“This issue of WHR brings together several papers from ‘Critical Renovations,’ a symposium held at the University of Utah in November 2007. The symposium invited scholars of English working in a wide range of periods, genres, and media to reflect on, revisit, and perhaps recycle our scholarly past.” Hold onto your hat. Here comes some serious lit crit, cultural studies, scholarly stuff. I mean I. A. Richards, and Eve Sedgewick, and Saussure, and Leo Spitzer, and Ortega y Gasset, and Fredric Jameson, and Paul de Man. I mean “critical gestures,” and an “oblique gloss” on methodological problems, and “developmentalist narratives.” But, don’t despair! There’s something valuable in every one of these dense, academic essays.
Scott Black’s essay, “The Novel According to Ortega,” begins with an epigraph from the legendary Spanish critic, “to think is to ask for trouble.” That quote alone is worth the price of admission. And Black offers his own gem of a definition: “Rather than alluding to the real, the novel offers a realist illusion that provokes a recognition of the real, an experience of the way reality exceeds the concepts, the forms, perhaps the myths that try to capture it (and yet are the only ways we have to capture it).” There are more than enough epiphanies of this kind to make tackling these essays worthwhile.
The symposium essays are followed by creative pieces from seven writers, several of which are difficult to classify, including Larry Fondation’s “Thug Life,” short prose fragments and an illustration; “Kevin Crosstick and the Females. Warm Actions. My Wishes Granted” by Diane Williams, short prose fragments with bold highlighted titles; and “The Wedding-Mask Door Pull,” a short-short also by Diane Williams. Tessa Kale contributes poems about Auden and Rilke. Stephen-Paul Martin contributes a haunting piece of New York fiction with unusual appeal and urgency. My advice: don’t worry about what it all means; just take it all in…to think is to ask for trouble.