magazine’s physical properties have meaning effects; but to consider a magazine’s economics and its objecthood thoroughly takes us further. A “magazine” is not a single object but a serial object in this literal, physical sense. A single “magazine” title is actually an expansive set of single physical objects, objects whose production creates and destroys in the physical world—creates jobs and livelihoods and many kinds of economic activity; destroys trees and creates waste and requires the production of ink and the burning of fossil fuel to produce electricity and transport issues to readers and newsstands. The economy of publishing transforms and helps to create the social world, and it constantly forms and transforms the physical world. For instance, as James Mussell has noted, periodicals “both represent and move through space, helping to transform it [space] into circulation routes, spaces of commerce, library space, educational spaces, etc.” Magazines’ impact on the physical world is transforming anew today, as the newest and in some cases the most compelling magazines exist on the (to most of us) invisible and electricity-guzzling infrastructure of internet servers. To read magazines as objects is both to revivify Richard Altick’s “sociology of authorship” by recognizing their crucial and multiple economic effects and to recognize their blunt materiality as objects on/of an exhaustible planet.

            Read magazines critically. And uncritically. And….

Having taught undergraduate seminars on modern periodicals, I find that reading magazines with college students is valuable because it foregrounds and even exaggerates problems of interpretation that apply to all reading. When we construct an interpretation of a Wallace Stevens poem taken from a teaching anthology, we (and our students) may quite easily fall into the illusion that the metanarrative we construct has some fundamental and stable relation to the words on the page—some objective or absolute existence independent of us and our acts of reading. When we foreground the magazine as text, this illusion disappears, in part because—as we all know—no two readers consume a magazine in precisely the same way. To borrow a phrase from Scholes, the “protocols of reading” that emerge in the contact between magazines and their consumers are much looser and more individualized than those enacted in the reading of a novel or a poem. It is much harder to sustain the illusion, when we construct a metanarrative out of our reading of a magazine, that we are recreating a reading experience some historical subject(s) might have had or that we are uncovering some objective thing that pre-existed our act of interpretation. Every reading of a historic magazine quite clearly builds something new, even as it may be used as evidence to posit a broader cultural pattern, a “structure of feeling” per Raymond Williams, or something like it.

I write this even as my Twitter feed is aflutter (or a-Twitter?) with discussions of “post-critique”—a rethinking of the kinds of close reading that have dominated the critical enterprise since the theory revolution. I began here by celebrating continued close reading of periodicals, so it is worth noting that I am doing so in a setting in which close reading is under a new and uncommon degree of scrutiny. At least since the 2009 issue of Representations subtitled “How We Read Now,” scholars have problematized the dominance of “symptomatic reading” and its “hermeneutics of suspicion,” in which close-reading’s objective is the revelation of historical power relations encoded within the text, which is generally found to sustain those relations, reiterating dominant values and assumptions. Rita Felski’s new Hooked: Art and Attachment, a follow-up to her 2015 The Limits of Critique, attempts to steer the enterprise of literary scholarship away from critical argument and “explanation” and towards understanding and validating the affective work literary texts enable. In doing so she laments scholars’ attachment to critique and celebrates, instead, the attachment of lay readers to art, which becomes an aspiration for scholarship in the future. More diversely, the 2009 Representations writers presented a range of alternatives to symptomatic reading, from Morettian distant-reading (which would require another blog post, or twenty) to “surface reading,” “just reading,” “reading for patterns” and more.

These are all valuable perspectives. Indeed, what a scholar does when confronted with the plenitude among and within magazines will necessarily involve a range of reading modes, including those referenced here, not to mention skimming, skipping, and pausing to describe such magazine elements as page design, recurring format, typography, size, and more. Indeed, the heat around the current critique/post-critique debate threatens to create a binary that belies the complexity and both/and-ness of much of the actual reading that scholars do. And here again the particulars of periodical scholarship are illustrative. So-called symptomatic reading does have an important place in periodical studies: given the serial (and thus iterative) nature of magazines and their importance, even cultural dominance, in various historical contexts, scholarly readings that are critical in the agonistic sense are important. As someone whose primary specialty is British modernism, I am more interested in suspicious readings that probe rhetorics of violence and traces of misogyny in Blast than I am in readings that celebrate its quite well-documented role in the early emergency of modernisms in Britain. But my time as editor of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, and my own scholarly impulses and ad-hoc practices, underscore that 1) sympathetic and even celebratory readings of periodicals are as common as 2) symptomatic and/or suspicious ones, and equally common are 3) readings whose main agenda is simply to claim historic importance for an un- or understudied object.

