Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
English Language and Literature
Founded in San Francisco in 1998, Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern was launched by Dave Eggers in tandem with McSweeney’s publishing house in an attempt to create a platform for up-and-coming writers, experimental literature, and other forms of writing that would be difficult to publish in a traditional magazine. Two representative examples of how McSweeney’s attention to physical design, unfixed format, and interest in global literature overlap are McSweeney’s 36 and McSweeney’s 43. McSweeney’s 36 includes an oral history of governmental oppression titled “Ma Su Mon,” an excerpt from Nowhere to be Home, a text in the McSweeney’s publishing branch oral history series titled Voice of Witness. On the other hand, McSweeney’s 43 is comprised of “McSweeney’s 43” and There is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan. Where “McSweeney’s 43” includes new fiction, letters, and nonfiction essays from well-known journalists, There is a Country is an anthology of fiction from South Sudanese writers. Both There is a Country and “Ma Su Mon”’s inclusion in McSweeney’s 36 embodies the magazine’s social consciousness, both of which are key facets to the editorial mission of all of Eggers’s publishing ventures, including McSweeney’s.
The physical design of McSweeney’s issues holds significance in an interpretation of the content of the magazine, especially in the case of McSweeney’s 36 and McSweeney’s 43 where there are clear efforts to shape the reading experience through the intentional use of non-traditional design elements and media platforms. Thus, this project aims to understand the relationship between McSweeney’s efforts to serve as a platform for minority voices and McSweeney’s material design utilizing Gérard Genette’s theory of the paratext. This paper argues that the box head design of McSweeney’s 36 invites the reader to attend to the ostentatiousness of the numerous pieces of the issue rather than focus on the literary content of any single item. This emphasis on the materiality of McSweeney’s 36 works in tandem with the McSweeney’s branding on the packaging of “Ma Su Mon” to speak over Ma Su Mon herself, obscuring her experiences of oppression. On the other hand, the more subtle and minimal McSweeney’s branding on the covers of McSweeney’s 43 and There is a Country’s capacity to be independently distributed provides this issue with a substantial platform outside of the McSweeney’s umbrella. However, There is a Country’s independence within McSweeney’s 43 is comprised by its complicated library cataloging, indistinguishable cover designs for “McSweeney’s 36” and There is a Country, and removable back book cover blurb sticker. Through analysis of the material paratexts of “Ma Su Mon” in McSweeney’s 36 and McSweeney’s 43’s There is a Country, this paper concludes that these particular issues of McSweeney’s are imperfect vessels for minority voices.
Leyden, Julia, "Materiality and Minority Representation in Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern" (2019). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 1072.
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