Ornamental Constellations: on the Aesthetics of Literary Magazines in the Realm of Modern Mass Media (1880 to 1930) (SP 1)


This project builds on research undertaken during the first project phase on the relationship between the serial and miscellaneous character of periodical formats and the narrative forms of the novel in the nineteenth century. In the second project phase, the project will consider how this relationship begins to shift around the turn of the twentieth century with the emergence of programmatic periodicals devoted to various schools of literary modernity and the rise of new mass media such as cinema and radio, as well as how the new periodicals of the time themselves take on an increasingly aestheticised and literary character. Up until the 1880s, periodicals often served as organs for the initial publication of fictional narrative texts that structurally or thematically responded to the generic or discursive heterogeneity of the relevant generic or specific formats and reflected on the interplay between ›centrifugal‹ and ›centripetal‹ elements. In analysing the subsequent period, however, we wish to examine how periodicals developed aesthetic aspirations of their own, both with respect to the texts they published and their own typographic arrangement and layout. Historically, this began with those ›small magazines‹ that positioned themselves as programmatic organs for the naturalistic and aesthetic schools, and continued in the context of Expressionism and New Objectivity in certain generic formats presented more broadly as literary and cultural periodicals. These no longer focussed on publishing literary texts in serial form, but on collating ›shorter forms‹ that allowed individual issues to experiment with a distinct thematic or visual aesthetic.

In analysing these developments, the project researchers will draw on the concept of the ornament, which was the subject of heated debate in the architectural, literary, and cultural theory of the time. It will consider the interplay between debates on the ornament in periodicals and the ornamental design of these periodicals themselves, by attending to the linguistic structure of individual texts, constellations, and montages of texts as well as images/advertisements, and elements of typography and layout. The aim is to examine the manner in which the periodicals in question negotiate the tension between an aestheticised conception of the ornamental and mass or popular-cultural visual schematisations. This, in turn, will facilitate greater insight into how literary periodicals positioned themselves among the new audio-visual mass media at the turn of the twentieth century.