I take it that the remit of the Scottish Magazines Network, as a collaboration aimed at establishing infrastructure and relationships to enable the study of Scottish magazines, embraces the third of these modes, perhaps with a bit of the first thrown in. And as a practitioner of periodical studies, I know that work in all of these modes is the product of a supple, resourceful, and multiple reading practice that calls upon critique and attachment and everything in between—close reading, distant reading, just reading, skimming, and sizing-up. I know, also, that this reading produces affects ranging from tedium to anger to pleasure to appreciation. Whether what we ultimately write reveals a magazine’s complicity in sustaining power relations, or celebrates a magazine’s bold flouting of convention or advocacy for the oppressed, or merely recounts an episode or calls attention to a previously obscure title, our work starts with open-minded engagement with an object that once captured historical readers’ attention and is now, for us, capturing attention anew.


Patrick Collier is Professor of English at Ball State University. He  is the author of Modern Print Artefacts: Textual Materiality and Literary Value in British Print Culture, 1880-1930s (Edinburgh UP, 2016), and co-editor of the Journal of Modern Periodical Studies.

Introducing the Scottish Magazines Network

Welcome!

This introductory blog is really an expansion of the ‘About’ section, fleshing out some of the project’s aims, contexts and questions. It lacks the polemical verve of a first-issue editorial you might read in one of our magazines, but I hope it conveys the interest of Scotland’s periodical culture of the 1960s-90s. (by Scott Hames)

Small independent magazines played a major creative role in Scottish literature, culture and politics right across the 1960s-90s. Many featured poetry and short fiction (funded by the Scottish Arts Council) and were a key space in which writers, journalists and campaigners developed a shared national agenda centred on Scottish cultural difference, literary revival and democratic dissent.

Working in partnership with the National Library of Scotland, this AHRC Research Network brings together scholars of Scottish literature, history, politics and publishing to explore – and ‘re-circulate’ – this independent periodical culture. We have a wide range of titles in mind, from poetry journals to political magazines and cultural reviews, and several combining elements of each. We’re especially interested in connections between and across these organs, including the following titles held in the NLS collection:

Lines Review (1954-98), New Saltire (1961-64),
Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. (1962-68), Akros (1965-83),
Feedback (1966-67), Scottish International (Review) (1968-74),
New Edinburgh Review
(1969-84), Chapman (1970- ),
Scotia
and Scotia Review (1970-99), Calgacus (1975-76),
Q [Question] Magazine (1975-77), Crann-Tàra (1977-81),
Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal
(1977-78), MsPrint (1978-81),
Cencrastus
(1979-2006), Radical Scotland (1982-91), Edinburgh Review (1984- ),
Variant
(1984-94, 1996-2012), Common Sense (1987-99),
West Coast Magazine
(1988-97), Harpies and Quines (1992-94)

Not an exhaustive list!

If an earlier process of ‘cultural devolution’ paved the way for the new Scottish parliament in 1999, it can be directly witnessed in the writing and artwork of these magazines, and in the communities and alliances formed around and through them. These titles were also sites of literary innovation, featuring poems and stories by almost every major and emerging Scottish writer of the period.

The same titles featured key essays and critical interventions by thinkers such as Tom Nairn, Isobel Lindsay and George E. Davie, influential debates on the marginalisation of women’s writing, and were a key venue for the reassertion of Scottish folk traditions and the importance of Gaelic and Scots. Constant crossover between literary, cultural and electoral debate – from page to page and within the same article – is central to their interest and their influence.

Aiming to put these magazines back on the map – both for scholars and the wider public – the network will consider questions including:

      • What prompted and enabled this Scottish periodical culture, supported by what institutions?
      • What was its (short- and long-term) impact on Scottish literary and cultural production?
      • Through what groupings and networks did these magazines circulate?
      • To what extent did they shape or ‘constitute’ the Scottish political field to which they were addressed?
      • What continuities can we see with today’s Scottish literary politics, media and activism?

We hope to expand and refine these questions via our activity and discussions – including regular blog posts – and will eventually seek to answer some of them in a volume of commissioned essays.

Many thanks for your interest in the project, and please don’t hesitate to be in touch – if you’d like news of SMN events, please contact scott.hames@stir.ac.uk