Elliot Anderson and Mary Kinzie discuss their book "The Little Magazine in America: A Modern Documentary History"
BROADCAST: Mar. 7, 1979 | DURATION: 00:53:40
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Studs Terkel You know the, the subject of little magazines is something that's hard to discuss. The history, little magazines in America, literary magazines and some have a circulation of five, 10, 20, 100. And yet, there's a, there's a, a role they play, have played, throughout history in American literature. And the subject little magazines is the basis of a marvelous issue of TriQuarterly. It's that excellent journal that's put out by, at Northwestern University and the publi-the editor is Elliott Anderson. He's here, and he and Mary McKinzie, Mary Kinzie, put together what, a whole group of essays and commentary reflections on the history of the little magazine in the United States from, particularly from World War II to today, and how they've changed, and where the lack is, and where the excitement is, and mostly why they're really needed and where to, what next is the question? So, Elliott, Elliott Anderson is my guest. It's, it's the current issue of TriQuarterly which is, by the way, an excellent, how would you describe TriQuarterly?
Elliott Anderson TriQuarterly is a, a magazine published three times each year, primarily a format for recent American fiction, but also a format occasionally for certain special issues on the literature, culture of a particular region in the world, occasionally something of historical interest like this volume.
Studs Terkel This, so in a moment, the program, after this message. [pause in recording]
Elliott Anderson "There is something edgy, something peculiar and asocial, about a great many little magazines. Those who write for them are in some sense the disadvantaged, at least by commercial standards. People who have a bone to pick, people who are writing against the grain, but who none, who nevertheless want recognition. Not content to wait until the new sensibility of which they may be the harbingers has proven itself in time, they insist upon a revolution in taste now".
Studs Terkel That's a passage Elliott Anderson is reading from his preface to this, to this doc, but by the way it's called a, a documentary in a way. There's a documentary history of small, of little magazines. That's pretty much it, isn't it?
Elliott Anderson Well, it's a good part of it. The, what we discovered in, in the, in the process of putting the, putting the book together is that to do any other kind of history is, would be really very difficult, in large part because the, the range of magazines available being published in the country today are so great and because the, the notions of editorial excellence and literary standards are so, are so diverse. And to attempt a more conventional historical overview would require the efforts of not one, I suspect, but several historians.
Studs Terkel But, in a way through this history that you have here, it's almost a, a history, checkered though it be, of literary life in America today, almost. Reflect changes in tastes and pressures and
Elliott Anderson That's true. Including the lives of not only some of the smallest and what, most obscure I suppose, practitioners, but some of the most highly visible as well. We've included in this book essays on magazines as prominent as Poetry or Paris Review and as obscure as Milk Quarterly, for example, a local publication
Studs Terkel I think you also have the story, some of the story here, of Big Table. Some time ago when Paul Carroll, who does the poetry program on the station, edited Big Table, and the University of Chicago, we're talking now about academic influences, cut out some of the lines of, I mean he was putting in William Burroughs stuff.
Elliott Anderson Right. This was early, early Burroughs, a chapter from Naked Lunch which caused considerable controversy locally. I believe there was an article in one of the local papers, a headline which read "Dirty Writing on the Midway." And this was back in the '50s of course when dirty writing was a, a slightly different matter, but that gave rise then to, to Big Table which was founded to, to publish basically the suppressed issue of Chicago Review.
Studs Terkel That's when Ginsberg and Orlovsky came in.
Elliott Anderson Right. This was the very beginning of the Beat period and was the first introduction for many people to, to that writing.
Studs Terkel But mostly we're talking about little magazines and the fact they allow, they have little dough, little to lose. A world to gain, and they hardly gain it. The idea of people can, so, one, one of the things that comes up throughout is the fact that taste has to be a big factor isn't it? So here comes the big conflict.
Elliott Anderson Well, I think so. It's, I know for, for, for us at, at TriQuarterly we're, we're constantly weighing what we can do, what we can afford to do, on the one hand, against what we'd like to do on the other. And I think our problem, although we're in a much better financial situation than most magazines, our problem is, is typical of the problem that faces every little magazine.
Elliott Anderson Right. In other words you can't, we can't afford to do the kind of book consistently that the average commercial publisher can afford to do, or the magazine editor can, can afford to do, which you know, puts certain restrictions, limitations on us.
Studs Terkel Let's go, let's go through some of the essays, cause some are, are in conflict with each other. But it's the, Michael Anania, who we know is a very excellent poet working out of Chicago and he wrote an ess-opening essay, "Of Living Belfry and Rampart: Magazines Since 1950." So, I come to a big question. What's changed, if anything?
Elliott Anderson Well, Michael raises several, I think interesting, three, basically three interesting questions toward the end of, of his, of his introduction.
Studs Terkel And he asks was that too many?
Elliott Anderson Yeah, he asks and he's talking about a visit that a Russian editor had paid to him while he was editing poetry books essentially for Swallow Press in Chicago. The Russian, upon seeing Michael's collection of little magazines asked him, "Why are there so many? Who reads them? Why aren't there fewer magazines with more readers?" The questions are very difficult to answer. By most estimations there are now in the neighborhood of 1500 small magazines in this country, that's as opposed to say 600 pre-1945. There are a number of factors I think that, that account for the growth. It's cheaper in many ways now to produce a magazine, easier to produce a magazine than ever before. There are a larger number of writing programs in the country turning out not only young writers who are looking for places to publish, but also would-be editors who are looking to, you know, to do magazines. Publication technology, Xerox machines, the A.B. Dick copier, cheaper offset printing have made lots of magazines possible. It's, I think difficult, and as Michael says it's difficult to say precisely why.
