Title October: Art | Theory | Criticism | Politics
Location New York
Publisher MIT Press
Periodicity Quarterly
ISSN 0162-2870
URL October MIT
Published Since 1976-
Indexed Holdings 2000-


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Periodical's Overview

October 1976

“The cultural life of this country, traditionally characterized by a fragmented parochialism, has been powerfully transformed over the past decade and a half by developing interrelationships between her most vital arts. Thus, innovations in the performing arts have been inflected by the achievements of painters and sculptures, those of film-makers have been shaped by poetic theory and practice. There exists, however, no journal which attempts to assess and sustain these developments. American criticism continues to exist as a number of isolated and archaic enterprises, largely predicated upon assumptions still operative in the literary academy. The best-known of our intellectual journals—among them, Partisan Review, The New York Review of Books, Salmagundi—are staffed or administered by the academy and, more importantly, articulate its limits and contradictions. They have, in fact, sustained a division between critical discourse and significant artistic practice. More than this, they have, in their ostentatious disregard of innovation in both art and critical method, encouraged the growth of a new philistinism within the intellectual community.


October’s structure and policy are predicated upon a dominant concern: the renewal and strengthening of critical discourse through intensive review of the methodological options now available. October’s strong theoretical emphasis will be mediated by its consideration of present artistic practice. It is our conviction that this is possible only withing a sustained awareness of the economic and social bases of that practice, of the material conditions of its origins and processes, and of their intensely problematic nature at this particular time.

[…] we will publish writing grounded in presuppositions that are materialist, or at times idealist. Indeed, the tensions between radical artistic practice and dominant ideology will be a major subject of inquiry. They demand clarification. In matters of this sort, Marx’s evaluation of Balzac is exemplary; Lukács’s views of Brecht and Kafka are not. The idealism of Malevich and Brakhage are among the more interesting and problematic instances of such contradictions. They are to be analyzed, not dismissed.

‘October’ [the film] is a reference which remains, for us, more than exemplary; it is instructive. For us, the argument regarding Socialist Realism is nonexistent. Art begins and ends with a recognition of its conventions. We will not contribute to that social critique which swamped by its own disingenuousness, gives credence to such an object of repression as a mural about the war in Vietnam, painted by a white liberal resident in New York, a war fought for the most part by ghetto residents commanded by elements drawn from the southern lower-middle-class. Nor do we concur with the vulgar cliché that criticism’s hypothetical readers have no familiarity with works of art. The most apparent constituent of that attitude too is its innate authoritarianism.”[1]

October 1986

“But why October?” our readers still inquire. Briefly October is named after Eisenstein’s film celebrating the tenth anniversary of the revolution. More fully, October is emblematic for us of a specific historical moment in which artistic practice joined with critical theory in the project of social construction. It is this conjunction that we inscribed on our cover: Art | Theory | Criticism | Politics. Naming the journal October was not, however, a nostalgic gesture. We had no desire to perpetuate the mythology of the revolution. Rather we wished to claim that the unfinished, analytic project of constructivism--aborted by the consolidation of the Stalinist bureaucracy, distorted by the recuperation of the Soviet avant-garde into the mainstream of Western idealist aesthetics--was required for a consideration of the aesthetic practices of our own time.


The particular historical moment within which our project took shape was a transitional period in which the modernist canon, the forms and categories that had defined and elucidated it, were everywhere in question. This situation, which we have subsequently come to call postmodernism, required in our estimation an intensive effort of reassessment and analysis.[…]

We founded October as a forum for the presentation and theoretical elaboration of cultural work that continued the unfinished project of the 1960s. Our task was no more nostalgic with respect to this project than it as in regard to the earlier one. Instead, we considered it the necessary response to what was once again a consolidation of reactionary forces within both the political and cultural spheres. We approached this task on a number of fronts simultaneously, thus establishing the eclectic though hardly “pluralist” character of the journal. We opened our pages to the writings of cultural producers themselves; we published documents from earlier moments in the history of modernism that have a continued relevance for contemporary theory and practice; we commissioned work by critics who shared our interest. In addition, we consistently published texts representing the advanced theoretical efforts made abroad, particularly in France. In this we were not alone; but we made a concerted effort to set a new standard of quality for translation, an effort consistent with our desire to play an active mediating role in that theoretical production, for it seemed to us that the most cogent response to the return to traditional Western values in every sphere of social and cultural life was the critique of the presuppositions of those values made by French theorists, those who had come to be called poststructuralists.”[2]

October 1996

“Our task as originally defined now seems to us to have an intensified urgency. The ensuing decade has produced an extension and sharpening of cultural and political contradictions, now seen as most unhappily systemic. The catastrophic state of our urban economies manifest in the decay of their very physical infrastructures, the continuing crisis of education, the precarious state of welfare legislation, its consequent projections of growing child poverty, its repercussions for questions of ethnicity, immigration policy, and complex issues of cultural identity—all these evidence the extraordinary fragility of what is now termed The World’s Sole Remaining Superpower.

More generally, the transformation of the geopolitical configuration of the past half-century during this second decade of our publication has entailed more than the dissolution of Soviet power as fueled by the United States' hegemonic imposition (through the World Bank) of a market economy; that process forms but one major episode in the intensifying predicaments of a postcolonial era.


