Wonder of the On-Line Literary World

This month, Berfrois, the small literary magazine, has closed its virtual doors. For the last 14 years, Berfrois, under intrepid editor Russell Bennetts, an economist out of England, has published daily writing, forming over time an eclectic list of contributors and an audience of intercultural competence. The end of active writing appearing in Berfrois comes 100 years after the closing of the modernist journals period, which ran, according to the Modernist Journals Project, from the 1890’s to the 1920’s, ending in 1922:

We end at 1922 for two reasons: first, that year has until recently been the public domain cutoff in the United States; second, most scholars consider modernism to be fully fledged in 1922 with the publication of Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. We believe the materials in the MJP will show how essential magazines were to the rise and maturation of modernism.

Modernist Journals Project, About page, retrieved 15 Dec 2022.

They were mostly referred to, and still are, as small literary magazines, little magazines. Most did not last long. Blast ran just two issues, 1914 and 1915. They were of course hard copy, printed magazines, small publication runs, small format. The most famous now might be The Egoist (1914-1919) and Little Review (1914-1922), which ran installments of Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Harriet Monroe’s original Poetry ran from 1912 to 1922 (still alive today as a kind of First Wonder of the Corporate Literary World).

Is today’s on-line literary world, in 2022, now “fully fledged”? It might be, given the disastrous turn of events surrounding the social media platforms that create, sustain, and destroy – in situ. What can it possibly mean to be on Twitter, for example, with a million followers? Even 100 followers would be impossible to keep up with, even if managing your Twitter feed was all you did. Yet most tweets are never read by anyone. At most, they have the life span of a mosquito, and can be just as viral and vile. We shall be glad to see our current winter of discontent freeze them all in their tracks. For the tracks of tweets carry no real cargo.

Most poems are never read either, but that’s a different story. And I digress. Some of my own writing appeared in Berfrois. Mostly prose, discursive writing. Berfrois published the academic, the non-academic, and the anti-academic. Its editorial voice appeared often to be one of casual interest. In a sense, Berfrois was a general interest magazine, and sought to publish the best it could find of both the best and the worst – for what is often considered today’s worst of writing ends up being tomorrow’s best.

One of the most attractive features of Berfrois was the lack of advertising. It sought to be reader funded before its time. It might have found a good home at today’s Substack, where we find everybody that’s anybody cashing in their lotto tickets. “Thousands of paid subscribers.” Sounds lucrative, but a poor warrant to join a new fray.

A bit of money but a lot of time it takes to run these endeavors. And we run out of both, lose steam, wonder what all the fuss is about, what it might be like to go for a walk down Broadway unnoticed or dismissed, or to wander to and fro with no desire whatsoever to be followed. In the meantime, a heartfelt thanks to Russell Bennetts for his contributions via Berfrois to the life of modern journals.