My contention in this paper is that the distinctive form of the periodical challenges us to look outside the conventional paradigms of literary and cultural studies to develop new conceptual and analytical frameworks for this unique medium. More specifically, I argue that there exists a compelling and theoretically productive parallel between the complex and heterogeneous form of the periodical and the characteristic features of the mathematical sets defined by Benoit Mandelbrot as fractals. Infinitely complex in their fine structure, self-similar at multiple scales, and derived from simple recursive equations, fractal functions have been used to map the irregular forms that proliferate in nature, but these same properties also resonate strikingly with those of the periodical in its multiple and varying patterns of elements. Indeed, just as rock formations, clouds, and coastlines defy traditional Euclidean geometry, so periodicals defy traditional poetics. And just as fractal geometry provides tools to tame these complex and irregular forms, so it can furnish us with new approaches to describe and conceptualise the ‘texture’ of the periodical, understood as the complex and irregular patternings of its textual, visual, and material elements.
Drawing on a pilot, British Academy funded project to develop a periodical mapping application (P-MApp), this paper will explore the conceptual and analytical potential of the periodical as a fractal form. In particular, I shall demonstrate that fractional (or fractal) dimension can serve as a highly effective measure of periodical complexity, opening up the possibility of systematic comparative and typological analysis of periodical form.
Senior Lecturer in German Studies, University of Manchester
Monday 20th April, 1-2.30pm, Henley Business School, G03