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The editor's column in the March issue raised some questions about the recent decline in the number of essays submitted by men, about the merits of anonymous submissions and of our evaluation process, and about other matters. I invited members to share their thoughts on PMLA as a place to publish, and the responses are abundant, invigorating, dispiriting, quotable, predictable, and wonderfully informative. Since the scores of letters constitute a kind of informal survey, the first we have conducted for some time, I want to share some of the more telling observations, as well as the patterns that seem to emerge.
Twice in the Comedy's last canto Dante refers to the binding of texts. The Sibyl's “light leaves” (lines 64-66) point to the danger of not binding texts: when the order of pages is lost, the text s meaning (sentenza) also vanishes. Medieval thinkers distinguished between the sequential perception (sensus) and the simultaneous perception (sententia) of a poem s elements. Because Dante released the poem in fascicles over a period of ten or more years, he needed to remind the reader in the last fascicle to bind the pages into a single volume. The final book image (85-90) indirectly performs this task. Appearing at the moment when the reader is at last able to pass from the poem s sensus to its sententia, these lines employ book binding as a metaphor for the perception of the text in its entirety. Their unusually polysemous language implies a triple analogy. God, poet, and reader are all artificers of a heavenly volume.
Chaucer's Pardoner functions pivotally in The Canterbury Tales, for he personifies illusory goals that can divert or halt the pilgrimage. A walking shrine, carrying spurious relics and questionable indulgences, he offers the pilgrims a meretricious equivalent of what they seek in Canterbury. His diversionary malfeasance gives thematic significance to his unsavory relationship with the Summoner and establishes a close parallel between Chaucer s pilgrimage framework and the rioters' quest in the tale itself. It is fitting that the Pardoner addresses his crucial invitation, at the end of the tale, to the Host, because the Host is responsible for guiding the pilgrims to Canterbury. The violence with which the Host responds is thus particularly appropriate, for he is confronting the man who threatens the impetus of the pilgrimage as a whole. (MS)
From the perspective of sexual politics, The Winter's Tale is a remarkable achievement: it recovers the possibility of harmonious male-female relations from the destructive antagonism between the sexes in the tragedies. In particular, it expands the role of women, making the combined forces of Hermione, Paulina, and Perdita central to the dramatic action. This development is so moving that we tend simply to welcome it without inquiring into the centrality of women and the terms of the sexual reconciliation. I argue that such an inquiry must be made. A sentimental reading of the play looks exclusively at its positive aspects and fails to recognize that women s power remains strictly circumscribed within the patriarchal framework. Acknowledging this limitation provides for a multiple rather than a monolithic response to the play and makes it possible both to affirm and to dissent from the ending. (PBE)
Corneille's La Mort de Pompée represents a contamination of sources—the one Latin and avowed (Lucan's epic poem, the Pharsalia), the other modern and unavowed (the theory of the Christian epic as found in the Discorsi of Tasso). Into the historical, Lucan framework dealing with Roman civil strife the playwright inserts a Tassoan interlude during which the Romans band together against a non-Roman enemy and Cesar adumbrates an ideal policy whereby Rome would accept what amounts to Cléopatre's conversion to Romanness. The tensions between the Lucan and the Tassoan elements in the play are not resolved, nor could they be, and critical readings that try to remove the play's ambiguities only partially sift the evidence. The absence of clear-cut resolution in Pompée may or may not be intentional; in any event, it is central to the structure and meaning of the play. (ADS)
It has long been recognized that the American formalists' rehabilitation of Alexander Pope depended on a renewed interest in rhetoric. In fact, there is a remarkable structural congruence between the formalists image of Pope's poetry and their conception of rhetoric, for both are item-centered, combinatory, and ultimately unifying. A single model of unified diversity, then, governs not only the formalist image of Pope's couplet rhetoric and theodicean scheme but formalist conceptions of rhetoric and “organic form” as well. An alternative (and complementary) model of rhetoric, however, insisting on creation as an act of structuring through differentiation rather than through unification, can help us to a fuller understanding of The Dunciad, and especially of the place of Dulness in that poem. Such a model can also generate a poetics capable of granting to satire and mock forms an appropriately primary status. (FVB)
In 1984, Orwell rejects moral justifications for the exercise of power and confronts it as an end in itself. When viewed in this way, the pursuit of power takes on the contours of a game. The concept of play throws light on O'Brien's role in 1984, and a perspective borrowed from game theory clarifies Winston Smith s participation in the contest between tormentor and victim, showing that both share a frame of reference and fundamental values. Examining these values leads to a critique of Orwell's androcentrism and misogyny. Only in a culture that disparages the female while accepting the male as the model for the species could it have gone unremarked that 1984 concerns the interaction of two men. Orwell saw that the pursuit of power posed dangers to humanity but could not see this activity as merely an extreme form of conventional masculine behavior. Caught in this contradiction, Orwell despaired.