- Love and Loneliness
We are lucky that we live in a scientific age. Our lives are longer for it, and we continue to learn more about our world through it. Unfortunately, along with true science goes pseudoscience in almost every area of human thought. Important scientific ideas become metaphoric vehicles for theories that have little connection with objective truth. Through no fault of its own, what starts as true science can become a rich source for nonsense.
One could write a very long book about cultural scientism, but here's a small sampling: Entropy becomes a symbol for just about anything in decline, including the simple biological fear of "running down." The Theory of Relativity metamorphoses into interpretations having nothing to do with physics. Chaos Theory transforms into a rationalization of chance and uncertainty when it suggests that in fact there are patterns located within seeming chaos—a deeper music of order beneath seeming disorder, which we don't quite yet have the tools to identify. If we were able to compute the effects of the butterfly that flaps its wings in China—if we could put all the data in—in fact we could predict the weather. The long-sought Unified Field Theory, called the Theory of Everything, or TOE, by some scientists, would presumably explain all the fields of gravity, the weak and strong nuclear forces, and electromagnetic force in a single formula.
Literature may offer great insights, but fortunately it's not a place to look for a theory of everything. Literature is not necessarily even useful, which is refreshing [End Page 5] in a scientistic culture. At least we know that fiction and poetry are the stuff of speculation, enjoyment, contradiction, and ambiguity. When reading a poem or story, one doesn't have to imagine that he's engaged in a thought process that is altogether logical, progressive, definitive, beneficial, prophylactic or conclusive. Literature offers the freedom of doubt and uncertainty. Its subjects don't have to be resolved so much as understood and appreciated.
The contents of this issue are about just such incongruities—for example, the odd proximity of love and loneliness: the fact that they don't entirely contradict each other and may sometimes share the same ground.
Editors' Prize winner Jacob M. Appel writes in "Creve Coeur" about a married man and his overweight son, who fall in love at nearly the same time in equally impossible ways. It is a story about the allure, glamour and danger of love. Erica Johnson Debeljak's Editor's Prize finalist story "Biology" is about an affair—between two philosophy students who discover that they see their relationship in profoundly different ways. "Like Graceland," by Sharon Pomerantz, concerns the difficulties and disappointments that can happen in middle-aged love, even when both partners have overcome problems and are willing to "experiment" with new pleasures. Rachel Swearingen's "Strangers Among Us" describes an emotionally fraught woman, distanced from her husband, who visits the working-class neighborhood where she grew up, having a near-sexual encounter with a stranger as she struggles with guilt over her damaged marriage. Almost all these stories wrestle with the problem of relationships being in some ways intangible, despite our wish to treat them as "things" that can be maintained, fixed or improved.
Editors' Prize-winning essay "Letters to David," by Cynthia Coffel, describes the author's idealistic twenties, when she regularly corresponded with her equally idealistic friend David. She continued doing so even as they moved into different phases of their lives; then in later life she visited with him, learning the difference between her imaginary listener and the real person. Dave Zoby's "Crazy White Boy" is a wonderfully evocative memoir about a boy in the first year of junior high in the 1980s, when he's trying to make sense of racial prejudice and his own Arab heritage, sex, political tensions during the Iranian hostage crisis, while at the same time agonizing over a lump that he keeps secret from his parents, which he thinks is sure evidence that he has testicular cancer.
Sascha Feinstein's five sixteen-line poems are refracted glimpses into life, especially moments...