The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

Celebrating 15 Years of The Space Between | An Editor's Retrospective

Kristin Bluemel
Monmouth University
Past Editor, The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914–1945

[Editor's Note:  On the occasion of the fifteenth volume of The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914–1945, we invited past editor Kristin Bluemel (2003–2013) to offer a look back on the work of the journal and the nature of the scholarly archive, and to select an essay published during her tenure that exemplifies the critical and methodological priorities of The Space Between.]

Valerie Holman’s article on interwar art books, sculptors, and publishers, which appeared in a 2011 special issue of The Space Between on “Visual Arts and Cultures of the 1930s” and is republished here, exemplifies the best kind of interdisciplinary work that attracts readers to current and archived issues of the journal. The article, like most articles, first took the form of a conference paper. Holman delivered “A Fruitful Symbiosis: Sculptors and Publishers in Britain between the Wars” in Toronto at the 2009 annual meeting of SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing) to an audience of art and book historians. I was listening with the ears of an acquiring editor of a literature and culture journal, always on the lookout for material that would conform to the period parameters of 1914–1945 while crossing disciplinary boundaries of subject or method. Holman’s paper and then article achieved all these aims with unusual clarity of argument and range of references. Especially noteworthy were Holman’s citations from letters in the Faber Archives from Geoffrey Faber to sculptor Jacob Epstein and art critic Herbert Read, and from Epstein advocate and house author, R. H. Wilenski, to Faber editor Richard de la Mare.

Fragments from dead correspondence, the preserved records of ordinary 1930s business practices, these citations assume a greater importance when we recall that consultation and citation of the Faber Archives ground to a halt in the early 21st century when Faber & Faber closed its archives to scholars. Republishing Holman’s article now draws attention to paper documents lost behind closed doors. More importantly, it reminds readers that Faber & Faber is just as important for its interwar associations with sculptors Epstein, Henry Moore, and Naum Gabo and modern art critics and advocates Wilenski and Herbert Read as it is for its associations with T. S. Eliot and literary modernism. Holman argues that Geoffrey Faber’s canny use of new kinds of photographs taught readers of his 1930s art books to judge modern sculpture’s use of materials and forms rather than its debts to classical models. Pitting Wilenski, advocate and interpreter of Jacob Epstein, against Oxford University Press’s establishment critic Stanley Casson, Geoffrey Faber turned contemporary sculpture into art books, art books into controversy, and controversy into sales. By doing so, he created a public for modern sculpture and for modern art. That he did so for purposes of establishing the identity of his firm rather than any particular fondness for the art of sculpture is precisely to Holman’s point. It is also to my point because it is only in the archives of publishers, rather than the art books themselves, that we can discover evidence of the commercial basis of Britain’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of modern art.

The Space Between archives, print and digital, preserve Holman’s scholarship and the scholarship of other contributors to the first print volumes of the journal. More vulnerable is the first journal of The Space Between Society called Precursors and Aftermaths: Literature in English 1914–1945, which was published in two volumes in 2000 and 2004. The existing copies of this journal are rare, tucked away on the shelves of original members of The Space Between Society and perhaps a library or two. Although there is a publication record of the journal in online MLA International Bibliography citations, there is no way to find a collection of issues or their contents online or in print. As a result there is no accessible editorial or institutional history of the 2000–2004 publications of The Space Between Society.

Precursors and Aftermaths was edited and produced by Steven Trout and Stephen Cloutier, and published by Fort Hays State University, where Steven Trout had organized in the mid-1990s two conferences on World War I literature. The editorship of the journal then passed to Patrick Deane, Professor of English at Western Ontario and organizer of the May 2000 Space Between conference, Constructing Literature and Culture, 1914–1945. Professor Deane soon became President Deane when he was called upon to assume the leadership of the University of Winnipeg only months after taking the position of Vice President of Academic Affairs. With the ascension of Patrick Deane into upper-level academic administration, I completed acquisitions and editing of the second volume of Precursors and Aftermaths, which was again produced and published by Fort Hays State University. As I point out in the Editor’s Column of that 2004 volume, the first title of our journal was already scheduled for replacement because The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914–1945 “more accurately reflects [the journal’s] interdisciplinary ambitions and more clearly shows its relationship to its sponsoring scholarly society” (5).

Having upgraded from the title of Precursors and Aftermaths to The Space Between, from a stapled to a glued binding, we hoped to draw more attention to the quality of our journal contents. Looking back at those two issues published by Fort Hays, it is remarkable how many of the early-career scholars who committed themselves to publishing in our renegade, obscure journal went on to publish work that reshaped a narrowly high modernist field of study into the more capacious, diverse, feminist terrain that today hosts scholars of middlebrow, intermodernism, interwar, late modernism, and new modernisms. Other archives can testify to the prominence of Precursors and Aftermaths authors Joe Brooker, Lisa Colletta, Jaime Harker, Sara Haslam, Peter Marks, Adam Piette, Leon Surette and Precursors and Aftermaths editorial and advisory board members Debra Rae Cohen, Patrick Deane, Stella Deen, Christina Hauck, Catherine Hollis, Phyllis Lassner, Janet Montefiore, Patrick Quinn, Jean Radford, and Stan Smith.

The contents of The Space Between for 2005 to 2013 are more stable than those of Precursors and Aftermaths in part because Monmouth University still supports web pages with PDF files of the articles that appeared in the original print volumes. What this electronic archive cannot support, however, are the critical conversations that emerge within print volumes that are edited with attention to order and structure. The journal articles that we access online, typically through database searches for specific contents, do not necessarily reveal the repeating themes or interdisciplinary methods that readers see when they turn from one article to another within a single issue. This is a problem for electronic journals too, once their contents migrate from web pages to databases, their coherence as discrete collections of thought lost in liquid digital knowledge flows.

The print archive of The Space Between, with its preservation of editorial content created by glue bindings, is not necessarily any more stable or permanent than electronic archives. Closure of the Faber & Faber Archives is a reminder of this. Certainly electronic archives are also vulnerable. All it takes is a virus or institutional departure from a database or, as we realized recently with The Space Between, adoption of another digital platform and suddenly access is denied, institutional memory deleted. Such closures or disappearances testify to the value of maintaining multiple routes of access to the documents and media that comprise the archives of The Space Between Society. These multiple media archives, growing year by year, are the basis of the ambition I announced in the (print only) Editor’s Column of the 2011 issue in which Valerie Holman’s article appears: “My long term goal is to turn The Space Between into an arts institution in and of itself” (8). My hope then, fulfilled now, was that the phrase “‘the space between’ will not need qualification with the phrase ‘1914–1945’ for any scholar studying twentieth-century culture—visual, aural, or otherwise” (8).

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