In recent years the canon has been, depending on one's point of view, either opened up or debased. In addition to listening seriously to once marginalized or suppressed voices, academic literary criticism has shown an increasing interest in what were once considered at best paraliterary genres: the detective novel, speculative fiction, the western, the romance (we refer of course to the popular variety, in which nurses fall in love with handsome young doctors on tropical islands). In part, this attention is the result of contemporary fiction's incorporation of pop culture materials, in part an indication of proliferating aesthetic criteria and an awareness of all fiction's potential relevance (if only as an index of social values and preoccupations). Modern Fiction Studies—which, after all, once shared a department with Ray Browne—has attempted to respond to these new interests of its readers by devoting recent special issues to detective and suspense fiction and to science and fantasy fiction. Trading in its wingtips for sneakers, MFS continues its efforts along these lines by paying attention in the present issue to a subgenre too long dismissed as "merely" sports fiction. (Although a body of work including fiction by Hemingway, Uwe Johnson, Malamud, Sillitoe, Mailer, Coover, Updike, Exley, and others has not been, in truth, easily dismissible.)
That fans of the literature of sport are many is apparent: in the last few years, sport literature classes have been springing up in the course offerings of college and university English departments across the country. (Most informed sources agree that there are about 300 such courses presently being offered, and this is in addition to other similar courses [End Page 3] often making use of sports fiction offered by sociology, American studies, and physical education departments.) In 1983 the first issue of Arete: The Journal of Sport Literature appeared as the official publication of the Sport Literature Association. And finally, since the early Seventies, the number of books devoted to sports and, more specifically, to sports fiction has increased dramatically. The last few years have seen such wideranging discussions of sport and society as Paul Hoch's Rip Off the Big Game (1972); Robert Lipsyte's Sports World (1975); Michael Novak's The Joy of Sports (1976); Edwin Cady's The Big Game (1978); Allen Guttmann's From Ritual to Record (1978), The Games Must Go On (1984), and Sports Spectators (1986); Richard Lipsky's How We Play the Game (1981); Benjamin Rader's American Sports (1983); and James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games (1986). In addition to sports anthologies also appearing during these years—Robert Higgs and Neil Isaacs' The Sporting Spirit (1977), Tom Dodge's A Literature of Sports (1980), D. Stanley Eitzen's Sport in Contemporary Society (1984), and David Vanderwerken and Spencer Wertz's Sport Inside Out (1985)—we have also seen the publication of several critical studies of sports literature: Wiley Lee Umphlett's The Sporting Myth and the American Experience (1975), Robert Higgs's Laurel and Thorn (1981), Christian Messenger's Sport and the Spirit of Play in American Fiction (1981), Neil Berman's Playful Fictions and Fictional Players (1981), and Michael Oriard's Dreaming of Heroes (1982).1
Speaking of Michael Oriard: in the premier issue of Arete (1.1 : 7-20) he (rightly) objects to that school of thought that finds sports fiction good to the extent it is not really about sport but "about much more than just baseball or football" (8): that is, successful sports fiction is successful because it is not really about sports (the point of the epigraph to Mark Harris' Bang the Drum Slowly and an attitude with which Mr. Harris is now out of sympathy—see his interview comments in this issue). A good sports novel for Oriard is, rather, a good novel that also weaves sport inextricably into itself: "a definition of the sports novel, then, as one in which no substitutes for sport would be possible without radically changing the book. . . . Good sports novels also exploit the potential inherent in the specific sports with which they deal" (14). We know Oriard is correct; we...