Studs Terkel But, that also raises a question. Good and bad. Not too much bad, but the impact. Sometimes it's, they're self-indulgent, some of the little magazines are.
Elliott Anderson Oh, indeed. The, I think the impact, you have to measure the impact a couple of different ways. If you're looking at at readers and wondering what influence magazines have, I suspect you would conclude that they have very little because most magazines, as you've indicated in your introduction, have very few readers for the most part. But I think that, I think
Studs Terkel Some have more writers than readers.
Elliott Anderson Oh indeed, yeah. And I think that, I think there's another way to judge the impact of magazines though and that's to look at the, at the influence they have collectively upon literary culture. And I think that influence has been really quite extraordinary. And I think you can measure it in terms of, of changes in, in attitudes on the part of many commercial publishers, for example. You can look at the kinds of writers publishing kinds of work today that weren't in print, weren't around a number of years ago and I think attribute some of that appearance directly to the, you know, the importance of magazines.
Studs Terkel Yeah but, there's a point that Anania raises, he says about history absent in new magazines. There's, the earlier magazines, I, I think so. Pre-World War II certainly, and maybe way back in the earlier maga, the little mag, the earlier magazines, like the little magazine, others, dealt with what happened before with poets long since gone, or writers since gone. A literary tradition, a continuity. And the implication that Michael makes here is that a lot of the contributors are ahistorical, which is said of many of the young today.
Elliott Anderson Well, I think that's true. I think it's true of our culture as a whole. I think that we've entered a period of, an ahistorical period, a period in which many people tend to believe that history is a kind of baggage from which we best, you know, be dissociated. I, I don't think magazines are probably any more ahistorical than are, say movies or, or other forms of media or entertainment. I think that little magazine editors are like university professors, like other professionals in the field of literature who, you know, simply either don't believe in the importance of historical antecedent, or who simply haven't been trained to
Studs Terkel You mean literary magazines reflect what is a general malaise.
Elliott Anderson I think so. Sure. Certainly the best ones. I think the ones doing the best job of, of reporting the scene or publishing the scene are, are more or less accurate reflections of, you know, certain contemporary attitudes.
Studs Terkel The big thing that Anania hits, to me, it's toward the end of his essay. Throughout the century American literature has taken it's vitality from its own extreme edges. Since the center doesn't hold. The center is too often lifeless and boring and so, I guess the whole idea of, he's serving as both "Belfry" and "Rampart." The fact that they're the non, not big dough involved and less inhibition, less advertising pressure.
Elliott Anderson Right. This is, I, I think a traditional notion of, you know the, the value and the function of the, of the avant-garde. The notion being that what's popular today was experimental yesterday and that what is experimental today, if it's any good, will, will become the popular, you know, part of the popular mainstream tomorrow. And I think this has been true for, you know, a good number of years. I think historical consciousness has shifted some. And I think that accounts for certain kinds of ideas associated with the publishing of, of little magazines. I think it's one reason that so many magazines can be born and die so quickly and no one really seems to pay much attention or to, you know, to really mind. But I think that the, you know that the avant-garde, insofar as there still is a literary avant-garde in this country finds its place essentially in, you know, in little magazines.
Studs Terkel Yeah, it's possible. I'm, I'm thinking, before we ask you about Robinson, Charles Robinson, and, and the influence of, of the academy and litte magazines. Some are not so little, acting pretty slick and pretty big time. The, has there been a notable, is there one big change, for better or for worse, from the magazines? I may be romanticizing a past too, cause you point out how easily they can be published today. Has there been a change, a perceptible change in the attitude or contribution of the little magazine today than there was pre-World War II?
Elliott Anderson Well, yes and no. I think that because there are so many more magazines and because in several important ways literary culture has, has been fragmented, you know, by various experiences in the recent past, little magazines tend to be even more ephemeral today I think probably than previously. and insofar as a magazine editor really isn't paying attention to a movement, or isn't aware of what belonging to a certain school means in terms of his place in history, then yes, there would be a change. Otherwise, I suspect not. I think the, the political edge, the determination to, to do in spite of all restraints, is, is the same today as it was say 10, 15, 20 years ago.
Studs Terkel Now we come to through a big one, [you know?]. Academia and the little magazine. Who's, who's Charles Rob-who was Charles
Elliott Anderson Charles Robinson was, Charles Robinson is, is now deceased, was a little magazine editor and contributor, a, was a student, a, a kind of protege of James Boyer May in the '60s, and wrote for us a piece on the, the influence of the university, the academy, on, on magazine publishing. Basically, I think, the influence has been, has been salutary. Certainly in, in, in the case of TriQuarterly our affiliation with, with Northwestern has, has been an enabling affiliation. Without it, you know, there wouldn't be a TriQuarterly.
Studs Terkel The big question, of course, is has there been any form of censorship?
