Monday, August 2, 2010

Hidden Arts: Non-Academic Journals Giving Intellectualism a Good Name

I've written before about my impatience with academic writing, from details of style to the institutional structures that guide writers. But what are the alternatives? There are a variety of journals – magazines, really – fiercely holding on to the terrain most famously staked by the Paris Review. These are, in academic jargon, “interdisciplinary” - or, to speak a less flutey language, they are intellectual. They are thoughtful, without the bombast, jargon, and self-importance that so often cripples the academic journals. They are historically, contextually minded, often well-produced and formatted, including things like full-color photographs that no academic journal could afford. I think those of us writing for the journals could really benefit from looking to these extra-academic sources for guidance in combining intellectual rigor with emotional heft and readability. Here's a sampling of exemplars I've found:

Cabinet is probably tops among this sub-subgenre of publications, and caught my attention because of its recent, photo-rich essay on the dawn of Djing (for silent films) from Emily Thompson. I bought a copy in the Border's outlet in Fort Worth, Texas, so it's putting serious scholarship in front of people – though like many of these publications, Cabinet is – perhaps sadly – foundation-supported.

This food-focused journal is miles outside of my realm of specialization, but as the saying goes, game recognize game. This is one of the most finely edited magazines I've ever had the pleasure to devour in one sitting – though essentially journalistic in approach, any single issue represents a diversity of topics, from the historical to the contemporary, from the social to the scientific. We live in food-obsessed times, and Gastronomica is the journal true food nerds deserve.

October Ostensibly focused on contemporary art, October tackles much broader topics. Though housed in an academic setting, October seemingly allows the publication of articles without the obligatory Clever But Shallow Pun: Dry, Schematic Explanation format.

Gettysburg Review This journal publishes fiction alongside criticism, or criticism alongside fiction, then takes it a step further by mixing in personal essays and poetry. Quality is hit or miss, but as a structural model, I find this inspiring.

These are just a smattering of things I've run across. If you've got other suggestions, kick some (social) science in the comments.

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