The Secret of their Success? Editorial Practice as Social Practice

At one point or another, the Nobel Laureates Thomas Mann, Jean Paul Sartre, and T.S. Eliot could each have reasonably claimed to be the most celebrated living writer in their respective national fields. But they have something in common beyond that distinction. In successive decades in the first half of the twentieth century, each founded and edited a literary-intellectual magazine: Eliot’s Criterion in London in 1922, Mann’s Mass und Wert in Zurich in 1937, and Sartre’s Les temps modernes in Paris in 1945.

In this lecture Professor Matthew Philpotts explores their contrasting realisations of the editorial role from an explicitly comparative perspective, focusing above all on the factors underlying the success, or otherwise, of these periodical publications at their decisive founding moments. Each of these authors occupied the editorial role at a different stage in their career, each brought different dispositions to the role, and each undertook a different mode of editorship. Yet their programmes for a ‘synthetic’ periodical as an antidote to the crisis of the mid-twentieth century demonstrate a surprising degree of similarity. And beyond that, their varying degrees of success as editors reveal remarkably similar underlying explanations that have little to do with their individual authorial talents or reputations.

In each case, success was dependent on the social conditions in which they founded and edited their journal and, above all, on the patterns of intellectual sociability present both in the wider ‘redaction’ of their publications and in the ‘network hubs’ of their publishing houses. As such, success as an editor reveals itself to be more the product of multiple social interactions than the result of any individual charismatic genius.

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