Elliott Anderson Censorship? There was a, a case involving a special issue of TriQuarterly a number of years ago that, that raised some eyebrows in the university. We published, this was before my time, but we published a novella by William Gass called "Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife" which was illustrated prominently with photographs of a, a nude woman. The story goes that the, the wife of one of the trustees received a copy of the magazine in the mail, was offended by the front cover which showed breasts, turned the magazine over to hide the breasts, and was then confronted with the bare backside. We haven't run into anything like that since, in part because we haven't done any of that, we haven't published anything that would be, I think quite so controversial. But, I think too that pressures have relaxed quite a lot in the last, you know, number of years. Attitudes have changed.
Studs Terkel In the essay, also there's reference to some of the trouble Karl Shapiro had. He was editor of Poetry for a while.
Elliott Anderson Right.
Studs Terkel When he edited another magazine, Prairie Schooner, connected with the University of Nebraska,
Elliott Anderson Right. Yeah. Karl experienced a kind of difficulty that Peter Michaelson also writes about in his collection. That is, having decided to do something which university officials, administration, decided was contrary to university policy and, and in effect found that his hands had been tied. Michaelson lost his job at the University of Wyoming over a similar controversy involving a magazine called Purple Sage. Prairie Schooner wasn't folded as a result of the Shapiro scandal but, but Karl was obliged to not publish a piece that he'd wanted to
Studs Terkel You know, parenthetically, having nothing to do with this or just thinking out loud in a free-associative way, the influence of the little magazine on somebody's life, influenced me very much. I once, at the University of Chicago Library picked up a copy of Hound & Horn. It was like TriQuarterly. It was Yale Quarterly, I think it was. Hound & Horn. I read some essays by a film critic named Harry Alan Potamkin, long since dead. And that altered my entire view of movies. It was, it was essays on certain artists, D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin and I remember that, and it affected me tremendously, and it was a little magazine. College subsidized.
Elliott Anderson Right, college publication. I think that, I mean the best university based magazines offer a range of literary and, and critical services that, that most commercial publishers either can't afford to do or simply are not inclined to do. I, I think that with that service can go a, a kind of censorship that is maybe less obvious than the sort of thing that Shapiro suffered or that Michaelson suffered, but that is even more insidious. And that has to do with the, the direct or indirect shaping of an editor's attitudes and tastes by the institution he serves. Now, a certain amount of that shaping, I think is inevitable but, and certainly some of the editors of the smaller, more fiercely independent magazines would, would argue that university based publications are awfully dry and bland as a result, and a necessary result, of their university affiliation.
Studs Terkel Yeah, there's a very, as you're talking about that, there was another aspect, an interesting essay by Felix Pollak. I'll ask you about it. An interview on little magazines, do you, the nature of elitism and magazines. Now, I come to something very interesting. Who
Elliott Anderson Pollak was for a number of years the curator of the rare book room, the special collection at, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He's, he's now retired. He's a poet, a critic, in the old fashioned sense, a man of letters. I think a very strong willed populist, someone who believes very fervently in, in the right to literary, in general right to literary expression. When he talks about elitism, I think what he's talking about is, is a kind of exclusivity or clubbiness that, that tends to grow out of certain magazine groups and attitudes that contributors to magazines tend to share. Attitudes that frequently exclude from participation other younger or different writers. Some of that of course is, is inevitable to, to any enterprise it seems to me.
Studs Terkel Isn't this one of the, I'm just curious. When a magazine's written on a certain plane and the critics more and more quote-unquote, sophisticated. I mean sophisticated not in the, in the Webster's sense, but they become more and more in-inbred, you know. They battle each other so much that the critic becomes the star. He becomes the center and the battles become personal, too. And somehow we, the reader, in one sense is absolutely lost.
Elliott Anderson Right. I, I think that there's a tendency and it's a tendency that's beginning now I think to diminish. But there was a tendency, especially during the '50s, when there was a lot of federal money around for literature, for publishing. Purchase grants for libraries for example which enabled certain publishers to publish kinds of work they wouldn't have published otherwise. There was a strong tendency for, for literature, fiction especially, and certain kinds of criticism to become not, well elitist I suppose, in a certain sense and that's in the, in the sense that the only people finally who had access to what the stuff meant were people who had been formally trained in the language you had to, to learn to speak in order to, to
Studs Terkel It almost becomes, almost becomes a form of, of gossip. You know, really gossip. Stuff involving them. Personal vendettas become part of it or personal egos. I'm sure it's always there, but to some, there was a certain moment I think, when the reader was excluded.
Elliott Anderson Yeah, it's, you can still, there's still magazines around who continue to, to publish this sort of thing. I think it's, the audience for the, for that sort of work has begun, you know, as I say, has begun to diminish. The, the tendency though, and this is to back up a little bit and become more general, the tendency for any magazine, I think, is to develop a, not only a band of more or less regular contributors, but also a fairly clear sense of, of audience, if only by default in the sense that because, you know, a magazine has been doing a kind of thing for a while it presumes that that's the, the kind of thing that it's readers, you know, want to see. And to the extent that that, that tendency dominates editorial thinking, you get a, you get a club and you get a kind of exclusive
Studs Terkel The clubbiness is what I was referring to.
Elliott Anderson Right.
Studs Terkel But there's something Pollak writes I find fascinating. The need for passion. Expect the manifesto days are over, he says. We, we live in a cool time, he says. No more flaming manifesto little magazines. And he says he likes the idea of passion even if they're passionately wrong, and he speaks of an absence of passion to some extent.