“The evisceration of the socialist tradition throughout Europe has confirmed, moreover, the massive retreat of the American Left (whose alliance with organized labor has not recovered from the blows suffered during the war in Vietnam) into the Academy. Although the feminist struggle has largely succeeded within the Academy, on every other parameter it remains to be won. And it is faced with renewed threats of repression. For the steady rise of the Militant Right and of its “fundamentalist” discourse means not only that the struggle for radicalized cultural practices persists but also that reactionary activism forces a confrontation with its call for a “culture war” and its promotion of antisecularism, its demands for a repressive censorship, its program of restoration of a puritanical patriarchal order."[3]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Aesthetics, Modern - Soviet Union
  • Art and politics - France
  • Avant-garde (aesthetics)
  • Catalogs, Card
  • Cinematography, Abstract
  • Conceptual art
  • Cultural landscapes
  • Dadaism - influence
  • Experimental films - history and criticism
  • Fathers in art
  • Intellectuals - Hungary
  • Internationale situationniste
  • LEF, Levyi front iskusstv (Moscow, Russia)
  • Lower Manhattan Development Corporation
  • Motion pictures - political aspects - Israel
  • Murder in motion pictures
  • Palindromes
  • Psychoanalysis and feminism
  • Semiotics
  • Surrealism - France


We quote at length from October’s first issue editorial, and from the introductions to October’s essay compilations, all signed by The Editors. The reasons for our unusual decision are many, among them to illustrate their own statement regarding the periodical’s decision to follow “a fundamental choice as to the primacy of text and the writer’s freedom of discourse,” in order to avoid “pictorial journalism which deflects and compromises critical effort.”[4]

We were also interested in making a list of very specific words used in this selection of editorial statements: policy, conviction, fronts, reactionary forces, response, urgency, struggle, confrontation.

This combativeness is appealing and recalls the historical cultural moments which, without nostalgia, they claim as antecedents: 1920s Soviet Russia; 1910s and 1960s Paris, and 1960s Soho in NYC, none of them colonial subjects; what is also appealing is to observe how the tone of ‘urgency’ rises with time’s passage: from initial conviction, to its itchy reassessment ten years after; and a decade later, a full-on war, fueled by pessimism, against intellectuals' all-encroaching nightmare.

But not only society had changed during these years, which we stopped in 1996, but continue to our own very day. October’s role, position, and influence, as well as its Editors’ positions in Academia have also shifted: from a combative nouvelle vague to academicism, and its disciplinarian deeds; from being questioners of paradigms to become canon makers; all this in a society that has decided, not innocently, to get rid of these.

The Editors state embracing contradiction, and that’s what makes October the most influential journal dedicated to non-trade art in the U.S., and by extension the Western art history academies; this is partly due to The World’s Sole Remaining Superpower's quasi-monopoly on the consciousness industry and its distribution tools, vividly dissected in their own pages; but these are not the only reasons, as October’s legacy is, and will be, a staunch belief in the life of the mind, of intellect, of intelligence, of debate and confrontation, and of the power of these to shift what is perceived as society’s death-drive towards stupidity.

Some of these gloomy perceptions are buttressed by Deleuze’s prescient admonitions regarding the disciplinarian shift to a society of control, and Guy Debord’s spectacular alienation analysis, which are then filtered down to Buchloh’s Adornian neo-pessimism, and might have provoked Krauss’ retreat to Cubism. But we are optimist, and we like to read and diffuse the scholarly bad tidings, and also the responses, the urgency, the struggle and confrontation, which by their sole act of existence disprove what could be perceived as the all too familiar academic syndrome of isolation.

To note: not all is gloom, as it is easy to forget that October is also engaged with cinema, as serious film scholar, and actress, Annette Michelson has been an editor since the beginning. Soviet cinema analysis and thoughtful scholarly revisions, to deep engagement with specific works of figures like Claude Chabrol, Hollis Frampton, or Amos Gitai, make the journal an oasis in a dearth of intelligent responses to these kinds of productions and producers; in the now rare occasions in which cinema is given space in its pages, the tone invariably shifts to a more possibilistic one, maybe due to this medium being an industrial one since its inception, and not having had to witness its industrialization, as happened to art historians during the decades which arch October’s life.

Much more could be written about October, but we are librarians and archivists, not cultural historians; to those that wish October could be otherwise, more inclusive of other histories, contexts, or theoretical frameworks, enacting their wishes seems to be the forward move. Here’s an example.

To end, we’d like to return to our mentioned optimism, prompted by the realization that if our current historical and cultural moment was so hopeless, it wouldn’t even be able to sustain October’s existence, influence nor clout, which extends to the MIT Press' October Files series, to art history text books, and even to some New York City gallery’s program; not to mention the “mentorship effect” in that very same Academia from which the journal is now firmly grounded. Furthermore, the journal’s influence reaches serious art journals publishing, and art critical discourse in ways that no other cultural periodical can claim, as Texte zur Kunst, Grey Room, Documents, and Acción paralela attest, just to mention periodicals indexed in our database.

October is a role model to emulate, to attack, to dethrone, or to come to terms with. And this is October’s achievement, to sustain and fuel the beauty of intellectual discourse: fronts, conviction, struggle, confrontation.

The good fight, one among many others.

To peruse the indexed contents of October, please log into the database.


[1]“About October,” October (New York), vol. 1 (Spring 1976): 3-5.

[2]”Introduction.” In: October: the first decade, 1976-1986. Ed. by Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp, Joan Copjec. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986: ix-xi.

[3]”Introduction.” In: October: the second decade, 1986-1996. Ed. by Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Yves-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloch, and Hal Foster. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996: x-xi.

[4]“About October,” October (New York), vol. 1 (Spring 1976): 5.