IN THE CONTEXT OF NO CONTEXT
Rebecca Wolff and Caroline Crumpacker
What good are literary magazines, she often wonders, as she works on one. What should they accomplish? Sometimes the comments of a reader or a critic reinforce the urgency of such questions, and this is helpful. Skeptical self-questioning may transform into ambient self-doubt without the benefit of re-direction, of sharpening. On the event, then, of having been questioned, the editors reply with some notes toward a larger answer.
Should literary magazines be committed to a literary/political agenda?
She often likes to read magazines that express commitment to particular agendas or communities of writers or lineages of thinking on writing. She believes that magazines do this in order to affirm the inherent value of community and to allow creative work to resonate with and support other work that shares its commitments and methods. Nonetheless, her magazine takes a different approach. She feels that much of what is valuable in writing is larger than its own context(s). Some magazines should not try to offer critical or historical agendas or contextualization to work they publish. Others should try and then fail. Others should try and then succeed. This is experiment. Literary magazines together are an experiment. Parts of this experiment will be boring and parts will be crass and other parts still will be exciting, and this is all to the good. She feels that it is useful to note when parts of it are boring or crass or exciting or enviable, and to note it with sympathy for the larger and shared endeavor.
A literary magazine is, among other things, a literary position. Must this position be explicit?
She wishfully envisions a literary culture that values expressions of confusion and contradiction. She wishes our educational system taught tolerance for confusion and contradiction. She fears we are trying to eliminate confusion and contradiction and that this could increase ignorance and injustice. Ignorance and injustice often being relieved by expressions of curiosity and generosity.
So perhaps a literary magazine might do well to function as a call for attunement to—and metabolization of—alternate and dissonant ways of thinking and being, as they are expressed in writing. These might include radically new ways of thinking and being, old-fashioned but as yet untried modalities, and “mainstream” but useful or even beautiful perspectives. A call for attunement is not an exact science.
While she loves many poets and many poetics and also poetry that abjures poetics, no one perspective she has yet encountered has been enough on its own to make her want to give up the pleasures and potentials of every other way of thinking/ being/reading/writing. Almost, as she is suggestible and adventurous. But three or four perspectives together—together angrily, or naively or tenderly or erotically, or in alienation from one another or with magnetism toward one another or in irrelevance to one another: overlapping, resonating, etc.—now, that seems enticing.
She features what she considers a strength, but which may well be called a weakness in the larger picture: She does not wish to exclude. Exclusivity is necessary to a great many worthy endeavors and processes. Nonetheless, the inequities of the world being as cruel as they are and the dominance of exclusion being as culpable as it is, she defines her politics and her projects as inclusive rather than exclusive. This reinforces the potential for stylistic/polemical drift or unmoored loyalties, and she tries her best to navigate these risks and to produce new potentials from them.
Must a literary magazine necessarily take itself very seriously in order to be important or illuminating or intellectual?
The ways in which art changes the world can be subtle. They can produce negative changes. The changes can be long in coming and hard to predict. She likes to think that a literary magazine can be skeptical, given these possibilities, but loving. Without both skepticism and affection, an editor is likely to miss a great deal. Missing a great deal is not an experiment nor is it a shared endeavor nor is it likely to help readers or writers. She loves some literary magazines for their awareness of their own relationship to the reader, the poet, the larger culture—and she loves it when some magazines affect that awareness in ways that are compelling and offer insight: an analytic act. She also loves it when some literary magazines posit a version of the literary universe that is slightly utopian, possibly naive: an imaginative act. She prefers the latter activity for her own endeavor because it complements her own abilities and her temperament and her values. She doesn’t think it’s better; it’s just one way of being among other ways: necessary to the whole.
These are responses to one or two questions that have recently been posed to her. Fence is also interested in responding to questions that have not been and cannot be and should not be asked, hence the following 186 pages. Your turn.