Editor's Note: Winter 2016
The Advocate Editorial Board
Winter, at 21 South Street, is nesting season. We cozy up to archives and take stock of the aging boiler; frigid winds keep us cloistered indoors, so we indulge in extra macaroons and some retrospective navel-gazing. This year, though, we have a good excuse: 2016 marks The Harvard Advocate’s 150th Anniversary. In recognition, we revisit our founding motto—Dulce est Periculum—for our sesquicentennial winter issue theme: Danger.
You might wonder why our magazine’s founders swore allegiance, not to truth or beauty, but to this less examined value. In fact, they had an immediate reason for doing so. As we remind every incoming class, “the Advocate was lucky to survive a year. Its precursor, the Collegian, had barely drawn breath enough to pronounce an attack on mandatory chapel attendance when the faculty, scandalized no doubt by a certain freedom of expression at a university, had the publication closed. The Pegasus which rose from the ashes retained, however, the Collegian’s motto.”
Since then, the aphorism has taken on a semantic and symbolic life of its own. We invited contributors and invite you to interpret Danger broadly, but offer a few framing remarks: Danger dwells and broods, skirts institutional logic and peers in with a critic's eye. Then, in a moment, it lashes out, and the paradigm shifts. It is not always good, not always correct--but it is an opening. Never staying liquid for long, it soon crystallizes into the very structure it aimed to shift. As such, danger can be a historical metric, a way to take the pulse of the past. We have a sense of what was comic in 1866, but how well do we grasp a nineteenth-century peril?
To both commemorate and critique that century-and-a-half-long lineage, Danger includes some additional self-regard: excerpts from our archive and reflections on the magazine’s history. Our Anthology Committee has paired selected submissions with previously published works that link up thematically across generations. At times, these pieces can be jarring, even distasteful, but rather than leave them buried, we’ve chosen to expose juxtapositions both provocative and harmonious. Our intention is to track and illuminate important moments of transformation, aesthetic and social, in the Advocate as both publication and institution.
Columns showcase that institution at its most contemporary. They trace Elena Ferrante’s authorial persona, mediate today’s polemics on coddled millennials, and question conceptions of “irrational fear” in the wake of recent mass-shootings.
The Features Board, on the other hand, recalls danger from a safe distance. For them, it can be found in the retelling of past events, mobilizing words to encroach on the reader's sense of security. In doing so, they hope to convince you that language is the most dangerous weapon of all, containing the power to free, shackle, or conjure hidden perils at will. Acts of dancing, spraying, hooping, thinking, being, and watching happened as written in the issue, or at least they believe they did.
The Fiction Board is somewhat less epistemically flimsy, and in each selection, danger of a distinct kind lurks. Plumbing mortal, financial, social and narcotic perils, the pieces highlight the variability of both fear itself and writers' attempts to represent it. Together, their diverse terrors form a paean to fiction’s ability to make our spines feel like they’re made of soft-soap—whether the fear is born of a dead body or an alarming bank statement.
The Art Board eschews economics to locate danger in questions of territory, performance, the body politic, and the increasingly-problematized self. Garrett Allen’s hog-tied Cocoon fidgets against the page, while Ellen Gallagher’s Dew Breaker floats, a palimpsest of marine forms and hues. Traversing grounds luminescent and eerie, the forty-odd images curated here confront precariousness in process and materiality.
Speaking of precarity, The Poetry Board is anxious about the difference between representations and reality of the vanguards of aesthetic and political action. Do Danez Smith’s political blows seem more like an example of real poetic force, or are Hillman and Toscano better able to claim the edginess of danger using wilder formal invention? Perhat and Abduwéli, from Xinjiang Province in China, force us to be more careful about our model of literary history: Uyghur poems have a markedly different past to reckon with.
Some works might not strike as openly dangerous: Maria P. Vassileva's dreamlike, strangely moving interlude; Faye Yan Zhang's delirious, witty meditation on narrative; Lev Mamuya's jazzy and cryptic stuttering shuttle; and Alyssa Moore's dystopian and scriptural chapter. But Wordsworth's private lyric was only "reactionary" relative to the social, economic, and political context in which his words were written. As Clare Cavenaugh points out, in the Soviet Union, public, political poetry was the officially sanctioned form, and writing personal, apolitical poems was punishable by marginalization, exile, and death. The Poetry Board points out that if we think danger is a genuine aesthetic value—if our art should be dangerous—then the right question might be: dangerous to what, or to whom?
Archive pairings for each section offer some clues to answering that question. Some selections uncover how we have navigated and discursively defined identity—both in its primary construction and later reconstructions. For example, “Feminology” and “Private Parts,”essays that vary greatly in their historical moments and authorships, provide different lenses into how we conceptualize and discuss the feminine body. Similarly, reflections from John Ashbery and Francine Prose charting the sexual and gender attitudes at the Advocatemay at once upset, confirm, and color the alluring satire of “Hoopla.” Next to such pairings, Henry Miller’s legendary “Glittering Pie” reads like a revelatory testament to a singular historical moment. A peerless case study for “Nico Perrino and Alex Morey’s “Censorship with a Smile,” Miller’s text remains in need of both critical unpacking and sensual appreciation.
Other matches draw attention to formal concerns. The playfully restrained sarcasm of Jean de La Fontaine’s “La Montagne qui accouche,”translated by a young Robert Fitzgerald, augments the raw, imagistic impact of Joshua L. Freeman’s translations of Uyghur poetry. We place T.S. Eliot’s underwhelming juvenilia next to Lev Mamuya’s “post-snap” and dare you to say our most laureled alum does not find himself bested by a sophomore. In a more complementary vein, Louise Bourgeois’s palpably intimate diptychs and Gabriel García Márquez’s interview with The Advocate remind us of art’s implacable tendency toward the personal and the geographically specific—a tendency explored and unmasked in Simon Dybbroe Møller’s homage to D’Angelo’s love affair with the camera and Mark Chiusano’s interview comments on his short fiction. The Anthology Committee hopes that these pairings make for engaging reading and conversational fodder among friends—but also that they help to elucidate the Advocate’s complicated past, and where we would like to go as we careen, publish, and celebrate art in the next 150 years.
Speaking of the future, our Technology Board has successively integrated our blog, Notes from 21 South Street, into our redesigned website. Visit it to find more information on our ongoing Capital Campaign and 150th Anniversary Fundraiser Event in New York this May.
As our editorial board retires—today’s crème de la crème souring before its time—we hope that Danger tempts you to be a bit more perilous, to risk a walk in the latest gales and newest galas, to step outside into freedom’s square. After all, new seeds are taking root and, come next year, those saplings will yield sweet golden apples.