Conducted via email from August to October of this year, this interview with William V. Spanos discusses the long political and personal histories of the academic journal boundary 2, of which Spanos is a founding editor. It pays particular attention to the editorial shifts leading to Spanos’s ultimate dissociation from the journal as well as the evolving function of radical literary criticism within a contemporary political landscape.
Caleb Beckwith: For readers who may not be fully familiar with boundary 2, would you mind speaking to its founding and early years to start? And also, how would you say this focus has shifted in recent years?
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a transitional time in literary studies, as well as in American culture and history. Founded in 1970, the journal boundary 2 marked that transition, as its inaugural announcement explained:
. . .the essential subject matter of our journal will be what is now called “post-modern” literature. Though we are uncertain about the direction this literature is taking, we are inclined to see the age of Mallarmé, Eliot, Joyce, Yeats, Pound, etc. as having more or less run its course. We believe that since World War II a new imagination has been struggling to be born and that these last twenty years (like the thirty years or so before World War I) represent another period of transition. The function of boundary 2 will be to play midwife to this new, “postmodern” imagination by publishing poetry, fiction and drama that explore its possibilities and literary criticism and scholarship that attempt to clarify its direction.
William Spanos, co-founder and longtime editor of boundary 2, has worked over a long career to define the postmodern in both literature and in theory. In shepherding the journal as well as in his prolific writing, he has influenced the shape of contemporary criticism, investigating existentialism, poststructural theory, American studies and the politics of the American imperium.