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Simon Sheikh on magazines, circulation, and withdrawal


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Johann Peter Hasenclever, The Reading Room, 1843

The February issue of e-flux journal includes the first part of a two-part essay by Simon Sheikh on the different forms of circulation involved in magazine publishing:

Within the culture of magazines, we are thus dealing with several, if interconnected, forms of circulation. The critical and theoretical discourse of a magazine is circulated among its writers and readers, creating an imaginary community brought together by certain texts and images. This shared discourse is continuous, and is dependent on being recurrent—a magazine needs some sort of reliability in its cycles of publication to sustain its community and position … And of course, there is circulation in the economic sense; even in the most romantic notion of a magazine as a republic of letters, there is an inherent connection to capital. This goes for virtually all forms of cultural production, whether critical of capital or not. A magazine thus circulates discourse, and is circulated as a commodity of knowledge.

Sheikh notes that these forms of circulation in magazine publishing are accompanied by various forms of withdrawal:

Sometimes withdrawal is enforced, through economy or censorship, but other times it is intentional and tactical: the withdrawal from certain public debates and arenas is what makes an alternative cultural and critical production possible. However, it is not a question of circulation or withdrawal, i.e., publicness or concealment, but of a movement between these two moments, heightening their connection. It is a question, in other words, of circulation and withdrawal

This idea of and instead of or is key to Sheikh’s interpretation of magazines as a form of montage:

The notion of montage as an ethical response to moments of crisis and the writing of history can be illustrative for the work of a magazine—its role, too, is that of a continuous montage where you can contribute, contrast, critique, and circulate information and discourse. A critical magazine is always the politics of the and, positioning itself in regards to a number of confrontations and comings-together, always placing one or more things and ideas in relation to one another. But a relation is more than placing one thing after another; it is also the and itself. A magazine is a connector as well as a producer, and how it connects one or more points is central to its work, to the connection of its connection.

Sheikh’s full essay is available here.