From boundary 2's inaugural announcement: “As the title suggests, 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. The transition from the Victorian to the Modern period was largely limited to an exchange between Anglo-American and French literature. The new transition, we feel, is radically international in character. Thus we intend to present (as much as conditions will allow) what is going on in the contemporary creative and critical imaginations everywhere in the world.”
Paul Bové: “[With volume 17] boundary 2 has also changed its subtitle; we are now an international journal of literature and culture. We have decided to de-emphasize our previous concern with “the postmodern”--a term so embroiled in controversy and so difficult to use with precision--to approach problems of literature and culture from a number of politically, historically, and theoretically informed perspectives. We remain committed to understanding the present; and we remain committed to approaching the study of culture and politics through literature, philosophy, and the human sciences. We want to emphasize our interest in approaching cultural, political questions with a global or international awareness. We also want to renew our commitment to feminist and minority research and criticism.”
Selected Subject Headings
- Agent (philosophy)
- Canon (literature)
- Civil rights - United States
- Comparative literature - history and criticism
- Cultural pluralism
- Debates and debating
- Fiction, Theory of
- Human-machine systems
- Human rights - China
- Kikuyu poetry
- Koran - hermeneutics
- Nonviolence - South Africa
- Language policy - Turkey
- Learning and scholarship - historiography
- Literary criticism - Ireland
- Modernism (literature)
- Palestinian Arabs - history
- Philosophical anthropology
- Postcolonial theory
- Postmodernism (literature) - United States
- Squatter settlements - Malaysia
Founded in the early 1970s by literary critic William V. Spanos and novelist Robert Kroetsch, boundary 2’s title was inspired by Karl Jasper’s concept of die Grenzsituation, a boundary or ultimate situation, an extreme situation; according to Spanos, “we thought of that time in terms of a crisis moment, a time between an old modernism and a postmodernism.” Therefore, the journal’s initial subtitle: “A journal of postmodern literature.”
A tremendously influential journal, boundary 2's initial focus was literature and literary criticism, but the ultimate situation Spanos was referring to was not just an academic territorial struggle with an old guard--say, the New Criticism or the Myth and Symbol school--but rather a desire for “a responsible engagement with the hegemonic ideologies that precipitated and sustained violence as the way of modern social life.”
To give an indication of the intellectual and political affinities espoused by the journal, one just needs to point out that despite the preeminent inclusion of literary works during its first phase, boundary 2's inaugural issue opened with Edward Said’s essay “Michel Foucault as an intellectual imagination” and has continued through the decades to provide a forum for the most advanced critical thinking; evidently, what we now understand as literary criticism has been very much shaped by the journal itself, and it is for this reason that its editorial history is of interest.
Initially being published from Binghamton University, through the years, an Editorial Collective was formed, not dissimilar to the way that a germane project like Social Text also functions; in the mid to late 1980s, the journal changed its editorial office to the University of Pittsburgh, and began to be published by Duke University Press; Paul A. Bové became its editor, and its subtitle changed to “An international journal of literature and culture,” dropping the by then ideologically suspicious postmodernist label. boundary 2 most recent mastheads include figures such as Michael Hays, Fredric Jameson, Gayatri Spivak, Cornel West, Stuart Hall (☸), Anthony Bogues, Rey Chow and Hortense Spillers, among many others.
We mention these editorial vicissitudes to give an indication of the intellectual breadth represented by this journal, its thought-network, as well as to point to the converging radicalism and urgency of the stakes espoused by these intellectuals and thinkers. Most of these names might now stand as representatives of a seismic shift in discourse, and by extension, our reality; what came to be labeled as postcolonial theory, critical theory and comparative literature found in boundary 2’s pages a forum in which they could be shaped and thought through.
As its bound to happen with any rigorous intellectual enterprise, differences arise and the intellectual stakes shift as decades pass and editorial members rotate; what was aimed for was achieved--a radical epistemological reversal, a much needed deconstruction of the Western humanist tradition, an ontological rethinking. boundary 2 set out to counter the belief in the aesthetic autonomy of the literary text, to delegitimize “the hegemony of the exceptionalist nationalism of American literary studies;” after its initial existential leanings, the form in which this took place evolved , according to Spanos, “from a dialectical tension between the national and the global,” to a “suspicion of the ‘unworldliness’ of poststructuralism,” bringing forth an embrace of the global.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that there are very few intellectual projects in the U.S. like boundary 2; where else can one read in our homogenic and professionalized intellectual landscape such a bold editorial statement as it appeared recently on the journal’s masthead?
“The editors of boundary 2 announce that they no longer intend to publish in the standard professional areas, but only materials that identify and analyze the tyrannies of thought and action spreading around the world and that suggest alternatives to these emerging configurations of power.”
boundary 2 began when the Viet Nam war was being waged, and continues now in our haptic drones world, a world enmeshed in a never-ending, ever-expanding War on Terror with its related counter-Terror; it “demanded a literary education committed to the activation of critical consciousness” and it continues to provide an inestimable forum for engaged and lively scholarship.
Culture, politics, perspectives, intellectual discourse, literary creation, philosophy; always changing thought, as our changing world; but the mere fact that such an intellectual project as boundary 2 reaches four decades bears witness to the work accomplished and the ever evolving boundaries that need continued rigorous crossings, “between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages.”
That is, if liberation as an intellectual mission is really one’s stake.
To peruse the indexed contents of boundary 2, please log into the database.
William V. Spanos. "Overture in the recursive mode," in Repetitions: the postmodern occasion in literature and culture. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987, pp. 3-4.
Paul Bové. “Editor’s note,” boundary 2 (Durham), vol. 17, no. 2 (Summer 1990): v-vi.
 Jeffrey J. Williams. “The counter-memory of postmodernism: an interview with William V. Spanos,” Minnesota Review (Durham), vol. 67 (Fall 2006), 48. There’s not a dearth of words by Spanos.
Spanos, ibid., p. 2.
boundary 2 (Durham), vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1972): 1-36.
For this necessarily brief sketch of the journal's publishing history, we have relied on boundary 2’s website, on Williams’ interview with Spanos, and on Spanos’s own Overture in the recursive mode referenced above.
"Caleb Beckwith with William V. Spanos." The Conversant, November 2014. Accessed 2.24.2015
Spanos, ibid., p.3.
In The Conversant interview, Spanos quotes the concluding chapter of Said's Culture and Imperialism (1993); we reproduce here the complete paragraph, as we also paraphrase it in our ending:
"Yet it is no exaggeration to say that liberation as an intellectual mission, born in the resistance and opposition to the confinements and ravages of imperialism, is now shifted from the settled, established, and domesticated dynamic of culture to its unhoused, de-centered, and exilic energies, energies whose incarnation today is the migrant, and whose consciousness is that of the intellectual and artist in exile, the political figure between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages."