I had to get back. I had to return the talisman to its new owner.
Else another light might go out.—John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent (1961).
The Community of Steinbeck Scholars has suffered two hard blows in the past year. First, John Ditsky, to whom this issue of The Steinbeck Review is dedicated, passed away in April 2006. Then, in the fall, Stephen K. George succumbed to the cancer that had been diagnosed not twelve months before. A gathering of papers from the "Steinbeck and His Contemporaries" Conference (in Idaho) that Stephen chiefly organized was in process when Stephen died. He and Barbara Heavilin are co-editors, and Barbara has been seeing the work through with Scarecrow Press. It will be dedicated to Stephen's memory, as will the Spring 2007 issue of The Steinbeck Review.
The issue you hold in your hands begins with tributes to John Ditsky penned by his colleagues and friends: Tetsumaro Hayashi, Jackson J. Benson, Mimi Gladstein, Michael J. Meyer, and Barbara Heavilin and Paul Douglass. These contributions remember John's warmth, affability, generosity, insight, and dry wit. We will all miss this "remarkable scholar and writer" who was, as Professor Hayashi reminds us, also an editor, poet, music critic, humanist, and, in the deepest sense, an educator. [End Page 9]
These qualities of John Ditsky are exhibited in his essay, "Just Folks: John Steinbeck and the American Quest for Anonymity." Here, Ditsky probes the self-contradiction in America's credo of "meritocracy," and discusses the artist's empathy for ''the anonymous in society" in its tension with the desire for recognition. This tension between empathizing with the "nobodies" desiring to be a "somebody" is a theme, Ditsky shows, in East of Eden, The Winter of Our Discontent, and many other works. Steinbeck critiques the "success-at-all-costs mentality" and praises those who embrace anonymity in the name of preserving something bigger than themselves. Ditsky writes: "'Else another light might go out,' the last line of Steinbeck's last novel, haunts us still." In focusing so much on others, John Ditsky also chose the quiet and non-theatrical path he praises Steinbeck for revealing.
Other essays in this issue touch on a wide spectrum of themes. Jan Whitt pays tribute to Steinbeck as a literary journalist in "'To Do Some Good and No Harm': The Literary Journalism of John Steinbeck." She argues for the centrality in Steinbeck's career of journalism in its own right, and not just as a source for fiction, focusing on Travels With Charley and The Grapes of Wrath as examples of literary journalism, and that Steinbeck's career was devoted to writing that, in a lucid, accessible way, "celebrate[s] our strengths and chastise[s] us for our failures." Danica Cerce's essay, "The Perception of John Steinbeck's Work in Slovenia," follows Whitt's. It is a welcome corrective to a piece published earlier in Steinbeck Studies that contained numerous errors and was actually plagiarized from Professor Cerce's own work. It is a thorough overview of the reception and translation of Steinbeck in Slovenia. A complicated picture of perception and misperception of Steinbeck and his works emerges as Cerce shows that Slovene critics focused on Steinbeck's social activism, but readers loved his concern for "common people, his optimism, and his celebration and of life." Cerce includes an extensive checklist of translations and commentaries on Steinbeck in Slovenian.
In "Tragedy and the Non-teleological in Of Mice and Men," Brian Leahy Doyle suggests that Steinbeck's masterpiece developed in its theatrical version a sense of the tragic that is not contradicted by the "non-teleological" philosophy expressed by its original title, "Something That Happened." He attributes this to the fact that the story in both versions employs "a cyclical structure" which spirals upwards and then "abruptly concludes with the shot from George's pistol." Matthew Langione's essay [End Page 10] also asks how the non-teleological works in Steinbeck's system of thought and artistic practice. His "John Steinbeck and the Perfectibility of Man" argues that Steinbeck developed a belief system—exhibited in his Nobel Prize acceptance...