Literary periodicals

“Cultural” periodicals in the Czech Republic (and earlier in Czechoslovakia) have always been in thrall of the socio-political situation: along with historical developments the pendulum of their course has swung between periods of flowering and periods of stagnation. While Normalization under the Communist regime oversaw the publication of only a few literary periodicals − and these were heavily censored − and samizdat or “exile” periodicals were available to a very limited readership, the revolution of November 1989 brought in its wake a publishing boom. Periodicals previously banned began to appear legitimately; a range of titles from the 1960s was revived; the daily press devoted much attention to book production. It was not long, however, before many of these literary publications were defunct − this time for financial reasons; meanwhile, the dailies refocused in order to address the building preference in society for commercial culture. At a time when even the most widely respected cultural magazines were facing bankruptcy, it was mooted that all literary periodicals merge to form a single, state-subsidized publication. This plan to unify came to nothing; in fact, subsequent developments in the field made clear a need for greater diversification and plurality.

Since the 1990s a range of smaller periodicals − often of regional character – have come into being; these have reacted to the domestic literary trends of the time and provided a forum for new and established authors alike. There are several periodicals with nationwide coverage (e.g., Tvar, Host, Literární noviny) and a number of smaller, regional or special-interest journals, some of which suffer from inadequate distribution. (For a description of periodicals published solely on the internet, see elsewhere on this site.) Coverage of the arts in the dailies is gradually improving: once again they produce supplements for the arts and literature. (There was a long period during which Právo‘s Salon was the only such supplement to address contemporary literature.) Nowadays it is also possible to find interesting articles and reviews in magazines with a more general, current-affairs-based profile (e.g., Reflex, Respekt): these are not included in the digest below. There are also publications for a professional readership (e.g., Naše řeč [Our Language], Slovo a slovesnost [Language and Literature], Logos), which address literature via their own fields: these, too, are excluded from our digest for reasons of space. Nevertheless, the digest includes not only literary and literary-scholarly periodicals but also reviews with a more general profile whose meditations on literature we consider to be of value.

Jan Nejedlý

 

Czech Literature and the Internet

The ‘new’ situation in post-1989 Czech literature was founded on more than just political change; the end of the 1980s was characterized by the huge-scale emergence of new technologies. These technologies transformed dramatically not only the printing industry but also industries which served to bring works to press (from editorial work on manuscripts to their pre-press processing). The computer became an indispensable tool in the work of the artist, and also in the work of all those involved in the author-to-reader chain. In the mid-1990s, the ground developed still further with the advent of the Internet, whether for use passively (information transport) or actively (as a new information medium).

Early doubts gave way to mammoth expectations which anticipated significant changes to the practices of the conventional print media through the development of e-books and e- or i-newspapers and periodicals, leading to the rapid demise of books and newspapers in print. These forecasts have failed repeatedly to translate themselves into reality; these days, as the Internet searches for a niche among the products of art, it sees itself as more than just a carrier of information – it is also in its own right a means of artistic expression. From the standpoint of literature, ideas have also failed to come to fruition which anticipated the Internet as a channel for the postmodern construction of multi-layered (‘sandwich’) texts or text-encyclopaedias (where it would be possible to pursue a headword through file after file). When we speak of experimental projects on the Czech network, we refer to artists’ work in which the text is not the primary concern.

It is true to say that the Internet at present serves first and foremost as a medium of information (publicity, archiving), which in the majority of cases is a mere supplement to other means of artistic communication. A clear majority of book and magazine publishers and a high proportion of authors have their own websites (though the quality of these varies).

As it is our intention in this section to take a look at the elements of Czech literature for which the Internet is a primary medium, we should first say a word about its limitations. The first of these concerns access to the Internet and the necessity of keeping up with advances in technology, while the second is the absence of basic scales by which quality might be measured and through which criticism can be applied. The third limitation is the different way in which a text conveyed via the Internet is perceived and read, the fourth the loss of the literary exclusivity of the text, the fifth the narrowness of options for how the text can be communicated. We could continue thus.

Speaking of literature on the Internet today, we may simplify matters by stating that there are two methods by which we can access a text: the text is located either (i) directly on the page or it appears when we click on a link, or (ii) it is available in ‘pdf’ format (it is fair to say of periodicals that they are disseminated over the Internet). The first case means that we are dealing with a ‘crude’ text, one for which the graphics have not been processed; with the second, we see texts which are made up in a way we immediately recognise (inclusive of headlines, pagemaking, typeface, etc.) It should be added that it is relatively difficult to provide a watertight definition of an Internet periodical − even if its periodicity is adhered to (which is exceptional), we are dealing here with what might be termed an ‘open’ journal, to which contributions are added progressively so that we might search for them by author, menu item or indeed by other routes. It is similarly difficult to determine levels of ‘literariness’ − a clear majority of Internet periodicals which style themselves as, let us say, ‘cultural’ or ‘student’ contain a ‘Literature’ entry, and this might include original writing, favourite works, reviews or reflections. One particularly difficult question for us here is whether or not to refer to projects which are no longer ongoing though still accessible.

Before we turn to details of some websites, we should mention (for working purposes at least) certain other types of site: portals of literature or servers in the form of collective libraries of original ‘amateur’ work; blogs – a rapidly developing means of up-to-date diary records; author’s pages, with material not yet published; archives, in which older, otherwise inaccessible materials might be kept; works-in-progress, signposts; publisher’s sites, which might establish a space for the exchange of opinions and criticism.

Jakub Šofar