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What prompted Professor Hershel Walker to write Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons was the misguided, naive, obstinate, inflexible, whimsical, willy-nilly, procrustian, or "adventitious" critical, creative, and editorial theories "which led to the habit of ignoring . . . biographical-textual evidence and its implications." In the course of his book, Parker works hard to define and demonstrate "a textual-aesthetic approach" to the study of American literature and has with good cause and solid evidence directed an ironic and occasionally devastating onslaught against "academic writing on American literature . . . with broad application to literary criticism as practiced by American professors of English, whatever their fields."
Flawed Texts is certain to stir controversy among scholars because the "creative process," whatever that really is, has always been subject to shifting interpretations, some awestruck and grateful, some ignoring the whole business or taking it for granted, most resulting from manifold theories of the day or perhaps merely the time of day. It is frivolous, says Parker, to assume anything other than "all meaning is authorial meaning," which by itself will raise hackles concerning the legitimacy of authorial intentionality, but he also says that it is equally silly to assume "every author retains full authority of anything he has written for as long as he lives." We are teased into "tough thinking" about creativity and literary authority, and Parker calls into question the New Critical intrinsic mentality, some of it "banal" and "vacuous," as it simply refuses to admit the extrinsic facts that writers are real people living in a real world who are sometimes moved to [End Page 721] depend on the fictions of memory in their revisions and who before revision are often held hostage by the very "monsters" they are creating because "no writer can have fully thought something if he cannot then and there express it" and because in the process of "expressing" the writer can be compromised or buoyed in the course of creativity.
Parker leads us through a counting house of flawed texts—books by Faulkner and Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Dreiser and Crane and James and Twain and Mailer—texts analyzed and interpreted and pedestalized and condemned by brilliant men in a maze of ignorance. And he cites frequent and often funny critical gaffes, one critic discounting textual errors saying, "It doesn't really alter my interpretation." We find that Mark Twain "never did" work his original Siamese twins plot to its conclusion in Pudd'nhead Wilson and that a compositional error in an edition of White Jacket ("soiled fish of the sea" in place of "coiled fish of the sea") caused one critical luminary to "rhapsodize" over the twisted imagery that was, after all, never part of Melville's plan.
Parker's humor and chronic good sense make Flawed Texts not only illuminating and challenging but "a good read" as well. His final pages forecast hope for the return of close textual analysis based on the shifting circumstances of time and place, thus dictating that greater attention be focused on historical contingencies and the writer as a human being rather than as an angel or a programmed-for-life word processor.
In his book, Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story, John Gerlach of Cleveland State University writes that although he sometimes focuses on short story "endings alone," he is "generally more interested in the way anticipation of endings serves to structure a story as a whole and in the causes of changing views of closure." He admits as he should his obligation to the "injunctions" of Poe, and he quotes Robert Louis Stevenson's declaration that the "body and end of a short story is bone of the bone and blood of the blood of the beginning." He tells us that "closure" is now acceptable literary jargon for "ending," and then, remarkably, he writes this: " . . . the nature and degree of...