Making the Point: Three grad students connect the city and the academy in a new magazine

A Poster for The Point on the University of Chicago Campus; Sam Bowman

A Poster for The Point on the University of Chicago Campus; Sam Bowman


Founded by a trio of grad students in the University of Chicago’s Social Thought program, The Point, a new journal that blends the intellectual with the cultural, is a multifaceted response to the lack of connection between the big-question world of academia and the less stately but ubiquitous environment of contemporary life. Rarely does the average class on Durkheim introduce a conversation about the modern phenomenon of “couch surfing,” and one just as infrequently sees an MTV program pull in references to Weber. It often seems that intellectual life and popular culture are two spheres afraid to touch, and this is what the Point hopes to address. In its first issue, an article entitled “The Withering of Narcissus” begins by ruminating on what Plato might have thought of the Internet.

The journal, set to come out biannually, falls into neither the purely academic genre nor the category of intellectual favorites like the New Yorker and Harper’s. If it can be said to have a niche, the closest might be New York-based n+1, a magazine which the editors of the Point directed their writers to for tips on style and purpose. Unlike n+1, however, which adheres to a rule against using writers who are dead as guides, the Point welcomes wisdom from ages past. “We want it to be like a conversation,” editor Jonny Thakkar explains, warding off practical application as the ultimate objective. While unafraid to use the dead for guidance, the journal’s goal is to be a forum for discussing and analyzing modern life through the accumulated knowledge of the academic world.

Although based out of the University of Chicago, the publication is not intended to be representative of the University. The city of Chicago, however, will be given some space in each issue. The current issue, set to be released next week, offers a review of “Gatz,” a lengthy staging of “The Great Gatsby” put on at the Museum of Contemporary Art last November. The editors hope to give this type of city-specific story a broader appeal by exploring the topic in depth. The “Gatz” article, for example, explores the effect of the novel as fully as it reviews the production. “We want to achieve something akin to the New Yorker,” Thakkar notes regarding the pseudo-local impact of the magazine–it should bear some identity of the city’s intellectual community, but be distributed and enjoyed more universally.
Conceived in the autumn of 2008, the idea for the Point came from conversations between the three editors–Thakkar, Etay Zwick, and Jonathon Baskin–about the city’s intellectual and cultural resources and the lack of ties between the two. Meeting several times throughout September and October to brainstorm, they spent a good deal of time parsing out their magazine’s guiding principles and calling for submissions. A wide-ranging authorship is represented in the first issue, with writers from New York and Cambridge, England, as well as Thakkar himself contributing two pieces. The most famed of its contributors is undoubtedly Slavoj Žižek, whom Zwick roped in thanks to a serendipitous run-in at the Seminary Co-op bookstore.

With the first issue set to release, the journal’s editors have solid ambitions for the future of the publication, including increasing the length and bringing it into new forms of conversation. “We want to eventually have panel discussions,” Zwick explains. While the Point offers several articles on its website, the editors don’t expect to expand their presence online through blogging or by publishing the magazine’s entirety on its website. “It’s not really the right format,” Thakkar says of the Internet, pointing out that the paper copy includes color photographs and visual art.

As it stands, the magazine weighs in at just over 100 pages, and boasts an impressive professionalism for its first issue, with two previously unpublished photos of David Foster Wallace accompanying an essay on the late writer, in addition to the Žižek article. A local launch party will be held next Thursday, May 28, from 5:30 to 8pm at the Smart Museum, and a citywide party is currently in the works. Copies of the journal should be available by next week in the 57th Street Bookstore and are also available for purchase at thepointmag.com.