Though I must own well over twenty thousands books, I’ve not until a decade ago collected anything to the extent of trying to possess everything within a certain category. Most of the books owned by me were obtained for a particular project–sometimes a work currently in progress, other times a project that I did in the past but about which I nonetheless maintain an active interest, and more often for one that I am planning to do in the future.
As my first national publication was in a literary quarterly that did not pay its authors, I’ve continue to contribute to such eleemosynary journals, thinking that the abundance, the independence, and possible quality of them is a true index of cultural opportunity in America and thus that my continuing contributions are necessary. (Not all their alumni are so nostalgic, needless to say.) While my library includes shelf upon shelf of such cultural journals, what I think is more significant is the collection I’ve made of the books in which such magazines select the best work to appear in their pages–what I call self-retrospectives. Though such books customarily appear in modest editions designed initially for the magazines’ loyal subscribers or as special issues celebrating decade(s)-long anniversaries, they ideally give its editors an opportunity to show, better than a single issue, how they want to be regarded by posterity.
Two things I like about cultural journals’ self-retrospectives as a subject for collecting are that no one else known to me is concentrating on them and that the number of them can’t be too enormous. I own perhaps two hundred fifty. One problem is that the category is so unfamiliar I customarily must explain it at least twice, even to a bookseller eager to unload his inventory. Incidentally, many literate people aren’t aware of these books, some either doubting their existence. The category of cultural magazines necessarily excludes commercial magazines.
Some of these retrospectives appear as a magazine is dying and perhaps dies once the retrospective appears, such as Between C and D (1988) and Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan’s Explorations in Communication (1960). My collection includes retrospective volumes from art magazines, such as Flash Art and Artforum, and music magazines such as Perspectives of New Music and High Fidelity. I have selections from political magazines, such as the socialist Voices of Dissent (1958), the pacifist Seeds of Liberation (1964), and the conservative Modern Age: The First Thirty-Five Years, a Selection (1988). Some magazines publish so little in their lifetimes that publishers are able to produce retrospective books containing everything appearing in their pages, such as New Individualist Review (1981) or Monk’s Pond: Thomas Merton’s Little Magazine (1989).
Since certain magazines have survived long enough to issue more than one retrospective, it is not surprising that I have several from Partisan Review, four from Saturday Review, two from Harper’s, two from the Nation, two from Antioch Review, three from The New Republic. I suppose that a sensitive scholar of cultural journals could do interesting critical analyses of how a single magazine’s self-retrospective in the 1990s differs from that done in the 1950s, say, and how such differences reflect the changing ambitions of its editors. Continue reading Literary Magazines’ Self-Retrospectives