- Editor's Introduction "Wonderful Things"
In the first line of his waggish history of the College English Association, Joe D. Thomas, self-proclaimed "Historicus Primus," writes, "The origins of the College English Association have been so much addled and obfuscated that I dare believe I am the first person in the past third century to tell the story straight" (1).1 Well, kind of straight. His is a merry romp through the CEA's history. The history of The CEA Critic, which celebrates its 80th year in print is, of course, intimately bound with that of the organization, and Thomas includes many details in his cheery volume. In this anniversary issue, we seek to offer readers our own rollicking ride through journal's history by offering selections from each of the journal's first eight decades.
In titling this Editor's Introduction "Wonderful Things," I refer to the words uttered by archaeologist Howard Carter on breaching the seal of the tomb of Tutankhamen. As Carter tells it, "I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon [the financier of the expedition]… inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things. Wonderful things!"2 Such was the experience of looking through eight decades of The News Letter of the College English Association and The CEA Critic, from its earliest years as a four-page tabloid through a variety of sizes and styles up until its current format. Breaching that seal—or, in this case, scanning rolls of microfilm—what one discovers is the richness of the scholarship shared by the contributors to The Critic, many of whom have been among the most important voices of their times, including Willa Cather, Pearl S. Buck, Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, Wallace Stevens, Margaret Atwood, Philip K. Dick, Rudolfo Anaya, Ernest Gaines, John Updike, and Stanley Fish. In the same muse, I recall as well a story about the discovery of workers' tombs near those sacred pyramids in Egypt. These workers were, archaeologists determined, "given the honor of being buried in mud brick tombs within the shadow of the sacred pyramids they worked on."3 Ordinary souls resting alongside royalty. Likewise, the pages of The CEA Critic are filled with the work of multitudes of similar ordinary souls, teacher-scholars with names less familiar but with ideas equally valuable—those not yet canonized and who perhaps never will be. However, each voice offers something to our conversation worth sharing. [End Page vii]
Choosing what to share in this issue of The CEA Critic was near impossible. I wish I could say there was rhyme or reason to the selections. There was none. I confess that I exploited my role as General Editor to make executive decisions. For example, as a Americanist, how could I not include Willa Cather? Or, given the popularity of recent productions of The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace, selections by and about Margaret Atwood made sense. In the issue before you, for each phase of The CEA Critic (clumsily and half-heartedly aligned with Erik Erickson's stages of development) there is an introduction that seeks to capture the spirit of the journal during that period and to share titles and excerpts from some essays of interest. One or two full pieces from have been selected as representative of the spirit of The CEA Critic during each stage. Ultimately, our aim in this issue is to trace, in some unscientific way, how the journal's past has both defined and evolved into its present. One noteworthy result of this editing experience will be an editorial change for The CEA Critic: in subsequent issues we will seek to re-print one of the many essays we have had to exclude from this issue, choosing an essay that aligns with the content of that current issue. In this way the conversation between past and present does not end with this anniversary issue, rather it continues into the next decade and beyond.
Editor's Note: In reprinting the items collected in this issue, we have reformatted each piece according to The CEA Critic's current formatting...