: The Antioch Review at Seventy-"Going Forward" :
by Robert S. Fogarty
Every year a new buzzword pops up, almost magically, in newspapers, in magazines, in corporate reports, in speeches, in advertisements, and eventually in casual conversation. A few years ago after reviewing a book for the Times Literary Supplement I noticed that the author had generously sprinkled the manuscript with the word iconic, as the author saw “iconic” figures on every corner, in every building, and in every event as he examined the gentrification process in New York’s East Harlem.
“Iconic” is, alas, still around (its first usage in English dates back to 1652, according to the OED), but a new generation of writers seem to have fallen in love with the word—whether this is because they grew up in an image-besotted culture or because they like the sound of it (like “awesome” of the recent past in vernacular speech) or because they lost a whole batch of words growing up and are linguistically crippled. Just recently the phrase “going forward” has emerged with boring frequency from people who ought to know better, such as Obama’s foreign policy advisor Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former Harvard professor. There is even a news analysis program called “Leaning Forward.” “Looking forward” has its origins in “corporate speak” and one source goes so far as to suggest that the Securities and Exchange Commission is responsible for it. This all reminds one of the spate of works that came out in wake of the publication of the enormously popular utopian novel/tract Looking Backward in 1888. In quick succession there were look-alikes that tried to capture the audience (if not the spirit) of Bellamy’s classic. There was: Looking Forward, Looking Beyond, Looking Within, Looking Ahead, Looking Further and, of course, Looking Further Backward.
Locally it has been a tumultuous decade with the closing and now reopening of Antioch College (our patron), nationally with the election of our first black president, and internationally with several wars begun and some not yet ended, and finally a period of economic boom and bust. To quote Dickens’s opening paragraph in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Sounds just like the new century!
For literary magazines it has been a hard decade, with several outstanding and long-lived ones going under: The Partisan Review, TriQuarterly, The New England Review, and Shenandoah either fell on the sword or were done in by their patrons. And then, of course, there was the rise of the Internet and online magazines with their attendant bloggers, coteries, and log-rollers.
At the moment we have print magazines and then a “delivery system” (online/digitized) and then, more important, the “product.” In an amicus brief in the Google copyright case the French government called a book a “product” unlike other products because of its capacity to elevate human consciousness, while the German brief spoke, according to Robert Darnton, Harvard’s librarian, in the “name of the land of poets and thinkers.”
That describes the land that literary magazines dwell in and there is no reason that they cannot survive in the new Internet world. Numerous universities and philanthropies still support the French/German model of culture rather than simply adhering to a bottom-line approach. There is a place in the modern world for institutions like All Souls College in Oxford and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and for small, independent-minded, print literary journals like the Antioch Review in Yellow Springs and Arête in Oxford. All are small and intimate. Print journals are the literary equivalent of the slow food movement: satisfying and good for you. In short, they strive to excel rather than consume.
Most literary magazines have small staffs, small audiences, small budgets (unlike mass-marketed commercial magazines), and appeal to a discrete and cultivated readership that is willing to pay $10 for a paperback (the average issue of The Antioch Review is 200 pages) offering both a tactile and aesthetic experience. Production and distribution costs have, in fact, gone down in the past ten years and we have increased our payments to authors. Many of the works published in this volume have already made their way into the “best” compilations and three were finalists for the National Magazine Awards sponsored by the Columbia University School of Journalism in fiction and the essay—someone noticed. We compete with the “biggies” (New Yorker, Harpers) for such honors and have done surprisingly well in the past ten years.
Too much is usually made of technological advances when first trumpeted, which then creates numerous (and false) “either/or” scenarios. Not everyone (contrary to the flack generated by both companies) wants their delivery system to be a Kindle or a Nook and many (including young readers) prefer to read just like their parents and grandparents did and choose not to confine themselves to their in-box. Cultivate them. So as I cast my eyes over the past ten years I kept in mind the previous sixty, which were no less tumultuous, but differed in topics, tone, and temperament.
We open this retrospective with a personal response to 9/11 by Stephen Jay Gould, our deceased Advisory Board member, and close with Susan Wheeler, who closed out our sixtieth celebratory volume. In between there is more than a Whitman’s sampler of goodies: repeaters from our sixtieth-anniversary number include Bender, DeMarinis, Geertz, Harris, Lehman, Lish, Osherow, Pearlman, Tisdale, Wheeler; newcomers such as Nathan Oates and William Giraldi; translators from here and abroad like Angel, Conard, and Penuel.
The masthead has had only one major change during this decade with Muriel Keyes carrying a large administrative burden (as assistant editor) that involves making sure the first readers (all ten of them) log in and out the thousands of manuscripts we get; that our interns work; that the bills get paid; and, most important, that we treat our authors’ work with respect. She even eats “al desko” so that we answer our phones (landlines) promptly. Our designer, David Battle, continues his brilliant work despite his quarterly lament that he can’t “do anything” with a particular issue and then does it (see the cover). Jane Baker makes sure that there are no typos and catches infelicitous turn of phrases whenever she can (authors do make mistakes). Judith Hall deserves special mention as our poetry editor who not only picks the work, but also manages to write her own poetry. During the decade she won a Guggenheim, published several books, and convinced John Taylor to write a special poetry column for us from Paris.
Would the editors who founded this journal be pleased with what they wrought? The magazine first came out in the spring of 1941. It was 120 pages long (we crept up to 200 in the 1990s) and four numbers could be had for two dollars a year. There were nine essays in Volume One, Number One (five of the contributors were members of the Antioch College faculty) and the others included Sidney Hook on the “The Counter-Reformation in American Education” and Paul Sweezy on “The Decline of the Investment Banker” (not a very prescient title). There were essays on the “The Intellectual Sources of French Fascism,” “War Aims,” (just around the corner), “Faulkner and the South,” and “The Professor As Radical.” There was a smattering of footnotes, the style more journalistic than academic and the content drawn from the social sciences rather than from literary studies. That would all change when fiction and poetry were added.
Originally it was edited collectively with a shift to a single editor who had final authority instituted in the 1960s. I became editor in 1977 and have tried during my tenure to remain true to the original spirit of the founders while adjusting to the temper of the times. Their opening editorial contained a rousing defense of democracy and humanistic values: “We believe in the promise of American life and we would seek for the seeds of that promise.”
The seeds of our progress—going forward—are to be found in these pages and the writers who hope to surprise us. Gordon Lish, one of our Advisory Board members, once wrote that our purpose was to create a magazine that “freely served the mind and heart of the free reader.” We promise to continue serving the heart and head.