From the Editor
The pun on “partiality” in the title of our journal is intentional. The journal disclaims an ability to provide, or a wish to constitute, an absolute answer to any problem that it might address, yet the motivation for starting its publication is -- at least partly -- idealistic. The twenty first century is one of the periods when, to use the language of “The Defense of Poetry” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1809), “the accumulation of the materials of external life exceed the quantity of the power of assimilating them to the internal laws of human nature.” Though discomfort with this disproportion, in whatever way “the internal laws of human nature” may be understood, has been felt, in different measure, by every generation of literary scholars, the need to overcome the breach between the technological achievements on the one hand and ethical practice and intellectual life on the other has hardly ever been as urgent as at present. And though the main work of bridging this gap lies elsewhere, an interdisciplinary literary journal in a research area not expressly focused on by other journals may contribute to the concerted effort in a variety of ways.
Partial Answers proposes to register the developments in what may be (broadly and with deliberate vagueness) called the literary history of ideas; it also aspires to participate in the further shaping of this history without positing the existence of a single “cutting edge” of intellectual development. Intellectual activity branches out in sundry directions at once; still, when it processes its materials, or extends itself in ways that model their shape, a great deal of precious debris tends to slide into oblivion. Artistic creativity and cultural self-reproduction -- as well as the humanistic discourse that brings them to self-awareness -- are as legitimately employed in the reabsorption of the debris by the side of innovative trends as in the promotion and critique of the trends themselves.
The inaugural issue of Partial Answers opens with a programmatic article by Wolfgang Iser on the context-sensitivity of humanistic discourse. The articles that follow exemplify a variety of shapes that humanistic discourse can take. Though most of them deal, as it happens, with English literature, the essays inscribe themselves into different traditions of scholarship: British moral philosophy (Bernard Harrison), Anglo-American narratology (James Phelan), French literary and sociological theory (Frédéric Regard), cultural study of gender and economic ideas (Regenia Gagnier), and psychoanalytically oriented critical analysis (Dianne Hunter). Each article presents a different script of the relationship between literature and the history of ideas: feedback loops, literary masterworks’ philosophical prescience, ideological implications of the literary form, ideological spokesmanship (whether intentional or not) in literature, the staging of encrypted cultural patterns in literature and life. Articles in ensuing issues of the journal will supplement and expand this open-ended paradigm.
Sponsored by The School of Literatures of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Partial Answers intends to publish articles on all national literatures and to refrain from privileging specific strands in the history of ideas. The editorial board welcomes responses to the articles published, by letter, e-mail, or in the shape of essays for publication. It also welcomes suggestions concerning relevant new books that should be reviewed.