Wondrous Communications

There are various consequence to being around academics so much, even when not at MLA. Here is one of them: regular exposure to commentary on journalism in which the vigor of perfect self-assurance is never dampened by a complete lack of knowledge.

That is a topic for another day. (People in lit seem particularly bad about it. I have theories.)

Right now, instead of just bracing for the onslaught, I can celebrate. The urbane and peripatetic Richard Byrne -- editor, playwright, alchemist --  has just published "Ranter and Corantos: Renaissance Journalism" in The Nation.

Besides recommending this piece, I want to add a small reference of tangential interest.
One minor discovery during my years of research on C.L.R. James was that he published a number of articles in Trotskyist journals under the pen-name G.F. Eckstein.

At a time when lots of Jewish-American radicals took Anglo-Saxon "party names," James went vice versa. This was a year or two after the FBI started hauling him in for questioning from time to time. A six-foot tall black radical from Trinidad in the U.S. on an expired visa, he was not exactly able to blend into the national woodwork. As party names go, G.F. Eckstein may represent some kind of subliminal acknowledgment that assimilation was probably not in the cards.

In any case, CLRJ/GFE published a two-part essay called "Tercentenary of the English Revolution" in 1649. It discusses, among other things, the pamphlet literature that flooded England after press censorship collapsed in the 1640s:

In Thomas Walwyn can be found in germ everything that was to make Rousseau the great protagonist of modern individualism and the Romantic Movement in the eighteenth century, with the added virtue that here for the first time is someone who speaks from out of the people and as one of them; while Overton, the marvelous Overton, at his best has no superior in English as a writer of political journalism from the seventeenth century to the present day. His only peer is Tom Paine.

The abiding miracle of Overton is that this seventeenth-century writer is already completely modern and he could walk into a revolutionary newspaper office today, get the situation explained to him, and could write in a manner that would be immediately understood with delight by soldiers suffering the oppression of officers and workers suffering the oppression of bureaucracy.

It may appear from the writings of Lilburne, for example, that his work is something of a jumble. In reality it is not so. Those pamphlets appeared sometimes two or three times a week. They served the function of modern newspapers, and in one and the same pamphlet you will find what is equivalent to a theoretical article, an editorial, a piece of agitation and the latest news of the class struggle. In this sense they are the founders of modern journalism. And Defoe in his contributions to journalism merely expressed in more finished form what they had begun.


This passage is all the more interesting in the context of James's other writings of the period. (A matter I need to explain in a full-dress, footnoted paper at some point.)

Naturally Rich's article made this one come to mind -- and not just because of the historical overlap. The casual reference to Overton making an appearance at a modern newspaper office underscores something that C.L.R. and Rich have in common: When they talk about journalism, it's thoughtful, informed, and based on something besides pure attitude.

And on that note, I'm off to go stand in the wind tunnel.... 
December 27, 2008 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)

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