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  • Editor's Introduction:Writing Life/Writing Fiction
  • Paula Marantz Cohen

The essays in this issue of JML, "Writing Life/Writing Fiction," could be called innovative throwbacks (an intended oxymoron). They recall a time dating back at least to Lionel Trilling, if not to Matthew Arnold, when criticism served to demonstrate the morally productive relationship between literature and life: life informing and invigorating literature; literature critiquing and correcting life. By the same token, the essays express more of a continuum between art and life than this simple feedback loop suggests. Structuralist and post-structuralist theory and related work in post-colonialist, feminist, psychoanalytic and other critical methods have helped demonstrate how all experience is constructed in the manner of a literary text and how literary texts are themselves informed by meanings beyond themselves. But the essays in this volume are not in the service of any particular methodology. They take into account cultural context and, in some cases, authorial context, without reducing the works to either ideological or biographically-driven constructions.

A number of the essays are concerned with identity as it negotiates differing social influences, often in the context of war or occupation. Richard Russell's analysis of Tom Stoppard's Indian Ink argues that Stoppard's play, with its double time frame, oscillating between British rule in India in the 1930s and "the metropole of modern London" of the mid-1980s, makes visible a British and an Indian identity born of mutual interdependence and enriched by esthetic elements from both cultures. Ira B. Nadel, author of Tom Stoppard: A Life, offers a kind of biographical gloss on Russell's argument. Nadel sees his subject engaged in identity construction drawn from his cosmopolitan background: his birth in Poland, his time spent in India, his education and current life in England, and his belated discovery of his Jewish ancestry. Ultimately, Nadel conceives of Stoppard as doing with his life what he has done in his plays: amalgamating differing strands of meaning into an ever-shifting narrative whole.

Karen A. Hoffman's essay also addresses the theme of identity in her analysis of Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, dwelling on the divided self as it reflects a culture in flux. Hoffman, like several authors in this collection, notes that the novel's narrative method, so often focused on by critics, is not an end in itself but a device in service of cultural critique. The novel, she maintains, qualifies the protagonist's professed support for a patriarchal, imperialistic model for identity with countervailing elements that suggest a modern, egalitarian self in the making.

In something of a reverse movement from Hoffman's essay, Ariela Freedman takes a historical phenomenon and shows how it informed literature and cultural meaning at a particular point in time. She examines the ways in which the Zeppelin, ubiquitous in the skies over London during the Great War, was taken up by a number of fiction writers as a "slippery sign," inspiring a sense of a sublime superficial unity while actually enforcing a greater separation between classes and between civilian and military populations. In a piece of a very different style dealing with the same war, Alistair Duckworth delicately probes how Pat Barker's novel Regeneration in her World War I trilogy borrows from fiction and fact to produce an especially vivid account of war trauma.

Moving forward in time to the (largely) World War II setting of Ian McEwan's Atonement, Brian Finney argues, as Hoffman did with Ford, against critics who see the work as a purely formal exercise. The metafictional aspects of the novel, according to Finney, bring the novel's [End Page v] moral into relief, namely, that a careless or uninformed choice may have far-reaching effects on others. In another take on the relationship between aesthetics and morality, Gary Johnson argues that Thomas Mann draws on aesthetic philosophy in delineating the character of Aschenbach in Death in Venice. Once again, identity is presented as divided between the drive for an aesthetic ideal and the demands of physical desire and the eroding force of mortality.

Ranen Omer-Sherman's analysis of Israeli novelist Amos Oz's A Perfect Peace once again...


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