Elliott Anderson Yeah. I guess it's not that I don't quite know what to make of passion because I can make lots of different, lots of different things of passion. I, I think that in part most editors, at least the good ones, are, are maybe sophisticated is the word. More sophisticated than they used to be. I, I know personally I'm reluctant to become wildly enthusiastic about any movement or attitude. In a recent conversation with a friend who's also a critic, I made the remark that I didn't really know anyone who did what he, what he did especially well, who took himself all that seriously. Now, if that is an attitude that's shared by, by others then passion becomes remote. Maybe this is what accounts for the, the cool age that you mentioned, that Pollak's talking
Studs Terkel Well maybe, maybe people have been burned too much perhaps.
Elliott Anderson Well, I find it I think difficult to believe in, in ideas in, in quite the same way that, that people once did. I know what, what makes this book interesting to me is not and that is the, the little magazine history, is not any one idea or set of ideas in the book, but the, the great range of ideas and the kind of, of collection that the book becomes as a result.
Studs Terkel We're talking to Elliott Anderson who is editor of TriQuarterly. This is TriQuarterly 43, and this, and this is a Northwestern based magazine. It's a very exciting one, always has been. Three times a year publication. This issue is devoted specifically, the fall issue of '78 was now, specifically devoted to the history from World War II on, with reference to earlier days of little magazines and it's a very, I think it's a very important one, and received critical acclaim. But another, before we take a break, something else that Pollak said. This will help explain a lot, too. We live in an auto, audiovisual age too. You know, so many of the young are not accustomed, are less accustomed to the printed word, than to the movie, the TV, the audiovisual age we live in. That's a big factor today too, isn't it, as far as, does it affect little magazines?
Elliott Anderson I think less than some people, maybe, would like to think. For one thing, the, the audience for magazines is so small, generally speaking, that, that when you're talking about the audience for, for a little magazine you're not talking about the general population. You're talking about hardcore readers, people who in fact prefer the printed word to the spoken word, who would rather read the novel than, than see the movie. This becomes a very real problem when a magazine begins thinking of expanding its audience and begins to look for ways to increase its readership and to, to reach kinds of people that haven't been readers or subscribers in the past. Then I think the, the problem is very real. But I don't think, I think when Felix is talking about the audiovisual age, he's talking about a larger cultural effect I suppose, which in some ways accounts for a kind of writing maybe, but can't really affect the writer-reader relationship if that relationship is to, you know, is
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah, maybe the kind of writing might be influenced by, to some extent, films.
Elliott Anderson Sure. Well, I think a, a writer like Donald Barthelme, for example, who has been a, no longer is really, but has been a little magazine contributor, is affected largely by kinds of media experiences which are, which are new.
Studs Terkel A question. Is there any way of finding out, I'm thinking now of, of readers in proportion to population. Little magazine, or literary magazine readers today, the portion in contrast to those before, using World War II as, as an
Elliott Anderson Right, question being, has that number increased
Studs Terkel Yeah. Just curious.
Elliott Anderson I
Studs Terkel When I think of the other asp-you think it has?
Elliott Anderson I think so. I think that a large part of the increase probably has to do with the increase in the number of writers in the country. I mean, we have far more people writing fiction and poetry today than we did, you know, 30 years ago. And in part this has to do with the growth in popularity of writing programs around the country. I think though, too, that, that because there are so many more magazines and because some of the older, larger ones are beginning now to market what they do in a more sophisticated way, the audience for this kind of work is, is beginning to grow. Certainly, our audience is beginning to grow. And I know that, for example, magazines like American Poetry Review, a relatively new publication, are circulating in excess of 20,000 copies of each issue they publish, which is, is really quite good. Not good by commercial standards, but phenomenally good by
Studs Terkel non-commerical By the way, have they affected, on that point of commercial standards, magazines, you implied this earlier, have affected some of the more commercial magazines, or the slick ones?
Elliott Anderson Yes, I think so. A magazine, for example, like, like TriQuarterly which publishes a lot of, of recent fiction can introduce to a, an important critical audience the work of a new writer, who once having enjoyed that introduction may find that he now has, has an audience in the, in the larger commercial world as well. We've published a number of stories or excerpts from works in progress by young writers who have gone on, as a, as a direct result to sell a book in New York and books that they might not have sold otherwise, that is without that kind of exposure. There are certain kinds of art, for example, that will be published or, or featured in little magazines that will subsequently catch on in, in some of the larger commercial publications.
Studs Terkel They see something going on. The editors of the big, they see something, hey.
Elliott Anderson Well, and moreover they have a, they have an opportunity to, to test market in a, in
Studs Terkel Also see it as vogue, too. I mean, they see it for the wrong reasons too.
Elliott Anderson Sure.
Studs Terkel Nonetheless, it does have that impact.
Elliott Anderson I know for a, for a while we tried to convince, we were looking for, for money a couple of years ago, and, and this was when Charles Newman was still editing the magazine and I was, I was working with him. We went to New York to try and sell a number of New York publishers on the notion that TriQuarterly was an important farm team for the commercial publishers, and that without us they would lose a very valuable test market, would lose a proving ground and wanted them in return for the service we were offering to provide us with some subsidy income. We weren't successful in that attempt, but we did make I thought, you know, an important point.
