- Working with Denis: 1982–2002
Sometime during the summer of 1981, I received a note in the mail from Denis Dutton, editor of Philosophy and Literature, stating that, due to severe financial constraints, the University of Michigan was going to drop its sponsorship of the journal. The letter had apparently gone out to all those who had either written for the journal or subscribed to it. I had published a short review of Philip Lewis’s book on La Rochefoucauld in the Fall 1978 issue.
My family and I were in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the time, where I was taking Arthur Kirsch’s illuminating NEH Summer Seminar on “Shakespeare, Freud, Montaigne, and the Bible.” I can remember calling Denis from an outdoor public phone and telling him that I thought my college, Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, might be interested in sponsoring the journal. He told me to look into it as soon as I could and get back to him, as he had other possibilities as well.
I called our dean, Edward Foster, who was intrigued by the idea and spoke with our president, Robert Skotheim. This was at a time when both administrators were interested in “professionalizing” a faculty that up to that point in its history had been almost exclusively oriented toward teaching. In the fall, Denis visited Whitman, and we eventually worked out a plan whereby the college would sponsor Philosophy and Literature, Johns Hopkins University Press would publish it, and Denis would [End Page A1] continue as its editor. I would become coeditor of the journal and would involve the Whitman faculty at various levels of editing and writing. A local newspaper, the Tri-Cities Herald, related the story of tiny Whitman College saving the journal formerly published by the University of Michigan in terms of “David rescuing Goliath.”
Before its Whitman College sponsorship, Philosophy and Literature consisted of five volumes (Fall 1976 – Fall 1981). All eleven issues were divided into three sections: Articles, Critical Discussions, and Shorter Reviews. There was one interview with Jorge Luis Borges (vol. 1, no. 3; Fall 1977) and one Response and Rejoinder (vol. 2, no. 1; Spring 1978). Denis had created an original and much-needed academic journal and had already engaged well-known figures to write for it, many of whom drew attention to our journal and would contribute articles, critical discussions, and reviews for years to come. Among these were Hazel Barnes, Martha Nussbaum, Monroe Beardsley, George Steiner, Stanley Cavell, Christopher Norris, Paul Ricoeur, Alfred Louch, Kenneth Seeskin, Francis Sparshott, and Alexander Nehamas.
These first eleven issues contained writings about the great figures of philosophy and literature: Aristotle, Homer, Plato, Nietzsche, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Joyce, Wittgenstein, Sartre, Descartes, Camus, Dostoevsky, Swift, Beckett, Pascal, Rilke, Augustine, Lawrence, Heidegger, George Eliot, Henry James, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Mann, Faulkner, Voltaire, Rousseau, Woolf, and many others. They also included articles on film, literary theory, point of view, speech acts, deconstruction, pluralism, narrative, metaphor, realism, and, of course, the relationship between literature and philosophy. In short, Philosophy and Literature was well on its way to academic prominence before it took up residence on the Whitman College campus.
At Whitman, Philosophy and Literature had a good, healthy life of twenty years, from its bright red October 1982 double issue (vol. 6, no. 1/2) to the October 2001 issue (vol. 25, no. 2) that featured Charles Darwin on its light-green cover. Following the suggestion of Whitman’s dean and president, I immediately appointed two Whitman faculty members, one in English, the other in philosophy, to the editorial advisory board. Shortly thereafter, I wisely named my brilliant friend and colleague, Edwin “Ted” Stein, associate editor of the journal. After receiving his [End Page A2] degree in medicine, but before getting his Ph.D. in English, Ted had a variety of jobs, one of which was at Yale University Press. Eventually, Ted and Denis managed to teach me how to edit an academic journal. Marilyn Trueblood of the University of Washington Press would replace Ted in 1991, and Margit Dutton replaced Marilyn in 1995. As regards the involvement of Whitman College faculty in writing for the journal, over our twenty-year...