Kenneth Burke, Little Magazines, and Blogging

What is the difference is between a blog and a journal?

Mimi Nguyen’s Slander page has a section of blogs. Surfing from her page onto her friends’ pages shows they also have blogs. It took me a while to figure out what a blog was exactly, probably because I was caffeine deprived.

But ‘blog, which is short for weblog, is basically a surfing journal.

Blogs have become pretty popular, it seems, especially since there are whole webrings devoted to blogging. Blogs have become an integral part of web culture just like zines. Now, Mimi’s Slander page has an interesting journal entry that talks about whether or not she has “copycats” out there on the net. Intellectual property is problematic these days, and it seems that a friend of Mimi’s is concerned with protecting Slander. Well, let’s just get this straight–*I* am a Mimi copy-cat. She puts what she’s reading in her journals, and so will I. She puts what she’s listening to, and so me too. I’ve copied her form. These questions the internet raises about zines, blogs, intellectual property and, in particular, the nature of form leads to Kenneth Burke. Of course.

Coincidentally, I grabbed Counter-Statement off my shelf a couple of weeks ago to reread. It’s been a while since I’ve reread KB for anything except quotes, I’ve thumbed through KB looking for quotes, especially in my favorite sections. The introduction to Counter-Statement is turgid. I eyeballed old margin notes, looked for meaning in every word, and read like a good student of rhetoric should read.

Enter Jack Selzer’s Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village (available now through LSU’s access to netLibrary; changing times). Now this is a gem of a book so far, talking about the early Burke during his cafe and Little Magazine days.

This fascinates me for purely tangential reasons. First of all, I just moved into a 1920s Hollywood-style bungalow in “The Garden District” of Baton Rouge. As a dilettante, my interest in Modernist iconography and culture will probably fade. but for now, I’m riveted. Thinking about Burke sitting in a Greenwich Village cafe and writing essays for The Dial makes me want to drink coffee and just -talk- about stuff. Talk about it and read about it.

That’s when it struck me that Burke and Counter-Statement should be read as a cafe companion, not as a seminal text. Drink Burke with your coffee in the morning.

So, what’s the connection to blogs?

Well, a very cool page made some arguments that stuck with me for a few weeks now, claiming a number of points about e-zines. First, e-zines are obviously derived from Little Magazine culture. My grandfather owned a large collection of Little Magazines and published his own Little Magazine, called Earth, but this publication and collection never impressed me until he passed away and the collection was housed at the Smithsonian.

Second, academic journals are another form of zines. What a riot! That completely demystifies tenure. Zines address discrete audiences who share distinct idiolects and particular interests, says the website. Wait, though, before we push the analogy too far, and give academic journals too much credit: Zines are cutting edge, whereas academic journals are typically overly-disciplined.

Unfortunately, no one has digitized Little Magazines yet, so we cannot read them on the web. There is some interesting information about Little Magazines, though. Encarta Encyclopedia does recognize Little Magazines: “Little Magazine–a periodical devoted to publishing specialized, avant-garde writing and criticism. Because of limited circulation and marginal financial backing, the so-called little magazines are generally short-lived.” This from an electronic publication owned by Microsoft. The ironies here are many and painful.

The Directory of Little Magazines, a UK site that made me want to visit England again. Unless you want to buy the mags via snail mail, the site was not very helpful. There is a Little Magazine Project at Nottingham Trent University. The Brits seem very interested in this form of publishing. The site said that Little Magazines published boundary-pushing works with no regard for commercial gain. It also said that Little Magazines were *fundamental* to many modern literary and aesthetic movements. And it made a very appropriate point: Contributors to Little Mags were impossible to categorize. Indeed, this is true for Burke. Rhetoricians of every paradigm and ideology try to claim him for their own. See Kenneth Burke and the 21st Century by Bernard L. Brock (also available on netLibrary at LSU).

Another great site: Dr. Mary Ann Gillies at Simon Fraser University. She teaches a class on Little Mags and her students have put together some websites that detail various Mags, including a history of editors, contributors, and so forth. Of particular interest is the page on Kenneth Burke’s Little Mag, The Dial, which talks about its relationship to Transcendentalism, the history of its various editors, including Margaret Fuller, among other things.

Two directory links: One for on-line zines and one for Little Magazine publishers.

These various links somehow led me to a curious site by a student earning a master’s degree in publishing. I didn’t know you could do that. He wrote a paper about the history of publishing in the beat generation that’s worth a look. It’s called

Unspeakable Visions: The Beat Generation and the Bohemian Dialect – by a master’s student in publishing (you can do that?); the paper is completely absent of women.

Women Editing Modernism: “Little” Magazines & Literary History by Jayne Marek.

Juniper Press, which is a contemporary publisher of Little Magazines. This site had an inspiring quote by Felix Pollak, who is former Curator of Rare Books at UW-Madison and, they claim, a world authority on little magazines

“Practically speaking, it is littleness that guarantees the littles their independence and unbeholdenness without which they cease to be what they are. A true little mag is one that would not be big if it could, that is kept little not by need but by choice. . . .A true little mag would rather address itself to a select group of kindred spirits than a faceless void of anonyms. To edit a little magazine, in short, means to maintain a thou to thou relationship with the contributors, with the readers, and with that whole microcosm that encompasses the macro world-at least ideally so……..”

So what’s the connection between Kenneth Burke, Little Magazines, and Blogs? Let’s meet at Community Coffee.

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