Studs Terkel Elliott Anderson is my guest and he's the editor of TriQuarterly, but this particular issue we're talking about is called The Little Magazine in America: a Modern Documentary History. Essays and memoirs, and there're photo documents too. There's also a bibliography along with it. And it's something of value, it's very exciting reading, and more of this in a moment after this message, back to Elliott Anderson and some more of the, a number of quite provocative essays. [pause in recording] So, we are resuming the conversation. Here's, now, Robert Boyers. This is one that got me, I got sore at him a couple of times here. But let's talk about this one. The Little Magazine in its Place: Literary Culture and Anarchy. Boyers edited Salmagundi.
Elliott Anderson Right. And Salmagundi is
Studs Terkel Had quite a reputation.
Elliott Anderson Good magazine. Basically a magazine of criticism. One of the better such magazines I think in the country.
Studs Terkel Now, he blasts what he calls indiscriminate love of experiment, you know, of, of a manic eclecticism and maybe is fiery, but I think he, I think he's, he hits a little too hard I think.
Elliott Anderson Well, Boyers is, is intellectually, I suppose, what you'd, is popular now to call a neoconservative. Someone who's
Studs Terkel You know I didn't know that and I so-I was sore at him. [laughing]
Elliott Anderson He, he believes, I think, very, very strongly in, in certain kinds of historical continuities we were talking about earlier and and you'd mentioned that, oddly enough a number of these continuities seem to have disappeared from the culture. Boyers is one who looks to critics like Trilling for example, for, for many of these precedents and I think resents what he takes to be the willy nilly experimentation that he sees going on among, you know so many other editors and writers, believing that this kind of experimentation threatens the integrity of the ideas that he, he holds important.
Studs Terkel But certainly, no, no one would argue with him about the matter of the need for continuity. But, of course there's a need for continuity. I think it's his manner of using you know, what, a club here, you know, in a, in a promiscuous way here. He's flailing about.
Elliott Anderson Beating a straw man.
Studs Terkel Well he's, he's rapping Williams. I'm curious about this. William Carlos Williams has some, and he's, the little magazine is something I've always fostered. This is William Carlos Williams. And he goes on to say, there's actually no dominating policy permitting anyone to dictate. He likes the idea of the freedom, about being fallible, taking chances, subject to devotions and accidents. Now, I don't think Williams is, is thinking of no stan-William has, certainly has standards. He walloped Sandberg in one of the, we'll come to it later on. You know, Williams had standards and Boyers was walloping Williams because he thought Williams was too anarchistic, or seemed to lack standards and saying he looks for devotions and accidents.
Elliott Anderson Right. I, in a sense, I think Boyers is using Williams to, to make a point. And, you know, insofar as he does that he may be, you know being unfair to Williams. I think what Boyers is trying to say, and this is a, a position that I would, I would share, is that it's, it's too easy to admire what is creative simply because it's creative and to
Studs Terkel Or because it's new.
Elliott Anderson Or because it's new.
Studs Terkel And newness, and something new for newness's sake. Can't argure with that.
Elliott Anderson Right. And Lord knows there's, you know there's enough of that around these days with 1500 magazines being published in the country. You get an awful lot of, of bad work that passes for something interesting simply because it's sometimes confusing, because it's different, because, I mean there are any number of reasons why it happens. But, this is what he objects to. And in part for very practical reasons. He, he understands as a number of us do, that the extent to which some of the, the less interesting magazines occupy a place in the country, the place for the more interesting magazines, given the limited audiences is, is, is threatened, and there is a certain, I think, defensiveness in his remarks.
Studs Terkel Yeah, I, you know what got me? I know what got me. I got it here, I underlined. I think that he's, he's pretty free and easy with the use of language, and here, "If the journal is miscellaneous only insofar as it reflects the obscene pluralism", that's what got me, I think, "the obscene pluralism of a democratic ethos gone awry, it cannot concern itself with matters of differences in equality, scope, and moral tone". Well, of course he's right, and I'd agree with you. You can't have, you know, and the lack of standard is a horrendous thing if you just publish something that's junk because it's new. But the use of, I, very careless use of phrases, you know. Obscene
Elliott Anderson The obscene, I think points to a larger political issue involving not only little magazines and literature in this country but all of the arts and it's something we can maybe talk about in, in, in some detail later on. But, basically what he's saying is that the pluralists, the art democrats if you will, are obscene because they've been picking his pocket, and picking his pocket on solid political grounds but, but very shaky aesthetic or, or, or literary grounds. And it's a, it's a complicated argument and one that he doesn't really make in the kind of detail that he might have, but he's got a point. The point though, I think has more to do with, with, with money, and with the politics of money for literature than it does with, you know quality writing or, or quality ideas.
Studs Terkel Maybe. How was his pocket picked, his literary pocket?
Elliott Anderson Well, the, in brief, there has been for the past several years, brewing for the last 10, but really visible only say for the last five years, a controversy centered in the National Endowment for the Arts having to do with funding for literary magazines. The feeling on the part of the, the past director of the literary program has been that if you have 100 dollars and you've got 100 magazine editors then each magazine editor gets a dollar. The feeling of an editor like Bob Boyers, or you know, my feeling has been you can't distribute money for the arts on a one man, you know, one vote basis, that certain estimations of quality have got to be made, however arbitrary those may seem, if fair awards are, are to be made.
