From the Editor
The essays in Partial Answers 3/1 belong to the rubrics “Literature and Ideology” and “Topoi.” They employ different methodologies and focus on materials that are remote from one another in time, space, and culture, yet they all share a concern with radical conflicts or tragic predicaments and examine possible partial resolutions through accommodation, mediation, or shifts in signification. Betty Rojtman’s paper on the Scriptural Law of Talion (“eye for eye”) enlists Biblical exegesis and contemporary literary theory to show that, with the exception of taking human life (murder), the restitution demanded by the Law of Talion is not the infliction of equivalent damage but monetary compensation, which is, however, always and inevitably inferior to the loss sustained. Edmond Wright’s paper examines the conflict of values in Chaucer’s The Franklin’s Tale in light of the philosophy of narrative that aptly explains the happy ending of the Tale by the (somewhat utopian) possibility of awakening from “the illusion of reciprocity” -- roughly, the illusion that the addressee of an utterance attaches to it the same significance as the speaker.
The concern with ideology continues in Dalia Ben Tsur’s paper on the conflict between the sixteenth-century tradition of Biblical drama and the reformation agenda of suppressing the imagery that could awaken a longing for Catholic practices. The paper examines the mediating shifts of perspective that allowed sacred imagery to remain on the English theatrical stage for some time after such imagery was removed from places of worship.
Ilya Serman’s paper deals with the artistic refractions of ideological issues in three major Russian literary works written in the same year, 1868. In response to the stern hagiographical image of Rachmetov in Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done?, the three works -- Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, the final installments of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and Alexey K. Tolstoy’s play Tsar Fedor Ioannovich -- create their own versions of what Dostoevsky called “the positively beautiful human being,” versions in which the saintly opposition to mundane or hegemonic values is combined with a restrained comicality that both invites and distances the sympathy of the reader.
Yael Levin’s paper shows the ways in which the topos of Pompeii, standing for an object that is both present, absent, and longed for -- one that mediates between desire and consummation -- functions in the systems of significance created in Joseph Conrad’s The Arrow of Gold, Sigmund Freud’s “Jensen’s Gradiva,” and Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever.
Yehiel Szeintuch’s discussion of the salamander topos in an eponymous 1945 poem and in the 1945/1946 Holocaust novel by Israeli writer Ka-Tzetnik (the photographically reproduced Yiddish manuscript of the poem is published here for the first time) comes full circle to the concern with retaliation. The battle cry “hurrah” with which the salamander, the symbol of a Holocaust survivor, emerges from the flames is here interpreted as a call for literary retaliation as the absolute ethical imperative of the witness. In connection with the issues raised in Rojtman’s paper, it may be noted that Ka-Tzetnik opposed Israel’s acceptance of monetary compensation from post-war Germany.
Finally, Richard Freadman’s “Recognition and Autobiography” is devoted to the issue of recognition and acceptance in Rose Boys, the 2001 autobiography of the Australian poet Peter Rose, a work that focuses on the author’s relationship with his elder brother, the athlete Robert Rose, who was left quadriplegic after a 1974 car accident. Tracing the conceptual continuum between Ludwig Wittgenstein’s predominantly cognitive use of the concept of recognition and the predominantly ethical significance of this term in the work of Charles Taylor, the essay demonstrates the centrality of recognition in the ethical shifts undergone by the two scions of an athletic dynasty, a homosexual poet and a disabled champion.
The literary works dealt with in the seven papers are, to a large extent, narrative explorations of the availability of conflict resolution. The journal’s next Call for Papers is “Narrative as a Way of Thinking.”