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A Deeply Dilettante Review

 by Nick Watson

 (Originally published in The Argotist magazine in February 1996)  

The Diagnosis

Despite a seeming weight of evidence to the contrary, the radical diversification of the media that began in the mid 80s has not delivered any broad new horizon in magazine publishing. Specialisation is now widespread, with a plethora of subject-specific titles targeting closely defined niche readerships, and this has been hailed as a victory for diversity, choice and opportunity. And yet, the narrow focus, which identifies each individual magazine, operates only to stifle diversity and to encourage insularity within the pages of any given publication. The possible realisation of difference, and by this I mean a challenging, alternative perspective, is denied by the implementation of agendas, which are, by definition and necessity, exclusive. The specialist magazine is an information ghetto that stands only as one part among a collection of other such divided parts.

There are, of course, magazines that still aim themselves at a general readership and their subject matter can be wide-ranging, with articles on everything from trip hop to paperclips in the same issue. This kind of magazine supplies, in one sense at least, something of an eclectic diet and yet such publications invariably promote a uniform, in-house prose style which is as narrow in its aspiration as the subject-specificity of the single focus volume. Again, any significant realisation of diversity is denied by a safe and turgid sameness of style that secures intact an isolated identity. The specialist magazine is usually guilty of this as well.

These two approaches to publishing show how a preconceived form can control and negatively affect subject matter by ensuring either thematic or stylistic conformity. With this kind of voluntary constriction, distinctions that have traditionally been made about readership groups can be reinforced and exploited. For example, old divisions between high and lowbrow cultures are encouraged by a publishing world that prefers to treat them as mutually exclusive—each genre knows its place and can find little or no opportunity to communicate directly with another.

The Prescription

The Argotist is different. This magazine will not simply add another sheaf of uniformity to the superficially diverse shelves. Instead, we aim to celebrate a dynamic interactive pluralism by creating a magazine form that facilitates a “deeply dilettante” dialogue between a multitude of voices in the arts. The Argotist exploits the very difference that other magazines deny and from the sum of these different parts achieves its own unique identity. In order to better recognise individual voices, we will not separate them out according to the tried and tested generic formula. We will replace the divisive experience of fragmentation with a genuinely cosmopolitan and interactive condition. This magazine aims to bring together as many different written argots as it can muster whilst maintaining a level of incisiveness about all things artistic. The magazine will then constantly regenerate itself as “The Argotist”—master of argots.

As you will see, this first issue has great stylistic diversity, which, in combination, is a refreshingly vital change from the usual fare—and we believe this is the kind of diversity readers have been looking for. There is something of the academic bias to this opening edition, but that is something that will be balanced out over future issues. Again there is a literary bias and although the Poetry Portfolio will be a regular feature, the central theme of each edition (here “Performance Poetry” will move between art forms.

The Argotist will appear three times a year in February, June and September.


 copyright © Nick Watson


Nick Watson is a graduate of Liverpool University and was the editor of The Argotist magazine from 1996-2000.