Hello Jaleen, thank you for this fascinating presentation of MD. I was struck by its editors’ determination to educate their readers into a transnational, ethical worldview by using all the means at their disposal in the mediasphere --even the less “respectable”. The low cultural legitimacy attached to digests may have been an asset in this regard. I also noticed that the MD reproduced material from the respectable Mercure de France and I am curious to know what the other French sources were.
Hi Anne, I could answer this better if the library was open! I need to go back and examine the late 1930s in detail. My research got covid-interrupted. All I can say right now is that in the 1940s the European content appears to have been greatly diminished and I see no French sources at all.
Thanks for your response, Jaleen. If you need any help looking into French sources, I'll be glad to give you a hand.
Hello Jaleen and Anne, I was likewise struck, in your superb talk, by the word 'respectable.' In particular your comment that we could tell how respectable MD was by the way that other magazines lifted material from it. I think this idea, that you both comment on, of cultural respectability as, variously, an asset and also, potentially, a drawback is of great interest. Would we now see 'respectable' as somewhat of a term of insult? I am thinking of the way it attaches to the more despised aspect of middlebrow culture, and here we must include the Reader's Digest, which as you said is sometimes now perceived as a shortcut to culture for those who didn't have time to read the full versions of books and articles. I have a sense from your talk that the MD is explicitly countering this perception, via its emphasis on giving access to a cosmopolitan world of print culture, especially in the translated content.
I am also interested in your suggestion that the magazine is 'forgotten' in your title. I think that what you said in the talk - that it is 'deliberately overlooked' and 'excluded', for political reasons and because it doesn't fit our dominant narratives of either print culture history or Canadian and American history, is much more compelling. Are we perhaps too willing to diminish the subjects of our research by suggesting they are forgotten, when in fact, they might have been a bit dangerous and therefore are suppressed? Or is this going too far?
Anyway, as you can tell, I found your talk extremely stimulating and thought-provoking. Thank you! faye
Thanks for a fascinating talk, Jaleen! I was particularly interested in your theorizing of the work of the digest as a genre, one that creates an editorial position and promotes certain values through selecting and filtering, rather than through overt mission statements or predominately original contributions. You talk about how the magazine has been ignored because it doesn't fit into narratives of (Anglocentric) Canadian nationalism, but less about MD in relation to other Jewish periodicals. Would it have been legible to certain readers as a Jewish periodical or were the contents too eclectic (except for Simmons' rare editorial interjection in debunking Nazi propaganda or the "Suffer the Children" piece) for it to be perceived as such?
@fh Hi Faye, what awesome questions and thank you for your attentive, critical ear. I suppose "forgotten" this or that is much overused and so raises skeptical questions of "....really?" --MD is after all mentioned in histories of magazines. Just not accurately represented. But I did mean it literally, and not as hyperbole....every time I bring it up with historians, I get a blank stare. When I chanced upon a bunch of copies at Toronto's best antiquarian bookstore much marked down in price, proprietor David Mason and I had a very, very long conversation after he pointedly indicated he had had them in stock for years and years as little more than an oddity. He was very interested in what I had to say about it, and remarked "Well if you can publish a paper making a case then I have a major collector of Canadian Judaica who will be VERY interested!" - so, if Canada's premier book dealer and a prominent collector and all the print historians I know all indicate they know little to nothing about MD... well, perhaps "forgotten" is fair after all. I note that the comprehensive reference book History of the Book in Canada vol 3 (2007) also omits MD and Murray Simmons.
You highlight a more scholarly approach than the melodramatic "forgotten" - that of the systemic barriers of respectability, the politics of cultural nationalism, and the dangerous potential of a sophisticated Jewish cultural contribution. I do not think it's too far to say these are why it was suppressed, actively or subconsciously, and that is the essence of my thesis. I can't remember f I actually said "deliberately suppressed" - rather more I think an individual making a decision is only thinking about what they "know" to be true: that digests are not intellectual, that Jewish magazines are in Yiddish or concentrate on Jewish cultural events, that "truly Canadian" magazines eschew American iconography such as the Statue of Liberty on their covers, that no Canadian magazine could possibly sell successfully in the US. These were all taken as plainly true, so when something that showed up that broke all those rules, it just didn't compute.... so it was either set aside or misrepresented.
Respectability!! Oh yes let's talk more about that! It always seems to be the hangup of the middle classes and middle class magazines. We could have a whole edited volume of essays on respectability! MD certainly wanted to be respectable, but they also were concerned not to let respectability keep them away from covering very uncomfortable topics, or some pretty silly jokes and cartoons, or some very fluffy articles. This wide range of schlock thru to academic and scientific and philosophical material meant they provided something for everyone. Risky for a magazine to be so broad!! But when everyone else was more targeted, maybe this made MD the perfect "railway reading" material. You never had to be embarrassed seen reading it and there really was such variety that you could read for hours without boredom. Also, good dinnertable conversation starters.... let's not forget the ways people actually used magazines.
Here's a true story: University of Toronto's Robarts Library is one of the only places with a run of MD - unfortunately terminating at 1948 or so. U of T has their stacks of periodicals holdings arranged by country - so all the Canadian magazines are in one whole row of bookshelves. Anyone wishing to see what Canadian magazines existed merely peruses this rack. But where is MD? Ooops.... some librarian years and years ago filed them with the AMERICAN magazines! Probably because MD moved to the US, and so the Library of Congress record (I am guessing) has it catalogued as American (librarians everywhere tend to follow LoC records). I have no doubt this has contributed lo these many years to no one rediscovering it.
@careysnyder I am undoubtedly not the first to theorize editorializing as a mainly selective process, but thank you for making it a topic here. Would a Jewish reader of 1930-1950 have sensed a Jewish editorial voice? Certainly I am willing to bet that Toronto Jews were "in the know" since MD would have been an important employer in their neighbourhood, and Simmons and other contributors part of their community. Outside of Toronto... Hmmmm..... maybe they would have been attuned more to content they found welcome and inoffensive, and that is all. There are so many Christian writers in it, I really think it went under the radar. As for how it stacks up when compared to avowedly Jewish publications.... future research to be done! -- probably not by me though - this is already beyond my normal range. (That's an invitation, Jewish Studies people!)