Elliott Anderson what And that, that raises a very ugly, you
Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. It does raise, now I know why know why I don't like his piece and it's something you said. I don't disagree and yet, I do to some extent disagree with you. It's a wholly different, not a wholly different ground. It's related. Now I know, I remember now the big dispute about National Endowment of the Arts, and the controversy, and some would say, hey it's given out on too quote-unquote, formally democratic a basis. People who don't deserve it, get it. That may be true. I'm thinking what happened, you know what wall art is? This [not talking?] of literary mag-wall art. You know, street art. You know?
Elliott Anderson Murals?
Studs Terkel Yeah, murals. And some are good and some are not good. But they're murals and they're in communities. They're in neighborhoods. Done by the artists, some of whom live in that neighborhood and they're going to be denied stuff by some recent edict somewhere, because of the fact that one of the lines in that new rule, or that, whatever the hand, hand-down is, that it's for those, they should be audiences, for audiences more sophisticated, that's a phrase they used by the way, than that which may be the case if they're more free and easy in the giving. And I remember that. And as you were talking and reading Boyers' piece, it suddenly connects in my mind. Now, I agree there has to be a standard, but there's as, somewhere along the line, the, the, a self-righteousness has come in, and that someone says hey, these guys aren't very good, not by his standards. There's got to be a broader committee is what I'm saying.
Elliott Anderson Right. Well, it's the, the poster or the mural example I suppose, is a good one because what it raises, at least to my mind, first of all is a question well who is this for and what is the relationship between the person who does the mural, the thing that he does, and the people who are going to see it? Now, if you assume that, that magazines, we'll shift the focus now. If you assume that magazines are for just anyone, and that therefore, just anyone with the passion or the determination or the interest ought to be allowed to produce a magazine, then of course you, you can arrive at a, you know, a system for, for distributing money. I don't, I guess believe that magazines are for just anyone as I don't believe that, that literature is for just anyone. I
Elliott Anderson And when I say that, I don't mean to suggest that I think people ought to, you know to have a license or, or have to pass some sort of test in order to, you know to read, or to write, or publish. But, I do think that if, if certain very real literary standards aren't, arent, aren't applied, then what you get is a, a deadening of the art. You get a lowest common denominator story which is to no one's service. It's a, you know, and
Studs Terkel I'm not going to argue with that. I think there have to be standards, but I think somehow the standards sometimes set up in some quarters are much, and it's great for them, but sometimes a bit too rarefied sometimes, I think.
Elliott Anderson Oh, I agree. I agree, you know, completely. And have, you know, for a number of years been a member of the, the literature panel for the Illinois Arts Council and every granting period we, we have to confront this same issue. And it's, there are no easy answers.
Studs Terkel By the way, we have, there are more essays in this very excellent issue of TriQuarterly. There's one, Robie Macauley worked for a time here as a fiction editor for Playboy. He, he edited Kenyon Review, I wasn't aware. And there's a very excellent, it seems to me, perceptive essay by Robie here in, in the Kenyan Review.
Elliott Anderson Robie's, Robie was a, was a fine editor. I think
Studs Terkel Now, the Ken-this now, perhaps, a word about Kenyon Review and Southern Review. This, here was another period, post-World War II in which Southern writers, as though there were a flowering of Southern literature and writing, came to the fore. And these two magazines played a role, didn't they? The Swanee.
Elliott Anderson They did. Basically, Swanee Review, Southern Review,
Studs Terkel Kenyon
Elliott Anderson Kenyon Review provided a focus for a kind of regional writing and criticism that gained a great deal of popularity and influence, not only among general audiences but in universities as well and Robie was, as a successor to John Crowe Ransom, an important editorial force in, in that movement. He left Kenyon in the, was in the late '50s, early '60s to come to Chicago and, and take over the job of fiction editor at Playboy, but has since left that position and is back in literary editing again at Houghton Mifflin in Boston.
Studs Terkel But he talks in the essay of the imp-here, I think you talk, the importance of a critic. Well, of course. That, you know, somebody was saying, "Hey, there's the critic." Well, he, he in a way he does establish, or set, or try to elevate a certain standard, so he speaks to the importance of the critic.
Elliott Anderson Right.
Studs Terkel Quotes Edmund Wilson, here.
Elliott Anderson Well, and, and believes I think that the function of the critic is not to create a code which it requires a, you know, an army of graduate students to decipher, but to serve as a, as a, as an intermediate between the work and, and its natural audience, and in the best sense what this means I think, is, is, is speaking, writing a language which the ordinary, you know, intelligent man can, can understand.
Studs Terkel Yeah, may I ask, you, you, you know what, why I seem, you can guess the way I'm feeling on certain things. Why, sometimes I, I don't resent what the critics do some things. But, in some cases they become the star. The critic becomes the star. It is his review rather than the actual book, or his critique how the book itself that becomes the center from discussion! For, for discussion.
Elliott Anderson Right. Well, there's nothing more irritating, I think than for a critical essay to take on all the performance aspects of a, a piece of original work. I think that, I mean I guess I like to think of critics sometimes as the tickbirds on the, the backs of the, the rhinoceros who are there to, to service the, service the art, but not to take over the, the role of the artist.
Studs Terkel As a piquant note here, the magazine Furioso Reed Whittemore writes about this. His colleague was James Angleton whom we know, Angleton of course is one of the hard, tough CIA guys.
