From the Editor
Most of the essays in Partial Answers 3/2 come under the rubric “Then and Now”: they discuss the ways in which the topical concerns of our own time are treated in the literature of the past -- in the works of writers who were, to some extent, ahead of their time but whose ideological attitudes were also partly determined by specific strands in the cultural tradition, whether hegemonic or counter-hegemonic. This approach is particularly prominent in William Over’s essay on the treatment of skin color in the poetry of William of Cherbury and of his brother George Herbert.
One of the subjects shared by Over’s “Race, Culture, and Openness” and the subsequent papers on Victorian literature is attitudes towards individuality and diversity. Tony Fitzpatrick’s essay attempts to construct a vision of society that informs the works of five Victorian novelists in relation to principles of social policy: whereas policy necessarily emphasizes social affiliations, the novelist’s treatment of society privileges ethics based on individual merit. Frances Ferguson’s essay on terrorism and Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities shows that the common feature of modern terrorism and the Revolutionary terror as represented in Dickens’s novel is precisely what, to borrow a term from Bernard Harrison’s forthcoming book on the new antisemitism, can be called “diversity denial,” a phenomenon staged in the interpersonal relationships of Dickens’s characters. Whereas Ferguson’s “On Terrorism and Morals” focuses on the perils of seeing people not as individuals but as members of a group, Michal Peled Ginsburg’s paper is concerned with the opposite phenomenon, likewise staged in Dickens: the darker sides of the claims to identity and, conversely, the sociological issues associated with the identifying recognition of the other.
By contrast, Ruth Bienstock Anolik deals not so much with recognition as with demonization of the other, in this case of the supernatural transgressiveness embodied in Svengali, George Du Maurier’s version of the Wandering Jew. As this subject suggests, Victorian civilization and the methodical chaos of the Holocaust (here dealt with in Edith W. Clowes’s paper on the representations of Babii Yar in Soviet literature), exist in the same world, rather than in different moral universes – contrary to what may seem in happier moments of literary reception.
In Jewel Spears Brooker’s “Dialectic and Impersonality in T. S. Eliot,” dialectics of impersonality, the concern with “Tradition and Individual Talent” converges with the problem of diversity; this essay emphasizes Eliot’s interest in the shared rather than the different, and in the reassertion of the individual creative identity following its voluntary submergence. The paper goes on to discuss the versions of this dialectics that Eliot identified in Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, and William Butler Yeats.
Thus the essays collected in this issue of the journal form a paradigm of approaches to the problem of the self and the other in the context of the dialectical tension between individual authenticity and cultural affiliation.
The journal’s next Call for Papers is “Narrative as a Way of Thinking” (description on p. 211).