McKenzie Lecture: The magazine and world literature

Professor Francesca Orsini (SOAS, London) 

Much of the recent debate on world literature has revolved around the circulation of books (Venkat Mani's bibliomigrancy) and canonization through prizes. Yet arguably, for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for many readers and in many places, the encounter with world literature took place through the pages of magazines, and magazines were the medium through which writers and collectives marked their existence on the world literary map. 

In the Anglo-American world, the literary magazine is usually talked of in terms of "little magazine" (as in Eric Bulson's Little Magazine, World Form, 2017), but in other languages and parts of the world magazines were neither little nor minor in comparison to book circulation. 

How is the medium part of the message in the case of the magazine: what kind of experience of world literature do magazines create and curate? How does the temporality of the magazine cross with the temporalities of world literature? Which of the different versions of world literature—the world's classics; the best of X literature; the latest, the contemporary; of similar political affiliation—do different magazines convey? Does their reliance on short forms (the review, the short note, the poem, and the short story) and on fragmentary, serendipitous, sometimes token offerings produce a particular experience of world literature? 

Francesca Orsini is Professor of Hindi and South Asian Literature at SOAS, University of London, a Fellow of the British Academy. She has just finished a book on the multilingual literary history of Awadh, north India, from the 15c to the early-20c, and is leading an ERC research project on “Multilingual locals and significant geographies: for a new approach to world literature” from the perspective of three regions: North India, the Maghreb, and the Horn of Africa. With Patricia Novillo-Corvalan (Kent) she is currently running the monthly webinar series The Magazine and World Literature.