Elliott Anderson Right. Right.
Studs Terkel Became that later. And I'm now thinking of, of a phrase used, a cultural isolation. And that's that, you see, I may be, you realize I'm reading too much into this, you know. But he speaks of the cultural isolation he felt, he and Angleton felt with this magazine Furioso. I imagine it has very good standards. I thought of the word cultural isolation and I thought of Angleton's role recently, you know, in, in the CIA. And he kind of, forced out of it, and his obsession it seems to me, with them, you know the enemy, quote unquote. I thought for his cultural isolation.
Elliott Anderson Well it doesn't speak well, I suppose, of magazines that an editor should pass from literature to secret intelligence. But no, I think that the sense of cultural isolation is something that anyone who, who writes or, or edits feels. It's, literature is, as Charlie Newman once said, an art form that's produced in private to be consumed in private and so the experience is necessarily I think a lonely one. But, that doesn't mean, it seems to me, or suggest some of the, oh I suppose, conspiracies that writers, many of them anyhow, like to assume because of the experience they've had, they've had
Studs Terkel We should point out by the way, you mentioned Charles Newman. In case you, those who may not know, he was the, the predecessor, one of the predecessors
Elliott Anderson Right. He was my predecessor.
Studs Terkel Of Elliott Anderson as editor of TriQuarterly and written some, some very excellent provocative books too. And, and also, experimenting in form, too.
Elliott Anderson Yes. Very self-consciously. Charlie's a, like a, he's one of a, a number of similar writers. Writers who, who can tell a story effectively but who know enough about the language and various narrative possibilities to begin to push the form a little.
Studs Terkel And there's another interesting aspect to this, to TriQuarterly, in this issue. Magazines that politics involved here. Left wing politics. The Anvil is a very left magazine of the '40s. Yeah, '30s and '40s. New Anvil, Anvil, and Partisan Review. And here of course is where politics, very bitter politics entered the picture of the literary world.
Elliott Anderson Yeah, there was a, a serious rift between William Phillips, who was then and still is the editor of Partisan Review and, and Jack Conroy who edited Anvil and New Anvil. It's a difficult story to sort out because its parts are, are complicated and, and, and diverse, but essentially what happened is that Phillips survived. Conroy as, at least the editor of Anvil, New Anvil, didn't.
Studs Terkel Back at Moberly, Missouri pounding away on his typewriter.
Elliott Anderson William basically survived because he managed to, to create about him, a, a circle of influential contributors and supporters who managed to accumulate sufficient capital to guarantee, you know the continuance of Partisan. That's a sidebar, but one of the trickier aspects to, to, to running a, a magazine of this sort. That is, the problems with funding and the kinds of social and political problems that, that arise.
Studs Terkel First post-World War II and before that, and Cold War enters the picture
Elliott Anderson Sure
Studs Terkel And all aspects. You know, we can't talk about this issue without talking about Poetry magazine. And here, I'm, I'm astonished at the amount of politics, internal politics that takes place in a literary magazine, such as Poetry.
Elliott Anderson Well, this is, the Karl Shapiro interview on Poetry brings out, I think the very interesting social what? The, the social fabric of the, of the business or the, the, some of the social necessities. Karl was one of a, of a group of people who were responsible for that magazine. He was the only one who was really on the line. The others serving as trustees of the, the foundation behind the magazine. Because their, it was their money involved, they had a very live interest in what it was he did. I think anytime an editor becomes involved with an angel or a group of angels, that is people whose, whose money are, are paying for what, what he's doing, encounters interesting kinds of problems. Pressures to do this, to do that.
Studs Terkel I suppose also, many people who, who are members of the board of trustees [unintelligible] like the idea of status associated with the magazine of that nature.
Elliott Anderson Oh, sure. Well, and this is one of the things that an editor has to, to offer an angel, and that is a place of some prominence, you know, in association with the magazine. Now if that, if that place becomes an active, rather than a passive place, and if the, the angel either begins writing poetry himself or deciding that he ought to read some of these poems and pass judgment, then the problem can become, become very real.
Studs Terkel The sequences here that, in the interview of Karl Shapiro by I think, Ralph Mills, a Chicago poet and
Elliott Anderson Right, and Mike Anania.
Studs Terkel And Mike Anania. And there were some hot moments, too in other words that he, he also used the work of a eccentric I love, Edward Dahlberg. Very eccentric. I was, he was passionate, by the way.
Studs Terkel But, he ripped up Conrad Aiken. And apparently he asked for the re-he asked to review it. And Shapiro thinking, of course, he was a, he liked Aiken. And he just lacerated him. So that was
Elliott Anderson Well, this kind of thing happens. Writers develop antagonisms. They, you know, develop likes and dislikes for each other, and will, given the opportunity or the format, sometimes, you know air the, a grievance publicly.
Studs Terkel And so Shapiro lost Aiken's friendship.
Elliott Anderson Well, but it's, I think it's to Shapiro's credit that he went ahead and published
Studs Terkel He did it. Now it's the piece of Williams, William Carlos Williams on Sandberg.
Elliott Anderson Right. Yeah, it's a, it's a tricky business in that sense, because if, if friends are, are what you're looking for, you're, I think in the wrong, in the wrong field if you're going to do the job well. And Karl was a, was a fine editor.
