The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Paper Modernism

Now that my dissertation is good and filed, I want to share a few fragments of what I’ve been working on, on-and-off, for the past few years.

Here’s a few selected grafs from the first chapter:

The history of Modernism is part of the history of paper. That is, the transformation of literary and visual culture announced by Modernism and the avant-garde is inseparable from the transformation of the largely paper-based communication and information technologies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries…

From the daguerrotype to the cinema, the history of photography simultaneously parallels and intersects the development of paper and print. A single image, handmade by an artisan, is succeeded by a continuously-fed reel of industrially-made material. In fact, the chemical treatment of wood pulp cellulose with sulfurous acid to produce paper is only slightly different from the chemical treatment of wood fibers with nitric acid to produce celluloid film. Nitrocellulose (also called guncotton) in ether or acetone yields collodion, the albumen alternative that allowed for glass-plate photography; the evaporation of collodion in turn led to the discovery of celluloid film. Celluloid emerges as a paper alternative with Eastman Kodak, the company credited with the introduction of flexible film and the supplier of continuous film rolls for Edison’s early motion pictures. Kodak had originally used ordinary paper treated with collodion in their famous


Wow. Plus

I love this:

“It takes very little to start a little magazine,” Reed Whittemore writes. “As a minimum a secondhand typewriter, some paper, and access to a mimeograph machine will do.”

I’m completely fascinated by that era of publishing history — esp The Dial & its several incarnations, so I was glad to see you reference it at the end there.

Question: What was an average circulation for one of those magazines? The Dial, for instance, or Contact? Just round numbers — order of magnitude…?

See, this is the sort of stuff Wolfram Alpha ought to be good for!

Contact, I don’t know. But according to Lawrence Rainey’s “The Cultural Economy of Modernism,” the total circulation of The Dial in 1922 was 9,200, including 6,374 subscribers. They ran a deficit that year of $65,000. (They only earned $40,720, including $9,320 from advertising.)

Most little magazines had a smaller circulation; for example, in 1917 (which isn’t totally a fair comparison, because of the war), the Little Review had 2500 subscribers.

The reason Rainey knows so much about these particular journals in these particular years is because The Dial published “The Waste Land” in 1922, and The Little Review went on to serialize Joyce’s Ulysses.

I have a book about the history of Zines.

But it’s in my studio at our foothills place and I’m in downtown Sacramento. Makes you miss the network.

Dan says…

Wow, Tim. This is fantastic stuff: a materialist intellectual history in the best of senses.

I don’t know who first commented on the “paperback revolution” in post-WWII mass society, but the stuff you’re detailing here feels as if it would be just as important.

Oh, and: Congrats Herr *Doktor* Snarketeer Carmody!

Tim! Will your dissertation be published? Is it already? Basically, how do I get my hands on a copy of this thing? Very curious.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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