Journals versus Literature?*

An overview of the young literary journal scene in Switzerland

By Florian Oegerli            

Translated by Martin Striegel      

Anyone looking at the Swiss literary journal scene in the mid-2000s was bound to conclude that the medium’s significance was declining. There were few alternatives to the journals Entwürfe, founded in the 1980s, and Orte, dating back to the 1970s. Drehpunkt, issued by Martin Zingg and Rudolf Bussmann for 25 years, folded in 2006. This left young authors wanting to gain a foothold in the literary scene with few possibilities for publication or for exchange with experienced colleagues. Reasons behind this loss in significance are hard to pinpoint. One of them, according to Martin Zingg, may be the fact that literary journals are strongly linked to individuals, making them difficult to pass on as a project. They are “events of self-exploitation”, he says, built on enthusiasm, a resource that is, unfortunately, becoming scarcer. “This may explain their temporary decline,” Mr Zingg adds, “but also explains why there are always new literary magazines being founded.”

And luckily, new journals have indeed been set up since.

The situation began to change at the end of the decade. Digitalisation had taken off, text messages and hypertext were part and parcel of everyday life. Written communication (SMS, chats, Messenger, email) continued to gain ground against the spoken word. Thanks to further advances in e-readers, e-books evolved into a valid alternative to printed books. And yet, despite all this, literary journals’ gradual slide into obscurity did not continue. On the contrary, their number has again risen to heights not seen for a long time. For the event Kampf der Magazine (which pits journals against one another) at Aargauer Literaturhaus on 19 May 2016, the organisers have invited representatives of no fewer than 15 magazines, many of which have been in existence for less than five years.

Possibly this is a reaction to the fact that many of us spend a large part of the day facing pixels on screens. We long for a return to something more solid, more tangible, something in printed form. Ironically, it is digital communication technology itself that makes it a lot easier and cheaper nowadays to produce a magazine in analog format. This is confirmed by Martin Zingg, who explains that is less expensive overall to have a journal printed today than to distribute it via the internet.