Studs Terkel All we're doing, we're going through this in a, in a cursory fashion really. The issue of TriQuarterly, the one, the Little Magazine in America, this, it is a, it is a documentary history through, through the eyes of the participants, for the years
Elliott Anderson It is. Our, our intention was to bring together a sufficient number of essays by writers, contributors to little magazines, and little magazine editors, to present a fair range of, or a sense of the, the range of magazines that have existed over the past 30 years. And our concern was to do not only the best of the magazines, but also the magazines that were most representative of the various kinds that have appeared, so that we have pieces by editors whose work has been only marginally visible in the larger world, but who nonetheless have done a, a kind of job exceedingly well.
Studs Terkel There's Black Mountain College.
Elliott Anderson Black Mountain Review.
Studs Terkel Black, Black Mountain Review.
Elliott Anderson Coming out of Black Mountain College.
Studs Terkel That's here. And what, what would you say? Elliott Anderson is my guest and he edited this with his colleague Mary Kinzie. What, is there such a thing as a, as something you can put your hand on right now? Is there a, a literary tendency anywhere, any direction that, as reflected in the little magazines?
Elliott Anderson As reflected in the little magazines, I'm not sure. As reflected by changing tastes in the country, I think so. I think that the age of experimentalism, if you can call it that, postmodern self-consciousness, is passing. I think it's being replaced by a return to a kind of realism that lets the reader know when he's finished a story that what he's encountered has been, you know, a, a narrative having to do with a world he knows and recognizes, concerning characters he knows and recognizes. I think the better little magazines reflect this, reflect this shift. I like to think so, I guess, because that's what we're doing. But soft-core realism, if you will. A, a revival of the happy ending. You know, a concern, and a real concern for the, the psychology of character and the place of the individual in the world today, set not against a radical narrative experiment of one kind or another, but against a, a fairly solid and traditional old fashioned story.
Studs Terkel So, you see a, a healthy, healthy trend.
Elliott Anderson I think it's healthy. I think that, I mean getting back to what we were talking about before in terms of exclusivity or elitism, I think that it's this kind of writing, story with a plot and characters that will attract, can attract a significant number of readers and that doesn't exclude from the reading experience people whose, whose interests are non-professional but nonetheless enthusiastic.
Studs Terkel I was thinking, something you said earlier about how easy it is to publish magazines, and there are about 300, you say now? I'm sorry
Elliott Anderson Fifteen, fifteen hundred.
Studs Terkel to give an idea. Fifteen hundred.
Elliott Anderson Right.
Studs Terkel Some would have circulations of 50.
Elliott Anderson No more than 50 to 100.
Studs Terkel Mimeograph. But, you said something about more writers today than then. And I thought of jazz. A parallel if I may. It may be that jazz is dead. Jazz is far from dead, but at times I see more jazz performers than are, than members of the audience. Now, jazz is coming back again as far as audience is concerned, but there's a tre-there are far, far, more jazz performers today than there were before the war, you see. So what's interesting is that this may-not accidental.
Studs Terkel There may be more writers too.
Elliott Anderson I suppose a jazz performer is in a sense up against the same kind of problem that a little magazine editor is up against, and that's you know the audience is there, but how do you reach them? Now for a magazine editor, this means establishing a distribution system or tying into a distribution system. It means doing a certain amount of, of marketing, creating a sales effort to bring a, a magazine before it's, before it's natural audience to give it a chance. Now this, in any but the most primitive levels, is a relatively expensive and, and sophisticated business and most magazines simply aren't set up to get that kind of job done. So that, I suspect that the, you know, the, the intelligent magazine editor without the resources to, to market what he does effectively, knows from the outset that he's not going to reach an audience significant in number. It simply can't be done.
Studs Terkel What, what this issue of TriQuarterly is, Elliott Anderson is editor and my guest. This issue of the little magazine, the subject Little Magazine in America: A Modern Documentary History is that it, it offers excellent, it's excellent reading. But more than that, a picture, I think, of the literary scene in America, a pretty good one, of trends and tendencies and battles and steps forward and backward from, from war on, from the late '40s on.
Elliott Anderson Well, I think it shows a, a direction. It, it certainly charts the growth of, of magazines, and I think shows that beginning about 1965, the literary community in this country began to fragment in, in ways that it had never really fragmented before. Reasons for this fragmentation I think have as much to do with, with the change in, in publishing technologies, as with the change in attitudes or in tastes. I think that what we see and I think the volume suggests this as well, as a result, is not only a larger number of magazines but a, a much more chaotic and, and confusing field, and one that for the true historian, that is, the individual who sits down to write the ideas and the directions of the past 30 years, will find a very difficult job indeed. It's, I don't think, certainly I couldn't begin to describe accurately and without making lots of arbitrary omissions, and without shaping ideas to serve a purpose, couldn't begin to describe the effect of some of these changes.
Studs Terkel TriQuarterly 43, the issue is called. And it's Little Magazine in America. Elliott Anderson is my guest. The book's available. It's available in bookstores.
Elliott Anderson It is. It is. We, TriQuarterly is sold out. We have no single copies of the magazine in stock, but a number of bookstores in the area do, do have it.
Studs Terkel I know, I know that this particular issue is, this book has caused quite a bit of, quite a bit of conversation, argument, and exciting moments too in the world of writers. So, thank you very much indeed.