Image courtesy of Tobias Zielony
[Note to reader: What follows is a talk given at Motto in Berlin on July 21, 2012, which is an iteration of a talk given at the Goethe-Institute New York initiated by Clara Meister on March 17, 2012, which is itself an expanded response to Sarah Crowner’s (2/27/12) discussion of The Blind Man at Triple Canopy’s Miscellaneous Uncatalogued Material series. Strikethroughs indicate a small sampling of things I could have said during my talk(s) but didn’t].



Thank you.

First of all thank you [Valérie] for inviting Convolution to be part of Skalitzer 68. It’s a pleasure to be here. And, thank you [audience] for coming out to Motto; Chert, and Silberkuppe to hear about our journals.

Since the cooperation between Petunia and Convolution emerged from an event we did at Ludlow 38 in New York last March called From Paper to Screen—on Feminist Approaches to Magazines and Film—I thought I’d begin by talking a bit about the culture of little magazines in the 1920s and 30s and in particular, about women’s roles in those publications. I’ll focus on the Little Review as a relevant historical case study, before moving into a conversation about Petunia and Convolution.

[Pause, turn on desk lamp, take deep breath]

Within the Anglo-American literary context, seminal journals like Poetry, the Egoist, the Little Review, Close Up, and the Dial (under Marianne Moore) were all edited by women.


For the editors of these journals, there was a perceived commitment to challenging artistic, social, and linguistic boundaries—which linked experimentalism and feminism.

We see this, for instance, in a publication like the Freewoman, started in 1911 by Dora Marsden, which became the New Freewoman in 1913 and later, the Egoist in 1914. The accomplishments of the Egoist, however, like much of the work appearing in little magazines, tends to be credited to the sole genius of Ezra Pound—while the role of the (often women) editors of these journals is downplayed—certainly within literary histories.

Writers for these small magazines regularly read, edited, and reviewed each other’s work and offered one another both financial and literary patronage. They created a rich discursive network, where conversations about aesthetic innovation, begun in one little magazine, often spilled over onto the pages of others.

In fact, Margaret Anderson’s express reason for starting the Little Review in 1914 was boredom with life that didn’t include “inspired conversation every moment”. Demanding “that life be inspired every moment”, she began publishing her magazine in order to “spend [her] time filling it up with the best conversation the world ha[d] to offer”1.


She opened the journal with an editorial discussing the critical and creative role the audience should play—with conversation serving as her primary paradigm.2 In keeping with this aim, Anderson and her partner and co-editor, Jane Heap, regularly closed the journal with a prominent Reader Critic section, symbolically giving the readers—who became critics—the last word.

Anderson clearly articulates the mission of the journal in her inaugural editorial: “Criticism that is creative—that is our high goal. And criticism is never a merely interpretive function, it is creation”3.

Anderson calls for a new criticism that is “fresh “and” constructive, and intelligent”4, and as we see here [gesture to screen], feminism was intimately bound up with Anderson’s mission from the outset.


[People getting up—leaving.]

[Pause. Look up.]

[They’ve “outgrown” feminism? Who’s in this audience? Kreuzberg kids? Gallery people? Gotta keep this short.]

Two months later, Anderson’s interest in feminism and in promoting a criticism that is “stimulating” and “releasing,” attaches itself to a new object5. Anderson recounts how just as the third issue was going to press, she heard Emma Goldman lecture and “had just time to turn anarchist before the presses closed”7.  Risking her own future and that of the magazine, Anderson takes up Goldman’s cause in her May 1914 article she pointed out: “The Challenge of Emma Goldman”, arguing “Dynamite is part of ['anarchists'] intellectual, not their physical equipment”, and “the goal for which they are striving . . . is one for which we might all strive with credit"8. Folding her own critical feminist aims in with those of Goldman, she pronounces "Emma Goldman preaches and practices the philosophy of freedom"9.

In the Little Review’s 15 year-run (1914-1929), the journal advocated freedom from institutional constraints and proved a strong supporter of various avant-garde movements—among which DADA was arguably the most prominent.

The journal’s relationship with Dada began around 1917, when the legendary Baroness Else von Freytag-Loringhoven sauntered into the New York office—at that time a basement on West 14th Street. Anderson and Heap claim to have discovered the Baroness and the Baroness claims to have discovered them. Whatever the case may be, from that moment on, her poetry began regularly to appear on the pages of the journal.

The Baroness left an indelible impression on Anderson, who characterizes her as “perhaps the only figure of our generation who deserves the epithet extraordinary”9. Von Freytag-Loringhoven allegedly arrived at the Little Review office adorned in “a red Scotch plaid suit with a kilt hanging just below the knees”, “high white spats with a band of decorative furniture braid around the top”, and “two tea-balls from which the nickel had worn away hanging from her bust”. “On her head”, Anderson continues, “was a black velvet tam o’ shanter with a feather and several spoons—long ice-cream-soda spoons”. They told her that her poetry was “beautiful” and she told them that the Little Review was “the only magazine of art that is art”—before disappearing majestically down the stairs carrying “concealed about her person five dollars’ worth of two-cent stamps which had been lying on the table”. Anderson adds, “It is safe to assume that she used them not for postal but for decorative purposes"10.

