From the Editor
Partial Answers 2/1 continues the study of some of the subjects raised in the two issues for 2003, including the topic of Literature and the Ideas of Space -- here most directly treated in Rajeev S. Patke’s essay on poetry which uses islands as figures of the tension between isolation and community. Since in most of the articles below spaces mainly pertain to geographical expanses inhabited by different cultures and nations, this line of interest links up with our new rubric, the Cultural Other. Owing to this thematic closeness the material of Partial Answers 2/1 is arranged not according to rubrics but, roughly, according to the chronology of the literary works discussed.
Janet Thormann’s essay initiates our discussion of the Cultural Other. The article deals with Old English poems and discusses their construction of the Jew as the moral, cultural, and religious other. Using the terminology of post-colonial studies, Thormann shows how the cultural other is colonized not geographically but textually, in order to help define the cultural and national self of the Anglo-Saxons both in contrast and, more importantly, in identification with the Jews of Scripture.
Natalia Pervukhina’s article on the nineteenth-century Russian intellectual Vladimir Pecherin discusses, by contrast, a dialectics between its protagonist’s choice to live in voluntary exile, under a political culture different from his own, and his autobiographical fashioning of himself in literary and cultural terms still shared with his target audience in his motherland rather than with his actual human environment. The paper thus deals with an addressivity that is partly similar to that discussed in Mara Beller’s essay in Partial Answers 1/2. While Pecherin’s life could be seen as entering a dialogue with the ship-shape careers of his former fellow-students, and while his literary self-conception argues against images of him in the works of others, his memoir conciliates his Russian addressees by appealing to the ideas and literary topoi that had built their cultural identity.
In times when one of the most intense collective fears is that of culture wars, the concept of cultural otherness cannot but raise the issue of military cataclysms. Gershon Shaked’s essay discusses the work of Franz Kafka and Shmuel Yosef Agnon as, indeed, post-cataclysmic, and as combining rebelliousness against tradition and authority with an ambivalent nostalgia for the real or apparent social, religious, and ethnic harmonies of the pax Habsburgiana disrupted by World War I.
Yael Feldman’s essay addresses the issue of war and peace via the problem of gendering the military impulse. After tracing the development of feminist positions associated with nineteenth- and twentieth-century peace movements, the essay focuses on Virginia Woolf’s constructivist approach to gender in relation to war, arguing for the partial influence of her reading of Freud on the codification of her ideas.
Gender issues are also raised in Janice Stewart’s essay, the other part of our double bill on Virginia Woolf. Stewart discusses Woolf’s “madness” as a liability associated with the work of the “melancholic genius,” the latter having been, in tune with an Aristotelian tradition, a masculine construct, both in her culture and in the history of her family. The essay discusses Woolf’s uneasy appropriation of this construct for female creativity and for the self-conception of the woman writer.
It must be noted that the next issue of Partial Answers will continue the examination of Virginia Woolf’s work in the context of ideas relevant to the twenty-first century (it will likewise continue its series of articles on modern poetry, begun by Diane Hunter in 1/1 and continued by Frank J. Kearful and Rajeev S. Patke in 1/2 and 2/1). Feldman and Stewart do more than apply modern theoretical concepts to classical literary works: they show that those works provide a comment on present-day ideas, ideas with the help of which present-day intellectuals attempt to respond to current philosophical and ideological challenges.
This form of dialogue also eminently characterizes Ortwin de Graef’s essay on Wordsworth’s Salisbury Plain poems. The essay engages with Geoffrey Hartman’s belief that Wordsworth’s poetry played a significant role in shaping the culture that would keep England safe from the ravages of the kind suffered by continental Europe. It traces the motif of the infant in Wordsworth’s early poetry, showing the mechanics through which Wordsworth’s thought, self-correcting in consecutive revisions of one poetic nucleus, balances personal sympathy against an implicit call for a social order where the need for such sympathy would be reduced by more systematically institutionalized ways of alleviating human suffering.
The Editorial Board is interested in further submissions that would likewise relate ideas tested in classical literature to the issues debated in our own time.