Following the introduction of the Baroness in 1917, the journal regularly featured work of avant-garde affiliated artists like Francis Picabia (who did a brief stint as foreign editor), Marcel Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi, Djuna Barnes, and Man Raywho actually took this picture [gesture to screen] of the Baroness.

[Scraping chairs. More people leaving.]

[Am I talking too fast? Is there a language barrier? It’s 9:00 on a Saturday night, what should I be doing up here?]

[Sylwia moves forward. Smiles. Takes empty chair.]


The journal also included contributions from Mina Loy, who, while never considering herself a Dadaist, contributed to both issues of Beatrice Wood’s Dada publication The Blindman and accompanied Duchamp to the Blindman’s Ball—before Arthur Craven, the gentleman boxer, caught her eye. In the piece shown here, “Lions’Jaws”, Loy parodies the masculinist endeavors of futurist artists/(ex-lovers), Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giovanni Papini, and implicitly questions her role in the movement. Loy’s high degree of ambivalence regarding her position within the avant-garde is materially instantiated in her dramatic excisions on the page proofs of “Aphorisms on Futurism”, first published in Camerawork in 1914, where she struck out every appearance of the word “futurism”, replacing it each time with “modernism”11. Her gesture epitomizes the misgivings of many women artists about positioning themselves within the historical avant-garde—and within Futurism and Vorticism in particular, given those movements’ violent, often explicitly anti-feminine sentiments.

The Little Review editors consistently promoted the work of artists concerned with challenging patriarchal and institutional authority and frequently embodied the criticism they sought to promote. Indeed, during the early days of the Little Review, Anderson camped out on the shores of Lake Michigan for six months as a statement against high rent costs (and as a means of sustaining the journal’s publication in the face of financial crisis).

The editors’ ongoing commitment to providing a space for the “best conversation the world has to offer” (as well as their penchant for stagecraft) is evidenced in their careful preparation of “Jane’s room”, at their 24 West Sixteenth Street residence. It was “a special, haunting, poignant, dedicated room”, recalls Anderson, with gold Chinese paper on the walls, pale cream woodwork, a dark plum floor, and “a large divan hung from the ceiling by heavy black chains”. Here, Anderson recounts, “poets, writers, painters came to see us seeking an entry into the Little Review”. It was in this inner sanctum, a realm blurring boundaries between public and private, “that all Little Review conversation would take place”. In this room”, explains Anderson “the Little Review entered into its creative period"12. By locating the realm of intense production in Jane’s boudoir, Anderson alludes to the intimacies of the editing process as well as to the libidinal charge behind “criticism that is creative”.

[Muffled talking. People returning from bar.]

The Little Review was in every way conceived as an intervention in the way that criticism functioned and in the form that it took. Anderson—complained, however, that “criticism as an art has not flourished in this country(the US)” and repeatedly calls for an art of “response”—to be demonstrated by artists and critics alike.13 In many ways, however, to the editor’ minds, this call was not adequately taken up by artists and critics of their generation and in their infamous September 1916 issue Anderson and Heap symbolically leave 13 pages of the journal blank14:

“Because” Anderson states, “you didn’t send in the content”.



 In many ways this challenge remains open to artists and critics of subsequent generations.


So, if it’s possible for Hal Foster to make the claim in Who’s Afraid of the Neo-Avant-Garde that rather than canceling the historical avant-garde, the neo-avant-garde fulfills, for the first time, the project of avant-garde artists, whose work was so unprecedented at the time of its original development, that it could not fully be grasped, I would like to hazard a very similar claim (one also hinging on a kind of cultural Nachträglichkeit) that much of the theory of the critics from the same period—who were also often necessarily artists—was similarly not fully comprehended at the moment of its inception, and that in many instances, these writers’ proscriptive challenges are only fully cognised and worked through by artist/critics of subsequent eras.

Thank you.

[Tobias takes picture.]


 [The room isn’t empty after all.]


  • II. [POETRY (OCT 1912) / DIAL (JULY 1929)-SLIDE]
  • 1. Margaret Anderson, "My Thirty Years’ War", New York: Horizon Press (1969), p.35.
  • V. [LITTLE REVIEW (MAY 1929)]
  • 2. For an excellent discussion of Anderson’s conception of criticism as a form of “Appreciation” and response see E. Jayne Marek, Women Editing Modernism: “Little” Magazines & Literary History (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995), P.67.
  • 3. Margaret Anderson,"Announcement", in Little Review 1, no.1 (1914): p.2.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 7. Margaret Anderson, "The Challenge of Emma Goldman", in Little Review 1, no. 3
  • 8. Ibid., p.6.
  • 9. a. b. Margaret Anderson, "Thirty Years’ War", New York: Horizon Press (1969), p.177.
  • 10. Ibid., pp.178-9.
  • 11. For a thorough exploration of Loy’s relationship to Futurism see Elizabeth Arnold "Mina Loy and the Futurists", Sagetrieb 8, nos. 1-2 (1989): pp.83-117.
  • 12. Margaret Anderson,"Thirty Years’ War", New York: Horizon Press (1969), pp.152-3.
  • 13. Margaret Anderson, "Announcement" in Little Review 1, no.1 (1914).
  • 14. The first page of the September 16 issue was cheekily written as a classified ad: “The Little Review hopes to become a magazine of Art. The September issue is offered as a Want Ad.” Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, “The Little Review Hopes to Become a Magazine of Art.” Little Review 3, no.6 (1916):1.